News for progressives

On the ‘Name Recognition’ Shibboleth in the Democratic Primary Data Discussion

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:56

Now that the 2016 Democratic Primary cycle is (mostly) over — will it ever be entirely? — it has become fashionable once again to forward name recognition as a reasonably large factor in what distinguishes one or more candidates from the others in early polling of the field at large and amongst specific demographic sub-groupings. As The Intercept’s Ryan Grim has noted in an article on Bernie Sanders having double the support among African American likely Democratic Primary voters as Kamala Harris, the name recognition argument was “casually dismissed when made by Sanders supporters” in 2016.

“Casually” puts it somewhat mildly. Rudely and perfunctorily would do better. Meanwhile, the same crowd is enthusiastically chalking up almost all of Joe Biden and Sanders’ poll strength over their preferred candidates to the name recognition shibboleth.

Put most simply, the ‘name recognition’ argument suggests that even large gaps in polling support might best be explained by how well candidates are known by voters at this stage in the race rather than by the likelihood that those differences may hold when voting begins a year or so from now.

The graph at the top of this article, as well as the one that follows this paragraph, indicate that while name recognition might explain as much as 50% to 70% of data variances between candidates’ support at this stage, it is far from a slam dunk that this is the only factor at play, if it is even the most dominant one. Using a wide variety of potential candidates, including ones very unlikely to run (Oprah Winfrey, Michael Avenatti, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton) and ones who have recently announced they will not be running (Michael Bloomberg and Sherrod Brown), I have plotted name recognition (y-axis) against the best support the person has received in a 2018 or 2019 poll (x-axis). Name recognition, in these ways of modelling the data, may have some explanatory power, but is far from what data minded people would hope for in terms of a nice cluster of entry points along a linear or evenly curved line moving from bottom left to upper right in a graph. For those as I am, not formally trained in statistics, the R² number in the bottom left is a statistical measure of how much of the variance among data is explained by a regression analysis, provided the entries are accurate. If the R² was at or near zero, the factors in play would be said to explain none of the variances, while the closer the number reaches to 1, the closer to a perfect explanation of the variations the interaction among plotted features has reached. Narrowing our data down to currently announced or reasonably likely potential candidates, including a curved power trendline rather than a linear one, and using a three week average of polling data rather than best poll, we can move the R² from about a 50% variance explanation range to around 70%.

In both cases, candidates or potential candidates below the red dotted line are doing better than the model would expect them to do if ‘name recognition’ was a perfect fit for how candidates are performing right now, or performing in their best poll. Candidates above the red dotted line are performing from a bit worse (closer to the line) to far worse than expected, given their name recognition, the further they are above it. In the top chart Michael Bloomberg, whose name recognition according to Gallup polling is near 90% but whose best poll was around 8%, is well above the line and a good example of why being well known is not enough to guarantee good polling.

By the same token, this analysis has given me a reason to reconsider my skepticism about Beto O’Rourke’s potential to do quite well. The highest measurement of name recognition I can find for him is 61% in the most recent Morning Consult data to measure his favorability. But his best poll was a remarkable 21% as measured by Change Research just before Christmas. While he has now fallen to 5% or so in the three-week average, that still puts him higher than would be expected given how well-known he is by voters at this stage. If, as expected, he officially joins the race later this week and has a good kick-off bounce, he could well rejoin the small cadre of candidates regularly polling in the double digits.

But there are clearly other factors beyond name recognition at play: 1) proximity to Barack Obama (see Michelle Obama and Joe Biden’s high support as well as the impact of favorable comments by Obama about Harris and Beto) 2) real or perceived ability to beat Trump, much of which can be measured by polling (“Bernie would have won,” Joe Biden’s favorability ratings and consistent double digit leads against Trump, and polls showing Democrats most want a candidate who can beat Trump, for examples) 3) proximity to the movement Left led by Bernie Sanders, including the ability to attract small donors rather than relying solely on large, corporate contributions 4) which candidate is being hyped by CNN and FiveThirtyEight as the flavor of the month. Beto fit the bill for the latter in December and saw a huge bump in support accordingly. Elizabeth Warren was the “it-candidate” briefly in the first two weeks of January after announcing early and leading in the first DailyKos straw poll. That place was then taken up by Harris from mid-January to mid-February, but her bubble appears to have popped a bit over the last several weeks with a real or relative decline in each of the last eight state or national polls since Sanders announced his candidacy on February 19.

In keeping with my analysis of the data, I have added a name recognition adjustment to my updating weekly candidate rankings, to be found in the Twitter thread here. By January 2016, Bernie Sanders had reached around 85% name recognition (about the level at which Elizabeth Warren is now). For candidates in the top eight spots, the rankings will generously assume that they can perform at least that well, and their support has been adjusted upward on a linear basis to a 85% level. Candidates in the 9th and 10th spot are assumed to be able to reach at least 75% if they can make the debates and run a decent campaign, and candidates ranked 11 or below are adjusted up to 65% name recognition if they have not yet reached that level.

As for the weekly rankings, Biden continues to lead, but that lead has shrunk a fair bit as Sanders jumped 5% on improved poll nationally. Adding the name recognition adjustment for candidates vaulted O’Rourke into 4th spot, displacing Warren to fifth. I have also added Stacey Abrams (impressively already at 6th spot), Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang while Bloomberg and Brown have been removed.

Categories: News for progressives

8 Ways to Fix America’s Messed-Up Presidential Elections

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:55

In 2016 there were 17 major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, so many they had to have two sets of debates—and the guy who won was the first of all. Seven pundit-viable candidates have declared for 2020 on the Democratic side, more probably on the way, yet many Democrats say they’re not excited by any of them.

There must be a better way.

Presidential campaigns could be improved—streamlined, made more relevant to more voters and their worries, and likelier to result in better outcomes—and it wouldn’t require revolutionary change, just common-sense reforms.

In a representative democracy the goal ought not to be engagement for its own sake. You want voters to vote because they’re vested in the outcome; you want candidates who, after they’re elected, work hard to fix the biggest problems. The ideal politician is responsive and accountable to the citizenry. Otherwise people look at politics and think “what a load of crap, it makes no difference to me.”

First, take a step back: get rid of jungle primaries and open primaries. Both of these newfangled experiments were marketed as ways to increase voter turnout and encourage moderation. They don’t.

In a jungle or open-participation primary like in California the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to a second final round. Trouble is, both might be from the same party, disenfranchising the other party’s voters during the general election. If one party’s candidates split the vote, the minority party can win. Either scenario depresses voter interest and participation. In an open primary voters can cross party lines to vote in the other party’s primary. Studies show that open primaries do not result in victories by more moderate candidates (assuming that’s desirable); Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign shows what happens when a party whose electorate has moved way left is asked to turn out for a centrist.

Either we have parties and party identification or we don’t. Jungle and open primaries are mere mush.

Second, amend Article II of the Constitution. The requirement that only “natural born” citizens over age 35 may run for president ought to be abolished. If you’re mature enough to decide who gets to hold an office, you can hold it. The “natural born” requirement effectively turns naturalized Americans like Arnold Schwarzenegger into second-class citizens and opens the door to stupid discussions like whether John McCain, born in the former Panama Canal Zone, and Ted Cruz (born in Canada) qualifies. France, Germany, Great Britain and Israel are some of the countries that allow naturalized citizens to become head of state.

Opening the presidency to talented young politicians like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (age 29) would reduce the (accurate) perception that top-tier U.S. politics is a hetero white male game.

Third, give presidential debates back to the League of Women Voters. The LWV passed the sponsorship torch to the Commission on Presidential Debates in 1988 because the two parties wanted to control “the selection of questioners, the composition of the audience, hall access for the press and other issues.” Then-League president Nancy Neuman complained at the time: “It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions.”

Neuman was prescient: since 1988 the debates have become soft-ball pabulum. Controlled by the two parties, the Commission excludes third-party candidates from participating. In 2012 the Commission even had Green Party presidential candidate tied to a chair for eight hours for the crime of trying to participate in democracy. The LWV wasn’t perfect but it was independent.

Fourth, level the campaign financing playing field. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision that enshrined pay-to-play can be abolished with the passage of a bill limiting or controlling outside donations. As with food, France does it better: whereas top individual donors to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gave more than $20 million each, the cap is €7,500 in France. There are two rounds in French presidential elections. Spending is severely restricted. “To help even out the playing field a little between bigger and smaller parties, campaign expenses can’t legally go over a certain threshold, €16.8 million for the first round, and €22.5 million for the second round,” according to The Local. That’s tiny compared to the $2.6 billion spent by Clinton and Trump in 2016.

U.S.-style political TV ads are banned in France. No matter how small their party, each candidate gets a small number of official statements on the air. In the second-round general election, the airtime of each candidate is exactly equal.

Like France, we can and should limit campaign spending to give new and outside voices an equal chance at getting their opinions out to voters.

Fifth, make voting simultaneous and easier. The major flaw with early voting is, what if big campaign news—one of the candidates talking about “grabbing their pussy,” say—breaks after you voted in October? It’s not like you can take your vote back. Make Election Day a national holiday (as it is in most developed countries) and let people vote on their computers or smartphones. 89% of Americans use the Internet; two out of three do their banking online. How great would it be if candidates’ policy positions and detailed explanations of ballot initiatives could be linked directly via an election app?

Sixth, and most likely to be controversial, is my list of American citizens who should not be permitted to run for president.

If you’re an incumbent officeholder, you should not run. Finish your term first, complete your commitment to the voters of your state or district.

If you cannot pass a simple test about the U.S. and its political system, you should not be allowed to run. We’ve had too many idiot presidents already. What is the Second Amendment? What is the capital of Puerto Rico? Which branch of government may declare war? How many members are there in Congress? Ten questions, you must correctly answer seven.

If you own investments in a business, stock or other investments, or hold office in a company, you should not present yourself as a candidate for the presidency. Conflicts of interest should not be permitted; divest and stick your cash in a 0.3% annual interest savings account. Serve the people, not yourself.

If a close family member by blood or marriage served as president or vice president, you should not run. Your spouse served? Your sibling? Your parent? Find another job. America is a big country and not a hereditary monarchy; give someone from another family a chance.

Seventh: abolish the Electoral College.

Eighth: make it easier for third parties to run by loosening ballot-access rules. Reduce the number of signatures required to get on the ballot. Get rid of laws requiring that you get certain percent of the vote. More choices means more options means greater likelihood that you agree with someone who’s on the ballot.

Categories: News for progressives

I Love the Green New Deal But …

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:55

Ever since our first ancestor lit a fire, humans have been pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. Add to that the first herder because ruminants are another large emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG).

Some people want to declare a national emergency and ban fossil fuels within ten years. How? I am for it and all ready to go. But please tell me how. Think of the quarter billion vehicles in the U.S. and the infrastructure supporting them; the myriad gas stations and repair shops and the people employed in them; the thousands of miles of domestic gas pipelines to homes using gas stoves and gas heating. Think of the restructuring, the replacement, the energy required, the megatons of metal and other materials used and their production which all require one thing — energy. And what about air travel and the shipping industry?

What of the millions of jobs lost? Think of the jobholders and their families. Most of these workers cannot switch skills overnight. These are not just the million and a half employed in the industry directly, but include gas company employees, your gas furnace repair and maintenance man, the people building furnaces, gas stoves, the auto repair infrastructure — electric motors of course are darned reliable and need attention only to brakes, tire rotation and battery coolant checks for the most part — and so on.

When you offer this laundry list, the response is likely to be, “Well I didn’t mean that.” In effect, it defines the problem with the Green New Deal: It is remarkably short on the ‘whats’ and especially the ‘hows’. Funny though I first searched for the Green New Deal at Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (whose courage I admire greatly) official web page and surprisingly found … well nothing. Why not something practical like mandating solar collectors on new homes constructed?

So you want to suck the CO2 out of the air; you can. It takes 300MW to 500MW of electrical energy per million tons annually. To put it in perspective, we need to remove at least 20 billion tons (20,000 times more) each year to remove the minimum of a trillion tons expected to be emitted by the end of the century. The 10 million megawatt electrical base required for this is ten times the current total US electrical power grid of 1.2 million megawatts.

You want to bring carbon emissions down to zero. I am all for it even though our ancestor — the one who lit the coal fire — could not. Just tell me how. If you want to talk about carbon neutrality … now there’s an idea. But “switching immediately away from fossil fuels” as I read from one advocate recently … I wish it was possible.

In the meantime, would someone please electrify my local suburban train. The 1950s diesel-electric locomotives spew black smoke and the carriages were designed in the same era. Worse still, the service is chronically late. Electrification of rail lines and improving public transport in the U.S. should be job one. But every activity — and change particularly — uses energy.

Categories: News for progressives

The UN Refuses to Name and Shame Firms Aiding Israel’s Illegal Settlements

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:55

Nazareth.

The United Nations postponed last week for the third time the publication of a blacklist of Israeli and international firms that profit directly from Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

The international body had come under enormous pressure to keep the database under wraps after lobbying behind the scenes from Israel, the United States and many of the 200-plus companies that were about to be named.

UN officials have suggested they may go public with the list in a few months.

But with no progress since the UN’s Human Rights Council requested the database back in early 2016, Palestinian leaders are increasingly fearful that it has been permanently shelved.

That was exactly what Israel hoped for. When efforts were first made to publish the list in 2017, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, warned: “We will do everything we can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day.”

He added that penalising the settlements was “an expression of modern antisemitism”.

Both Israel and the US pulled out of the Human Rights Council last year, claiming that Israel was being singled out.

Israel has good reason to fear greater transparency. Bad publicity would most likely drive many of these firms, a few of them household names, out of the settlements under threat of a consumer backlash and a withdrawal of investments by religious organisations and pension funds.

The UN has reportedly already warned Coca-Cola, Teva Pharmaceuticals, the defence electronics company Elbit Systems and Africa Israel Investments of their likely inclusion. Israeli telecoms and utility companies are particularly exposed because grids serving the settlements are integrated with those in Israel.

There is an added danger that the firms might be vulnerable to prosecutions, should the International Crimimal Court at The Hague eventually open an investigation into whether the settlements constitute a war crime, as the Palestinian leadership has demanded.

The exodus of these firms from the West Bank would, in turn, make it much harder for Israel to sustain its colonies on stolen Palestinian land. As a result, efforts to advance a Palestinian state would be strengthened.

Many of the settlements – contrary to widely held impressions of them – have grown into large towns. Their inhabitants expect all the comforts of modern life, from local bank branches to fast-food restaurants and high-street clothing chains.

Nowadays, a significant proportion of Israel’s 750,000 settlers barely understand that their communities violate international law.

The settlements are also gradually being integrated into the global economy, as was highlighted by a row late last year when Airbnb, an accommodation-bookings website, announced a plan to de-list properties in West Bank settlements.

The company was possibly seeking to avoid inclusion on the database, but instead it faced a severe backlash from Israel’s supporters.

This month the US state of Texas approved a ban on all contracts with Airbnb, arguing that the online company’s action was “antisemitic”.

As both sides understand, a lot hangs on the blacklist being made public.

If Israel and the US succeed, and western corporations are left free to ignore the Palestinians’ dispossession and suffering, the settlements will sink their roots even deeper into the West Bank. Israel’s occupation will become ever more irreversible, and the prospect of a Palestinian state ever more distant.

A 2013 report on the ties between big business and the settlements noted the impact on the rights of Palestinians was “pervasive and devastating”.

Sadly, the UN leadership’s cowardice on what should be a straightforward matter – the settlements violate international law, and firms should not assist in such criminal enterprises – is part of a pattern.

Repeatedly, Israel has exerted great pressure on the UN to keep its army off a “shame list” of serious violators of children’s rights. Israel even avoided a listing in 2015 following its 50-day attack on Gaza the previous year, which left more than 500 Palestinian children dead. Dozens of armies and militias are named each year.

The Hague court has also been dragging its feet for years over whether to open a proper war crimes investigation into Israel’s actions in Gaza, as well as the settlements.

The battle to hold Israel to account is likely to rage again this year, after the publication last month of a damning report by UN legal experts into the killing of Palestinian protesters at Gaza’s perimeter fence by Israeli snipers.

Conditions for Gaza’s two million Palestinians have grown dire since Israel imposed a blockade, preventing movement of goods and people, more than a decade ago.

The UN report found that nearly all of those killed by the snipers – 154 out of 183 – were unarmed. Some 35 Palestinian children were among the dead, and of the 6,000 wounded more than 900 were minors. Other casualties included journalists, medical personnel and people with disabilities.

The legal experts concluded that there was evidence of war crimes. Any identifiable commanders and snipers, it added, should face arrest if they visited UN member states.

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, dismissed the report as “lies” born out of “an obsessive hatred of Israel”.

Certainly, it has caused few ripples in western capitals. Britain’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn was a lone voice in calling for an arms embargo on Israel in response.

It is this Israeli exceptionalism that is so striking. The more violent Israel becomes towards the Palestinians and the more intransigent in rejecting peace, the less pressure is exerted upon it.

Not only does Israel continue to enjoy generous financial, military and diplomatic support from the US and Europe, both are working ever harder to silence criticisms of its actions by their own citizens.

As the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement grows larger, western capitals have casually thrown aside commitments to free speech in a bid to crush it.

France has already criminalised support for a boycott of Israel, and its president Emmanuel Macron recently proposed making it illegal to criticise Zionism, the ideology that underpins Israel’s rule over Palestinians.

More than two dozen US states have passed anti-BDS legislation, denying companies and individual contractors dealing with the government of that particular state the right to boycott Israel. In every case, Israel is the only country protected by these laws. Last month, the US Senate passed a bill that adds federal weight to this state-level campaign of intimidation.

The hypocrisy of these states – urging peace in the region while doing their best to subvert it – is clear. Now the danger is that UN leaders will join them.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Jailing Chelsea Manning

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:54

“I will not comply with this, or any other grand jury.”  So explained Chelsea Manning in justifying her refusal to answer questions and comply with a grand jury subpoena compelling her to testify on her knowledge of WikiLeaks.  “Imprisoning me for my refusal to answer questions only subjects me to additional punishment for my repeatedly stated ethical obligations to the grand jury system.”

Manning, whose 35-year sentence was commuted by the Obama administration in an act of seeming leniency, is indivisibly linked to the WikiLeaks legacy of disclosure.  She was the source, and the bridge, indispensable for giving Julian Assange and his publishing outfit the gold dust that made names and despoiled others.

The sense of dredging and re-dredging in efforts to ensnare Manning is palpable.  She insists that she had shared all that she knew at her court-martial, a point made clear by the extensive if convoluted nature of the prosecution’s effort to build a case.  “The grand jury’s questions pertained to disclosures from nine years ago, and took place six years after an in-depth computer forensics case, in which I tesified [sic] for almost a full day about these events.  I stand by my previous testimony.”  Before Friday’s hearing, she also reiterated that she had invoked the First, Fourth and Sixth Amendment protections.

Grand juries have gone musty.  Conceived in 12thcentury England as a feudalistic guardian against unfair prosecution, they became bodies of self-regulating and policing freemen (often barons with a gripe) charged with investigating alleged wrongdoing.  Doing so provided a preliminary step in recommending whether the accused needed to go court. The US Constitution retains this element with the Fifth Amendment: that no “person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.”

The independence of that body of peers has been clipped, modified and fundamentally influenced by the prosecutor’s guiding hand. The federal grand jury has essentially become a body easily wooed by the prosecutor in closed settings where grooming and convincing are easy matters. The prosecutor can also be comforted by that level of procedural secrecy that keeps the process beyond prying eyes; Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) makes the point that the jurors and government attorneys “must not disclose a matter occurring before the grand jury.” Sealed and confined, the participants accordingly forge a narrative that tends to encourage, rather than dissuade a finding, of guilt.

That influence is hard to deny, leading to reluctance on the part of any empaneled grand jury to reject the plausibility of a prosecutor’s claims.  The US Bureau of Statistics, looking at 2010 figures on the prosecution of 162,000 federal cases, found that grand juries only failed to return an indictment in 11 cases.  As Gordon Griller of the National Centre for State Courts reasoned, “The problem with the grand jury system is the jury.  The prosecutor has complete control over what is presented to the grand jury and expects the grand jurors to just rubber stamp every case brought before it.”

Manning’s other relevant point is that the grand jury process has, invariably, been given the weaponry to target dissenters and corner contrarians.  “I will not participate in a secret process that I morally object to, particularly one that has been used to entrap and persecute activists for protected political speech.”

Manning explained to US District Judge Claude Hilton that she would (think Socrates, hemlock, the like) “accept whatever you bring upon me”.  When her defence team insisted that she be confined to home, given specific needs of gender-affirming healthcare, the judge was unconvinced.  US marshals were more than up to the task (how is never stated), though certain “details about Ms Manning’s confinement,” claim Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, “will not be made public due to security and privacy concerns.”

She will be confined till the conclusion of the investigation, or till she feels ready to comply with the subpoena. Manning’s defence counsel Moira Meltzer-Cohen is convinced that the very act of jailing Manning is one of state-sanctioned cruelty.

There is a distinct note of the sinister in this resumption of hounding a whistleblower; yet again, Manning must show that the virtues of a cause and the merits of an open system demand a level of cruel sacrifice.  “This ain’t my first rodeo,” she told her lawyer with some reflection.

This rodeo is one dogged by problems. Manning’s original conviction was a shot across the bow, the prelude to something fundamental.  Journalists long protected for using leaked material under the First Amendment were going to become future targets of prosecution. Such instincts have seeped into the US governing class like stubborn damp rot; consider, for instance, the remarks of Senator Dianne Feinstein in 2012 on the issue of leaks discussed in The New York Times.  Having published details of the Obama administration’s “Kill List” and US-orchestrated cyber-attacks against Iran, the paper had “caused serious harm to US national security and… should be prosecuted accordingly.”  While The Grey Lady might prefer to distance itself from WikiLeaks in journalistic company, prosecuting authorities see little difference.

This latest rotten business also demonstrates the unequivocal determination of US authorities to fetter, if not totally neutralise, the reach of WikiLeaks in the modern information wars.  Having been either tongue-tired or reticent, US officials, notably those in the Alexandria office, have revealed what WikiLeaks regarded as obvious some years ago: that a grand jury is keen to soften the road to prosecution.

Categories: News for progressives

Trump v. Omar: The Psychology of Fear, Prejudice and Ignorance in American Politics

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:52

The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side

–Bob Dylan, “With God on Our Side”

Fear, prejudice, and ignorance make people do stupid things.  They are the trinity combustant for hate and intolerance, used as a match to fame the flames of discrimination to label some as disloyal Americans who cannot be trusted and deserve to be denied respect and rights.  One lesson of US history is that  appeals to Un-Americanism have been leveraged both by those on the left and right who claim God or  is on their side or that their cause is correct, thereby invoking an “end that justify the means” logic to dissenters that is dangerous.

America is a beautiful nation, often filled with hope and promise of a better life for us and our children. Yet this country has an ugly side to it that we often forget and ignore.  We often cloak fear, prejudice, and ignorance in the flag and persecute minorities or those with whom we disagree as the cause of our insecurities.  If only others thought like me, dressed like me, shared my values, some promise, then we could root out witches, communists, disloyal Americans, homosexuals,  immigrants, and terrorists and make the country safe for the rest of us real loyal Americans.

It was fear, prejudice, and ignorance in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, that led to the death of 24 accused of being witches.  Or over 125,000 Japanese-Americans forcefully interned during WW II.  Or to the McCarthyism and the blacklists of the 1950s. Or the beatings of civil rights protestors at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 or Stonewall Inn in 1969.  Or to all Muslims, Middle Easterners, and even Somalians seen as terrorists post 9/11.  Or to transgender individuals seeking to use the bathrooms of their choice as perverts.

There is something hardwired in American culture that celebrates fear, prejudice, and ignorance into virtues.  Perry Miller’s Errand into the Wilderness, dissecting the Puritan mind, captures the fear of the earliest white settlers to North America.  It was persecution that drove them from Europe, a desire to for a new “city on the hill” as John Winthrop would call for;  founded on Christian values, that led them to the new world.  But they confronted one with strange new people and customs, a world seen lurking with danger, and a fear that the devil and evil was waiting to corrupt their enterprise.

It was a Manichean bipolar world of good and evil, God or the devil, grace or sin, and either you ere part of the saved or part of the damned, with no middle ground.  Difference, the inexplicable, the other as existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, were to be feared.  For the Puritans, as told brilliantly by Arthur Miller in “The Crucible,” the other were witches.  Richard Hofstadter, both in The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, uncovered the distrust for facts, learning, and intellectualism and intellectuals.  From these Puritan origins, the us or them, loyal or disloyal, true American or Un-American ethos emerged.

But America’s story is one where each generation saw a different other as a threat, where  the new was scary, where relying on nativism, populism, and the fear of the masses justified intolerance.  The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 aimed to silence critics of President Adams and the Federalist party, Anti-Irishism and Anti-Germanism fueled discrimination in the nineteenth century along with fear of the Chinese.  The No-Nothing Party of the 1840s, later renamed the American Party, feared Roman Catholics and immigrants.  Anti-syndicalism acts targeted labor unions and dissenters to WW I.  Sauerkraut during WW I and french fries after 9/11 became liberty cabbage and freedom fries in response to anti-German and French attitudes.  John Kennedy was feared disloyal as a Catholic, Barack Obama seen as Un-American because of his name and lies that he was Kenyan and, even worse, a Muslim.

The Scope Trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee put  science on trial as some feared Darwin would defeat God.  The Smith Act of 1940 along with the House Un-American Activities Committee and Joseph McCarthy found communists to be threats, along with the interned Japanese-Americans during WW II.  The list unfortunately marches on–fear, prejudice, and ignorance have  left no group, cause, or idea alone.

Common sense wisdom is truth, what me and my friends know at the local bar or in my garage is the logic of truth.  We all live in the smug bubbles of our beliefs, convinced we, as Bob Dylan once mocked, “have God on our side” and therefore we must be correct.  Anything we do, even attacking others, is permitted as revealing the truth and virtue of our cause.

The point is that at critical points in American history fear, prejudice, and ignorance have  justified hate and intolerance.  And the same is happening now.  Donald Trump draws upon fear, prejudice, and ignorance on a daily basis to justify his policy agenda, with Fox News and Twitter serving as his microphone and his supporters cheering him on. White prejudice, privilege, intolerance, should not define orthodoxy. In fact, as Justice Robert Jackson powerfully declared in West Virginia v. Barnette,  319 U.S. 624 (1943) (a case about declaring Jehovah Witnesses as un-American because they would not cite the Pledge of Allegiance): “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein”.   The Jehovah Witnesses of 1943, the civil  rights protestor of 1950s, or the gay and lesbian at Stonewall in 1969 are the Colin Kaepernicks of today.

But as wrong as Trump is, so is Ilhan Omar.  Some will contend there is a false equivalency here, but it is hard to find how either Trump, Omar, or their supporters can claim the high moral ground here.  There are lots of good reasons to question US- Israel foreign policy and treatment of Palestinians, but labeling Jews  as Un-American is not the way to start and win a debate as some are now arguing.  “The end justifies the means, the words have gotten us to raise the right questions, so some say.”  But opening the door to fear, prejudice, and ignorance does no one any good.

Can one ever think of a time when appealing to them made us a better world, society, or individuals? Post 9/11, questioning the loyalty of Muslim or Somalian-Americans as Un-American was wrong.  Omar should know better that the weapons of hate directed at her and her family were wrong and do not justify her use of similar tactics.   Words matter, as  many say, and sticks and stones along with names may not just break our bones but hurt in other ways.  If one is going to take offense at words, then trying to understand how they effect others is  a first step in political debates. Turning the oppressed into the oppressor by stealing the weapons from former to be used by the later does not make it right.

The weapons and language of the oppressor are no more justified in the hand of the oppressed or the weak, and the rhetoric of hate from the right does not make it virtuous and correct when coming from the left.  It is just as wrong to label Omar as un-American and scorn her with hate  as it is for her to do the same to others.  Fear, prejudice, and ignorance should have no place in American politics.  But the sad reality is that it has, and even worse, that it has been effective and defended but those from a variety of political perspectives who see in themselves justified in using the three to suit their goals.

Categories: News for progressives

Cops and Fascists: KKKolleagues?

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:51

Cops survey a scene of conflict in California’s capital, a struggle between fascists and antifascists. Blood is on the ground, and webcam recordings show images of members of the Ku Klux Klan and related groups, not only armed with knives but actually showing some men stabbing downward at writhing bodies beneath. One side has knives. One side has signs. Guess which side received charges of violating the law? Guess which side had been surveilled by state and federal agents long before the events of the day? I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t the Ku Klux Klan. According to published reports in The Guardian (London), police accounts concentrated on two major groups: Antifascists and members of Black Lives Matter.

In June 2016, antifascists assembled at a neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento. As expected, this rally was the site of intense emotions. Violence erupted between the two sides, with at least 8 antifascists stabbed, beaten–or both. How did it happen that none of the neo-Nazis were charged with anything; while antifascists were charged with everything? The answer is Donovan Ayres, a California Highway patrolman who was ordered to investigate the melee. He wrote hundreds of pages of notes, advocating charges against the antifascists. As for the neo-Nazis, nothing.

They have every right to protest, but what of those who oppose them? They, it seems, are simply troublemakers. Ayres did extensive research on the antifascists, including email, Facebook and even metadata. His research included Native Americans and Chicano antifascists. At the end of a hearing where Ayres testified, the DA was thanked by one courtroom observer for protecting white supremacists. One wonders, how does such a thing as this happen? How does something so outrageous occur? History provides an excellent answer, for police and fascists have ever been brothers beneath their respective uniforms.

During the 1930s, groups like the Industrial Workers of the World (known as the IWW, or “Wobblies”) tried to organize agricultural workers, especially in California’s fertile Central Valley. There, to protect the profits of landowners, police and klansmen joined to attack Wobblies, by beating, shooting and arresting them, as klansmen attacked and assaulted their children. Justin Akers Chacón and Mike Davis, in their book, No One is Illegal (Haymarket: 2006) pen a chilling portrait of the role of the Klan in this 1924 IWW union raid: “Three hundred men, women and children were in the hall attending a benefit for several men who had died in a recent railroad accident. The vigilantes viciously sapped down the surprised men and women, then turned their fury upon the terrified IWW kids, some of them barely more than toddlers” (pp.41-42). Chacón and Davis cite a contemporary source describing the Klan “dipping the children into the urn of boiling coffee”, scalding and injuring the children severely. Similarly, about a decade later, acclaimed historian Robin D. G. Kelley, in his multi-award winning book, Hammer & Hoe, recounts multiple instances of cop/Klan/vigilante allegiances, which served to intimidate Black workers in Alabama who dared to fight for militant, independent unions in the fields of agriculture and industry. It is also similar to the impunity shown by domestic terrorists allied with the police, who seldom faced charges for their acts of violence.

That’s the case for fascists. But what of the anti-fascists? After 3 long years of hearings on the Sacramento protests, 3 antifascists face charges, and an upcoming trial. Yvette Felarca, Filipina American school teacher, faces a felony assault charge, as does Black American Michael Williams. Latino-American antifascist, Porfirio Paz faces misdemeanor assault. All 3 face misdemeanor riot charges, the social costs of opposition to American fascists.

Today, once again, fascists have friends among American police, in California, in Oregon and beyond.

On Saturday April 6 there will be a special event in Berkeley, “Mumia Abu-Jamal: An Evening for Justice and Freedom” to raise money for the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. It will be held at the Bancroft Hotel Main Ballroom, 2680 Bancroft Way. This fundraiser is requesting $10-20 donations. No one will be turned away for lack of funds. Speakers will include Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Pam Africa, Jeff Mackler, Judith Ritter and a phone connection with Mumia. 

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Hail Ilhan Omar, Avatar of Truth!

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:50

“Ilhan Omar: Obama’s Policies as Bad as Trump’s, Just More Polished.” (Telesurenglish.net):

She’s spot on. It’s humorous to read the comments of so many people invested in the status quo capitalist ripoff system, and being frightened about the possibility of AOC’s and Ilhan’s completely accurate criticisms of that system being implemented. I’d love it. Capitalism (big and small) must die for the World to live.

Real climate change response, a green new deal, and national energy technology transformation (with abandonment of fossil fuels) will only occur with the reduction of the DOD military industrial complex by over 50% (ideally 70%). DOD is the muscle of capitalism, and capitalism must die for the World to live.

“Israeli electoral committee bans Arab candidates, allows extreme right to run” (Washingtonpost.com):

Fascism is now fully diversified by: race, religion, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, your name it; except species, for it’s exclusively human.

“Anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews express solidarity with Rep. Ilhan Omar” (Dailysabah.com):

“Rep. Ilhan Omar Defies Dem Leaders By Refusing To Recognize Venezuela’s Guaido: ‘Absolutely Not’.” (Mediaite.com)

The people Ilhan Omar and AOC (and even Bernie) criticize are just hypocrites who want to keep getting their excessive profits at the cost of life, lost liberty and diminishing survivability for everyone else; people who want to prosecute genocides (e.g., the semi-slow motion one of Palestinians) they profit from and which boost their elitist ambitions and racist prejudices. And, they desperately want to be admired, respected, placed on pedestals, and be enshrined heroically in history, to inflate their vanity. The “official” backlash to Omar’s simple truthful statements is simply the dismay by this class of worthless egotistical parasites that maybe the public at large will turn on them with a mass satori of “emperor has no clothes” variety. These are people (timorous herd-minded moral weakling mediocrities) of whom Flaubert said “they are led by their materialism and their instinctive worship of power.”

Truth is freedom, speak it to gain your own moral power, and appreciate those with public megaphones – like Ilhan Omar – who do. Polite equivocation, and even silence, the “going along to get along,” is just acquiescence to enslavement. Freedom is a choice of attitude based on solidarity with humanity (not with its ruling parasites), compassion, self discipline (instead of self defeating excuses) and the self confidence to be unpopular as need be in order to be true.

 

Categories: News for progressives

US Must Respect Iran

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 15:43

One of the lessons from our recent visit to Iran as a Peace Delegation is that Iran is a mature country. It is 2,500 years old, ten times as old as the United States and one of the world’s oldest continuous major civilizations with settlements dating back to 7,000 BC. It was an empire that controlled almost half the Earth for over 1,000 years. It is hard not to see the US-Iran relationship as one between an adolescent bully and a mature nation.

The root cause of the problems between the United States and Iran is not because Iran has oil, an Islamic government, nuclear weapons or Iran’s role in the Middle East — it is because in 1979, Iran ended 26 years of US domination. Foreign Minister Zarif explained to our Peace Delegation:

“…the U.S. difficulty with Iran is not because of the region, not because of human rights, not because of weapons, not because of the nuclear issue – it’s just because we decided to be independent – that’s it – that’s our biggest crime.”

Since the 1979 Revolution, the US has sought to dominate Iran using sanctions and threats of military aggression. Iran has responded by seeking negotiation with the US. The Iran Nuclear Agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA), which took over ten years to finalize, was viewed by Dr. Zarif as a first step toward more agreements.

Although Iran fulfilled its side of the nuclear agreement, the US did not relieve the sanctions, as promised, and under the Trump administration, increased the sanctions and left the agreement. On our trip, we learned first hand about the impacts of these actions.

Facing The Ugly Realities Of US History With Iran

Correcting the relationship between the US and Iran begins with an honest review of US policy since 1953. It is a record for which the US should be ashamed and shows the need for a new approach.

The 1953 Coup

The August 19, 1953 coup was one the US denied for decades but has now been proven by documents released by the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. The British government also released documents showing its involvement. Information has been made public over the decades, but even after 65 years, many documents about ‘Operation Ajax’ remain classified.

The coup was led by CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of President Teddy Roosevelt and cousin of President Franklin Roosevelt. The coup not only impacted Iran but the Middle East and was a model for US coups around the world, which continue to this day. As we write, we are on our way to Venezuela where a US-led coup just failed.

The 1953 coup was preceded by economic sanctions to destabilize the Mossadegh government and a Guaido-like fake Prime Minister. The coup initially failed on August 16 when the Shah fled to Baghdad and then to Rome. Before fleeing, he appointed former Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi as Prime Minister to replace the elected Prime Minister Mossadegh. Zahedi continued the coup with the military arresting Mossadegh at his home on April 19. When Operation Ajax succeeded, Zahedi became Prime Minister and the Shah returned to rule as a brutal dictator until 1979. Mossadegh was imprisoned until his death in 1967.

Installation Of The Brutal Shah

The Shah became the enforcer for the United States in the Middle East. His rule coincided with the US war in Vietnam when the US focused its military in Southeast Asia. When President Nixon came to office in 1969, Iran was the single-largest arms purchaser from the US. Nixon encouraged a spending spree and by 1972, the Shah purchased over $3 billion of US arms, a twenty fold increase over 1971’s record.

US weapons buying continued throughout the decade dwarfing all US allies including Israel. The weapons being sold required thousands of US military support troops in Iran. In 1977, President Carter sold more arms to Iran than any previous years. Carter toasted the Shah as “a rock of stability” during a visit to Tehran at the end of 1977.

The stability was not as rock solid as Carter imagined. Domestically, a conglomerate of western oil companies ran the oil industry taking fifty percent of the profits but not allowing Iran to audit the accounts or have members on the board of directors. The Shah recognized Israel and put in place modernization policies that alienated religious groups. In 1963, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was arrested for making a speech against the Shah after several days of protests. The Shah’s brutal secret police, the SAVAK, made mass arrests and tortured and killed political prisoners. The Islamic clergy, still headed by Khomeini living in exile since 1964, became more vociferous in its criticisms.

Mass protests and strikes struck Iran in 1978. On November 4, 1979, Iranian students seized the US Embassy and held fifty-two hostages for 444 days until January 1981. Khomeini returned from exile in February 1979. In December, a new Constitution creating the Islamic Republic was approved by referendum and Khomeini became the Supreme Leader.

US Supports Iraq’s War Against Iran

The Iraq war would not have been possible without US encouragement and support in the form of money, naval assistance and weapons. The US also provided Iraq with the ingredients for the chemical weapons as well as intelligence on where to use them. More than one million people were killed and more than 80,000 injured by chemical weapons in the Iraq war.

The US Shoots Down A Civilian Airliner

The US also killed 289 Iranians when a US missile shot down a commercial Iranian airliner in July 1988. The US has never apologized for this mass killing of civilians. When we were in Iran, we visited the Tehran Peace Museum and our delegation did what our country should do, apologized.

Forty Years Of US Economic Sanctions

The US has imposed economic sanctions since the Islamic Revolution began. In 1980, the US broke diplomatic relations with Iran and Carter put in place sanctions including freezing $12 billion in Iranian assets and banning imports of Iranian oil. Every president since Carter has escalated sanctions against Iran. In response, Iran has developed a “resistance economy” where it has become more self-sufficient and built relationships with other countries.

US Withdrawal From Nuclear Agreement And Increased Sanctions

The most recent atrocity is the failure to live up to the carefully negotiated nuclear agreement. Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif painstakingly negotiated the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal between China, France, Russia, the UK, Germany, the US, and the European Union for more than a decade. Iran complied with all the requirements of the agreement, but the US did not lift sanctions, as promised, and exited the deal under President Trump, leading to protests against the US throughout Iran.

The people of Iran were joyous when the JCPOA was finalized as it promised relief, i.e., the release of $29 billion in Iranian funds held abroad, allowing US exports of Iranian oil, allowing foreign firms to invest in Iran and allowing trade with the rest of the world through the global banking system.

Instead of abiding by the agreement, the US escalated sanctions against Iran. Trump’s escalation has been harsh as the US seeks “to isolate Iran politically and economically, by blocking its oil sales, access to hard currencies and foreign investments, along with more harsh sanctions and overall financial hardships on the country.” Sanctions include secondary sanctions on non-US corporations and nations doing business with Iran, which the International Criminal Court found to be illegal.

These sanctions are having a significant human impact. They are causing a rapid devaluation of Iranian currency resulting in increasing costs of basic goods, including a tripling of the cost of imported goods such as cars. When we were in Iran, we heard firsthand about the impact sanctions have on people’s lives, e.g. the inability to get life-saving medicines, make financial transactions, use apps or translate books from the US into Farsi. In a restaurant, the menu warned prices may not be as listed because of rapid inflation. We interviewed Dr. Foad Izadi of the University of Tehran on Clearing the FOG about the impact of the sanctions and how US policies are alienating youth.

We spent time at the University of Tehran with students and faculty in the American Studies department. They were excited to speak with people from the United States, as few people from the US are able to get visas, and they lamented not being allowed to travel to the US. We found that we have much in common and believe we would benefit from more exchanges with Iranians.

Ongoing US Destabilization Iran And Threats Of War

Sanctions are designed to destabilize the government but are instead uniting people against the United States. If anything, US actions will put in place a more anti-US government in upcoming elections. The US has a flawed understanding of Iranian politics and global politics around US unilateral sanctions. The Iran sanctions are likely to speed up the de-dollarization of the global economy and end US dollar hegemony and are illegal.

The US is also fomenting rebellion. The Trump administration has been seeking regime change through various actions including violence. It created a Mission Center in the CIA focused on regime change in Iran and spends millions of dollars to encourage opposition in Iran, working to manipulate protests to support a US agenda. The threat of war continues and becomes ever more likely in an administration dominated by Iran hawks, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo.

US military bases around Iran.

Creating A Peaceful, Positive Relationship Between The US And Iran

The history of US behavior toward Iran cannot be ethically defended. The US needs to appraise this history and recognize it has a lot for which to apologize, then it must correct its policies.

A group of prominent Iranian-Americans recently sent an open letter to Secretary Pompeo, writing: “If you truly wish to help the people of Iran, lift the travel ban [although no Iranian has ever been involved in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Iran is included in Trump’s Muslim ban], adhere to the Iran nuclear deal and provide the people of Iran the economic relief they were promised and have eagerly awaited for three years.”

Until the US is ready to accept responsibility for its abhorrent actions, Iran will continue to build a resistance economy and relations with other countries. There is talk of US-sanctioned countries joining together as a countervailing force. Such countries include Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Somalia, Belarus, Iraq, a number of African countries and more, as well as China with US trade tariffs. Building relationships through civil society, academia, professional societies, and government are needed to create a unified opposition to challenge US sanctions.

Our tasks in the US are to create opportunities for greater knowledge about and exchanges with Iran. Students at the University of Tehran are interested in dialogue with students and professors in the US. Members of the peace delegation live in areas across the US and can speak to groups about Iran. Contact us at info@popularresistance.org if you are interested in any of the above. We must educate our members of Congress about Iran and insist that the sanctions be lifted and that the US rejoin the JCPOA, and we must stop the threats of war against Iran.

Categories: News for progressives

A New Regional Order: Producing Cross-Economic, Political, and Cultural Interests Among the People of Kashmir

Counterpunch - Wed, 2019-03-13 14:57

Indian nationalists are quick to claim their intractable hold on Kashmiris; Pakistani nationalists are just as quick to claim to speak for Kashmiris. Kashmir, despite having a real internal history and a place in the world, is suppressed by its positioning in the Indo-Pak conflict.

Mainstream Kashmiri politicians culpably reiterate that “Kashmir is an integral part of India,” in the process negating the people’s voices and real existence. Separatists are just as quick to scrap that assertion with their vociferous calls for hartal, in the process sidelining the educational and psychological needs of the younger generation. New Delhi in its signature style is straddling the fence by underlining the need for “dialogue” and “quiet diplomacy” but not taking any substantive measures to “talk” to Kashmiris.

The profundity of memories and mourning of Kashmiris cannot be relegated to the background in official accounts of history. The aggressive statements, delusions of grandeur, melodramatic performances, and witty quips of Kashmiri mainstream politicians as well as separatist leaders have a short-lived glory and do nothing to alleviate the pain of anxious parents, destitute widows, bereaved mothers, vulnerable orphans, educated people unable to make a decent living.

Accounts of the insurgency in Kashmir discount narratives that do not contribute to the deepening breach caused by the communalisation of the Kashmir issue and the zeal of Indian and Pakistani nationalism, according to which “Kashmir is unquestionably an integral part of India,” or any people’s movement in Kashmir is led by “anti-national militants,” or “Pakistan is sincere in its attempts to resolve the Kashmir conundrum” leaves out the politics of the people as was done in official accounts of the Partition of India.

The entire subcontinent has several common problems, and the people are bound to each other by numerous ties, but partition resulted in the separation of families.

In one of my favorite novels, Shadow Lines, the author, Amitav Ghosh, shows that the nation is rendered all the more threatening when the war that leads to its construction is internecine and does not bind Muslim to Hindu or Bengali to Kashmiri but rather sunders Bengali from Bengali, Kashmiri from Kashmiri. Such an irregular was polarizes ethnic groups into Hindus and Muslims who are required to disaffirm their cultural, linguistic, and social unities.

As one of the characters in Ghosh’s novel wonders, “And then I think to myself why can’t they draw thousands of little lines through the whole subcontinent and give every little place a new name? What would it change? It’s a mirage; the whole thing is a mirage. How can anyone deny a memory?” (247).

The Partition is a vivid manifestation of the claim that postcolonial nations are founded in a bloody severance of the umbilical cord, one that fortifies borders between nation-states with irrational and remorseless violence. The discourse of ultra-right wing nationalism, however, affects to make sense of the absurd loss of lives.

Referring to the role played by nationalist parties in the Partition of the subcontinent, the narrator queries,

“What had they felt, I wondered, when they discovered that they had created not a separation, but a yet-undiscovered irony—the irony that killed Tridib: the simple fact that there had never been a moment in the four-thousand-year-old history of that map, when the places we know as Calcutta and Dhaka were more closely bound together . . . So closely that I, in Calcutta, had only to look in the mirror to be in Dhaka; when each city was the inverted image of the other, locked into an irreversible symmetry by the line that was to set us free—our looking glass border.” (233)

So the similarity in the emotions evoked by cultural affiliations on the two sides of the border renders the inclusion/ exclusion dichotomy incoherent.

The key to the solution of problems that confront India and Pakistan is diplomatic relations and rapprochement between the two countries.

There is no doubt that the progress and future development of both these countries rests largely on their ability to proceed hand in hand with each other and cooperate in joint ventures, avoiding all wasteful expenditure, including loss of innocent lives, incurred by them on their mutual confrontation, as that would spell doom.

Identifying areas of common outlook and interest is a process of growth.

I firmly believe that in order to address wider political, socioeconomic, and democratic issues in the subcontinent requires rethinking decision-making between state and non-state actors as well as between between state and society. Perhaps it is time to seriously consider a new regional order which would be capable of producing cross-economic, political, and cultural interests among the people of the region.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Elizabeth May talks fossil fuels, pipelines and selling out the climate in Alberta

Rabble News - Wed, 2019-03-13 12:33
David J. Climenhaga

What would have Elizabeth May have done in Rachel Notley's shoes? 

The leader of the Green Party of Canada says she would have summoned up the memory of Peter Lougheed, founder of Alberta's 44-year Progressive Conservative dynasty, but not the way the province's first NDP premier has.

"I think that Albertans are reasonable," May said during a short, 15-minute interview before she gave a talk with students and faculty at The King's University in Edmonton Friday. "If you present the facts, and say, 'Look, we had this plan from Peter Lougheed, let's revisit it," she argued, Albertans and other Canadians could find common ground. 

Notley took a different road, with which the member of Parliament for Saanich and the Islands disagrees profoundly, describing Alberta's approach "an abdication of responsibility."

To the right of Ralph Klein on oil?

"If I had been her adviser, and I certainly tried to communicate this to her, given the political landscape, I would have sought out reclaiming the moral high ground of Peter Lougheed," May told me. "I would have distanced myself from trying to be to the right of Ralph Klein on oil and gas, which is where I think she's placed herself."

Premier Notley, in the Green Party leader's view, should have asked Albertans to look back at what Lougheed advised, to wit, developing processing infrastructure in Alberta. "Let's look at taking a business case to the rest of Canada that we'd like to see them stop importing all foreign oil, and use Canadian product," she said.

She recalled how, the only time she met Alberta's premier, she told her: "You should brand it Fort Mac Strong and sell it across Canada as a branded Alberta product. And I don't think there's a Canadian who wouldn't prefer, as long as we are using fossil fuels, to use Fort Mac Strong than Saudi or Nigerian."

No expansion of the oilsands

"We could say, well, on a declining basis, in exchange for no expansion of the oil sands, this is a good way to go forward. And I think she could have sold that." But "it's too late now," May lamented. 

Well, maybe Albertans would have listened, maybe not. But they certainly deserve to hear what May has to say. She may only lead a Parliamentary caucus of one, but she speaks for many more Canadians -- leastways, outside Alberta, and this debate isn't going away. 

So it should concern Albertans that May's two days in our province -- Thursday in Calgary and Friday in Edmonton, with a long bus ride in between because that was the lowest-carbon travel option -- were all but ignored by mainstream media. This has certainly not been the case elsewhere on her cross-Canada "community matters tour."

In Alberta May was accompanied by Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes, leader of the provincial Green Party. And, yes, despite heavy snow last Friday, they showed up at the King's campus in a small electric car. 

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Like most serious environmentalists, May puts carbon emissions and climate change at the heart of the debate over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, although she is highly critical of economic arguments for the project. 

Neither the Alberta NDP nor Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals really have a carbon reduction plan, she asserted. "She has a carbon expansion policy," May said of Premier Notley. "The goal of the Alberta government is to increase greenhouse gases. She wants to go to 100 megatonnes of carbon a year, from 70 megatonnes of carbon a year."

"The cap is way above where we are right now, and we're in a climate emergency," she stated. "We can't afford to expand greenhouse gases!"

But what about other aspects of Alberta's carbon reduction plan? "Well, 'We're going to go off coal for Alberta's electricity,'" she said, paraphrasing part of the Alberta government's position. "Which would be fantastic if we were going to 100 per cent renewables. But she wants to go to fracked natural gas, burned in the same plants that were once burning coal. Which means it will be inefficient. … So, in the end, there won't be much reduction."

Selling out the climate? 

"To me it was a political trade-off, but not one that was relevant to climate science," May said. "That's a condemnation of both Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley for being willing to sell out climate in the interests of a papered-over political win."

As for the economic case made by the two governments for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, May was scornful. "The National Energy Board … said that on the list of issues (it) was supposed to investigate during this hearing, jobs and the economy weren't included. Then how on earth can it be that the National Energy Board tells the Trudeau administration, as they did in the first instance and now the second instance, 'We've looked at all these harms that will occur, but the benefits for the economy outweigh the harms'?"

'I'm very happy if I can fight the … pipeline solely on the basis of economics, because it loses on the economics," she stated. 

A 'targeted attack' on the people of B.C.

May is angered by the Alberta NDP's $23-million national advertising campaign. "Rachel Notley's ad campaign, which we now know from access to information requests was premised on the idea of getting people to be angry at B.C., it was a very targeted attack at the people of British Columbia and our government."

She praised B.C.'s NDP premier, John Horgan, for not responding in kind. But, she added, "I really regret that he hasn't taken on the lies in the ad campaign, clearly, so that people can see that they're lies."

Did she have an example of a lie? Consider the claim Canada is, or at least was, losing $80 million a day because of the price differential between Alberta crude and Texas oil. "That's not true! And it doesn't take more than 15 minutes of Google searches for economists who've crunched the numbers to know that isn't true." Claims the pipeline expansion will generate permanent jobs? She calls them "bogus." 

Faint sympathy for Rachel Notley

So does May have any sympathy for Premier Notley's political predicament? "Yes. But I think she'd done the absolutely worst thing for her own self, strategically. I don't think the NDP can win an election in Alberta by being more pro-oil than Jason Kenney. It's a political miscalculation." She continued, with a certain tone: "Do I feel sorry for her? Sure. I'm a charitable person. But she's done something that is essentially unforgivable in that she is fighting, hard, to eliminate a viable future for our children. And that is not acceptable. She has to know better."

Opponents of the NDP will take May's comments as more evidence the NDP's efforts to win "social license" for expansion of Alberta's oil industry have failed. As has been said here before, though, the opposite is probably true. 

But as angry rhetoric toward other parts of Canada escalates among both Alberta New Democrats and their Conservative challengers, this inter-provincial dispute may get harder, not easier, to resolve. May characterized Notley's remarks about British Columbia as "vicious" and "divisive." 

"Of course she does better things on the social justice side of the ledger for Albertans," May observed. "But on climate change, she's led the charge toward extinction. And it's not a good record."

And don't count on this approach to pipeline building ever being effective on the West Coast, the Green leader added. "Opposition in British Columbia isn't going away." 

Greens in the next Parliament

Nor is the Green Party of Canada, she vowed. Indeed, with a little vote-splitting from Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada, the Greens could end up able "to exercise a balance of responsibility in Parliament," she mused. 

"We're going to have lots of seats," she predicted. "I'm more than happy to work with New Democrats, or Liberals, or responsible Conservatives. Wherever we find people who want to think about the issues, and come to a consensus of what do we need to do now really."

"Let's take this seriously and find the solutions that advance the interests of Albertans, and the interests of British Columbians, and of people from Ontario," she concludes. "We're a country, not warring factions."

Click here to read a transcript of the audio recording of the interview, which I have edited lightly to eliminate pauses and repetitions. DJC

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

Boeing, The FAA, And Why Two 737 MAX Planes Crashed

On Sunday an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed, killing all on board. Five month earlier an Indonesian Lion Air jet crashed near Jakarta. All crew and passengers died. Both airplanes were Boeing 737-8 MAX. Both incidents happened shortly after take off....
Categories: News for progressives

Be careful what you wish for, Conservatives: Canadians may like a tougher Trudeau

Rabble News - Wed, 2019-03-13 00:34
David J. Climenhaga

Memo to Conservatives, New Democrats and others who are crowing about how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to have been revealed as a harsher and less cuddly politician than he has been thought to be till now: Be careful what you wish for.

If Trudeau is revealed as a tough guy who is not particularly nice to his MPs, under a mere veneer of sensitivity, Canadians, who have a history of liking tough leaders like the current PM's Dear Ole Dad, may like him better.

It's certainly true that the version of Trudeau now emerging from the wreckage of the SNC-Lavalin affair shows him as not quite the warm and fuzzy high school drama teacher we were all so keen on when we were justifiably hell bent on getting rid of Stephen Harper. This is true even if Trudeau can still summon up a tear when circumstances warrant.

But the fact is, the recent record suggests Canadians don't mind tough leaders. In fact, they may prefer them. Consider Harper himself, and Jean Chrétien, two of the more obvious electoral successes in recent Canadian political history.

Nor do Canadians seem to mind politicians switching their narrative from idealistic to tough -- consider the old block himself, whence Justin Trudeau was chipped.

As a youth, I heard Pierre Trudeau speak before he had yet won the Liberal leadership. He sounded coolly intellectual and warmly idealistic, but he had not yet revealed the steel at his core. However, if any of us had really been paying attention we might have sensed it there.

What's more, despite claims to the contrary, Canadian voters apparently don't mind serial liars, an extreme lack of diplomacy or even an apparent degree of corruption in their politicians, as long as they give the impression of being tough enough. Consider the recent success of Doug Ford in Ontario and the apparent popularity of Jason Kenney here in Alberta, if the latest poll touted by the Calgary Herald, which acts as Kenney's personal publicity department, is anything to go by.

As for leaders who are self evidently not so tough -- Joe Clark, Kim Campbell and John Turner, the latter's old-style male jockery notwithstanding, spring to mind -- they seem not to have been so successful in the same epoch. (Brian Mulroney? I'm of two minds about him. More conniving than tough, methinks.)

Consider the late Jim Prentice, premier of Alberta, who, among other things, didn't appear to be as tough as the NDP's Rachel Notley as election day neared in May 2015. Andrew Scheer, do you hear the wind whispering your name?

So don't be too surprised if Canadians don't mind all that much if Trudeau lets a new, steelier persona more like his late father's emerge.

Right now, we are told, Trudeau's personal popularity has taken a hit. But if I were a Liberal strategist, I would not panic about that, driven as it is by nearly hysterical tweeting by Conservative operatives -- the inspiration for which Scheer's Conservative Party strategic advisers take from their Trumpian Republican mentors south of the imaginary line, and perhaps others.

More than one side can tweet, after all, and having the National Post and Rebel Media in his corner is probably worth less to Scheer than he imagines. I guess if things get desperate for him, there's always the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg.

But if I were the Liberals, I'd wait to see how the public adapts to the emerging new narrative, reasonably confident things would work out just fine for their guy's electoral chances next fall. If necessary they can remind them what Senator Patrick Brazeau discovered about Trudeau's right hook.

So don't be surprised if we soon hear Trudeau uttering, as another tough old pol once did: "Just watch me!"

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 apears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Chiloa/Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

The evolution of women's marches into broad social movements

Rabble News - Tue, 2019-03-12 21:00
Judy Rebick

Despite the cold of Toronto's first snowy day of the winter, I, along with about 2,000 others, took to the streets on January 19 for the Women's March on: Toronto -- one of hundreds of similar marches across the U.S. and Canada.

It was the most spirited march I've been on in years, in part because of the cold, in part because of a great group of passionate speakers, and in part, I hope, because people are getting the idea that radical women are the best way out of this mess.

The first Women's March on Washington in 2016 was held to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump as U.S. president. The success of women's marches led to a significant number of young, kick-ass women of colour being elected to the U.S. Congress this fall.

One of the newly elected, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, spoke at the New York Women's March this year. Justice is not just about identity, she said, "It's about the water we drink, the air we breathe, how much ladies are being paid, whether we can stay with our children after their birth." Ocasio-Cortez is outlining a full program for social change that includes economic as well as environmental justice.

Her focus on broad policy is mirrored in the policy platform put out by the U.S. Women's March. The organization's platform covers a wide range of issues, including stopping violence against women and femmes, ending state violence, securing reproductive rights and justice, racial justice, LGBTYQIA rights, immigrant rights, economic justice and workers' rights, civil rights, disability rights and environmental justice. It also highlights three overarching objectives -- universal health care, passing the Equal Rights Amendment and ending U.S. involvement in wars.

The platform is a vision, not only of an intersectional women's movement, but of a highly political, progressive social movement. What emerges here is women fighting for not only gender-specific issues. What we're seeing is a movement poised to also lead the fight for social, racial, economic and environmental justice, as well as for peace.

In Toronto, the focus was on the policies of the Doug Ford provincial government. Kavita Dogra, one of the event organizers, told me that policies "that disproportionately impact vulnerable and marginalized communities" were central. The slogan of the march was, "We won't go back!" with an emphasis on Ford's attempt to turn back advances in sex education and on his cutbacks to women's centres and sexual assault centres. In other Canadian cities, the focus was also on local issues.

There are differences both in Canada and the U.S. The group in Toronto, like groups in some other cities, see themselves as grassroots local organizers and have dissociated from Women's March Canada, a group they see as a top-down, corporate group. In the U.S. there are two national organizations whose differences are much bigger.

The attacks against the U.S. Women's March for anti-Semitism are not surprising given the radical politics emerging from what initially looked like a Democratic Party operation. The only legitimate concern here is the support of one of the Women's March leaders, Tamika Mallory, for Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader known for anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia.

Mallory has apologized and the march has placed the fight against anti-Semitism front and centre in its policy statement, alongside racism and Islamaphobia. Yet the media continues to repeat the charges of anti-Semitism against the organizers.

The original marches in both U.S. and Canada in 2016 were criticized as being white-dominated and for excluding other marginalized communities. Today, organizers and speakers at the Women's March on: Toronto, as well as those in many other cities, are making efforts to be more inclusive.

The politics of the women's march are increasingly embracing this diversity. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, has analyzed the changes in the U.S. women's movement.

"Indeed, if our objective is to build a multiracial women's movement that is truly representative," Taylor wrote in The Nation in January, "then there is much to be embraced in the model that the Women's March has painstakingly begun to build."

Taylor, an assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University, continued, "While some critics argue that this model involves taking on too many issues, this betrays an old and stagnant view that helped to marginalize Black and Latina women from feminism in an earlier age."

Seeing a major U.S. social movement adopt such broad progressive feminist politics can only be seen a sign of hope in what so often appears to be a dismal political time.

Judy Rebick is one of Canada's most celebrated and well-known feminist thinkers, critics and writers. She is the founder of rabble.ca. This article was first published in Herizons Winter 2019 and is reprinted here with permission.

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Categories: News for progressives

Dear Justin Trudeau: What about democratic government?

Rabble News - Tue, 2019-03-12 20:33
March 12, 2019What happened to Trudeau's promise of democratic government?Despite his campaign promises, Justin Trudeau has been unable to abandon centralized power. His chosen style of governance is through emphasizing public relations, which is wearing thin.
Categories: News for progressives

What happened to Trudeau's promise of democratic government?

Rabble News - Tue, 2019-03-12 20:24
Politics in Canada

Justin Trudeau spoke to the press last week about the fiasco that has enveloped his government following the demotion, then resignation, of former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould from cabinet.

I have "learned some lessons," said the prime minister. He plans to seek outside advice on clarifying relations between political staff and ministers, the concentration of power in his office, and the role that lobbying plays in policy development.

When Brian Mulroney formed his majority government in 1984, he created a highly paid political "chief of staff" position for each minister, someone to give partisan policy advice, short-circuiting the public service.

Mulroney did not have much time for public servants. His campaign promise was to hand out "pink slips and running shoes" to federal government employees.

Every government since Mulroney has used political staff in big roles. Deputy ministers are second-guessed by staffers looking for partisan advantage.

While senior public officials serve the government of the day, political staff serve the minister, and their loyalty is to the party first.

It would be wise of Trudeau to move away from the Mulroney style of partisan government. Political staff should be focused on party business.

Policy development needs to be done with public servants, experts, and the public, not directed from the prime minister's office (PMO) by political staff.

Lobbyists figured out some time ago they should be targeting political staff. The prominence staffers have had in Ottawa has attracted attention from all kinds of industries looking for favourable treatment. 

A key Trudeau aide, Gerald Butts (who resigned in the fallout over the Wilson-Raybould departure) spent hours being lobbied by oil and gas officials, though the Liberals were elected fighting climate change.

Forcing lobbyists to operate openly in the public sphere is a better way to go for any government. Inviting participation in parliamentary committee hearings beats letting political staff interact with the rich and powerful.

The Ottawa parliamentary committee system does run up against excessive partisanship; but it also allows for MPs to become knowledgeable on subjects that affect the daily lives of Canadians. Calling on experts, video conferencing, and online streaming, are all techniques that can build public participation in policy development.

Industries defending pipeline expansion or use of chemical fertilizers should have to make their case in open sessions, also attended by critics. Giving voice and access to critical voices adjusts the balance of political forces at play away from one that favours corporations, as in the lobbying scenario.

In Canada the centralization of power in the hands of the prime minister dates from Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the election of 1968. Journalist Walter Stewart wrote about "the super group" around Pierre Trudeau that was determined to wrestle influence away from the senior public servants who, behind the scenes, made cabinet government work.

Wartime preparation from 1939 to 1945 and postwar planning undertaken in the early 1940s demanded more knowledge, technical skills, and social science than any cabinet could muster. It fell to public servants to take the lead.

Working together to build inter-departmental consensus, senior public servants communicated their agreed proposals to cabinet ministers, whose job was mainly to sell them to the country.

This was the system Pierre Trudeau discovered when he worked at the Privy Council office after the war. It was still operating when he came to Parliament in 1965. Before he became prime minister, Trudeau had concluded it gave elected representatives short shrift, weakening electoral democracy. 

For Pierre Trudeau the elected representatives of the people should do the thinking and the deciding, not the appointed public servants.

In implanting his ideas about proceeding democratically, Trudeau turned to his own thinkers.

Advisers Jim Davey and Marc Lalonde came up with the system of cabinet committees where ministers would hash out what to do, with senior officials providing background and options, and not neatly packaged policies to be adopted. 

The result was to give more power to the centre to make the agenda, choose priorities, and frame discussions. Prime ministerial government was born and remains in place to this day.

Cabinet government -- where ministers take responsibility for their portfolios -- has been correspondingly downgraded.  

Pierre Trudeau thought the Liberal Party could be a privileged vehicle for policy development.

With his longtime associate Gérard Pelletier, Trudeau devised a system of funding social activists so as to bring new voices into public debate.

When those voices, specifically feminist ones, became too critical, their funding was withdrawn by Mulroney and then Chrétien. Stephen Harper pulled the plug on any remaining support for social activists.

As it turned out, prime ministerial government and neoliberalism worked well together, from the time of anti-inflation austerity in the early 1980s, through corporate trade deals, to moving from a social welfare regime to a security state after 2001.

Despite his campaign promises, Justin Trudeau has been unable to abandon centralized power. His chosen style of governance is through emphasizing public relations; it is wearing thin, not just in Canada, but in France, and elsewhere.

Governments today need to engage with the public on issues in a more meaningful fashion than through talking points and message boxes.

Bringing the lobbyists out of the back rooms, giving public servants more responsibility for policy development in the various departments of government, and keeping political staffers from substituting themselves for ministers would be a good start to improving democratic government in Canada.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Justin Trudeau/Facebook

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Justin TrudeaudemocracyDuncan CameronMarch 12, 2019Scheer's approach gives Trudeau opening in SNC-Lavalin affairWithout evidence of wrongdoing for personal benefit by the prime minister, it is hard to see why Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer would expect Justin Trudeau to resign.Butts resignation underscores the ongoing power of the PMOJustin Trudeau promised to reverse the trend, starting in his father's time, of centralizing power in the Prime Minister's Office. It does not look like he has lived up to that pledge. How can we counter corporate capture of government?The SNC-Lavalin affair rips the veil off the hidden world of corporate influence on government decision-making.
Categories: News for progressives

Military Moves into Environmental Management in South America

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-12 16:04

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Environmental and land management in South America is being slowly but persistently militarized, with the aim of controlling extractive industries, especially gold mining. In Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela, as well as other countries, both conservative and progressive governments participate in this militarization. The basic dispute is not so much in avoiding negative environmental and social impacts, as in controlling economic surpluses.

Colombia: Environmental Management as a Security Policy

Colombian president Iván Duque recently presented the National Development Plan that will guide his four-year administration. The novelty is that it includes environmental management under national security and defense policies (1). Protection of biodiversity and water now appear alongside objectives such as defending borders and territorial sovereignty.

The measure creates a new security force for “Comprehensive Environmental Protection”, made up of military and police officers who coordinate with prosecutors and environmental authorities. The Ministry of the Environment joins the National Security Council, environmental issues will be incorporated into the National Security Strategy and possibly even into the National Intelligence Strategy.

From this “security” perspective, nature is presented as an “asset”. This is not a neutral concept– it comes from the business world and promotes the fragmentation of nature that prioritizes the economic value of resources. The plan proposes large-scale land-use planning instruments, called “Strategic Comprehensive Intervention Zones”, with medium-term (5 year) objectives in both security and environment, which would serve to transit towards “legal” exploitation of natural resources.

The Colombian government does not hide its basic objective, which is to bring the illegal exploitation of natural resources, such as timber and minerals–especially gold, under control. Government officials admit that the nation confronts a dramatic situation: 86% of the gold extracted comes from illegal practices and 44% of the country’s municipalities engage in some illegal mining, either in gold or coal or other products. In Colombia, illegal mining is so widespread that it has marginalized legal, formal mining practices.

Several other South American countries face the same dilemma, especially Bolivia and Peru where alluvial gold mining is expanding rapidly at the foot of the mountains and in tropical forests. The activity takes a heavy toll on the environment, particularly from deforestation and mercury contamination. It also causes hugely negative social effects, from the trafficking of girls and adolescents to the illegal trade of inputs and minerals. (2).

The Colombian development plan does not aim to end these mining practices, but rather to control them and transform them into formal business ventures. Its goal is for the State to decide which companies participate and under what conditions they can exploit gold and other mineral resources, while obtaining a portion of the profits that this produces.

Venezuela: Militarized Mining Area

Another extreme example is found in Venezuela, where Nicolás Maduro turned to liberalizing mining exploitation in the so-called Arco Orinoco Mining in one of several desperate attempts to overcome the country’s crisis (3). The Arco Orinoco area comprises ​​more than 100 thousand km2, with deposits of gold, diamonds and coltan, among other minerals. There Maduro created a “Military Economic Zone”, placing the armed forces in charge of controlling and directing mining exploitation.

Currently, there is a dispute over gold in the region, with various complaints regarding the military’s participation in both the registered companies and in illegal networks, involved in environmental destruction and violence. Local groups denounce that their rights are violated, deforestation and other environmental impacts are increasing, and gold mining is spreading beyond the designated area to other Amazonian territories (3).

Brazil: Bolsonaro’s Militarist Offensive

In Brazil, the new government of Jair Bolsonaro is also taking the first steps towards greater military presence in the control of natural resources and territories, especially in the Amazon. The new vision mixes disparate components mix with certain reactionary fantasies. Bolsonaro promotes liberalization in carrying arms and considers the occupation of rural lands as “terrorism”. Some days he claims that the indigenous people must become “soldiers”, but on other days he postulates converting them into “entrepreneurs” in the use of their territories. Most frequently, he marginalizes them as obstacles to progress.

Schematic representation of the Andes biological corridor.

The new president has also denounced what he calls international plots to appropriate the Amazon. In particular, he questioned the initiative to create a “Triple A Corridor” that joins together protected areas and indigenous territories extending from one side of the continent to the other, from Peru (in the north of the Amazon) and Ecuador, along the northern zone of Brazil and adjacent regions of Colombia, Venezuela and the Guianas. (4) Bolsonaro also criticizes it for, according to him, operating analogously to forms of self-determination of indigenous peoples. In this he is not alone–there are military commanders who support him (5).

Schematic representation of the Orinoco mining arch in Venezuela (blue) and the “Caja Norte” program in the northern Amazonian border of Brazil (red).

This may explain the intentions of the Bolsonaro government to resuscitate the old military program of the “Caja Norte” of the Amazon, which includes the Brazilian territories north of the Amazon River along approximately 6,500 km of borders with Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana. This initiative was launched in 1985 to ensure the defense of what they identified as strategic natural reserves, under the control of the Ministry of Defense.

Militarization in Other South American Countries

In Peru, police or military regularly launch interventions to put down citizen protest. The mechanism the government uses is to declare a state of emergency. The most recent occurred on February 15, 2019 in the gold mining areas in the buffer zone of a reserve in the southern Amazon. By some calculations, illegal gold mining there has caused the deforestation of 11,000 hectares of forest. These operations involved 1,272 police officers, 300 members of the armed forces, experts in explosives, and 70 delegates of the General Prosecutor’s Office acting by land, in the rivers and by air. They claim these forces will remain for about two years. (6 ) This reveals the enormous scale of these interventions.

Police and sometimes military actions occur in several other countries. They have been reported, for example, in Argentina, especially in controlling the fracking fields in the south of the country; in Bolivia where they have protected the entry of oil companies into indigenous territories; in Chile with the deployment of the militarized police in the Mapuche areas of the country or in southern Chile to repress local groups that resist the so-called “theft” of water; or in Ecuador, where they have secured the protection of new mining ventures.

In several of these cases, the police or the military provide security or protection to companies and their facilities. The extreme case is Peru, where laws formalized mechanisms for mining and oil companies to contract directly with the police to provide them with “protection” and “neutralization” of threats. In that country, 138 “extraordinary police service provision” agreements have taken place between 1995 and 2018, with 29 of these agreements still in force. (7)

In other cases, agents have been assigned to spy on local leaders, as in the case of  Project X of the Argentine Gendarmerie, or more recently with the spying on church leaders in Brazil for their support of land claims asserted in the Amazon.

Emerging Trends

It is possible to advance some conclusions about this military and police derivative on extractivism. The first is not to forget that the militarization of environmental management is not new, and for example in Brazil it is dragged from the military governments since the mid-twentieth century, although at that time it was focused on ensuring a territorial presence in an Amazon that many considered a green “desert” But at present it is becoming more and more evident in several countries.

The second aspect is that this is promoted under both conservative and progressive governments. The similarities between Colombia and Venezuela are striking. Beyond the rhetoric and the participation of the State, the models of extractivism are repeated, with all their impacts. This indicates that we face a deeper problem that involves the roots in contemporary conceptions of development and Nature.

A third issue is that the dispute is not really focused on how to protect nature, but on how to regulate mining, to control it and obtain part of the profits. For example, it is clear that in Colombia the State seeks to displace and replace illegal groups as arbiters and organizers of gold mining. In this way, a commodification of the environment is reinforced. The flip side is to conceal or exclude other understandings of nature such as those based on its ecological, aesthetic, religious, and historical values.

Fourth, the policy legitimizes military and police as actors in environmental management. This is a substantive change in the tasks usually expected of them, and models like Colombia’s can lead to generals opining on the management of protected areas and indigenous territories. The community of ecologists, biologists and other scientists is once again relegated and the excuse of security serves to cancel out processes of citizen information and participation.

A fifth aspect is the need to recognize and understand that militarization can have widespread local support, especially in areas where there is a high incidence of criminal violence. No doubt there will be many who will celebrate the arrival of soldiers and police. But the passage of time shows that the military presence often ends up fueling more violence. Colombia offers many examples of this. Local communities, especially peasants and indigenous people, are trapped between the military and police on the one hand, and illegal and criminal groups on the other.

Sixth, the spread of this concept of security could lead to possible tensions between countries. This may be beginning to occur in the northern Amazonian regions. In fact, there the AAA Biological Corridor proposal affects the Orinoco Mining Arc in Venezuela and also overlaps the Caja Norte military plan of the Brazilian border.

Finally, it is evident that this type of strategies will not be able to stop the social and environmental impacts of extractive industries. The generals control neither the market price nor the external demand, and it becomes impossible to place a soldier or a policeman at every Amazonian river or on every hillside. Meanwhile, huge financial resources are spent that could be used to sustain productive reconversions in the areas that need it most.

Sin embargo, a pesar de todo esto, lo que hoy se observa en Colombia y otros países vecinos, parece apuntar a que la tozudez una vez más prevalecerá, para insistir en medidas ambientales y territoriales que ya sabemos que son inefectivas.

However, despite all that, recent experience in Colombia and other neighboring countries, seems to point to stubbornness once again prevailing, to insist on environmental and territorial measures that have already been proven to be ineffective.

Eduardo Gudynas is a researcher at the Latin American center for Social Equality in Uruguay (Centro Latino Americano de Ecología Social-CLAES). His most recent book is “Corruption and Extractivism”, with editions in Chile, Peru and Bolivia.

Notes

(1) Bases del Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2018-2022, Departamento Nacional de Planeación, Bobotá, 2019.

(2) Las rutas del oro ilegal: estudios de caso en cinco países amazónicos, Sociedad Peruana Derecho Ambiental, Lima, 2015, en: https://spda.org.pe/wpfb-file/larutadeloro-completo-final-doblecara-pdf/

(3) See, for example, Una mirada estructural del megaproyecto Arco Minero del Orinoco, M. Vitti, en Revista SIC, 27 junio 2018, http://revistasic.gumilla.org/2018/una-mirada-estructural-del-megaproyecto-arco-minero-del-orinoco-i/

Explotación, deforestación y muerte en el Arco Minero de Venezuela, Mongabay Latam, 14 febrero 2018, https://es.mongabay.com/2018/02/arco-minero-de-venezuela/

(4) Triplo A: o controverso corredor ecológico que ligaria os Andes ao Atlântico, F. Ortíz, 23 octubre 2017, (o)eco, https://www.oeco.org.br/reportagens/triplo-a-o-controverso-corredor-ecologico-que-ligaria-os-andes-ao-atlantico/

(5) Former Chief Commander of the Army Eduardo Villas Boas, on Twitter, called the Corridor a “question of sovereignty”, and called for an analysis of “risks”. This general directed the military command in the Amazon. https://twitter.com/Gen_VillasBoas/status/1042435900448354304

Jair Bolsonaro, 2015, on Facebook, classified it as “the new threat to Brazilian sovereignty in the Amazon”, carried out with the “pretext” of combatting climate change, and following the example of “the self-determination of indigenous peoples”, it would end up in an “amputation” of national territory. https://www.facebook.com/pg/jairmessias.bolsonaro

(6) Madre de Dios: inician megaoperativo contra minería ilegal, CooperAcción, Lima, 19 febrero 2019, http://cooperaccion.org.pe/madre-de-dios-inician-megaoperativo-contra-mineria-ilegal/

(7) ER, IDL y CDDHH. 2019. Agreements between the National Police and extractive industries in Peru. EarthRights Internacional (ER), Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL) y Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos (CDDHH), Lima.

Categories: News for progressives

Trump is Trying to Pay His Way to an Annihilation of Palestinian Statehood, and an Erasure of Israel’s Crimes

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-12 16:00

Photo Source U.S. Embassy Dedication Ceremony

Palestine” has been compared to many things. The world’s longest colonial war, a “hell-disaster” – Churchill’s memorable epithet – and the site of Israel’s “war on terror”, a conflict in which we are supposed to believe that the Palestinians are playing the role of al-Qaeda or Isis or any other outfit which the west and its allies have helped into existence, and which Israel is going to fight on our behalf.

But there are times when Palestine turns out to have been located in the Bermuda Triangle. The Palestinians disappear. They cease to exist. They are forgotten, irrelevant, outside the landscape of fear, pain, injustice and occupation that we once heard about so often. No one can imagine what has happened to these Palestinians. Like the aircraft and boats which strayed into the mythical triangle, they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Sad to see them go. But it’s a mystery.

The last two weeks have been a case in point. Trump’s fey and vain son-in-law Jared Kushner, a supporter of Israel’s colonial expansion on Arab land, set off with Trump’s “special representative to the peace process” Jason Greenblatt (the man who says that “West Bank settlements are not an obstacle to peace”) to work out the economic underpinning of Trump’s “deal of the century” to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Kushner went to visit some Muslim killer-states, some of them with very nasty and tyrannical leaders – Saudi Arabia and Turkey among them – to chat about the “economic dimension” of this mythical deal.

Middle East leaders may be murderers with lots of torturers to help them stay in power, but they are not entirely stupid. It’s clear that Kushner and Greenblatt need lots and lots of cash to prop up their plans for the final destruction of Palestinian statehood – we are talking in billions – and the Arab leaders they met did not hear anything about the political “dimension” of Trump’s “deal”. Because presumably there isn’t one. After all, Trump thinks that by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and declaring it the capital of Israel, he has taken that most holy of cities “off the table”.

Our titans of journalism were silent – maybe they, too, fell into the Bermuda Triangle – and had absolutely nothing to say, absolutely zilch, about Kushner’s march of folly around the Middle East. They called it, inevitably, a “whirlwind tour” in which this foolish young man would – readers will recognise CNN’s equally inevitable clichés – “prep allies for a spring rollout” of the “plan”.

This very vagueness is amazing, because the Kushner-Greenblatt fandango was in fact a very historic event. It was unprecedented as well as bizarre, unequalled in recent Arab history for its temerity as well as its outrageous assumption.

For this was the first time in modern Arab history – indeed modern Muslim history – that America has constructed and prepared a bribe BEFORE the acquiescence of those who are supposed to take the money; before actually telling the Palestinians and other Arabs what they are supposed to do in order to get their hands on the loot.

Usually, the Americans or the EU come up with highfalutin “peace” proposals – two states, security for Israel, viability for Palestinians, talks about a joint capital, an end to Jewish colonies on occupied Arab land, mutual trust-building, refugees, the usual paint-pots – and then gently suggest that it might be financially worthwhile for everyone to start talking.

But now the bank account is being set up before the customers’ agreement. The banks themselves – we have to include Saudi Arabia, do we not? – have not even been told what investments their funds are meant to support. How many times can you fit a South Sea Bubble into a Bermuda Triangle?

It’s not a blank cheque the Americans want from the Arabs. It’s going to be a very big cheque with specific amounts, to be given to a people who have never – as an occupied, repressed, abandoned community – ever demanded cash from anyone. Sure – and this has been a Kushner theme – Palestinians would be happier if they were better off.

But who has ever seen, in all the bloody Palestinians protests, demonstrations and cries of despair and massacres, a single poster – just one demand – for prime business opportunities, new motorways, five-star hotels, hospitals or pre-natal clinics?

Palestinian demands have been uniformly identical: justice, dignity, freedom and – yes – the return of lost lands, if only of those properties thieved from them by Israel in the West Bank. Of the thousands of unarmed innocents eviscerated in the great Gaza wars, which of their families is now going to settle for an American cheque in return for the end of all their ideals, dreams and political demands? But then again, what do we care for any of those families?

For the Bermuda Triangle sucked into its vortex these past few days yet another Palestinian victim: the UN’s preliminary report on the mass killings by Israeli troops and snipers of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza demonstrating since 30 March last year – against their imprisonment in the enclave and their right, under UN General Assembly Resolution 194, to return to their families’ original homes or receive compensation for them.

More than 200 Palestinians have been killed and around 18,000 wounded. The UN investigated 189 fatalities. Its researchers thought that perhaps on two occasions, armed Palestinian men may have infiltrated the crowds to shoot at the Israeli army, but even the briefest reading of the UN report’s 22 pages makes it perfectly clear that the dead were largely the victims of deliberate and aimed shots. They included journalists, health workers, children. Israel may have committed war crimes, the UN report concluded.

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But each new war, each new set of casualties, each new UN report has become normal. Or perhaps the word is “normalised”. None more so than the 25 February UN document. The demonstrators belonged to the “terrorist” Hamas, according to Israel. The investigation was a “theatre of the absurd”, announced Israel’s spokesman, “a report that is hostile, mendacious and biased against Israel”.

But what did we expect? Ever since Israel trashed and demeaned and politically destroyed that great Jewish jurist Richard Goldstone after his devastating critique of the 2008-2009 Israeli bombardment of Gaza – the accusations by Israel and Jewish Americans of his antisemitism and his innate “evil” (the latter from Alan Dershowitz, of course) make even US Democrat Ilhan Omar’s sins look childlike – UN reports have been little more than wallpaper. Yet none of this matters.

The Palestinians are even supposed to be duped by the closure of the US consulate in Jerusalem and its merger with Washington’s embassy in Israel to enhance “the efficiency and effectiveness of [America’s] diplomatic engagements”, according to the ambassador David Friedman, who also, by extraordinary chance, supports Israel’s land expropriations in the West Bank but claims he wants a “two-state solution”.

Hanan Ashrawi simply and eloquently explained that the merging of the consulate with the embassy “is not an administrative decision. It is an act of political assault on Palestinian rights and identity, and a negation of the consulate’s historic status and function, dating back nearly 200 years.” She was quite right. And no one paid the slightest attention. The US consulate simply got swallowed up by the Bermuda Triangle.

Is all this because Trump has now steamrolled morality and so indelibly soiled the American flag that we have all, somehow, closed down in the Middle East on ideas like principles, promises and humanity, and accepted everlasting night – even if the latter is referred to as the deal of the century? Is that what happens when you fall into the Bermuda Triangle? Goodbye to the Palestinians. Didn’t they know this was dangerous territory? Hadn’t they heard the stories? It’s all a mystery if you ask me.

 

Categories: News for progressives

The Political Class’s Disregard for Irish Life

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-12 15:59

Photo Source SeanMack – Wikimedia Commons

The families of the 13 innocent people shot dead by the Parachute Regiment when they took part in a civil rights march against internment without trial in Londonderry in 1972 will learn in the coming week if soldiers, who are alleged to have carried out the killings, will be prosecuted.

There is no doubt about what happened on Bloody Sunday 47 years ago since Lord Saville’s report, 5,000 words long and the fruit of 12 years’ work, was published in 2010. It concluded that none of the casualties shot by the soldiers “were posing any threat of causing death or serious injury”. It said that all soldiers bar one responsible for the casualties “insisted that they had shot at gunmen or bombers, which they had not”. Saville added that “many of these soldiers have knowingly put forward false accounts in order to justify their firing”.

Saville said the report was “absolutely clear” and there were “no ambiguities” about events in the city on that day. David Cameron later told the House of Commons that “what happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.”

But eight years after Cameron had apologised, the Commons heard another story from the Northern Ireland secretary, Karen Bradley, who said this week that the deaths caused by the British security services during the Troubles were “not crimes” but people acting “under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way”.

This was so very different from Saville and Cameron that it was followed by a frantic row-back on the part of Bradley, followed by some some touchy-feely stuff about acknowledging the pain of the families of the dead who might be upset by her words.

Bradley’s original statement and confused apologies were greeted with derision by the media, which recalled her past gaffes, comparing her ineptitude to that of the transport secretary Chris Grayling whose pratfalls and failures – and unsackability because of Brexit – are notorious.

But Bradley’s incompetence and ignorance – her kinder critics say that “she is out of her depth” – are a diversion from a more serious failing on her part, one which has the potential to do real damage to the stability of Northern Ireland. This is simply that what she said and later apologised for reflects all too accurately the real thinking of much of the government, most Conservative MPs and the great majority of their party supporters.

Prominent Brexiteers have never liked the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), while others consider it a Labour project that they would be happy to see wither on the bough. Michael Gove compared the GFA to the appeasement of the Nazis. The former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson happily retweeted an article saying that the GFA had run its course and he supports a hard border with the Irish Republic. The “Get Back Control” slogan of the pro-Brexit campaign was aimed at the EU, but it can be rapidly adjusted for use against the GFA, which undoubtedly does dilute the formal authority of the British government in Northern Ireland though expanding its real influence.

Bradley’s statement in the Commons could be dismissed as the normal Conservative knee-jerk support for the British Army. But the problem here is that its tone is in keeping with Conservative actions since they won the general election in 2010. Since then they have ignored essential parts of the GFA, such as the central role of the nationalist population in the north and, until recently, of the Irish government. Cameron may have apologised for Bloody Sunday but he sent a right winger like Paterson to Belfast as secretary of state.

Bit by bit the preconditions for peace have been chipped away. A crucial element was the declaration by the British government under John Major in 1993 that it was neutral between unionists and nationalists. This enabled it to mediate successfully between the two communities. It also enabled it to act in concert with the Irish government if the two communities could not agree.

This neutrality was carelessly abandoned long before Theresa May finally knocked it on the head when she became dependent on the DUP for her parliamentary majority in 2017. DUP MPs are now treated as if they were the sole representatives of Northern Ireland, though its voters chose decisively by 56 to 44 per cent to stay in the EU. Moreover, demographers say that Catholics and nationalists now each make up half the population of the north and will be in the majority in two years’ time.

Contrary to criticism, Bradley’s repeated gaffes, automatic support for the British Army and open ignorance of the Northern Irish political terrain are nothing out of the ordinary for politicians holding her job. Perhaps it is unfair to blame this on the Conservatives alone: the British political class has a long tradition of ignoring Ireland until it blows up in their faces.

The fact that Bradley’s ill-considered remarks were made only days before there is to be a decision by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service about the prosecution of soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday is also par for the course.

A central reason why the Troubles went on for so long was that successive British governments from 1968-69 failed to realise the extent to which internment without trial, Bloody Sunday, the hunger strikes, the Birmingham Six and similar injustices delegitimised the British state in the eyes of the nationalist community. A myth was maintained that the IRA has only two or three per cent support in the nationalist community and that it was always on the verge of total defeat. But small guerrilla groups depend more on tolerance or support than they do on military capacity and this popular acceptance was underestimated by the British and Irish governments. Both were astonished when Sinn Fein started winning elections under their own name in the wake of the hunger strikes.

These grievances in Northern Ireland are often presented as “legacy” issues which are only kept alive by the historically obsessed Irish who ought to let the dead bury their dead and get on with their lives.

But this is exactly what Brexit – along with a prolonged failure by the British government to keep the GFA in good working order – is preventing people in Northern Ireland from doing. It is absurd for people in Britain to criticise anybody in Northern Ireland for undue interest in the past when Brexit is doing just that by resurrecting a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, the elimination of which was central to the peace agreement. If Britain goes backward into the past, there is no reason why the Irish should not do the same thing.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Can We Divest from Weapons Dealers?

Counterpunch - Tue, 2019-03-12 15:58

Photo Source Coolcaesar at en.wikipedia • CC BY-SA 3.0

Impoverished people living in numerous countries today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products.

About three decades ago, I taught writing at one of Chicago’s alternative high schools. It’s easy to recall some of their stories—fast-paced, dramatic, sometimes tender. I would beg my students to three-hole-punch each essay or poem and leave it in a binder on our classroom shelf, anxious not to lose the documentation of their talents and ideas.

Some of the youngsters I taught told me they were members of gangs. Looking down from the window of my second-floor classroom, I sometimes wondered if I was watching them selling drugs in broad daylight as they embraced one another on the street below.

Tragically, in the two years that I taught at Prologue High School, three students were killed. Colleagues told me that they generally buried three students per year. They died, primarily, from gunshot wounds. I think they could have survived their teenage years if weapons and ammunition hadn’t been available.

Similarly, I believe impoverished populations of numerous countries at war today would stand a far better chance of survival, and risk far less trauma, if weapon manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon, stopped manufacturing and selling death-dealing products. It would also help if the people living in countries that export deadly weapons were well-informed about the consequences these businesses bring.

Consider this: The 2018 U.S. Census Report tallies U.S. exports of bullets to other countries. Topping the list is $123 million-worth of bullets to Afghanistan—an eight-fold rise over the number of bullets sold in 2017 and far more than the number of bullets sold to any other country.

During a recent visit to Afghanistan, I heard many people voice intense fear of what would happen if civil war breaks out. It seems to me that those who manufacture bullets are doing all they can to hasten the likelihood and deadly outcome of an armed struggle.

But rather than help people here in the United States understand conditions in countries where the U.S. conducts airstrikes, President Donald Trump is hiding the facts.

On March 6, 2019, Trump revoked portions of a 2016 executive order imposed by President Barack Obama requiring annual reports on the number of strikes taken and an assessment of combatant and civilian deaths. Trump has removed the section of the mandate specifically covering civilian casualties caused by CIA airstrikes, and whether they were caused by drones or “manned” warplanes.

A U.S. State Department email message said the reporting requirements are “superfluous” because the Department of Defense already must file a full report of all civilian casualties caused by military strikes. However, the report required from the Pentagon doesn’t cover airstrikes conducted by the CIA.

And last year, the White House simply ignored the reporting requirement.

Democracy is based on information. You can’t have democracy if people have no information about crucial issues. Uninformed about military practices and foreign policy, U.S. citizens become disinterested.

I lived alongside civilians in Iraq during the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad. In the hospital emergency rooms I heard survivors asking, through screams and tears, why they were being attacked. Since that time, in multiple visits to Kabul, I have heard the same agonized question.

The majority of Afghanistan’s population consists of women and children. When civilians in that country die because of U.S. attacks—whether within or beyond “areas of active hostilities”; whether conducted by the CIA or the Department of Defense; whether using manned or unmanned warplanes—the attack is almost certain to cause overwhelming grief. Often the survivors feel rage and may want revenge. But many feel despair and find their only option is to flee.

Imagine a home in your neighborhood suddenly demolished by a secret attack; you have no idea why this family was targeted, or why women and children in this family were killed. If another such attack happened, wouldn’t you consider moving?

Reporting for The New York Times, Mujib Mashal recently interviewed a farmer from Afghanistan’s Helmand province displaced by fighting and now unable to feed his family. “About 13.5 million people are surviving on one meal or less a day,” Mashal writes, “and 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of a $1 a day.”

Last week, an international crisis sharply escalated in a “dogfight” between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states. The crisis has been somewhat defused. Media reports quickly focused on the relative military strength of both countries—observing, for example, that the dilapidated state of India’s jet fighters could be a “win” for U.S. weapons manufacturers.

“It is hard to sell a front-line fighter to a country that isn’t threatened,” said an analyst with the Lexington Institute. “Boeing and Lockheed Martin both have a better chance of selling now because suddenly India feels threatened.”

A few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited heads of state in Pakistan and India. Photos showed warm embraces and respectful receptions.

The CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson, also embraces the Saudi government. She serves on the boards of trustees of two Saudi technological universities, and presides over a company that has been awarded “a nine-figure down payment on a $15 billion missile-defense system for Saudi Arabia.” The Saudis will acquire new state-of-the-art weapons even as they continue bludgeoning civilians in Yemen during a war orchestrated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And the Saudis will build military alliances with nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

With both India and Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, every effort should be made to stop the flow of weapons into the region. But major weapon making companies bluntly assert that the bottom line in the decision is their profit.

Attending funerals for young people in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, at the time one of the poorest in Chicago, I felt deep dismay over the profits that motivated gun runners who sold weapons to students, some of whom would be soon fatally wounded. In the ensuing decades, larger, more ambitious weapon peddlers have engendered and prolonged fighting between warlords, within and beyond the United States.

How different our world could be if efforts were instead directed toward education, health care, and community welfare.

 

Categories: News for progressives

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