News for progressives

Chasing Mirages: What Are Palestinians Doing to Combat the ‘Deal of the Century’?

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-03-14 15:56

Palestinian refugees (British Mandate of Palestine – 1948). “Making their way from Galilee in October-November 1948”

More US measures have been taken in recent weeks to further cement the Israeli position and isolate the Palestinian Authority (PA), before the official unveiling of President Donald Trump’s so-called ‘deal of the century’. But while attention is focused on spiteful US actions, little time has been spent discussing the PA’s own responses, options and strategies.

The last of Washington’s punitive measures came on March 3, when the US shut down its Consulate in Jerusalem, thus downgrading the status of its diplomatic mission in Palestine. The Consulate has long served as a de-facto American embassy to the Palestinians. Now, the Consulate’s staff will merge into the US embassy in Israel, which was officially moved to Jerusalem last May – in violation of international consensus regarding the status of the occupied city.

Robert Palladino, US State Department spokesperson, explained the move in a statement, saying that “this decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations.”

Diplomatic hogwash aside, ‘efficiency and effectiveness’ have nothing to do with the shutting of the Consulate. The decision is but a continuation of successive US measures aimed at “taking Jerusalem off the table” – as per Trump’s own words – of any future negotiations.

International law, which recognizes East Jerusalem as an occupied Palestinian city, is of no relevance to the Trump administration, which has fully shed any semblance of balance as it is now wholly embracing the Israeli position on Jerusalem.

To bring Palestinians into line, and to force their leadership to accept whatever bizarre version of ‘peace’ Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has in mind, the US has already taken several steps aimed at intimidating the PA. These steps include the cutting of $200 million in direct aid to Gaza and the West Bank, and the freezing of another $300 million dollars that were provided annually to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

That, and the shutting down of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington DC, on September 10, were all the signs needed to fully fathom the nature of the US ultimatum to the Palestinian leadership: accept our terms or face the consequences.

It is no secret that various US governments have served as the financial and even political backers of the PA in Ramallah. While the PA has not always seen eye-to-eye with US foreign policy, its survival remained, till recently, a top American priority.

The PA has helped Washington sustain its claim to being an ‘honest peace broker’, thus enjoying a position of political leadership throughout the Middle East region.

Moreover, by agreeing to take part in assisting the Israeli military in policing the Occupied Territories through joint US-funded ‘security coordination’, the PA has proved its trustworthiness to its US benefactors.

While the PA remained committed to that arrangement, Washington reneged.

According to the far-right Israeli government coalition of Benjamin Netanyahu, PA leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is simply not doing enough.

‘Doing enough’, from an Israeli political perspective, is for Palestinians to drop any claims to occupied East Jerusalem as the future capital of Palestine, accept that illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank would have to remain in place regardless of the nature of the future ‘peace agreement’, and to also drop any legal or moral claims pertaining to Palestinian refugees right of return.

While the PA has demonstrated its political and moral flexibility in the past, there are certain red lines that even Abbas himself cannot cross.

It remains to be seen how the PA position will evolve in the future as far as the soon-to-be announced ‘deal of the century’ is concerned.

Yet, considering that Trump’s blind support for Israel has been made quite clear over the course of the last two years, one is bewildered by the fact that Abbas and his government have done little by way of counteracting Washington’s new aggressive strategy targeting the Palestinians.

Save for a few symbolic ‘victories’ at the United Nations and UN-related bodies, Abbas has done little by way of a concrete and unified Palestinian action.

Frankly, recognizing a Palestinian state on paper is not a strategy, per se. The push for greater recognition has been in the making since the PLO Algiers conference in 1988, when the Palestine National Council declared a Palestinian state to the jubilation of millions around the world. Many countries, especially in the global south, quickly recognized the State of Palestine.

Yet, instead of using such a symbolic declaration as a component of a larger strategy aimed at realizing this independence on the ground, the PA simply saw the act of recognizing Palestine as an end in itself. Now, there are 137 countries that recognize the State of Palestine. Sadly, however, much more Palestinian land has been stolen by Israel to expand on or build new Jewish-only colonies on the land designated to be part of that future state.

It should have been clear, by now, that placing a Palestinian flag on a table at some international conference, or even having a Palestine chair at the G77 UN coalition of developing countries, is not a substitute for a real strategy of national liberation.

The two main Palestinian factions, Abbas’ own Fatah party and Hamas, are still as diverged as ever. In fact, Abbas seems to focus more energy on weakening his political rivals in Palestine than on combating the Israeli Occupation. In recent weeks, Abbas has taken yet more punitive financial measures targeting various sectors of Gaza society. The collective punishment is even reaching families of prisoners and those killed by the Israeli army.

Without a united front, a true strategy or any form of tangible resistance, Abbas is now vulnerable to more US pressure and manipulation. Yet, instead of moving quickly to solidify the Palestinian front, and to reach out to genuine allies in the Middle East and worldwide to counter the bitter US campaign, Abbas has done little.

Instead, the Palestinian leader continues to chase political mirages, taking every opportunity to declare more symbolic victories that he needs to sustain his legitimacy among Palestinians for a while longer.

The painful truth, however, is this: it is not just US bullying that has pushed the PA into this unenviable position, but, sadly, the self-serving nature and political bankruptcy of the Palestinian leadership itself.

Categories: News for progressives

An Apology for a Different Plane Crash, 30 Years Later

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-03-14 15:55

The tragic Ethiopian Airline plane crash recalls another passenger plane crash some 30 years ago. The latter, however, was not due to a mechanical malfunction but to U.S. missiles. And while very few Americans remember this incident, it still weighs heavy on the hearts of many Iranians–as we discovered on our recent trip there.

The tragic downing of the commercial passenger airline, Iran Air Flight 655, happened on July 3, 1988. A U.S. Navy ship called the Vincennes was stationed in the Persian Gulf to protect oil trade routes. The plane had just taken off from nearby Bandar Abbas International Airport in southern Iran when U.S. personnel on the warship fired two surface-to-air missiles. The flight was still in Iranian airspace, climbing on its regularly scheduled flight to Dubai, when it was hit. The plane disintegrated immediately and crashed into the water, killing all 290 onboard–274 passengers and 16 crew members.

According to the U.S. government, this was an accident: the crew thought the Iranian Airbus A300 was an attacking F-14 Tomcat fighter jet.

Most Iranians, however, believe it was a deliberate war crime. Earlier that day, the same U.S. ship had sunk two Iranian gunboats in Iranian waters and damaged a third.

The Iranian belief that the passenger plane was attacked on purpose was reinforced when the U.S. government made a series of inaccurate claims. One claim was that the plane was not on a normal flight path but was diving toward the ship; the truth is that the plane was climbing, and was on its correct path. Another was that the plane’s identification transponder was not working or had been altered; the truth is that the plane had actually been emitting, by radio, the standard commercial identifying data.

Months before the plane was shot down, air traffic controllers and the crews of other warships in the Persian Gulf had been warning that poorly trained U.S. crews, especially the gung-ho captain and crew of the Vincennes (or “Robocruiser,” as other crews had nicknamed it), were constantly misidentifying civilian aircraft over the Persian Gulf, making this horrific incident entirely predictable.

The U.S. Navy added insult to injury when, two years later, it awarded combat medals to the warship’s captain and crew–never even mentioning the downing of the plane. The town of Vincennes, Indiana, for which the ship was named, even launched a fundraising campaign for a monument to honor the ship and its crew.

Particularly callous was a statement by then Vice-President George H.W. Bush, who was campaigning for president at the time. “I will never apologize for the United States of America. Ever,” he insisted, “I don’t care what the facts are. I’m not an apologize-for-America kind of guy.”

While U.S. officials refused to accept culpability, in 1996 the Iranians took to the U.S. government to the International Court of Justice. With all the evidence against the Vincennes, the U.S. government agreed to a settlement, granting $213,000 per passenger to the victims’ families. But the government still refused to formally apologize or acknowledge wrongdoing.

While most Americans have no memory of this incident, in Iran the date of the deaths of 290 innocent people at the hands of the U.S. military is marked every year just as the 9/11 attack is remembered every year in the United States. To some Iranians, it is just one more example of the callousness of U.S. policy.

That’s why our peace delegation that visited Iran in early March decided to make a special gift to the Peace Museum in Tehran, a museum dedicated to ending war. It was a hand-crafted commemorative book crafted by one of our delegates, Barbara Briggs-Letson, who is an 85-year-old retired American nurse from San Francisco. It contained a letter of remorse, verses of poetry, the names—in Farsi—of all those who lost their lives, and individual notes from the 28 members of our delegation.

The moving ceremony at the Peace Museum left all of us, Americans and Iranians, weeping. We made it clear that while our government won’t apologize for its dirty deeds in Iran—from overthrowing Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953 to shooting down a passenger plane in 1988 to unilaterally withdrawing from the nuclear agreement in 2017—we, the people, will.

Categories: News for progressives

School Shooters and Drones: Linking Gun Violence to America’s Wars

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-03-14 15:54

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair of Edna Chavez

In the wake of the February 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and staff members, a teacher said the school looked “like a war zone.” And to many young Americans, that’s exactly what it felt like. But this shooting was different. Refusing to be victims, Parkland survivors disrupted the “thoughts and prayers” cycle by immediately rallying student activists and adults across the country, mobilizing them around such tragedies and the weapons of war that often facilitate them.

Recent history suggested that such a movement, sure to be unable to keep the public’s attention or exert significant pressure on lawmakers, would collapse almost instantly. Yet, miraculously enough, the same fear — of their school being next — that had kept young Americans paralyzed for almost 20 years was what drove these newly impassioned activists not to back down.

Let me say that, much as I admire them, I look at their remarkable movement from an odd perspective. You see, I grew up in the “school-shooting era” and now work for a non-profit called ReThink Media tracking coverage of the American drone war that has been going on for 17 years.

To me, the U.S. military and CIA drones that hover constantly over eight countries across the Greater Middle East and Africa, and regularly terrorize, maim, and kill civilians, including children, are the equivalents of the disturbed shooters in American schools. But that story is hard to find anywhere in this country. What reports Americans do read about those drone strikes usually focus on successes (a major terrorist taken out in a distant land), not the “collateral damage.”

With that in mind, let me return to those teenage activists against gun violence who quickly grasped three crucial things. The first was that such violence can’t be dealt with by focusing on gun control alone. You also have to confront the other endemic problems exacerbating the gun violence epidemic, including inadequate mental health resources, systemic racism and police brutality, and the depth of economic inequality. As Parkland teen organizer Edna Chavez explained, “Instead of police officers we should have a department specializing in restorative justice. We need to tackle the root causes of the issues we face and come to an understanding of how to resolve them.”

The second was that, no matter how much you shouted, you had to be aware of the privilege of being heard. In other words, when you shouted, you had to do so not just for yourself but for all those voices so regularly drowned out in this country. After all, black Americans represent the majority of gun homicide victims. Black children are 10 times as likely to die by gun and yet their activism on the subject has been largely demonized or overlooked even as support for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students rolled in.

The third was that apathy is the enemy of progress, which means that to make change you have to give people a sense of engagement and empowerment. As one of the Parkland students, Emma Gonzalez, put it: “What matters is that the majority of American people have become complacent in a senseless injustice that occurs all around them.”

Washington’s Expanding Drone Wars

Here’s the irony, though: while those teenagers continue to talk about the repeated killing of innocents in this country, their broader message could easily be applied to another type of violence that, in all these years, Americans have paid next to no attention to: the U.S. drone war.

Unlike school shootings, drone strikes killing civilians in distant lands rarely make the news here, much less the headlines. Most of us at least now know what it means to live in a country where school shootings are an almost weekly news story. Drones are another matter entirely, and beyond the innocents they so regularly slaughter, there are long-term effects on the communities they are attacking.

As Veterans for Peace put it, “Here at home, deaths of students and others killed in mass shootings and gun violence, including suicide gun deaths, are said to be the price of freedom to bear arms. Civilian casualties in war are written off as ‘collateral damage,’ the price of freedom and U.S. security.”

And yet, after 17 years, three presidents, and little transparency, America’s drone wars have never truly made it into the national conversation. Regularly marketed over those years as “precise” and “surgical,” drones have always been seen by lawmakers as a “sexy,” casualty-free solution to fighting the bad guys, while protecting American blood and treasure.

According to reports, President Trump actually expanded the U.S. global drone war, while removing the last shreds of transparency about what those drones are doing — and even who’s launching them. One of his first orders on entering the Oval Office was to secretly reinstate the CIA’s ability to launch drone strikes that are, in most cases, not even officially acknowledged. And since then, it’s only gotten worse. Just last week, he revoked an Obama-era executive order that required the director of national intelligence to release an annual report on civilian and combatant casualties caused by CIA drones and other lethal operations. Now, not only are the rules of engagement — whom you can strike and under what circumstances — secret, but the Pentagon no longer even reveals when drones have been used, no less when civilians die from them. Because of this purposeful opaqueness, even an estimate of the drone death toll no longer exists.

Still, in the data available on all U.S. airstrikes since Trump was elected, an alarming trend is discernible: there are more of them, more casualties from them, and ever less accountability about them. In Iraq and Syria alone, the monitoring group Airwars believes that the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS is responsible for between 7,468 and 11,841 civilian deaths, around 2,000 of whom were children. (The U.S.-led coalition, however, only admits to killing 1,139 civilians.)

In Afghanistan, the U.N. recently found that U.S. airstrikes (including drone strikes) had killed approximately the same number of Afghan civilians in 2018 as in the previous three years put together. In response to this report, the U.S.-led NATO mission there claimed that “all feasible precautions” were being taken to limit civilian casualties and that it investigates all allegations of their occurrence. According to such NATO investigations, airstrikes by foreign forces caused 117 civilian casualties last year, including 62 deaths — about a fifth of the U.N. tally.

And those are only the numbers for places where Washington is officially at war. In Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Libya, even less information is available on the number of civilians the U.S. has killed. Experts who track drone strikes in such gray areas of conflict, however, place that number in the thousands, though there is no way to confirm them, as even our military acknowledges. U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Veale, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, put it this way last year: “As far as how do we know how many civilians were killed, I am just being honest, no one will ever know. Anyone who claims they will know is lying, and there’s no possible way.”

After a U.S. strike killed or injured an entire Afghan family, the trauma surgeon treating a four-year-old survivor told NBC, “I am sad. A young boy with such big injuries. No eyes, brain out. What will be his future?”

In other words, while America’s teenagers fight in the most public way possible for their right to live, a world away Afghanistan’s teenagers are marching for the same thing — except instead of gun control, in that heavily armed land, they want peace.

Trauma is Trauma is Trauma

Gun violence — and school shootings in particular — have become the preeminent fear of American teenagers. A Pew poll taken last year found that 57% of teens are worried about a shooting at their school. (One in four are “very worried.”) This is even truer of nonwhite teens, with roughly two-thirds of them expressing such fear.

As one student told Teen Vogue: “How could you not feel a little bit terrified knowing that it happens so randomly and so often?” And she’s not exaggerating. More than 150,000 students in the U.S have experienced a shooting on campus since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, considered the first modern mass school shooting.

And in such anticipatory anxiety, American students have much in common with victims of drone warfare. Speaking to researchers from Stanford University, Haroon Quddoos, a Pakistani taxi driver who survived two U.S. drone strikes, explained it this way:

“No matter what we are doing, that fear is always inculcated in us. Because whether we are driving a car, or we are working on a farm, or we are sitting home playing… cards — no matter what we are doing, we are always thinking the drone will strike us. So we are scared to do anything, no matter what.”

Similar symptoms of post-traumatic stress, trauma, and anxiety are commonplace emotions in countries where U.S. drones are active, just as in American communities like Parkland that have lived through a mass shooting. Visiting communities in Yemen that experienced drone strikes, forensic psychologist Peter Schaapveld found that 92% of their inhabitants were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, with children the most significantly affected. Psychologists have come up with similar figures when studying both survivors of school shootings and children who have been psychologically affected by school-lockdown drills, by the media’s focus on violence, and by the culture of fear that has developed in response to mass shootings.

The Voices Left Out of the Conversation

The Parkland students have created a coherent movement that brings together an incredibly diverse group united around a common goal and a belief that all gun violence victims, not just those who have experienced a mass shooting, need to be heard. As one Parkland survivor and leader of the March For Our Lives movement, David Hogg, put it, the goal isn’t to talk for different communities, but to let them “speak for themselves and ask them how we can help.”

The Parkland survivors have essentially created an echo chamber, amplifying the previously unheard voices of young African-Americans and Latinos in particular. At last year’s March For Our Lives, for instance, 11-year-old Naomi Wadler started her speech this way: “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead the evening news.”

In 2016, there were nearly 39,000 gun deaths, more than 14,000 of them homicides and almost 23,000 suicides. Such routine gun violence disproportionately affects black Americans. Mass shootings accounted for only about 1.2% of all gun deaths that year. Yet the Parkland students made headlines and gained praise for their activism — Oprah Winfrey even donated $500,000 to the movement — while black communities that had been fighting gun violence for years never received anything similar.

As someone who spends a lot of her time engrossed in the undercovered news of drone strikes, I can’t help but notice the parallels. Stories about U.S. drone strikes taking out dangerous terrorists proliferate, while reports on U.S.-caused civilian casualties disappear into the void. For example, in January, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command claimed that a precision drone strike finally killed Jamel Ahmed Mohammed Ali al-Badawi, the alleged mastermind behind the deadly October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. Within a day, more than 24 media outlets had covered the story.

Few, however, focused on the fact that the U.S. command only claimed al-Badawi’s death was “likely,” despite similar reports about such terrorists that have repeatedly been proven wrong. The British human rights group Reprieve found back in 2014 that even when drone operators end up successfully targeting specific individuals like al-Badawi, they regularly kill vastly more people than their chosen targets. Attempts to kill 41 terror figures, Reprieve reported, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people. That was five years ago, but there’s no reason to believe anything has changed.

In contrast, when a U.S. airstrike — it’s not clear whether it was a drone or a manned aircraft — killed at least 20 civilians in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in December, 2018, only four American media outlets (Reuters, the Associated Press, Voice of America, and the New York Times) covered the story and none followed up with a report on those civilians and their families. That has largely been the norm since the war on terror began with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. In the Trump years so far, while headlines scream about mass school shootings and other slaughters of civilians here, the civilian casualties of America’s wars and the drone strikes that often go with them are, if anything, even more strikingly missing in action in the media.

When Safa al-Ahmad, a journalist for PBS’s Frontline, was asked why she thought it was important to hear from Yemenis experiencing American drone strikes, she responded:

“I think if you’re going to talk about people, you should go talk to them. It’s just basic respect for other human beings. It really bothered me that everyone was just talking about the Americans… The other civilians, they weren’t given any names, they weren’t given any details. It was like an aside to the story… This is part of the struggle when you construct stories on foreign countries, when it comes to the American public. I think we’ve done [Americans] a disservice, by not doing more of this… We impact the world, we should understand it. An informed public is the only way there can be a functioning democracy. That is our duty as a democracy, to be informed.”

This one-sided view of America’s never-ending air wars fails everyone, from the people being asked to carry out Washington’s decisions in those lands to ordinary Americans who have little idea what’s being done in their name to the many people living under those drones. Americans should know that, to them, it’s we who seem like the school shooters of the planet.

Waking Up An Apathetic Nation

For the better part of two decades, young Americans have been trapped in a cycle of violence at home and abroad with little way to speak out. Gun violence in this country was a headline-grabbing given. School shootings, like so many other mass killings here, were deemed “tragic” and worthy of thoughts, prayers, and much fervid media attention, but little else.

Until Parkland.

What changed? Well, a new cohort, Generation Z, came on the scene and, unlike their millennial predecessors, many of them are refusing to accept the status quo, especially when it comes to issues like gun violence.

Every time there was a mass shooting, millennials would hold their breath, wondering if today would be the day the country finally woke up. After Newtown. After San Bernadino. After Las Vegas. And each time, it wasn’t. Parkland could have been the same, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids. Having witnessed the dangers of apathy, Gen-Z seems increasingly to be about movement and action. In fact, in a Vice youth survey, 71% of respondents reported feeling “capable” of enacting change around global warming and 85% felt the same about social problems. And that’s new.

For so long, gun violence seemed like an unstoppable, incurable plague. Fed up with the “adults in the room,” however, these young activists have begun to take matters into their own hands, giving those particularly at risk of gun violence, children, a sense of newfound power — the power to determine their own futures. Whether it’s testifying in front of Congress in the first hearing on gun violence since 2011, protesting at the stores and offices of gun manufacturers, or participating in “die-ins,” these kids are making their voices heard.

Since the Parkland massacre, there has been actual movement on gun control, something that America has not seen for a long time. Under pressure, the Justice Department moved to ban the bump stocks that can make semi-automatic weapons fire almost like machine guns, Florida signed a $400 million bill to tighten the state’s gun laws, companies began to cut ties with the National Rifle Association, and public support grew for stricter gun control laws.

Although the new Gen Z activists have focused on issues close to home, sooner or later they may start to look beyond the water’s edge and find themselves in touch with their counterparts across the globe, who are showing every day how dedicated they are to changing the world they live in, with or without anyone’s help. And if they do, they will find that, in its endless wars, America has been the true school shooter on this planet, terrorizing the global classroom with a remarkable lack of consequences.

In March 2018, according to Human Rights Watch, American planes bombed a school that housed displaced people in Syria, killing dozens of them, including children. Similarly, in Yemen that August, a Saudi plane, using a Pentagon-supplied laser-guided bomb, blew away a school bus, killing 40 schoolchildren. Just as at home, it’s not only about the weaponry like those planes or drones. Activists will find that they have to focus their attention as well on the root causes of such violence and the scars they leave behind in the communities of survivors.

More tolerant, more diverse, less trustful of major institutions and less inclined to believe in American exceptionalism than any generation before them, Generation Z may be primed to care about what their country is doing in their name from Afghanistan to Syria, Yemen to Libya. But first they have to know it’s happening.

Allegra Harpootlian is a media associate at ReThink Media, where she works with leading experts and organizations at the intersection of national security, politics, and the media. She principally focuses on U.S. drone policies and related use-of-force issues. She is also a political partner with the Truman National Security Project. Find her on Twitter @ally_harp.

This article originally run on TomDispatch.

Categories: News for progressives

Publicized Cruelty: Scott Morrison Visits Christmas Island

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-03-14 15:48

His visit struck a sour note.  The Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was making an effort to show he cared: about those intangible things called borders, secure firm and shut to the unwanted human matter coming by sea.  The distant Australian territory of Christmas Island was selected to assist in coping with arrivals from Manus and Nauru Island needing medical treatment.  Having lost the vote in parliament on preventing the move, the Morrison government has does its best to ensure that a cruel element remains.

During the visit, Morrison rationalised the re-opening as the fault of the opposition. “As Prime Minister, I closed the Christmas Island detention centre and got all the children off Nauru.”  The Labor Party had “voted to weaken our borders and we have acted on official advice to reopen Christmas Island.”  The facilities provided “a deterrent to people smugglers and to anyone who thinks they can game the system to get to Australia.” The mythology persists.

There are parallels with atrocity and jail tourism (fancy seeing concentration camps?) in a man being filmed going through such facilities, though this time, they are intended for full use rather than being a site for instructive purposes or moral outrage.  Should Australians ever wake up to the full implications of what their government does in their name, such camps might become appropriate measures of a gulag mentality that paralysed any sensible discourse on refugees for a generation.

Being a man obsessed by the moving image (once and adman always an adman), Morrison ensured that cameras never left their focus; the prime minister was keen to push the credentials of the North West Point Detention Centre.  He made a pit stop at a library.  (Cue necessary movement of arms to bookshelves; expansive hand movements).  He even found himself gazing at a lavatory.  “It was short,” recalled a disgusted resident, John Richardson. Small businessman Troy Watson was also a touch bitter. “It’s got be some sort of publicity stunt.”

And stunt it is.  It belies the fact that Australia is facing, under its current Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, a record number of asylum seekers who are entering as tourists and economise on their status.  They simply prefer to do so by that more approved mode of transport: the plane.  As former Department of Immigration official Abul Rizvi points out with sharp relevance, “People arriving on visitor visas and changing their status onshore constituted an astonishing 24 percent of net migration in 2017-8, the mark of a visa system out of control.”  Dutton, he charges, has no genuine immigration or refugee policy to speak of.

The re-conversion of Christmas Island into a detention centre has also provided some encouragement to locals.  With refugee arrivals comes a market, an opportunity to expending cash.  Human cargo can have its value: increased number of personnel, more individuals to clothe and feed on the island, more, for want of a better term, services, however poor.  As Watson had to concede, “The economy on Christmas Island has been low for a good 12 months now, all local businesses including our own have certainly suffered.”

The company providing such services Serco, is a UK-based security outfit that deserves being reviled.  Self-touted as adept in taking over outsourced services, the company specialises in running defence, health, transport, justice and immigration, and “citizen services”.  Forty percent of its work comes from the UK, with about half that share drawn from Australia, where it is involved in some 11 Australian immigration detention centres.

Lodged in the trove of corporate devilry known as the Paradise Papers is an assessment by a Mauritius-based law firm Appleby which regards the company as replete with “problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging”.  This, it’s fair to say, comes with the troubled territory and again reminds us that privatising the swathe of public sector services does much to drain rather than save the treasury.  It also serves to corrupt the delivery of such services.  Again, deterrence comes before quality; harshness before vision.

The legal firm in question furnishes eager corporate watchers with a spicy note: in 2013, Serco was exposed, along with another charming counterpart, G4S, for overcharging the public purse by millions in the field of electronic tagging.  This delightful resume leads to the inevitable conclusion: the company is a “high risk” client that leaves more problems than solutions.

Despite such a patchy record, the company’s 2017 annual report is bright and confident, though concedes the following: “governments have become much more skilled at contracting and focused on risk-transfer; as a consequence margins and risk-adjusted returns earned by many suppliers to governments are much lower today than they were ten years ago”.  Not to be discouraged, the report picks up with the confident assertion that “the world still needs prisons, will need to manage immigration, and provide healthcare and transport, and that these services will be highly people-intensive for decades to come.”  Crudely and abysmally, the company might just be right, awaiting the commencement of the Christmas Island contract with mawkish eagerness.

Categories: News for progressives

Is AIPAC in Violation of Federal Election Law?

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-03-14 15:45

What newcomer to the US House of Representatives, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Mn) may not have fully realized is that her critique of Israel influence on American politics would open a door that has previously been hermetically sealed as the third rail of American politics.

With its influence carefully concealed behind decades of deceptions, lies and ruthless intimidation and representing a mere 2.1% of the population spread across nine states, AIPAC and its supporters are like any schoolyard bully when confronted with a higher ethical authority. They throw down the race card, an archaic accusation of anti-semitism intended to play on a misguided empathy that is no longer effective when confronted with words that speak truth to power.

Rep. Omar first came to our attention during a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting with an elegant takedown of convicted felon and neo-con purveyor of brutal atrocities Elliot Abrams who sorely deserved to be humiliated. Abrams is currently President Trump’s point man on plotting future military action in Venezuela.

From there, the controversies around Rep. Omar have whirled with comments purported to be anti-Semitic such as:

It’s all about the Benjamins Baby.”

Israel has hypnotized the world; may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel

Before that uproar had died down, she added

I want to talk about political influence in this country that says it is ok for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. Why is it ok for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, the fossil fuel industry or Big Pharma and not talk about a powerful lobbying group that is influencing policy?”

Bullies in American politics since 1948, the outrage, the denials and the hypocrisy came fast and furious with the usual anti-Semitic card being played and the ‘dual loyalty’ defense as if any one ethnicity or organization is entitled to special accommodating consideration by virtue of ….what exactly?

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fl) responded with a question to Omar that “Jews have dual loyalty and can’t be patriotic members in the country in which they live?”

As an elected Member of the US House of Representatives, Rep. Deutch has an official, legal Constitutional responsibility that his sole and unquestionable loyalty is to the United States. Mr. Deutch’s ‘..in the country in which they live’ is dismissive and a less than an overwhelming commitment to the land of one’s birth which happens to be his employer.

Of special concern is whether any AIPAC Congressional supporters possess a security clearance. If so, that clearance, where appropriate, needs to be revoked immediately and if those supporters cannot solely represent the United States with the utmost devotion and independence, they should resign.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathon Greenblatt explained on March 4th that “Sometimes referred to as the dual loyalty charge, it alleges that Jews should be suspected of being disloyal neighbors or citizens because their true allegiance is to their co-religionists around the world or to a secret and immoral Jewish agenda.”

Mr. Greenblatt takes it even further by contradicting himself in eschewing the dual loyalty meme and then confessing that ‘their true allegiance’ is to another country.

Meanwhile, on March 3rd, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) tweeted that “No member of Congress is asked to swear allegiance to another country. Throughout history, Jews have been accused of dual loyalty, leading to discrimination and violence.”

It is alleged that to raise the issue of dual loyalty is anti-semitic yet both Rep. Deutch and Mr. Greenblatt admit it as all three raised the dual loyalty issue independently as if believing there is an entitlement right to dual loyalty to another country. They do not have that right any more than I have a right to claim dual loyalty to Ireland.

As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, Rep. Omar is not only correct but, in fact, is obliged to act as an elected Member of the House to question the double standard of exactly who is a loyal, true blue American for discussion and debate especially in the context of Article 6 of the United States Constitution known as the Oath Clause:

The Senators and Representatives and the members of several state legislatures

and all executive and judicial officers, both of the US and of the several states

shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution…”

While the Founding Fathers did not specify in Article VI that any elected member of Congress should not ‘be bound…’ to another country, any Court in the land will validate that Constitutional intent was that loyalty ‘be bound by oath or affirmation’ solely to the United States.

According to Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Story (1812-1845) that those sworn in were “conscientiously bound to refrain from all acts inconsistent”. During the American Revolution, General George Washington required all officers to subscribe to an oath renouncing any allegiance to King George III and pledging their fidelity to the United States.

In other words, under Article 6 there is no allowance for dual loyalty which would have been considered treasonous in the country’s earliest days and some would consider it treasonous today.

Thankfully, not a shrinking violet when it comes to politics, Rep. Omar responded with “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress.”

In other words, Rep. Omar is confirming that she has been approached to pledge support since AIPAC’s demand that every single Member of Congress sign a loyalty statement to Israel has been privately reported and is common knowledge although the MSM pretend to be unaware.

In addition, former Representative Cynthia McKinney who served twelve years in the House of Representatives related her experience with the pro-Israel lobby when she supported the Palestinian people, refused to support military policy as it would benefit Israel or sign the AIPAC loyalty pledge. Instead, her Congressional District boundaries were realigned and she earned a primary opponent who ultimately defeated her.

AIPAC’s stated purpose is to lobby Congress on issues and legislation related to Israel but that they ‘do not rate or endorse candidates for election or appointed office or directly contribute’ to a campaign. Who do they think they are kidding? AIPAC dodges registering with the FEC by the use of shell organizations and by requiring its members to join its Congressional Club and donate to the campaigns of certain members of Congress in order to receive exclusive membership benefits. They also annually sponsor free round trip visits to Israel for Members of Congress otherwise known as junkets.

It is a curiosity that AIPAC, the American Israel Political Affairs Committee alleges that it is not a political action committee even as it provided $3.5 million in campaign contributions in 2018. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, AIPAC has not registered its financial activities with the Federal Election Commission as if they have special entitlement.

The backstory is that in 1990, a unanimous FEC decision cleared AIPAC from charges of coordinating campaign contributions with 27 other pro-Israel PACs since acting in collusion is barred by Federal law. Despite ‘similarities in campaign contributions’ and an overlap of membership and shared officers, FEC General Counsel Lawrence Noble reached a finding of ‘insufficient evidence’ to require AIPAC to adhere to US election law.

To date, AIPAC is not registered with the FEC as a Political Action Committee nor is it registered with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent representing the interests of a foreign country.

Categories: News for progressives

Give Diplomacy a Chance in Venezuela

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-03-14 15:45

The United States is pushing for an overthrow of the government of Venezuela. The Trump administration has denounced Nicolas Maduro as a “dictator,” dismissing the 2018 election, which the opposition boycotted. Instead of a good neighbor policy or a policy of non-intervention, the Trump administration has set out intentionally to overthrow the regime.

Long before Trump, the United States was a bitter opponent of the Hugo Chavez regime. The fact that Chavez was wildly popular and freely elected made no difference. He represented a revolution that embraced Fidel Castro’s Cuba and implemented plans to redistribute wealth and empower the poor. In 2002, when the Venezuelan military moved to overthrow Chavez, an official in the Bush administration reportedly met with the coup leaders. The coup attempt was frustrated, however, when Venezuelans rose up in mass against the plotters.

Now with Chavez gone, the current president Nicolas Maduro unpopular, the economy a mess — in significant degree because the price of oil is near record lows — the Trump administration is apparently orchestrating another attempt.

It has continued to ratchet up pressure. It has imposed brutal sanctions on Venezuela, making a bad situation far worse, all the while blaming the government for the misery. Trump has openly threatened a “military option” for Venezuela. His bellicose national security adviser, John Bolton, boasted that “The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — has finally met its match.”

The New York Times reported that Trump administration officials met with Venezuelan military officers who were considering a coup attempt.

Then, Juan Guaido, an obscure politician from a right-wing party, declared himself interim president, claiming that he had that right as head of the National Assembly. The U.S. immediately recognized Guaido, and right-wing governments across the region did the same.

Trump then named Elliott Abrams, infamous for committing perjury before Congress over the Iran-Contra fiasco, and for championing vicious military and paramilitary repression across Central America, as special envoy for Venezuela. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) pumped up demands for intervention, growing so rabid that he tweeted a gruesome picture of the murder of Libya’s Qaddafi as a prediction of Maduro’s fate.

Bolton admitted that he was “in conversation with major American [oil] companies now,” stating that “it would make a difference if we could have American companies produce the oil in Venezuela. We both have a lot at stake here.”

Now Venezuela has been hit with a power blackout, taking out electricity, phone service and internet. In Forbes Magazine, an expert details how easily this could be done by the U.S. in a cyber first-strike.

The U.S. has a long and shameful history of intervention in this hemisphere, too often aligning itself with rapacious elites and the military against the vast majority. In the ’50s, the CIA overthrew a popularly elected government in Guatemala. After the Cuban revolution, the U.S. launched an invasion, terrorist attacks, economic sabotage and boycott, and assassination attempts to get rid of Castro. In 1973, the U.S. embraced the brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet when he led the overthrow of the popularly elected government of Salvador Allende. As recent as 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed the overthrow of the elected government of Honduras, a disaster that has resulted in bands of desperate Hondurans seeking refuge in this country.

Now Trump and his bellicose advisers seem intent on adding another chapter to this shameful history. There is another way. Instead of starving the Venezuelans into submission, we should be engaging with them. Instead of seeking to control their oil, we should recognize their national sovereignty. Instead of fanning coup attempts, we should be leading international negotiations to seek a diplomatic settlement that might lead to new elections.

Nicolas Maduro is far from blameless, but no one nominated the United States to decide who should govern Venezuela. Fomenting regime change — by a soft coup, by economic sabotage, by fostering a military revolt — is likely to lead to more violence and more suffering.

It is time for Congress to step up — to investigate exactly what the Trump administration is doing overtly and covertly, and to call for a return to diplomacy before it is too late.

Categories: News for progressives

A Reckoning is Coming for Jack Evans, But What About the Washington Post?

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-03-14 15:44

D.C.’s longest-serving councilman is in trouble. With the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a federal grand jury investigating his suspect dealings, Jack Evans’ days as a top DC powerbroker are over. That conclusion seems inescapable now that Evans’ strongest ally, the Washington Post, is no longer shielding him.

For years the Post willfully ignored Evans’ repeated crossing of bright ethical lines. As chairman of D.C.’s powerful finance and revenue committee, a position he has held for two decades but may soon lose, Evans has played a central role in crafting deals involving several billion taxpayer dollars, including deals in which he had undisclosed conflicts of interest.

Despite $140,000 salaries, among the nation’s highest for city councils, D.C. councilmembers are allowed to earn outside income. Evans has earned a lot of it over the years, primarily at powerhouse lobby firms. These side hustles haven’t always been isolated from his elected position. His dual hats – as legislator and hired hand – have led to conflicts of interest which are reminiscent of misconduct that led to jail time for others.

Yet over the years Evans had little to fear, as the Post averted the gaze of readers and prosecutors alike. D.C.’s paper of record even appeared to sanction Evans’ conduct, while it pursued black officials over less serious allegations.

The Post’s get-out-of-jail-free card for Evans is due in no small part to their shared love of gentrification. Nicknamed “Chocolate City,” D.C. was over 70 percent African American a few decades ago but is now less than half black. This rapid displacement has been accelerated by publicly subsidized mega-projects, like stadiums and high-end developments, which are Evans’ forte and enjoy the Post’s support.

From Big Firms to Big Trouble

For years Evans’ suspect dealmaking was partly obscured by the size and prestige of Patton Boggs, where he worked from 2001 to 2015. While Evans refused to say exactly what he did for Patton Boggs or who his clients were, the firm’s imprimatur conferred legitimacy on the arrangement.

Things went smoothly for nearly 14 years. Then Patton Boggs merged with another firm (becoming Squire Patton Boggs) and by January 2015 Evans no longer had his cushy second job and its $190,000 salary. This may be the moment things started to unravel for Evans.

While Evans joined Manatt, Phelps & Phillips within the year, it was at a reduced (second) salary of $60,000 a year. And there was another problem: Manatt presented an ethical landmine for Evans since, unlike Patton Boggs, the firm regularly lobbied the D.C. Council.

Evans arrived at Manatt shortly after a merger of two utility companies had stalled. The D.C. Public Service Commission had recently blocked utility giant Exelon’s $6.8 billion takeover of Pepco, and Evans wasted little time inserting himself into the proceedings. In October 2015, the same month he started at Manatt, Evans was the first signatory to an official letter calling on commissioners to reverse course – which they subsequently did. What Evans failed to disclose was that Exelon and Pepco were both clients of Manatt. Now this matter appears to be part of the federal investigation. (I reported on this conflict of interest three years ago at HuffPost, but it wasn’t until last week that the Washington Post finally informed its readers of it.)

In late 2017 Evans quietly left Manatt as additional conflict of interest questions surrounded him. But before departing, and possibly to compensate for his declining earnings, Evans began freelancing for outside income. In July 2016 Evans and his lobbyist friend William Jarvis created their own firm, NSE Consulting LLC, registered at Evans’ Georgetown home.

No longer shielded by big firms, Evans’ suspect dealmaking created a paper trail not even the Postcould ignore – at least not after Jeffrey Anderson of District Dig picked up on it.

Anderson’s reporting showed how in 2016 Evans went to great lengths on behalf of a digital sign company whose executives lavished him with favors, contributions, and possibly cash. Follow up reporting by the Post showed that the company, Digi Media, gave Evans, through his newly created personal firm, money and company stock, which Evans claims he promptly returned. Federal authorities are investigating the matter.

As part of his solo hustle for outside income, Evans also shamelessly pitched his services to firms, even doing so via his chief of staff’s government email address, the Post reported. “It was just a mistake, to be honest with you,” Evans told the Post. “And that’s it. In a hurry. Not thinking. You know?”

In his January 2018 pitch to the firm Nelson Mullins, which had lobbied Evans’ office, the councilman wrote:

“[D.C.’s] budget of over $14 billion is larger than 19 states… Overseeing all of this is the flattest political organization in the country. There are just 15 elected officials in the city: one mayor, 13 councilmembers, and one attorney general. A contract, bill, or regulation can go from idea to consummation in a matter of months.”

And for the right price Evans, calling himself “uniquely positioned,” was happy to help. To tout his value he cited none other than the Post: “If there were such a thing as a Vice Mayor, Jack Evans would be perfect for it.”

With the mayor and Council chairman prohibited from seeking outside income, Evans was the top D.C. official available for hire – one of the few selling points left out of his pitch.

Evans’ pitch highlighted his long tenure as chairman of the finance and revenue committee (“I oversee all legislation related to taxes, financial incentives…”), as well as his chairmanship of WMATA, or Metro, the D.C. region’s subway and bus system.

Investigations

WMATA is now initiating its own investigation of Evans, and it’s not alone. D.C.’s Board of Ethics and Accountability launched an investigation in January, but suspended it, likely due to the federal inquiry. D.C.’s inspector general may be investigating as well. And several councilmembers are calling for a special council committee to look into Evans’ dealings.

In the past days all D.C. councilmembers, as well as Mayor Muriel Bowser, received federal subpoenas for documents related to the investigation of Evans. The subpoenas request documents going back to January 2014, which may indicate Evans’ suspect dealings prior to that date will get a pass.

That would be unfortunate because Evans’ corruption goes back years and warrants a broader inquiry. A serious investigation must examine all the major deals in which he played a key public role, to see if he also had a private interest.

Investigators should examine Evans’ 2009 push for $272 million in public subsidies for Marriott to build a hotel alongside the D.C. convention center. At the one public hearing on the deal – which Evans co-chaired – he called for its speedy approval but failed to disclose that one of the major financing partners in the deal, ING, was a client of Patton Boggs, where Evans was then employed. Two days later Evans suddenly recused himself from voting on the matter, never filing an explanation for his recusal, as required by D.C. law. When the deal became ensnared in lawsuits Evans effectively un-recused himself. (The Post reported on this conflict of interest once online and never in print.)

Evans’ blurring of his private and public business can also seen in his relationship with Rusty Lindner, CEO of The Forge Co., the parent company for Colonial Parking.

The Forge Co. was a client of Squire Patton Boggs, and Evans envisioned it as a client of his prospective firm. In his pitch to Nelson Mullins, Evans listed Lindner and Colonial Parking first among those he would solicit for business if the firm hired him (which it didn’t).

This private solicitation might have been hard for Lindner to refuse, given how generous Evans had been with his public office. “For years, Evans’s Council office had served Lindner as one-stop shopping for networking and problem-solving,” District Dig reported.

Colonial Parking, ING, Digi Media, Exelon… These are likely just the tip of the iceberg. As Evans made clear in his pitch to firms, his services were for sale. So, who bought them? What companies hired Evans’ firms so they could utilize his dual roles? What understandings did they come to with the councilman?

The Washington Post

Standing in the way of a full investigation appears to be D.C.’s paper of record, which has called for inquiries of Evans to be limited to the narrow slice of his misconduct the Post has reported on. Such a circumscribed approach would not only be a disservice to District residents, it would also let the Post off the hook.

The full Evans story implicates the Post, which blessed Evans’ corruption by willfully turning a blind eye to it for years.

That the Post did this at the same time it pursued black officials over less serious allegations only heightens the need to examine the paper’s role in this scandal.

Categories: News for progressives

USA Continues Economic Sabotage of Eritrea

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-03-14 15:41

On February 28, 2019 the last financial wire transactions between the small socialist country of Eritrea and all the western countries were stopped with no further wire transfers in USD$ or Euros to or from Eritrea being allowed .

Unjust and illegal UN sanctions against Eritrea were lifted recently but the damage being done continues. During the 9 year-long UN sanctions period the US shut down all Eritrean government bank accounts and cut off all access to USD$ international transfers. The USA and its European lackeys even tried to prevent Eritreans in the diaspora from paying their national 2% income tax (something all US citizens outside the country must do), critical to the creation and survival of the country.

After being kicked out of the dollar market Eritrea’s next turn was to the EU to no avail. The EU would not allow Eritrea access to international euro transfers so Eritrea was forced to fall back on her only international friend, Russia, as a conduit for  international banking transactions in euros.

US sanctions against Russia enforced against the EU are now officially the cause for shutting down Eritrea’s last western foreign exchange access completely cutting off Africa’s only socialist country from western capital transfers.

While diplomatic ties between Eritrea and the USA have improved dramatically under Trump the economic sabotage of our country’s economy continues. As with all sanctions by the USA, the target is always the people of the sanctioned country, bringing untold misery in the name of “Defending Freedom and Democracy”.

Sanctions have almost never achieved the political aims of the USA with Iraq a prime example during Saddam Hussein’ rule. Half a million dead Iraq’s “was worth it” as Hillary Clinton’s mentor Lady Albright so infamously proclaimed.

In the case of us living here in Eritrea and our family and friends in the diaspora, its cash and carry, the only way to get part of the country’s hard currency  lifeline in and out of our homeland.

When this economic sabotage will end is a question that must be asked in light of the recognition Eritrea has received in being a critical player in the peace that has broken out in the Horn of Africa, never mind the peaceful revolution that took place in Ethiopia in 2018.

It goes without saying that small socialist countries have never been treated fairly, with Cuba and North Korea paying a brutal price in human suffering. Eritrea is the latest victim of Pax Americana and it failing grip on the world’s economic lifelines via the USD$. The shameful thing is how spineless the Europeans are, bowing down to the US Empire in the most craven manner. How this story will end remains unknown, but for Eritreans at home and abroad, it’s just another challenge to overcome.

Categories: News for progressives

Virginia’s Approach to Government Accountability

Counterpunch - Thu, 2019-03-14 15:26

Despite the top three elected Virginia State Democrats generating national headlines for being accused of past racist or even criminal behavior, a movement to reform their democratic process continues to grow. These efforts can use three tools for making structural changes in government: the initiative process, court rulings and electing new public officials.

Virginia does not have the first option. Citizens can only vote on a specific institutional change when their General Assembly (their Senate and House chambers) brings a state constitutional amendment to a vote of the people. Virginia, like a number of other states, has a constitution that is very prescriptive. Consequently, what may be handled as a legislative solution becomes a constitutional amendment, which is a three-step process: it must be passed by two sessions of the General Assembly, followed by a vote of the populace. Despite an arduous journey, constitutional amendments are voted on regularly, most of which are non-controversial.

Their General Assembly completed its annual session in February. On the last day they overwhelmingly approved a a ground-breaking amendment to establish a bi-partisan Redistricting Commission to draw legislative and congressional maps. Next year’s General Assembly must vote on it again before it is placed on the ballot as a referendum during the November 2020 election.

The proposed Commission will have 16-members, eight legislators (four Senators and four Delegates, with equal representation between the parties in each chamber) and eight citizen members (selected by a committee of retired circuit court judges from lists submitted by majority and minority party leadership in each chamber).  The Commission’s redistricting plan must then be approved, without any amendment, by a majority vote of their General Assembly’s two chambers and if passed cannot be vetoed by the Governor. The new boundaries would be in place for the 2021 state district and congressional races, which could shift the control of either chamber or both from the Republicans to the Democrats.

Brian Cannon, Executive Director of OneVirginia2021, was very enthusiastic about the proposed amendment, saying that “This is the most comprehensive reform ever passed through a state legislature.” OneVirginia2021, believed that powerful computerized mapping tools and detailed demographic data in the past had turned district boundary mapmaking into a weapon to keep the party in power from being elected out, as well as giving incumbents the advantage over outside challengers.

Although OneVirginia2021 has a budget under a half-million, with donations averaging $100, they have created 10 regional chapters and garnered over 1,000 core volunteers to collect 100,000 petition signers to support an independent redistricting commission, which would use a transparent process and clear rules that protect communities. They then laid out, in Brian’s words, “a close-to-perfect kind of plan that we thought they (the General Assembly) could use. It served as a marker, though we are far from perfect in what we got.”

Another grassroots organization, the New Virginia Majority, has also played an instrumental role in pushing for redistricting reforms. Jamaa Bickley King, the board chair of NVM has been quoted as saying “While various plans have been put forward, we at New Virginia Majority believe that the only way to remedy the blatant racial discrimination that took place is to ensure a new map maximizes the voting power of minority communities.” NVM hired a national data firm, TargetSmart, to construct a map that respected communities of color and communities of interest and introduced it to the General Assembly as an alternative redistricting map.

Although appreciative of what the General Assembly proposed, Tram Nguyen, Co-Executive Director of NVM, still has concerns, which she believes should be addressed in next year’s legislature’s session. They have introduced redistricting criteria legislation to provide clearer district guidelines and make-up of the commission. Nguyen says, “We must make sure the voices of racial and language minority populations are not ignored in this process.” These clarifications of the proposal would be administrative guidelines, and hence could be passed by the General Assembly without violating the rule denying any amendments being made to what was passed this year.

While both NVM and OneVirginia2021 pushed for an independent commission to draw the districts instead of legislators, they didn’t get that since legislators compose half of the commission membership. However, they strongly approved of commission’s transparency provisions. Those elements consist of requiring the commission to have open public meetings and to hold at least three public hearings in different parts of the Commonwealth, and to have all records and documents associated with the Commission’s work be available to the public. These measures provide community organizations to mobilize residents to express their support or displeasure on the administrative rules that will guide the commission’s operations.

The Republican controlled legislature was motivated to create the commission after they lost 15 house seats in the 2017 elections, when they had said they expected to lose no more than five. They were facing a real possibility, and still do, that the Democrats could control the General Assembly and use gerrymandering to their own advantage just as the Republicans had been doing.

Those electoral victories were due in large part to the efforts of the New Virginia Majority registering 140,000 new votersthe prior year. By targeting low voter turnout communities, like people of color and young people, and lower income folks of all color, they helped overwhelming defeat the Republican backed “Right-to-Work” constitutional amendment at the polls in 2016, winning the vote in every county. NVM continues to register voters and is expecting that their “get out the vote” effort will result in several hundred thousand new voters in 2020, when the constitutional amendment creating the redistricting commission comes on the ballot.

Winning elections is more than just increasing the number of voters, it’s about reflecting the public’s wishes. The desire for more accountability is a non-partisan issue. The Brennan Center for Justice reported that a poll taken last December by Virginia’s Wason Center for Public Policy found that 78% of Virginia voters support a constitutional amendment to create a non-partisan redistricting commission. But the message must be delivered with bipartisan support because past polling has shown that the public is suspicious of political parties using democratic “reforms” to promote their own advantage. Although an all citizen independent redistricting commission would probably receive the most public support, this one’s bi-partisan structure will likely be seen by voters as moving in the right direction, particularly if there are good administrative guidelines.

It is also critical that the public’s wishes be informed of their constitutional rights, which ultimately are determined by the courts. It’s about safeguarding our liberty. The initial force that made Virginia’s elections more accountable to all citizens resulted from a Federal Court ruling in 2016, which found that their Congressional boundaries were discriminatory against black communities. New boundaries used in the 2018 election resulted in 3 of the 11 seats in Congress flipping from Republican to Democrat. A separate court decision in 2017, came to that same conclusion for state house seats and over 20 house district boundaries were redrawn.

Democracies do not sleep. They are dynamic organizations, pushed by technical innovations, demographic fluctuation, and economic cycles. These all contribute to improving or hindering citizens access to the polls. For that reason, it is necessary to continually evaluate if voter access is being maximized. After redistricting, it is the next challenge that state governments must move onto. In Virginia’s last General Assembly sessionfour automatic voter registration bills failed in committee, as did six no-excuse absentee voting – early voting bills and seven vote-by-mail ones. If the democrats have a majority in either chamber, it will be incumbent upon them to take up and pass these measures where they can.

There is no final victory in keeping our democracy alive, there is only a constant diligence to care for it, or else it will slip away.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Jason Kenney would do well to beware the Ides of March in Alberta politics

Rabble News - Thu, 2019-03-14 12:45
David J. Climenhaga

I suppose today, the day before the date in 44 BC made famous by the demise of Julius Caesar, would be an appropriate moment to remind all potential victims of political plots … beware the Ides of March!

It says something for both the ruthlessness and absent likeability of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney that I'm sitting here at my typewriter taking seriously a rumour that Brian Jean, his formal rival for the top UCP job, may be about to run for the Alberta Party.

Here's what my colleague Dave Cournoyer, author of the excellent Daveberta.ca political blog, wrote yesterday: "Just over a year since he resigned as the MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean is said to be making a big announcement later this week -- and the rumour mill is churning hard with news that Jean could jump back into Alberta politics as the Alberta Party candidate in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district in the upcoming election."

If that comes to pass, though, it will be one of the more bizarre developments in Alberta political history.

Jean spent most of the life of Premier Rachel Notley's NDP government working very hard to unite the right under a single banner, the better to crush the orange wave that unexpectedly swamped Alberta in 2015.

Who can forget the photo of Jean, up-thrust thumb raised in jubilation, taken the night members of the Wildrose Party he led and the Progressive Conservative Party led by Kenney voted to become a single entity, soon to be known as the UCP?

Of course, back then Jean had a reasonable expectation the work he'd done would be rewarded with the UCP leadership, and perhaps the premiership of Alberta after that. It was before the "Kamikaze Mission," the UCP voting scandal that has grabbed international attention, and other unsavoury activities provided some hints of how far Kenney is prepared to go to win.

Were Jean to proceed with this most unlikely venture, he would find himself running alongside former Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin, a man who holds a record of sorts for political affiliations.

Anglin was leader of the Alberta Greens in the mid-00s. He was elected in 2012 as Wildrose MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. He left the Wildrose Party in 2014, before Jean took over, to sit as an Independent after he lost the Wildrose nomination to Jason Nixon, now Kenney's UCP House Leader. He sought the Progressive Conservative nomination in 2015 but was disallowed by the party. Last year, he announced he would run for the Freedom Conservative Party led by Derek Fildebrandt -- who was pushed out of the UCP by Kenney. Now Anglin sits as an Alberta Party candidate.

"My detractors will claim I jumped from party to party," Anglin said in a recent email. "There is some truth to this, but the allegation is misleading. … Since 2008, I have been a candidate for two political parties; in both situations, both parties collapsed after they abandoned their principles for the pursuit … of power. I didn't collapse with them, and I have never abandoned my principles. I do not plan to start now!"

Moreover, he observed, unlike some, "I never stabbed Brian Jean in the back!"

Jean is no Joe Anglin. Despite the buzz, I'd be surprised if he runs for another party -- even the Alberta Party.

Still, under leader Stephen Mandel the Alberta Party seems to be trying to take its political evolution full circle, back to the far-right fringe where it started out. And that wouldn't actually be all that different from the Wildrose Party Jean improbably saved in 2014, not long after he had quit as a Conservative MP for Fort Mac.

Readers will recall that happened in the wake of Danielle Smith's attempt to lead her permanently discontented caucus back to the Progressive Conservative mother ship, with only partial success.

We'll see what Jean has to say, if anything. Once bitten, I for one am twice shy. Having been fooled by Jean's last big political announcement -- which turned out to be, "Kim and I are having a baby!" -- I'm not about to get worked up about more supposedly earth-shattering Brian Jean news.

But if it turns out Kenney, the man who successfully united Alberta's right, is so disliked by his former rivals that right-uniters like Jean can become reconstituted vote-splitters, well, surely that says something about the man, does it not?

Beware the Ides of March?

He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.

Exeunt all except BRUTUS and CASSIUS.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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Categories: News for progressives

What would Elizabeth May do in Rachel Notley's shoes?

Rabble News - Wed, 2019-03-13 21:00
March 13, 2019Elizabeth May talks fossil fuels, pipelines and selling out the climate in Alberta The leader of the Green Party of Canada says she would have summoned up the memory of Peter Lougheed, Alberta's first Conservative dynasty, but not the way the province's first NDP premier has.
Categories: News for progressives

Who Ordered The CIA To Assault North Korea's Embassy In Spain?

Did John Bolton, President Trump's national security advisor, order an assault on the North Korean embassy in Spain to get an advantage in the nuclear talks? On February 22 the embassy of the DPRK in Madrid was raided by a...
Categories: News for progressives

Moveable Feast Cafe 2019/03/13 … Open Thread

2019/03/13 11:00:02Welcome to the ‘Moveable Feast Cafe’. The ‘Moveable Feast’ is an open thread where readers can post wide ranging observations, articles, rants, off topic and have animate discussions of
Categories: News for progressives

“Please Step Away from the Socialism”:  The Red Scare Dems at MSNBC

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 16:10

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

I find Donald Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this company, country, as far as the strength and well-being of the country, than Donald Trump.  I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being…I will be so distraught to the point that that could even come out of my mouth, if we have a socialist [Democratic presidential candidate or president] because that will take our country so down, and we are not Denmark.  I love Denmark, but that’s not who we are. And if you love who we are and all the great things that still have to have binders put on the side. Please step away from the socialism.

– Donny Deutsch, advertising executive, “branding and marketing expert,” and regular MSNBC commentator

One of the many amusing things one hears on the American right is the charge that MSNBC is a “far” and radical “leftist” network.

Right, and the North American Meat Institute is a vegan advocacy group.

I’ve watched more of MSNBC than any actual leftist should in recent months.  If there’s anything good to result from this bad habit it is that I am thoroughly inoculated against the notion that the network is anywhere close to my side of things.

One day last week while making dinner, I had MSNBC on in the background. The network’s egomaniacal Ted Baxter-like anchor Chris Matthews had just finished discussing the late breaking news that Donald Trump is a liar. After a long break for drug commercials and some reflections on Ivanka Trump’s security clearance, the Kennedy family super-fan Matthews (who regularly uses his cable news perch to hawk his silly books on the unmatched eminence of the Kennedys) turned to the greatness of capitalism, or “the market.”

Matthews was concerned about the popularity of socialism among Democratic voters, young ones especially. How, Matthews wanted to know, do American socialism fans think they get all the good things they enjoy in America? They get them from “the market, from capitalism,” Matthews said. When one of his panelists, Howard Fineman, interjected to note that “a lot of Millennials feel screwed over by the marketplace,” Matthews shut him down.  Mathews screwed up his face and scoffed about the childish idiocy of mere feelings.

Chris Matthews is about as leftist as the commercials MSNBC runs for BDO Global, a consulting firm that help multinational corporations and investors skirt regulations and avoid taxes. He’s aboutas leftist as morning MSNBC anchor Stephanie “Wall Street is my Favorite Place” Ruhle, a former leading global derivatives seller and hedge fund marketer who feigns concern for the working-class while inhabiting a $7.5 million townhouse on the Upper East Side.

Then there’s David Gura. The longtime business journalist and former N“P”R “Marketplace” host has a Sunday morning MSNBC roundtable show called “Up with David Gura.”  It’s a real downer if you are on the actual Left.

Last Sunday, Gura had a nicely race-and gender-balanced team of commentators on to express their belief that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is an anti-Semitic trope-monger (a ludicrous smear) and to announce their faith in the unsurpassable excellence of capitalism. Socialism is not the way to go, panel and host agreed. Gura smiled while his one white-male guest proclaimed that “we’re all capitalists” because we all bathe in the bourgeois system’s benevolent bounty even if we don’t own capital. We’ll have to share that news with the 78% of U.S. workers who live from paycheck to paycheck.

Gura’s Up with Capitalism segment was sparked by something that had taken place earlier in the week on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show. MSDNC’s weekday early AM co-host “Morning Joe” Scarborough had interviewed the Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper, a former Colorado governor and a wealthy brewery owner who raised eyebrows when he failed to answer affirmatively after Scarborough asked him if he was “a capitalist.” Scarborough subsequently used his “radical leftist” network to claim that “the Democratic Party is in crisis” because of its Bernie Sanders- and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-driven “socialism.” As Scarborough explained:

“Trump is going to devour every one of these [Democratic] candidates if they can’t say they support capitalism… Yes, capitalism has to be reformed from time to time to work for all Americans. But, my God, if you’re afraid to say you are a capitalistin America, I’m just gonna tell you, people on the left Tweeting today may not like it, but let me let you in on a little secret, that is a crisis for your party.  You’re gonna lose in 2020.  I mean just pull up the stakes on the tent and pack her up. The party’s over.”

As Moan’n Joe Scarecrow shared this urgent red distress signal, warning, MSNBC “expert” guest and “Branding & Marketing Expert” Donny Deutsch – nodded and shook his head in dire approval. A silver-spooned advertising executive with a net worth over $200 million, the MSNBC commentator Deutsch weighed in on a split screen:

“[The Democrats are] gonna lose in a landslide [unless they grant proper fealty to capitalism].  Joe, I’m gonna take it one step further, because this is how dangerous socialism is. I find Donald Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this company, country, as far as the strength and well-being of the country, than Donald Trump.  I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being…I will be so distraught to the point that that could even come out of my mouth, if we have a socialist…because that will take our country so down, and we are not Denmark.  I love Denmark, but that’s not who we are. And if you love who we are and all the great things that still have to have binders put on the side. Please step away from the socialism.”

How perfect and yet preposterous was that? As I’ve been saying for years, the dismal dollar-drenched corporate Democrats prefer losing to the right, even a creeping fascist white-nationalist right, over losing to the left, even the mildly progressive social-democratic left, in their own party!

The “liberal” Deutsch, who has likened Trump voters to Nazis, actually voiced readiness to vote for the orange fascist Trump over anyone who tries to make America more like Denmark.

Deutsch actually asked Democratic voters “step away from the socialism.”  And, for some frosting on the plutocratic cake, Donny had to correct himself from calling “our country” a “company”!

I won’t pretend to fully understand the meaning of the convoluted phrase “all the great things that still have to have binders put on the side.”  It seems mean that capitalism has some down-sides, but these are minor and therefore belong in separate files, apart from serious discussion.

How’s that for hard-core radical leftismover at MSNBC (short for “More Sneering Neoliberal Bourgeois Crap”?). Order your bourgeois moral and ideological binders – and or blinders– now. Ask for the double-D (for Donny Deutsch) model.

MSNBC is the corporate Democrats’ progressive-neoliberal network every bit as much as FOX News is the Republicans’ white-national state television station. That’s why many of us on the (and I suppose the right) often call it MSDNC Perhaps we should call the Democrats the Six D party: the dismal, dollar-drenched Donny Deutsch Dems.

One of the funny things about Scarborough’s Sanders-scare is that “reform[ing] capitalism” is pretty much what the “socialist” Bernie Sanders is trying to do. Bernie, for better or worse, is a neo-New Dealer.  He’s a very pale reflection of his purported hero Eugene Debs. Sanders wants to smooth over U.S. capitalism’s worst rough edges with progressive-populist reforms like Medicare for All, seriously progressive taxation, major financial regulation, a significantly increased minimum wage, and green jobs programs.

The Vermont senator is not calling for workers’ control, public ownership of the means of production, or the nationalization of America’s leading arch-parasitic financial institutions. He has yet to join serious radicals in calling for the dismantlement of the gigantic Pentagon System, which eats up more than half of U.S. federal discretionary spending and accounts for 40 percent of the world’s military expenditure. How he expects to pay for Scandinavian-style social democracy without joining actual leftists in calling for the end of the U.S. war machine – itself a giant public subsidy to high-tech corporations like Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin – is anybody’s guess.

“We are not Denmark,” says Donny Deutsch. Too bad for us!  Denmark is the happiest nation on the planet,thanks to the strong social safety net and the egalitarian ethos that pervades its society and politics.  The United States, by contrast, is a pervasively miserable, insecure, soulless, commercialized, victim-blaming, violent, divided, and unequal nation where:

+ The top thousandth (the 0.1 percent, not just the 1 Percent) possesses more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent and three absurdly rich U.S.-Americans – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett – possess more wealth between them than the bottom half of the country.

+ The nation’s 540 billionaires enjoy lives of unimaginable opulence while 15 million children – 21% of all U.S. children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold, a measurement that has been shown to be drastically below the minimally adequate family budgets families require to meet basic expenses.

+ “Government policy,” as two leading political scientists have demonstrated, “reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.”

+ Economic power is so concentrated you can count on one hand and one finger the multi-trillion-dollar financial institutions that control the nation’s economic and political life: Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley.

+  a third of workers make less than $12 an hour ($24,960 a year assuming full-time work) and 42% get less than $15 ($31,200 a year) and  7 million people are three months or more behind on their par payments.

+ Six corporations – Comcast, FOX, Disney, Viacom, CBS, and AT&T – together own more than half of U.S. print, film and electronic media while three Internet giants Google, Facebook, and Amazon rule online communication and shopping.

+ Black median household wealth is equal to 8 cents on the white median household wealth dollar.

+ One in every 10 Black men is in prison or jail on any given day and 1 in 3 Black adult males are saddled with the permanent crippling mark of a felony record.

+ 30,000-40,000 people die from gun violence each year.

+ life expectancy ranks 12th among the 12 wealthiest industrialized countries even though the U.S. has the most expensive health care system in the world

+ 58% of the population is obese.

+ Expensive but very unequally funded schools deliver terrible outcomes.

+ Depression, anxiety, and drug abuse rates rank in the top three among the world’s nations.

All of this is emblematic and symptomatic of the 500-year old class-rule system known as capitalism, recently and accurately called “irredeemable” by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). It comes courtesy of Joe Scarborough, Donny Deutsch, David Gura, and Chris Matthews’ beloved social order, a system based on private ownership and control of the means of production, finance and distribution.  It’s a  system that has always been and continues to be characterized by the systematic extraction of surplus value from working people and recurrent tendencies towards the concentration of wealth and hence power.

And guess what? Everything listed above isn’t even the worst outcome of holy capitalism. The profits system’s most horrific consequence, intimately related to all its other ones, is the generation of an epic environmental catastrophe that has emerged as the single biggest issue of our or any time. (Which doesn’t stop MSNBC from giving it massively less attention than the network grants to the endless Russia Gate story).

It’s not for nothing that 57% of U.S. Democrats now prefer “socialism” to “capitalism.” Millions of Americans, younger adults especially, know very well that irredeemable (thank you AOC) capitalism lay at the ugly class-ruled taproot of the existential nightmare that American and indeed planetary life has become for so many.  That’s something for MSNBC hosts and “experts” not to reflect upon as they fake-knowingly instruct young people and the Democratic base to get on board with the supposedly sacred but frankly democracy-disabling and eco-exterminist profits system. You can bet that the percentage of Americans who prefer socialism to capitalism is more like two-thirds when it comes to Millennial Democrats.  Young people would right to look at the poisoned and unjust world being handed off to them by de facto corporate spokespersons and real or wannabe oligarchs like Chris Matthews, Donny Deutsch, Joe Scarborough, and to say, “up yours, capitalist shitheads.”

Help Street keep writing here.

Categories: News for progressives

Blackface and the American Idea of Race

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The price of scandal

Periodically the American punditocracy convenes on cable TV for a “conversation about race.” But, whether sparked by a celebrity chef’s use of a racial slur, or a Black president’s comment about the shooting of a Black teen, or a white president’s remarks about “fine people on both sides” of a racist march, the conversations about race seem to fade out of the national consciousness as quickly as spring showers, with the phrase “both sides” lingering after them like a bit of precipitation on a pundit’s lip.

Still, dead conversations about race return, first as tragi-comedy, then as farce.

The latest case in point is the national blackface conversation that erupted in February, after Virginia Democratic governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page (complete with a photograph of someone in blackface next to someone in Klan garb), was publicized.

There followed the triple tragi-comedy of Northam’s refusal to resign, of Justin Fairfax, his Democratic lieutenant governor, in turn refusing to step down after two women separately accused him of sexual assault, and, finally, of Mark Herring, the Democratic attorney general and the next in line for the governorship, preemptively announcing that he himself had worn blackface in his youth. All of this and even some of the conversation it sparked would fit in a remake of the old Ingrid Bergman movie where someone asks, apropos of an old crime, “Who remembers what happened or did not happen? Who remembers the truth?”

Who remembers indeed? Amnesia may be the reason why tragi-comedies do not last in real life but tip one way or the other, into full-on farce or full-on tragedy: into Trump riding into the White House promising to fix an illusory border crisis with money from Mexico, or into refugee children suffering and in a few cases dying in the name of that same crisis.

As for the Virginia tragi-comedy, it tipped into farce on March 5, when the Republican Party of Virginia offered a $1000 reward for a  blackface picture of Herring.  The Virginia GOP knows that the viler the picture it unearths, the better its chances of seating a Republican politician in Northam’s chair. But that is not all the VGOP is seeking. It is seeking redemption, too.

After all, Northam won the governorship partly on the grounds that his Republican opponent was running a campaign of racial dog whistles. No less a speech maker than Barak Obama emphasized this when he came down to campaign for Northam in 2017. Further back, during Obama’s presidency, the VGOP had to chastise a county affiliate over racist images of Obama that the affiliate had on its Facebook page.

So, on March 5, offering the reward for Herring-in-blackface under a wanted-poster-style photograph of him, the Virginia Republicans was looking for a chance to seize the racial high ground, along with the levers of power that require the appearance of occupying that ground.

If this move pays off, the VGOP will have turned Northam’s scandal into “a morality car wash” for itself– into a cure for the ethically halt and lame, to borrow the metaphor of Martin Scorsese’s protagonist in Casino.

The Rinse Cycle

Every good American scandal is a morality carwash waiting to be switched on and filled with the most powerful water there is, the water of forgetting–the water that keeps America forever young and unsullied.

The perfect example of the workings of the waters of forgetting emerged toward the end of the tragi-comic phase of the blackface conversation when, after sending 62 journalists to scan American yearbooks for offensive images, USA Today editor Nicole Carroll had her attention called to a blackface page she herself included in a yearbook she edited 30 years ago.

The fact that Carroll had no memory of the offensive page made her, for me, an instant symbol of a country that is forever surprised by what it has chosen not to remember.

To eliminate the discomfort of contradictions between our principles and our actions, cognitive dissonance theory tells us, we sometimes edit our memories to make them consistent with innocent, unsullied version of ourselves.

Carroll, to her credit, apologized profusely and affirmed her commitment to diversity and perhaps put her cognitive dissonance to rest in that time-honored way.

But the VGOP is after something bigger than mere peace of mind. It, like the national party under President Trump’s leadership, is after the power to shape reality. So, before it comes up with that photograph of Mark Herring, and pushes the industrial forgetting into higher gear, it will be useful to trace the ties between the blackface and Klan images on Governor Northam’s medical school yearbook page to their intellectual origins in racist pseudoscience and antebellum entertainment.

The Morality Carwash in the Age of Slavery

Both the pseudoscience and the thirst for blackface entertainment were injected into American life during the period when slavery stood in need of defense and celebration.

One of those who led the conversation on race in those days was a New York actor named Thomas D. Rice. He popularized blackface in the 1830s by creating Jim Crow, a character whose behavior, according to one Louisiana editorialist, proved that emancipation of the slaves should not be considered for even a moment.  After Reconstruction,  “Jim Crow” unsurprisingly became the nickname for the system that enshrined Black inferiority in the southern law.

If Rice was the Mr. Hyde of American race relations, the Dr. Jekyll was Josiah Nott, an esteemed slave-owning physician who became a passionate racial anthropologist.  Together with an “American school” of naturalists, Nott helped spread racist ideas that continue to plague the national unconscious to this day.

Nott set forth “scientific” reasons why the northern states should not, on pain of warfare, step on slavery’s toes in 1850:

I have long been convinced, that the views I have been promulgating for the last ten years, contained the only appeal, which could be made with any possible chance of success, to our Northern brethren. They have been told again and again that the Constitution guaranteed to the South her slaves. … the same God who … permitted Slavery to exist by His Word, … stamped the Negro Race with permanent inferiority…. I now propose to pass over the intricacies of science … and lay before you a few results of investigation, which are very generally admitted amongst men of science …. [T]he naturalists every where are endorsing the opinions for which I am contending.

Much pseudoscience ensued—pseudoscience that has not entirely disappeared in 2019. Neither has the more nakedly self-interested elements of Nott’s argument:

these Negroes cannot be liberated without destroying the prosperity, happiness and political power of the Southern States; and yet we are scoffed at and insulted, as outside barbarians, for perpetuating this institution….

Strip away the podium-pounding trumpeting of Black inferiority and the defense of slavery, and one recognizes, in the claim to have been scoffed at and insulted, a speech in the key of Trump. One recognizes, more importantly, what the scholar George Lipsitz has called “the possessive investment in whiteness.”

Litpsitz uses the adjective “possessive to stress the relationship between whiteness and asset accumulation.”  He stresses research that shows that “nearly every social choice that white people make about where they live, what schools their children attend, what careers they pursue, and what policies they endorse is shaped by considerations involving race.” Nott, who served as director of the Confederate General Army Hospital during the Civil War, is a poster child for the possessive investment in whiteness and for the fact that that investment can influence “scientific” conclusions.

In a world that Nott and Thomas D. Rice helped to create, the spores floating out of the nineteenth century have scattered far and wide–into 1980s college yearbooks, into campus incidents like the one at Yale where police were summoned to investigate a sleeping Black student, and, most consequentially for the present discussion, into the arguments used by opponents of affirmative action and other policies that grew out of the Black freedom movement.

Lipsitz reports that The Possessive Investment in Whiteness grew out of his activism on behalf of affirmative action in the era when it was targeted for destruction in California. His side lost that battle, and affirmative action has had its back against one wall of another ever since, often because of the efforts of some of the same people who triumphed in California.

Blum, Zhao and the veil of forgetting

The current leader of the anti-affirmative action movement, Edward Blum, told me in 2017 that his strategic model is the NAACP Legal Defense fund, which won the case that desegregated American schools by invoking the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

In 2013, a case Blum organized led to the weakening, in the name of the 14thand 15thAmendment and racial equality, a provision of the Voting Rights Act that protected African Americans and other minorities against voter suppression laws.

Today, cases Blum has engineered against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill threaten to end affirmative action (from which people ranging from Sonya Sotomayor to female clerks hired by Brett Kavanaugh have benefited) if they succeed in the Supreme Court. The Harvard case, which alleges that Harvard discriminates against superior Asian students even as it gives a boost to Blacks and Hispanics through affirmative action, may have, as a side-effect, a raising of tensions between nonwhite competitors for American opportunity and a raising of the ghosts of Blum and Rice.

This danger is evident when one considers what the Harvard case has already wrought. In 2015, the Asian American Coalition for Education formed and filed, through the Justice Department, a civil rights complaint against Harvard that took its cues from Blum. Yukong Zhao, the leader of the group, seems to have emerged from central casting as an agent of industrial forgetting.

A graduate of China’s University of Science and Technology who earned a business degree from the University of South Carolina in 1996 and eventually became a Siemens executive, Zhao worked in the period between his degrees at the Chinese Academy of Sciences before settling in the United States in 1992. He is therefore an incarnation of the sort of person for whom H-1B visas, designed for highly-educated immigrants in specialized fields, were intended.

More importantly, he is an incarnation of the sort of person whose children are born into the upper middle-class, with access to the best American educational opportunities.

This makes his children unlike the offspring of most of the poor and working class foot soldiers of the Civil Rights movement, whose households tend to suffer from inherited poverty and unequal opportunity.  Zhao seems unaware or indifferent not only to this fact, but also to the fact that the Chinese community of which he is a proud part has benefited from the gains of the Black Civil Rights movement. (In the 1974 case of Lau v. Nichols, for instance, the Supremes found that failure to provide English language instruction for students of Chinese ancestry enrolled in San Francisco schools violated key provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

Zhao’s public statements suggest that he feels American history began when he arrived in 1992, 18 years after the Lau decision. Thus, in response to a Trump administration rollback of Obama-era guidelines on implementing affirmative action, Zhao told NPR, “I think it’s a new chapter for Asian-American children because, from today, discrimination—you know, the unlawful discrimination against our children will be significantly reduced.”

Zhao’s advocacy for kids who look like him is complemented by a call for more parents like himself: He has called (in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed) for an increase in H-1B visas while lamenting the much larger number of green cards issued to people he deems less productive. Zhao expands on the thinking behind all this in his 2013 book The Chinese Secrets for Success: Five InspiringConfucian Values, where he doles out such advice on topics such as “how to choose a desirable neighborhood that could help shape the future of your children.”

The irony here is that the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the various forms of workplace and educational affirmative action that grew out of it were designed to distribute the work and educational opportunities needed to secure that choice for people who were long denied it, and did not need to be told they needed it. Settling in America with a full compliment of educational capital, Zhao was free to be oblivious to the past and, indeed, to cheer its erasure, as he did when the Trump administration whited out the Obama guidance documents. Zhao was free, in other words, to dive into the waters of forgetting alongside Blum and other self-appointed guardians of civil rights washed clean of history.

As Lipsitz observes, the “power of whiteness depends not only on white hegemony over separate racialized groups but also on manipulating racial outsiders to fight against one another, to compete for white approval, and to seek the rewards and privileges of whiteness [which at its core always means non-Blackness] for themselves.”

Thanks to Nott, Rice and their fellow travelers, no overt racism needs to be involved in any of the current contests over who emerges cleanest from the morality carwash. Blum to all outward appearances is a man committed to an unwavering conception of justice. Zhao claims to have reached out to certain minority organizations, saying,  “We have a heart. We care about them.”

With the ghosts of Nott and Rice still among us, no one needs to make a Nott-like case for preserving the  “prosperity, happiness and political power” of whites or for beating others with the  “model minority” yardstick by which they measure themselves, as Zhao proudly does. All such bitter insistence is concealed by a vast forgetting, and by the ignorant grievances that forgetting makes possible.

Categories: News for progressives

Empire Unravelling: Will Huawei Become Washington’s Suez?

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:59

Photograph Source Brücke-Osteuropa

America’s full-spectrum campaign against Chinese tech leader Huawei is coming spectacularly undone. Curtains are imminent for Washington’s tawdriest global offensive in recent memory – featuring open extortion, kidnapping, demonization and intimidation of both friends and foes.

The signs were apparent as early as two months ago, when many governments worldwide lukewarmly greeted US calls for a boycott of Huawei’s products and services. But explicit refusals in the past week by staunch American allies Germany, Britain and New Zealand, as well as NATO member Turkey, have all but sealed the deal. After all, hardly any country outside the US-dominated Empire is signing on.

Even 61% of CNN viewers thought the crackdown was motivated by politics, against 24% who believe Washington’s line on “protecting national security.” All that apparently persuaded POTUS Trump to tweet about winning the tech race with China “through competition, not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies.”

Washington’s stunning defeat stems from US leaders’ hidebound hubris, their utter inability to conceive of a world in which their country was no longer No. 1 in everything significant. Such navel-gazing put them to sleep, oblivious that history has marched past them in the form of China’s Huawei Technologies. The simple fact is – as Huawei boss Ren Zhengfei has been saying – the Chinese firm is far ahead of everyone else in the development of 5G. Any nation that doesn’t want to be left behind rolling out the game-changing, next-generation communications technology has little choice but to do business with Huawei. Moreover, without fanfare the company has taken a leading role in shaping the very rules of 5G, on a global basis. Like China itself, Huawei simply cannot be contained.

There’s a bigger question underlying the Battle Over Huawei: Will it turn out to be the Suez Crisis of the American Empire? That 1956 watershed in the Middle East clearly signaled the end of the British Empire’s century-long domination of world affairs. America’s President Eisenhower stopped cold a UK-led invasion of Egypt by threatening to dump Washington’s huge holdings of pound-sterling bonds and cripple the British financial system. China may not have hinted at selling its hoard of US Treasurys, but such a move has long been implicit. After Suez, the world knew for certain there was a new No. 1 power: the United States. The battleground in 1956 was oil; in 2019, it is technology.

On other fronts, the signs are grim for Imperial Washington as well. Besides the revolt of the Europeans over Huawei, the German government is at odds with the Trump regime over a growing number of issues. They include Germany refusing to buy America’s F-35 jetfighter; spearheading the creation of a European Army, together with France; cementing Berlin’s (and the EU’s) ties to Russia through energy pipelines; forging a more independent European foreign policy; and, it’s whispered, eventually getting the US “army of occupation” out of Germany. If she proceeds, Chancellor Angela Merkel will have solid public backing. A recent poll found that 85% of Germans considered Berlin’s relationship with the US “negative.” Some 42% said China made a more reliable partner for Germany than the US, while only 23% said the opposite. Italy has announced its intention to participate officially in the China-led Belt & Road Initiative to develop EurAsia, becoming the first Western nation to do so.

In Asia too, Washington has been losing ground. Behind the scenes, the leaders of North and South Korea — not the grandstanding Trump — are spearheading the accelerating moves towards peace and perhaps eventual reunification. They are being discreetly supported and guided by China, especially President Xi Jinping. Trump took his country further out of the picture last week by blowing a much-anticipated summit with the DPRK’s Kim Jong Un with his hardline obstinacy. Even faithful US ally Japan has been engaging its Chinese archrivals in détente, even as it distances itself from an increasingly erratic Washington.

In the Middle East, America’s headaches are intensifying with a bedrock associate, Saudi Arabia. Last week, Riyadh’s volatile, headstrong Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited India and China in a clear bid to diversify his country’s reliance on the US for economic development as well as security.

In the American homeland, meanwhile, bitter political divisions make daily headlines, exacerbated by the pugnacious style of the Trump regime. Nativism and racism have raised their ugly heads to new highs for recent times.

Abroad, allies are talking back and breaking ranks, while rivals gain ground and influence at US expense. At home, the nation chases its own tail incessantly, even as national institutions decay.

How much longer can the American imperium hold?

Categories: News for progressives

Margaret Thatcher’s Love of Quack Remedies

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:58

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

As a leftie I’m biased of course, but I always thought the old witch Margaret Thatcher was more or less off her trolley (as we Brits say) — she had that mad glint in her eyes, and the recent release of a batch of Thatcher’s private papers, made public after the 30-year embargo was lifted, serves somewhat to confirm this impression.

Some of the papers in this set of releases show Thatcher to have been a sucker for what quacks were quick to offer her.

Thatcher’s biggest supplier of quack remedies was Dame Barbara Cartland (1901-2000), the author of 723 novels (mostly trashy bodice-rippers) that sold over 750 million copies and were translated into 38 languages.  Cartland, incidentally, was Princess Diana’s step-grandmother, and it is reported that Cartland’s novels were the only books read by the untutored Diana.

Thatcher, known to be a workaholic, received “nutrimental capsules” from the ever-solicitous Dame Barbara “in case you ever feel tired”.

Some of these capsules were made from “crushed sheep’s brain plus heart”.

Did it ever occur to the good dame that some may view capsules made from the crushed brains and hearts of donkeys to possess as much “nutrimental” value as her sheep-derived capsules?

In addition to the capsules, Thatcher also received a “magic acorn” from the novelist. According to The Guardian:

“The nut in question appears to have originated from an oak tree in the garden of Cartland’s estate near Hatfield, Hertfordshire. The tree was reputedly planted by Queen Elizabeth I on shooting her first stag, and Cartland believed it had magical powers.

In a 1994 interview with the Sunday Telegraph, the author related how she had given one of the “magic acorns” to a couple who appeared unable to have children, “and now they have a beautiful bouncing baby”. She added: ‘Of course, she [the mother] was always taking my vitamins’”.

Cartland took about 100 “all-natural” pills each day, which may or may not have contributed to her longevity (she died just short of her 99th birthday).

Thatcher had studied chemistry at Oxford, so it is perhaps surprising she fell for Cartland’s mumbo-jumbo. But then her Oxford chemistry tutor Dorothy Hodgkin (winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964) did not rate Thatcher highly as a chemist.

Another to give Thatcher advice on supplements was the millionaire industrialist Emmanuel Kaye, who visited Thatcher at home in 1989. According to The Independent, “’He [Kaye] said he could “sort out vitamins, minerals etc. and, if you like … check whether the vitamin C and the royal jelly you are having are of the best variety for you and work out the optimum dosage’”.

However, vitamins and royal jelly were small beer for the millionaire– his real specialty was something called “body tuning”.

Alas the newly released documents do not indicate whether the Iron Lady accepted this offer of “body tuning”.

The just-released papers detailing Thatcher’s predilection for quackery brought renewed attention to a 1989 Vanity Fair profile of her, titled The Blooming of Margaret Thatcher, which raised some eyebrows when it was published.

The Vanity Fair profile mentioned Thatcher’s use of “electric baths” in an effort to stay young. She visited an Indian practitioner who would run 0.3 amps of electricity through her bath water.

I thought at that time the unnamed practitioner would have saved large numbers of Brits any amount of misery if he decided to amp the electricity in Thatcher’s bath up to 30 amps!

I also recall The Guardian reporting in 2003 of Thatcher’s fondness for vitamin B12 shots, which her doctor was required to inject straight into her buttocks.

Alas the Tories aren’t the only UK party with a leader susceptible to New Age hocus pocus.  The Blairs, when Tony was Labour party leader and prime minister, had a controversial “lifestyle guru”, Carole Caplin.

Ms Caplin was personal shopper, fashion adviser, and fitness trainer to the Blairs (in addition to being a stylist and “spiritual adviser” to Cherie Blair–under Caplin’s tutelage, Mrs Blair was known to wear “magic crystals”).

Caplin gave Tony Blair “neck massages”, and chose his clothes, including his underwear.

In the 2002 “Cheriegate Affair” it was revealed that Caplin’s former lover Peter Foster, a convicted Australian conman, had helped Cherie Blair buy 2 properties at a discount.

Carole Caplin had already acquired notoriety in 1994 when the Murdoch-owned rag The Sun informed Blair’s office they had topless photographs of her which they intended to publish under the headline “Secrets of Blairs’ Girl Friday” on the day of Blair’s first Labour conference speech as leader.

Blair’s Svengali and spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who was hostile to Caplin from the beginning,  threatened to resign over this episode.

The Blairs had an American precursor in hiring a controversial “guru”, to wit, the Reagan White House’s court “astrologer” Joan Quigley. Donald Regan, the president’s chief of staff, who was no fan of Quigley’s, later wrote in his memoirs:

“Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco [Quigley] who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise”.

Ours is of course the time par excellence of postmodern political leadership, where leaders dealing with the pressures of office can resort to equally postmodern therapies and salves for the anxious soul.

Leaders from a previous generation had ways and means of dealing with stress more attuned with the mores of the time.

Churchill’s formidable drinking regimen comes to mind (his motto: “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me”)— hence for him a morning whisky “mouthwash”, a bottle of champagne at lunch, a glass of whisky by his side for the rest of the day, and more champers for dinner with brandy to follow. The old brute lived to be 90.

Thatcher, her partiality for “nutrimental capsules” and “magic acorns” aside, was known to drink whisky through the night when she was under pressure.

And let’s not get started on Boris Yeltsin!

When it came to over-eating, and not just boozing, the leader of them all in our times must surely be the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1930-2017), with whom Thatcher had a poor relationship, primarily because she opposed German reunification, which he accomplished.

Kohl was a big man (6’4”/1.94m and weighing over 300lbs/136kgs) with an appetite to match, especially for the typical dishes of his home province, such as stuffed pig’s stomach (saumagen), pickled pig’s head (schweinskopfsülze), strudel made of blood sausage and liverwurst, liver dumplings, and steamed yeast rolls. His wife Hannelore tried to control his weight and gargantuan appetite, so Kohl had to resort to secret eating.

All this is by and by, because it is impossible to imagine Churchill, Kohl, or Yeltsin dealing with the travails of office by resorting to lifestyle gurus, crystals, magic acorns, vitamin shots administered to the buttocks, electric baths, or astrology.

Another bottle of scotch or vodka (per day), or plate of blood sausages, was their order of the day.

Categories: News for progressives

An Open Letter to Boeing: Put Passengers First, Ground the 737 MAX 8 Now!

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:57

I called Boeing’s office in Washington, D.C. about the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, with over 300 fatalities, to give them some advice. They were too busy to call back, so I’m conveying some measures they should take fast in this open letter.

Dear Boeing Executives:

You don’t seem to see the writing on the Wall. Your Boeing 737 MAX 8 is being grounded by more and more countries and foreign airlines. Airline passengers in the U.S. are switching away their reservations on this plane and there are signs of an organized boycott of this aircraft which is used by the major U.S. airlines.

It is only a matter of time before the bereaved families organize, before members of Congress start forcefully speaking out, as Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal just did. Both Senators are on the Senate’s Aviation Subcommittee.

Soon the technical dissenters in the reported “heated discussions” with FAA, the airline industry, the pilot unions and your company will see some internal e-mails, memos, and whistleblowers go public. Technical dissent cannot be repressed indefinitely.

Your own lawyers should be counselling you that Boeing is on public notice and that, heaven forbid, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 crash in this country, the arrogance of your algorithms overpowering the pilots, can move law enforcement to investigate potential personal criminal negligence.

Clearly, you run a company used to having its way. Used to having a patsy FAA, with its “tombstone mentality,” used to delaying airworthiness directives that should be put out immediately, and not diluted and delayed, used to getting free government R&D and used to avoiding state and federal taxes.

Stop digging in your heels. Tell the airlines to stop digging in their heels. Public trust in your Boeing 737 MAX 8 is eroding fast. Get ahead of the curve that is surely heading your way.

You see the Boeing 737 MAX 8 as being a large part of your passenger aircraft business. You’ve delivered over 300 planes and reportedly have over 3000 orders. Over the years, your engineers have solved many technical problems brilliantly. The domestic safety record of the major airlines, using your equipment, has been very commendable for more than a decade. A lot of the credit goes to Boeing as well as to the airline pilots, flight attendants, traffic controllers, and mechanics.

But there is always a time when commercial dictates and a rush to get ahead of Airbus result in too many corners being cut. There is always a time when the proverbial rubber band, being stretched suddenly snaps. This aircraft is not an old DC-9 being phased out. The stakes involved in your erring on the side of safety and letting your engineers exercise their “options for revision,” affect the future of a good part of Boeing.

Tell the U.S. airlines and other recalcitrant airlines overseas to ground their 737 MAX 8 planes and then you do what is necessary to restore the engineering integrity of your company. You did this before with the Boeing 787 in 2013.

Once an aircraft starts to carry a stigma in the minds of passengers, time is of the essence. You know all about branding’s pluses and minuses. It is better to act now before being forced to act, whether by Congress, the FAA, a prosecution or another aircraft disaster that could have been avoided.

For safety,
Ralph Nader
Co-author of Collision Course: The Truth About Airline Safety

Categories: News for progressives

Nuclear Powers Need to Disarm Before It’s Too Late

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:57

Photograph Source United States Department of Energy

The recent military clash between India and Pakistan underscores the need for the major nuclear powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, and France — finally to move toward fulfilling their obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Treaty’s purpose was not simply to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, but to serve as a temporary measure until Article VI could take effect: the “cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

The 191 countries that signed the NPT — the most widely subscribed nuclear treaty on the planet — did so with the understanding that the major powers would de-nuclearize. But in the 50 years since the Treaty was negotiated, the nuclear powers have yet to seriously address eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

While over the years the Americans and the Russians have reduced the number of warheads in their arsenals, they — along with China — are currently in the midst of a major modernization of their weapon systems. Instead of a world without nuclear weapons, it is a world of nuclear apartheid, with the great powers making no move to downsize their conventional forces.

For non-nuclear armed countries, this is the worst of all worlds.

There Are No “Local” Nuclear Wars

The folly of this approach was all too clear in the recent India and Pakistan dustup. While both sides appear to be keeping the crisis under control, for the first time in a very long time, two nuclear powers that border one another exchanged air and artillery attacks.

While so far things have not gotten out of hand, both countries recently introduced military policies that make the possibility of a serious escalation very real.

On the New Delhi side is a doctrine called “Cold Start” that permits the Indian military to penetrate up to 30 kilometers deep into Pakistan if it locates, or is in pursuit of, “terrorists.” On the Islamabad side is a policy that gives front-line Pakistani commanders the authority to use tactical nuclear weapons.

The possibility of a nuclear exchange is enhanced by the disparity between India and Pakistan’s military forces. One does not have to be Carl von Clausewitz to predict the likely outcome of a conventional war between a country of 200 million people and a country of 1.3 billion people.

Pakistan reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first. India has a “no first use” policy, but with so many caveats that it is essentially meaningless. In brief, it wouldn’t take much to ignite a nuclear war between them.

If that happens, its effects will not be just regional. According to a study by the University of Colorado, Rutgers University, and UCLA, if Pakistan and India exchanged 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear warheads (15 kilotons), they would not only kill or injure 45 million people, but also generate enough smoke to plunge the world into a 25-year long nuclear winter.

Both countries have between 130 and 150 warheads apiece.

Temperatures would drop to Ice Age levels and worldwide rainfall would decline by 6 percent, triggering major droughts. The Asian Monsoon could be reduced by between 20 and 80 percent, causing widespread regional starvation.

Between the cold and the drought, global grain production could fall by 20 percent in the first half decade, and by 10 to 15 percent over the following half decade.

Besides cold and drought, the ozone loss would be between 20 and 50 percent, which would not only further damage crops, but harm sea life, in particular plankton. The reduction of the ozone layer would also increase the rate of skin cancers.

The study estimates that “two billion people who are now only marginally fed might die from starvation and disease in the aftermath of a nuclear conflict between Pakistan and India.”

In short, there is no such thing as a “local” nuclear war.

The Ultimate Equalizer

Article VI is the heart of the NPT, because it not only requires abolishing nuclear weapons but also addresses the fears that non-nuclear armed nations have about the major powers’ conventional forces.

A number of countries — China in particular — were stunned by the conventional firepower unleashed by the U.S. in its 2003 invasion of Iraq. Though the U.S. occupation of Iraq took a disastrous turn, the ease with which U.S. forces initially dispatched the Iraqi army was a sobering lesson for a lot of countries.

In part, it is the conventional power of countries like the U.S. that fuels the drive by smaller nations to acquire nuclear weapons.

Libya is a case in point. That country voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Less than seven years later Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by the U.S. and NATO. At the time, the North Koreans essentially said, “we told you so.”

The NPT has done a generally good job of halting proliferation. While Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea have obtained nuclear weapons — the first three never signed the Treaty and North Korea withdrew in 2003 — South Africa abandoned its program. Other nuclear-capable nations like Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Iran, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia also haven’t joined the nuclear club — yet.

But it is hard to make a case for non-proliferation when the major nuclear powers insist on keeping their nuclear arsenals. And one can hardly blame smaller countries for considering nuclear weapons as a counterbalance to the conventional forces of more powerful nations like the U.S. and China. If there is anything that might make Iran abandon its pledge not to build nuclear weapons, it’s all the talk in Israel, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia about regime change in Tehran.

Regional Tinderboxes

There are specific regional problems, the solutions to which would reduce the dangers of a nuclear clash.

The U.S. has taken some steps in that direction on the Korean Peninsula by downsizing its yearly war games with South Korea and Japan. Declaring an end to the almost 70-year-old Korean war and withdrawing some U.S. troops from South Korea would also reduce tensions.

Halting the eastward expansion of NATO and ending military exercises on the Russian border would reduce the chances of a nuclear war in Europe.

In South Asia, the international community must become involved in a solution to the Kashmir problem. Kashmir has already led to three wars between India and Pakistan, and the 1999 Kargil incident came distressingly close to going nuclear.

This latest crisis started over a February 14 suicide bombing in Indian-occupied Kashmir that killed more than 40 Indian paramilitaries. While a horrendous act, the current government of India’s brutal crackdown in Kashmir has stirred enormous anger among the locals. Kashmir is now one of the most militarized regions in the world, and India dominates it through a combination of force and extra-judicial colonial laws — the Public Safety Act and the Special Powers Act — that allows it to jail people without charge and bestows immunity on the actions of the Indian army, the paramilitaries, and the police.

Since 1989, the conflict has claimed more than 70,000 lives and seen tens of thousands of others “disappeared,” injured, or imprisoned.

India blames the suicide attack on Pakistan, which has a past track record of so doing. But that might not be the case here. Even though a Pakistani-based terrorist organization, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), claims credit, both sides need to investigate the incident. It is not unlikely that the attack was homegrown — the bomber was Kashmiri — although possibly aided by JeM. It is also true that Pakistan does not have total control over the myriad of militant groups that operate within its borders. The Pakistani Army, for instance, is at war with its homegrown Taliban.

The Kashmir question is a complex one, but solutions are out there. The United Nations originally pledged to sponsor a plebiscite in Kashmir to let the local people decide if they want to be part of India, Pakistan, or independent. Such a plebiscite should go forward. What cannot continue is the ongoing military occupation of 10 million people, most of whom don’t want India there.

Kashmir is no longer a regional matter. Nuclear weapons threaten not only Pakistanis and Indians, but, indeed, the whole world. The major nuclear powers must begin to move toward fulfilling Article VI of the NPT, or sooner or later our luck will run out.

Categories: News for progressives

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