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Updated: 58 min 3 sec ago

Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World

Wed, 2019-01-16 16:00

Image by Nathaniel St. Clair

Johannesburg.

World Bank president Jim Kim is an ex-leftist who claims that in the mid-1990s he wanted to shut down the Bank. At the time, it was an entirely valid, realistic goal of the 50 Years is Enough! Campaign and especially the World Bank Bonds Boycott. Kim’s co-edited Dying for Growth (2000) book-length analysis of the Bank’s attacks on Global-South public health offered very useful ammunition.

However, not only did Kim subsequently make an ideological U-turn, as we see below, but more importantly, among the casualties of the 9/11 attacks were many such movement-building efforts aimed at a common international enemy. The global justice scene faded quickly as a result of new divisions between social activists and U.S. labor patriots, the shift by internationalists into anti-war mobilizing, and the ascendance of NGO-led World Social Forum talk-shopping. Other more hopeful recent leftist waves also ebbed: Latin America’s Pink Tide and 2011’s Occupy moment in many sites across the world. Perhaps the recent revival of social-democratic politics in the two core (Anglo-American) sites of neoliberalism will make this post-2001 lapse appear as an only temporary setback.

If so, one inevitable site to identify neoliberalism’s coldest logic – and sometimes most brute-force muscles – is the World Bank, an institution often engaged in self-delegitimization. So if activists across the globe do not currently have a central site of resistance, nevertheless countless battles are being waged at any given time against Bank projects and ideology. The battle over its leadership is worth close attention.

After founding an impressive NGO (Partners in Health) and pursuing Harvard anthropology and public health scholarship during the 1990s, Kim went on to run the World Health Organization’s AIDS division (very well indeed, helping get generic medicines to millions), and then Dartmouth College (not so well). Improbably, in 2012 he then became World Bank president due to his proximity to Bill and Hillary Clinton. But he made mistake after mistake for six and a half years at 18th & H Sts, NW Washington, alienating all kinds of different constituencies. In the wake of his sudden resignation last week, practically no one has a good word to say about Kim.

(One indication of the establishment’s heartbreak is that on Twitter, ‘serious’ people from Washington’s think-tank circuitry began speculating about Kim’s botched romantic life and other scandals at the Bank as push factors, or instead – charged former Bank economist Branco Milanovic and the Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny– personal greed as a pull factor. The Economist claimed the hasty departure was reasonable, for “Kim probably decided to leave months ago… Once he had begun talking to his next employer, he could not stay long without creating a potential conflict of interest.” Gossip should be discounted, but whether or not such material conflicts will arise – for his new employer is even more dominated by corrupt leadership and a fossil-centric infrastructure portfolio than the Bank – is worthy of brief consideration, below.)

A full record of Kim’s 2012, 2016 and 2019 employment mishaps can be found at a public interest website. And excellent recent critiques of Kim’s 2012-19 leadership are available from Delhi-based Bank critics Tani Alex and Joe Athialy (writing in Down to Earth) and two NGO watchdogs, the Bretton Woods Project in London and the Bank Information Center in Washington, whose evaluation last week pointed out Kim’s talk-left walk-right tendencies:

“While Dr. Kim articulated a strong vision of the World Bank Group’s mission that was targeted at reducing extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, the reality is that during his tenure as World Bank President, the institution frequently failed to live up to these principles. Rather than combatting inequality and targeting those living in extreme poverty, many investment projects, policy loans, and other World Bank activities contributed to inequality by supporting forced evictions, excluding persons with disabilities from project benefits, or creating conditions that increased rates of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation. Similarly, Dr. Kim maintained strong rhetoric around the need to address climate change throughout his presidency, but under his leadership the World Bank continued to invest in projects that led to deforestation and land degradation and otherwise supported the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels.”

Here in Johannesburg, which Kim visited a month ago, there is much to lament about Kim’s desultory role, following a long history of Bank malevolence including generous financing of apartheid. For example, just before the 2012 massacre at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mining operation, the Bank held a proud $150 million debt/equity commitment (its largest such stake in Sub-Saharan Africa). A local feminist group’s formal complaint against the Lonmin financing was treated by Kim’s staff with such disdain that finally in 2015, the women and their lawyers gave up in disgust.

And the Bank has kept the financial tranches flowing into climate destruction through the $3.75 billion loan (its largest ever) for an utterly dysfunctional 4800 MegaWatt coal-fired power-plant, Medupi (the world’s largest under construction today). As was well known in 2010, the project featured both massive CO2 pollution and ruling-party corruption. In 2015, the Japanese contractor Hitachi paid a $19 million out-of-court settlement for bribing the African National Congress – but the beneficiary of that U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act fine was Washington’s Securities and Exchange Commission, not ordinary South Africans whose real increase in electricity tariffs has since then exceeded 400 percent. (If ever some form of international financial justice is served, the World Bank would be forced to take a haircut on its Medupi loan, and also pay reparations for this exceptional energy disaster.)

Both these financing frauds emanated from Robert Zoellick’s presidency. But they festered unresolved through Kim’s reign, and sneakily, he evaded both controversies during his 2012 visit.

More recent Kim-era scandals here included the Bank’s lead-ownership role in a firm found guilty ofdebit-order scamming millions of the poorest South Africans out of big chunks of their monthly grants (i.e., oft-celebrated ‘financial inclusion’). And in terms of World Bank research, South Africa was a pilot for the new inequality-denialism, which counts only (tokenistic) pro-poor state spending but entirely ignores corporate welfare.

In one of his last public speeches, last month at the Wits School of Governance in Johannesburg (where I happen to work), Kim sounded more bolshi-neoliberal than ever: “The ten things that are included in the Washington Consensus, most of them are really good. Most of them are things like central banks should be independent from state government. Most of those ideas are really good.”

Actually, Kim was wrong on this elementary point. Of the ten commandments associated with the Washington Consensus (as defined by John Williamson of the Institute for International Finance), an independent reserve bank was not included. The ten are fiscal discipline, reorientation of public expenditures, tax reform, financial liberalization, unified and competitive exchange rates, trade liberalization, openness to multinational corporate investment, privatization, deregulationand secure property rights. Applied in practice across Africa since the 1980s, these aspects of structural adjustment were all destructive to public health and more general social welfare and environmental sustainability.

Another reflection of Kim’s post-2000 rethinking of politics was his tweet two days before his Johannesburg speech: “Saddened by the passing of Pres. George HW Bush, a man of great character & courage. While at Dartmouth, I bestowed on him an honorary Dr of Laws degree. His work on the environment & commitment to global cooperation were only part of his profound legacy.”

In reality, Bush was an exceptionally belligerent warmonger and danger to nature: as the mid-1970s head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, as Vice President under Ronald Reagan and as President from 1981-93. The single highlight may have been Bush’s announcement at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit: “The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period.”

This perspective confirmed Washington’s role as wrecker of future world climate summits, including post-Kyoto when Bill Clinton refused to sign on, or at Copenhagen in 2009 and Paris in 2015 when Obama’s State Department fatally weakenedthe deals, not to mention the Trump gang’s anti-science chaos in Katowice last month (allied with Moscow and Riyadh).

More generally, Kim’s rule will be remembered for a new level of World Bank huckstering. He worked with the worst financial-speculative characters – like the Trump family – to promote the Public-Private Pilfering (PPP) model of “privatized profits, socialized losses.” Even more so than during the Wolfensohn-Wolfowitz-Zoellick ultra-neoliberal era, Kim believed financiers were the ideal partners for poor countries. That paves the way not only for him to join a predatory investment firm, but for a Wall Street crony of Trump to ease into the Bank presidency once nominations open next month.

Opening the door to a Trumpist bankster?

Will Donald Trump’s replacement candidate be affirmed by the usual suspects: the U.S.-Europe-Japan (so-called ‘Western imperialist’) voting bloc, just as Kim relied upon in 2012, even though he was manifestly the least qualified of three candidates, and refused to engage in public debate? Alternatively, would a candidate from the non-U.S. West, or the emerging markets, or even poorer countries, be acceptable to Trump, if his candidate is rejected?

The harsh reality is that Trump enjoys World Bank Board veto power with more than 15 percent of the voting shares. As a precedent for what might transpire, Washington’s blocking of multilateral institutions through personnel rejections has already sabotaged the World Trade Organization in recent months.

Much cynical amusement was generated by last Friday’s Financial Times throwaway remark: “Ivanka Trump, the US president’s daughter, is another name floating around Washington as a potential successor.”The basis for this zany notion (according to the FT) can be traced to Kim, for according torightwing economic ideologue Judy Shelton,“right away he worked out the deal with Ivanka Trump . . . right away she had a partner in him and I thought that was very smart.”

A year ago, nearly the same observation was offered by a New York Times reporter in an article entitled “The World Bank Is Remaking Itself as a Creature of Wall Street”: “When talking about his relationship with the administration, he drops the first names of White House players. “Ivanka, Jared, Gary Cohn, Dina Powell — they all know our business model very well,” Mr. Kim said.”

A month ago, Ivanka Trump was found guilty of fraudulent philanthropic activities, forcing the humiliating closure of the Trump Foundation. The New York Attorney General now seeks to temporarily ban her from such activity, which would present an impossible public relations hurdle for a World Bank presidential campaign. It would be excellent if Trump did indeed nominate her – as last October he hinted he might, for Ambassador to the United Nations – just to finally get the rest of the World Bank’s directors to belatedly rise up with an alternative, non-yankee candidate.

Another Trump favourite is Goldman Sachs banker and former White House advisor Dina Powell, who was teasingly endorsed by The Economist: “An American nominee who is hawkish on China and opposes the bank’s green-finance projects, or is seen as a political stooge, would set off a row. Ms Powell would have the advantage of being a globalist.” That’s the term so thoroughly despised by Trump and his hard-right base that there’s little chance of her nomination. Instead, expect the worst, i.e., someone like Bernie Madoff after he receives a Trump pardon.

Finally then, might a non-Trumpist banker be considered? China Daily– sometimes a good indicator of Beijing’s world view – offered an unsigned editorial with a vague suggestion about the need for an alternative candidacy: “It is widely hoped that the nomination of the next president could break away from an unofficial but long-held tradition, so that competent candidates with broad development experience, particularly from the developing world, can have a chance to lead this important international institution.”

That’s predictable from Beijing, but here too is confirmation from Tokyo’s Japan Times: Washington “can no longer claim to be protecting the global interest when its top officials insist that they are putting their national interest first. The Trump administration’s record of appointees to international institutions is mixed: its candidate to head the U.N. Migration Agency was rejected last year for making anti-Islam comments – a difficult position to defend given the organization’s mandate and the people it protects. The U.S.-European bargain to support each other’s nominee to head the World Bank and IMF is strained like the rest of the trans-Atlantic relationship.”

Perhaps the potential of the U.S. losing its 75-year long Bank presidency is why some in Washington are now panicking. Brookings’ David Dollar, a former World Bank researcher of dubious repute, anticipates that Trump’s forthcoming “nominee will be approved. The world has an interest in the US staying engaged with the World Bank”(sic).

A healthy dose of anti-imperialism is probably too much to ask from the kinds of neoliberals, liberals, Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) elites and Third World leaders who are most interested in this process, but surely there’s a possibility of anti-Trumperialism given how destructive his reign is to the people and planet, as well as to global economics and geopolitics?

By the way, this is not the only dangerous open position atop multilateral development finance. Within a year, the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) presidency will rotate, and Brazils’ new fascist president Jair Bolsonaro is expected to choose the next leader. Headquartered in Shanghai, the NDB will also open a Sao Paulo branch office this year (its first was in Johannesburg in mid-2017, and was the site of environmental and community protest during the mid-2018 heads-of-state summit here). The next NDB annual meeting, on April 1 in Cape Town, will also attract protests, given not only the NDB’s corruption-riddled South African loan portfolio, but Bolsonaro’s war on the Amazon, women, the Movement of Landless Workers and other progressive organizations, poor Brazilians, gays, Afro-Brazilians, ex-president Lula and so many others in Brazil.

Kim’s climate and Southern infrastructure agenda, self-sabotaged

 Aside from a Trump-appointed president, what are the other implications of Kim’s departure for world capitalism’s fossil fuel and mega-project addictions? His strange, hurried flight from the Bank into the arms of one of the world’s filthiest investment banks, Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), immediately reminded of the need to prohibit revolving-door relations that make former public sector development financiers so attractive to Wall Street.

Run by a former Credit Suisse oil-industry banker, Adebayo Ogunlesi, the investment house boasts an asset base of $51 billion. GIP partners and other top staff are dominated by White Anglo-Saxon Protestant males, which partly explains why they and the firms which they co-own and manage are scarce in the South. GIP’s average 24 percent rate of return on investment is another reason, given how hard that in poor countries, given their inexorable currency depreciation.

Kim claimed the reason he quit the Bank is that vice-chairing GIP is “the path through which I will be able to make the largest impact on major global issues like climate change and the infrastructure deficit in emerging markets.”

Yet like a heat-seeking missile, GIP must now be one of the world’s most carbon-intense investors. It played a role in the 2016 Standing Rock battle over oil and gas transport through the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL), via its half ownership of Hess, which has six pipelines in the area. According to Reuters, the firm benefited enormously when Trump overruled Barack Obama’s last-gasp late-2016 DAPL shutdown. “‘We’re back to growth in the Bakken,’ Hess Corp Chief Executive Officer John Hess said in a recent interview. The New York-based company has contracts to send roughly half its daily North Dakota output through DAPL. For 2017, Hess has said its Bakken production could grow more than 10 percent.”

GIP’s website reveals its satisfaction:“Through the acquisition of 50% of Hess Infrastructure Partners’ midstream crude oil and natural gas infrastructure business in the Bakken Shale region, GIP has formed a strategic partnership with Hess Corporation to jointly own and operate critical infrastructure in one of the most important crude oil and natural gas producing basins in North America. The midstream infrastructure is principally located in North Dakota and includes crude oil and natural gas gathering systems, a natural gas processing and fractionation facility, crude oil export assets and an underground propane storage facility.”

Most famously, GIP owns drone-prone Gatwick Airport. GIP’s other listed investments – for which Kim is ostensibly now #2 in charge of managing – are overwhelmingly in fossil fuels, shipping and air transport.[1] And Kim’s new boss is a super-star banker who led Credit Suisse’s energy and investment banking divisions, spending 23 years at what must be one of the world’s most corrupt financial institutions.

For example, under Ogunlesi’s reign, Credit Suisse made more than 20 major loans to Enron – including many through fraudulent vehicles Ogunlesi well knew of – from 1998-2001, just before it collapsed. According to a summary of the bankruptcy proceedings, senior Credit Suisse management engaged in many unethical deals because they ”viewed Enron as a highly desirable customer, and they dismissed the financial and reputational risks created by Enron’s manipulative transactions.” Ogunlesi, who called Enron “a great, great company,” was in charge of the operation and in the civil suit filed by Regents of the University of California et al, and in bankruptcy proceedings, Credit Suisse was ultimately found to be an ‘enabler’ of the fraud.

None of this seems right – which in a way is exactly the logical standpoint for the World Bank and its leader during a time of such intense geopolitical, economic and environmental turmoil. The extreme institutional instability we’re witnessing at present is due not just to the saboteurs of multilateralism two blocks away at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, or in Brasilia, or for that matter in Moscow. Another saboteur is sitting, at least two weeks longer, in the Bank’s presidency. And if you are a critic of neoliberal, carbon-intensive crony capitalism, then we can only hope that Trump contributes yet more delegitimation to the Bank’s now-legendary incompetence, malfeasance and unethical behavior… for which Jim Kim was only the cherry on top.

Notes.

[1] GIF investments are in these firms: Guacolda Energia, Freeport LNG, CPV, Saeta Yield/Bow Power, Gode Wind 1, Hess Infrastructure Partners, Naturgy Energy Group, Borkum Riffgrund 2, Vena Energy, Medallion,Clearway Energy, EnLink Midstream, Gatwick Airport, Edinburgh Airport,Terminal Investment Limited, Port of Melbourne, Pacific National, Italo, Access Midstream Partners, Biffa Group Limited, Channelview Cogeneration, Port of Brisbane,Ruby Pipeline Holding Company, Terra-Gen Power Holdings,CLH,Great Yarmouth Port Company, London City Airport,Transitgas, and East India Petroleum Limited.

Categories: News for progressives

Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell

Wed, 2019-01-16 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

I just listened to Joe Biden’s seventeen-and-a-half minute 2003 eulogy for his political friend Strom Thurmond, the former Dixiecrat segregationist from South Carolina who became a Republican in 1964. It’s clear Biden liked the man, who he worked closely with to pass crime bills in the early 1980s.  As Thurmond’s replacement as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden went on to push the now-controversial bill he proudly touts as “the 1994 Biden Crime Bill.” This is the bill about which, in 2015, former President Bill Clinton told an NAACP convention concerned about the mass incarceration of African Americans: “I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it.” According to a 2015 NY Times story, “Today, about 2.2 million Americans are locked up in federal and state prisons and local jails, twice as many as when Mr. Clinton took office.”

Biden’s long eulogy is full of warmth and wit and, for a liberal like Biden, driven by a spirit of forgiveness and, more important, a pragmatic sense of political synthesis between the dead man’s racist past and what Biden claims as his political mission, the pursuit of civil rights. He had been asked by Thurmond himself to give it. The problem is, when we forgive past shortcomings or evils in order to get over hurdles to make change possible so we can move on to better things, there needs to be true atonement, or it can’t work. And even if one argues that Strom Thurmond in old age was ready to atone in some way and to really move on, it’s crystal clear from the current state of Thurmond’s chosen Republican Party — still notorious for its cynical Nixonian “southern strategy” — that honest atonement is far from the order of the day; that, in fact, a dishonest, dog-whistle reanimation of that racist past is still alive in the heart of Thurmond’s  Republican Party.

In 1981, when Biden and Thurmond began to work together, Thurmond, who had been in politics since 1933, may have become a kindly old man with very real personal desires to atone. And the savvy, new Senator Joe Biden, 40 years his junior, may have figured out how to exploit those personal issues in order to accomplish legislation he found advantageous to his own and Democratic power needs. But this is 2019, and in the current political environment, Joe Biden’s clearly documented instincts for appeasing the conservative right to juice-up eroding Democratic power would be a coward’s way of regaining power. What’s needed is a new, courageous and pragmatic vision.

I don’t hate Joe Biden; he seems a very personable man, someone this nobody would have no problem sitting down with to have that proverbial beer — as long as I was able to speak my mind and candidly tell him why I feel he’d be a terrible choice for president of the United States right now.

I had a very memorable one-on-one exchange in the 1990s with Senator Biden when I worked as a staff photographer in the PR department of a university. One day, Biden came to speak about the Drug War. I took a half-dozen shots of him to fulfill my duties, then sat down to listen, since the topic was one I was interested in. I’d traveled in Central America as a documentary photographer during the Reagan wars; I’d worked for years feeding the homeless at night in the alleys of Philadelphia; I’d photographed a controversial needle exchange program in North Philly, and I’d read a lot about drug issues like harm reduction programs and other well-researched and documented alternatives to the Drug War. Like many others, I saw the issue in terms of supply and demand and questioned the focus of using our military, police, courts and prisons in places like Latin America to attack the supply — while failing miserably to address the demand at home. By the late 1980s, the Drug War seemed to be an abject failure. As I listened to Biden, all this rumbled around in my head. Given my role as PR photographer for the university, I hesitated. But then I raised my hand. I was sitting at the end of the second row in the middle section of seats in the auditorium. Biden pointed at me and walked slowly in my direction.

“Sir, I was wondering what you thought of the alternative options to our drug problem, things like harm reduction and the de-criminalization of drugs. Is there a better way to address the drug problem?”

His slow pace turned into a darting movement, and he was quickly right in front of me with that charming, slightly wry, wide Biden grin. He pointed right at my face as he looked out at the audience.

“This fellah thinks he’s smart!” he said, as if the remark was a left jab. “He cleverly uses the term to de-criminalize drugs — when what he really wants is to make the stuff legal.”

I forget the rest. All I remember was standing there like a jerk. A while back, I’d given Pennsylvania Senator John Heinz some lip at the Germantown Public Library for not answering my question and he’d threatened to have security throw me out. I’m sure Biden had figured out I was the university’s flak photographer and that he had me by the you-know-whats — which he did. I liked my job, so I took his crap and sat down with not one bit of my question addressed.

So, while I don’t hate Joe Biden, I do have a visceral disrespect for what seems his inclination to compromise with entrenched power at the expense of justice. The more I learned of Biden over the years, the more I began to understand his reaction to my question. I had unknowingly kicked his favorite pet schnauzer, and his nature was to make an ad-hominem attack.

It’s not news that Biden is vulnerable to criticism for his crime legislation and its impact on the US prison population that has risen 500% since he began his legislative efforts with Thurmond in 1981. According to The Sentencing Project, “Changes in sentencing law and policy, not changes in crime rates, explain most of this increase.” Also, as the senator from the corporate state of Delaware, his intimacy with the credit card industry is worth investigating; as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas, there are questions about his leadership; and there’s the fact he voted in 2002 to authorize the Bush invasion of Iraq.

Young Liberal Charms an Aging Segregationist

How did Joe Biden end up so close to Strom Thurmond? In Crime & Politics: Big Government’s Erratic Campaign for Law and Order, Ted Gest tells how an ambitious Senator Biden used crime, police and prison bills to get the Democrats back in the game after the election of Ronald Reagan devastated his party.

A too-decent President Carter goes down in ignominious defeat and Reagan is elected. Distressed Democrats face a bleak political future. According to Gest, this was in concert with “a broad conservative thrust to turn the criminal law to the right” that “ended up crystallizing into a highly debatable campaign to extend prison terms, especially for drug-law violations.” (In the end, Gest notes, this thrust did little to solve the nation’s crime problem, “which worsened during the decade, especially in its second half.”)

Biden had been on the Church Committee looking into the US intelligence apparatus. From this experience, according to Gest, he came up with the idea that “crime should be viewed as a form of domestic security.” In an “aggressive manner,” he began to “put crime in a defense context — getting the armed forces involved in drug interdiction,” a posture that repelled some liberal senators. “‘Give me the crime issue,’ Biden would plead repeatedly to Democratic Party caucuses, one staff member recalled, ‘and you’ll never have trouble with it in an election.’”

Senator Thurmond of South Carolina was the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden visited Thurmond and made him an offer: The South Carolina senator should work with Biden on issues they agreed on and ignore those they didn’t agree on. Based on an interview with Biden, Gest learned that Biden told Thurmond: “‘If you do that, I promise that I will never embarrass you by publicly taking you on.’” Thus, in 1981, a seed was planted that led to the birth and growth of nearly two decades of bipartisan crime bills.

I gleaned through Biden’s 2007 memoir, Promises To Keep, looking for references to any of this. He writes of being named in 1977 to the Senate Judiciary Committee and how “I wanted to start working up legislation to make our streets safer and the criminal justice system fairer.” He writes that there had been “so many mistakes” that “started in the best of intentions” stretching back to the Progressive era. He writes that, “In the summer of 1983 I was trying to fashion a message to reinvigorate the Democratic Party, not so I could run for president but to push back at the ungenerous policies of the current [Reagan] administration.”

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander calls Biden, “one of the Senate’s most strident drug warriors.” In a televised response to a Bush Senior speech in 1989, Biden said: “Quite frankly, the President’s plan is not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand. In a nutshell, the President’s plan does not include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, enough prosecutors to convict them, enough judges to sentence them, or enough prison cells to put them away for a long time.” While President Clinton made an effort to atone for his contribution to mass incarceration, Biden continues to play the tough guy on crime — still often taking pride in being tougher than Republicans on the issue.

In a highly critical piece titled “Joe Biden, Mass Incarceration Zealot” in Jacobin magazine, Branko Marcetic writes this: “It’s not as if Biden didn’t know what he was doing. He had criticized Reagan in 1981 for insisting on harsher sentences, arguing that prisons were already overcrowded and calling for alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders. He just didn’t care. Biden had made a calculated decision that the elections he would win were worth the damage he inflicted.” Marcetic writes about what must be the epitome of Drug War craziness, the RAVE Act — or the Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act of 2002 that Biden pushed hard. According to Marcetic, “It held concert promoters responsible for any drug use at events and treated objects like water bottles and glow sticks as drug paraphernalia. To get the bill passed, Biden re-introduced it numerous times, including once by slipping it into an unrelated bill that created the Amber Alert system. The years that followed saw heavily armed SWAT teams storming raves filled with bewildered, dancing kids — or sometimes DEA agents simply shutting down events that were neither raves nor involved any drug use.” (As a parenthetical note, like marijuana, studies have shown that ecstasy can be effective with combat soldiers wracked with PTSD.)

Joe Reaches For Bipartisan Nirvana

The final chapter of my saga of Joe Biden occurred in the evening on Veterans Day, November 11, when Biden agreed to award George W. and Laura Bush something called the Liberty Medal in a large tent outside the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. I was with a group of disgruntled Americans outside the tent using their First Amendment rights to holler, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as loud as they could. There were a number of Iraq combat veterans. My wife, Lou Ann Merkle, was moved to be there because she served seven days in federal prison for protesting Mr. Bush’s decision outside the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on the day of his shock-and-awe bombing of the highly populated city of Baghdad. And my good friend Celeste Zappala was there; her son Sherwood Baker was killed searching for Mr. Bush’s weapons-of-mass-destruction that didn’t exist. At a Washington Press Corp dinner Bush had memorably turned his misguided search for WMD into a joke video in which he’s seen looking under desks and saying, “Hmm. No WMD here!” Since I had come with my press pass, I was allowed into the event, where, as it turned out, I did some coaching by cell phone with my colleagues outside so they could be heard better. RT, formerly Russia Today, a Russian government-paid TV news channel, did a fantastic story on the event. (To watch the entire shameful hour honoring Bush click here.)  As a Vietnam veteran and journalist who made two crazy trips by SUV into Baghdad during Bush’s war and who knows a number of antiwar Iraq veterans, some living with serious PTSD, part of the shame of an event like this is that it takes a foreign TV unit to extend credibility to responsible citizens in a supposed democracy who find this kind of power worshiping event obnoxious.

But there was Joe Biden praising George W. Bush for all the great things he’s done for wounded Iraq War veterans, things like holding BBQs and a book of primitive paintings of wounded vets he’d met, though, as a believer in the cathartic power of art, I would not discount the personal atonement aspect of making those paintings, even the one of his toes in the bathtub. As I pointed out in passing to the Action News anchor prepping to do his story, the wounded vets Bush was touted for working so hard for would not have been wounded if Bush (with Dick Cheney whispering in his ear) hadn’t chosen to blunder into Iraq. For anyone with any sense of honesty or compassion who has thought about the 2003 decision to go to war in Iraq, how can it be possible to award George W. Bush something called The Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center — a medal designed to recognize “men and women of courage and conviction who have strived to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe”? Others who got the medal include Muhammad Ali, Malala Yousalza, John Lewis and the Dalai Lama. I mean, really! I wouldn’t “lock him up” for what is now seen across party lines as an unnecessary and destructive foreign policy debacle or for the suffering his decision caused — and is still causing — so many Americans and Iraqis. But if justice matters at all, I damn sure wouldn’t give him a medal on Veterans Day.

So what was Joe Biden doing there? Why would Joe Biden honor the man who gave us the debacle in Iraq, which in Anbar Province west of Baghdad contributed to the rise of ISIS, a psychopathic reaction force with the come-back potential of a Frankenstein sequel? It’s a no-brainer for me: I submit Joe Biden was just being Joe Biden, following what has been for him a very successful pattern. It worked back in 1981 when Reagan sucked all the oxygen out of the room; why can’t it work now when Democrats are on the ropes again? I imagine Biden (who, by the way, is chairman of the National Constitution Center’s Board of Trustees) would argue that to defeat Trump (let’s not forget he has said he’s the man to do it) it’s smart politics to make a friend of someone like George W. Bush. Like an aging racist with power might be open for some easy public atonement, Biden may have calculated that a scorned George W. Bush might be in need of some gentle, loving public resurrection. Why not help him out? And at the same time raise his national bipartisan cred.

It’s pure Biden.

Finally, there’s Joe Biden, the fictional crime-fighter. A writer named Andrew Shaffer has penned a crime novel called Hope Never Dies, in which Joe joins up with his pal Barrack to solve the murder of Joe’s favorite Amtrak conductor. I’ve read a few pages and it’s a well-written example of the light and fluffy crime genre. The following is from page 81: “I didn’t need a gun. I wanted a gun. Instead I pulled out my presidential Medal of Freedom.” I’m not aware of any connections between Shaffer and the Biden campaign or if Shaffer is writing a sequel. Maybe we’ll soon see Joe Biden, Vampire Hunter in which he teams up with Bush. Donald Trump has shown the overlap of pop culture and politics, so these days you never know.

Joe Biden is a very personable, very savvy politician who has suffered a number of family tragedies. But so have too many African American families caught on the wrong side of his drive for power via crime-bills. The same goes for Americans and Iraqi families and his voting for the Iraq War. This might be forgivable with the proper atonement, but publicly sucking up to the man who gave us that needless, cruel war is a bad sign. Too often when a reform wave comes along those of poor and modest means who were caught in the vice that led to the need for reform don’t get the relief they deserve or what’s implied in the reformist rhetoric. The legacy of the vice’s grip still retains a hold on them, while the powerful find a way to repackage themselves and go on to bigger and better things. I’ve worked on prison issues for 20 years and I feel this in my gut all the time.

So please, Joe, don’t turn the 2020 presidential campaign into race for the safe center. Find the guts to write an honest book that tells us the hard truths about American politics. Then support someone ready and able to lead America to a better place.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:58

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The historical ties of Mexican immigrants to the U.S., specifically the Southwest, distinguishes people of Mexican origin from other immigrant groups, especially those from Europe. While Mexican immigrants continue to be demonized and characterized as “criminals,” “drug dealers,” “rapists,” “illegal aliens” and “invaders” by American leaders and millions of white citizens, they have essentially become “foreigners in their own land.”

In his infamous article, “The Hispanic Threat,” the late Dr. Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard claimed that Latinas/os in general and individuals of Mexican origin in particular represented an existential threat to the U.S. By studying history, however, we can easily dismiss racist labels and false narratives by small-minded American leaders, scholars and citizens. Moreover, we can learn the true history about the actual invaders. For instance, in progressive history books, like Dr. Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, we learn that white Americans gradually migrated into what is now known as Texas during the 1820s. While the Mexican government allowed for whites to settle in this foreign territory, the authorities did so under the assumption that the Americans adopt Mexican customs, learn Spanish and intermarry with the native population. This originally occurred without much conflict, which reveals the openness of the Mexican government and its people towards foreigners.

By 1826, according to Takaki, then-President John Quincy Adams offered the Mexican government $1 million for Texas, where the Mexican government refused. Once Mexico outlawed slavery in 1830, however, American slaver owners, along with other white settlers, rebelled and formed The Republic of Texas in 1836. By 1845, it was annexed into the United States.

It appears to me that the white settlers or gringos took the Mexicans literally when the hosts generously said, “Mi casa es su casa.”

Once the U.S. government annexed Texas, it didn’t take the government long to pursue additional territory via the U.S. war against Mexico (1846 to 1848), as documented by key Chicana/o historians, such as Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones, Dr. Deena J. González and Dr. Rudolfo “Rudy” Acuña. Based on the false idea of Manifest Destiny, this imperialist war represented a bloody and greedy land grab, where Acuña documents in his classic book, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, as “…a religious doctrine with roots in Puritan ideas, which continue to influence U.S. thought to this day.” After the U.S. forced Mexico to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, Mexico lost half of its territory. Although the Mexicans who decided to reside in the U.S. were protected under the treaty, which included their ancestral lands, the U.S. Congress quickly ratified the treaty, where Mexicans eventually lost their lands through the courts, illegal acts and violent means by white citizens and the state.

Thus, when we think about Mexican immigration to el norte, we must examine it under this historical context. That is, unlike the millions of European immigrants who travelled across an entire ocean to settle in North America, Mexicans have always occupied this land or called it home until it was stolen from them by military force. Moreover, like in the case of Native Americans and the brutal history of broken treaties by the U.S. government, the Mexicans in el norte lost their basic rights under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Given their historical memory, this is one reason why the millions of Mexicans who make their journey to the U.S. (with or without legal status), especially to the Southwest, don’t view themselves as law breakers or so-called “illegals.”

Like the homingpigeon, the Mexican is simply returning to the motherland.

Despite the loss of their ancestral lands, the impact or contributions of Mexicans (immigrants, residents and citizens) to American cities, suburbs, rural communities and agricultural fields during the past 170 years has been positive, overall. Moreover, while Mexicans in el norte don’t receive the credit that they deserve, they’ve contributed greatly (and continue to the present) in many areas of American society and its economy, including agriculture, music, art, construction, infrastructure, transportation (e.g., railroads, freeways, roads), medicine, mining, ranching, science, the military, the academy and beyond. Essentially, there’s no doubt that individuals of Mexican origin played a key role (to the present) to help make this country into the richest, most advanced and powerful country in the world.

Despite being defeated militarily during the 1800s and experiencing institutional racism, Mexicans have migrated to this country—along with those who’ve settled prior to the U.S. war against Mexico—to work, create jobs, study, serve in the military, raise families, etc. For instance, during the second half of the 19th Century, Mexican immigrants and their offspring represented a key labor force in agriculture, railroad construction, mining and other key sectors. However, instead of being rewarded for their labor contributions with adequate financial compensation and upward mobility opportunities, they’ve experienced racism (to the present) in the workforce and beyond. For example, according to Takaki, working on white-owned ranches in Texas, “Mexican laborer[s] found themselves in a caste system — a racially stratified occupational hierarchy.”

During the 1800s and most of the 1900s, it was very common to see Mexicans and Chicanas/os (Mexican-Americans) employed as laborers/workers, while whites worked as supervisors or managers. This racial hierarchy in the workforce, along with the unequal educational system, has limited the occupational status of Mexican immigrants and Chicanas/os. Yet, despite being relegated to the bottom of the economic workforce, which included agricultural programs like the Bracero Program—the U.S.-Mexico guest worker program of the mid-19thcentury—the Mexican people in el norte have a strong tradition of organizing for social and economic justice. For example, according to Takaki, in 1903, “… hundreds of Mexicans and Japanese farm workers went on strike in Oxnard, California.” This is just one example, apart from the case of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and Brown Berets of the 1960s and 1970s, where Mexicans and Chicanas/os defended their labor and civil rights through labor strikes, civil disobedience, protests, marches and so on.

Moreover, despite being a racial minority in this country, Mexicans and Chicanas/os served in the military in higher rates compared to whites. According to Acuña, during WWII, while Chicanas/os represented only 2.69 million residents in the U.S., between 375,000 to 500,000 Chicanos served in the war. Despite their contributions and sacrifices, it didn’t stop the U.S. government from implementing “Operation Wetback” in early 1954, where Mexican immigrants and Chicanas/os were deported in mass to Mexico. It’s obvious to me that their military and labor contributions weren’t appreciated by the U.S. government, after all.

As a of son of Mexican immigrants, this issue is not just an academic exercise for me. It’s also personal. For instance, like millions of her paisanas, while my late mother Carmen toiled in the informal economy as a domestic worker in this country for many decades, middle- and upper-class whites pursued economic opportunities and leisure activities outside of the household. Similarly, like millions of his paisanos, while my late father Salomon first arrived in this country to pick fruits and vegetables during the Bracero Program, where he was forced to abandon his family and rural community, American families enjoyed the fruits of his labor in the comfort of their homes and restaurants.

At the end of the day, my late parents never received the adequate financial rewards or benefits of their labor and sacrifice, such as good wages, upward mobility opportunities, educational opportunities and homeownership.

In my expert opinion, based on my advanced degrees from UCLA and Berkeley, interdisciplinary scholarship, civic engagement experience and public policy background, it will take many generations to come for millions of Mexicans and Chicanas/os in el norte to one day obtain the elusive American Dream.

Categories: News for progressives

A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:56

Unlike the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, given the essential place and nature of debate in the Commons, is expected (procedurally at any rate) to be a kind of neutral referee in recurrently adversarial situations.

The Speaker of the House of Commons does not have to come from the party that wins the general election– speakers are elected by the entire House, and any MP can be a candidate in this election.

Historically, though no longer, the Speaker’s position has sometimes been deadly for its holders:  seven Speakers of the Commons have been executed.

Incidentally, some of my American friends, upon being informed by me of this piece of arcane Ukanian parliamentary history, and knowing that the US retains the death penalty, say this would be a fate befitting the recently retired Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, the widely-denounced hypocrite Paul Ryan, and several others as well.

John Crace, the superb parliamentary sketch-writer of The Guardian, said in a recent piece that many Tory Brexiteers would have the current Speaker, John Bercow (a Tory who has been in this position since 2009), meet the same fate as his seven executed predecessors.

Given that their role is to enforce routine rules of procedure, Speakers of the Commons rarely have the chance to make momentous interventions.

In the last Commons debate on prime minister’s Theresa May’s nebulous Brexit deal, Speaker Bercow intervened in a way that had decisive constitutional import.

Bercow (incidentally an anti-Brexiteer), unilaterally and supposedly without precedent, allowed a crucial cross-party amendment to a tabled motion to be voted on.

The amendment, which was passed, forced May to come back within 3 sitting days with a Plan B if her Brexit deal is voted down.  She of course has no such Plan B.

May had ducked a vote on her proposed deal before Christmas, when she knew it was bound to be defeated.

One way to save her proposed deal is for May to run down the clock as Brexit Day—March 29—approaches, in the hope that her by-then panicked MPs will vote for it out of fear that the UK will crash out of the EU without any kind of deal.

Speaker Bercow’s ruling gave room for parliamentary debate about what to do next if May’s Brexit deal is voted down, as it certainly will be, but, more importantly, it also prised this run-down clock out of May’s hands.

The UK has an unwritten constitution, based on convention and precedent, providing guidelines rather than actual rules, and so for Ukania’s parliament neither convention nor precedent are absolute.

Parliament exercises its power over the executive by voting on motions, which is what Bercow permitted.

MPs are of course allowed to vote against the motion Bercow permitted, and if they deemed him to fail regarding the requirement of impartiality, procedures exist for remove him (if no longer by putting his head on the chopping block).

The alternative, sought by May in her overweening exercise of executive power, was to block any vote on an alternative to her proposed deal once it was voted down.

Many say that parliamentary sovereignty was upheld by Bercow’s ruling, after decades when both the Tories (Thatcher especially) and Labour (Blair especially) used their executive power to browbeat and sideline the legislature.

Bercow can have an irritatingly pompous air, and has a reputation for bullying subordinates.  A former right-winger, he is now a social liberal, so much so that there have been rumours of his defection to the Labour party. Bercow is the first Speaker who is Jewish, and the first Speaker not to wear traditional robes while presiding over the House.

In 2017 Bercow said that he would be “strongly opposed” to Donald Trump addressing the Houses of Parliament during his official visit to the UK, saying that “opposition to racism and sexism” were “hugely important considerations”.  Bercow was widely criticized for this intervention, on the grounds that he had breached the neutrality of the Speaker’s office, but he prevailed and Trump did not address parliament.

His constant championing of backbench MPs, as opposed to Tory frontbench ministers, has earned Bercow the support of many MPs.  Wide cross-party support has been crucial to his retention of the Speakership.

The Brexit crisis/shambles is a moment of critical constitutional import for the UK.

In making the executive accountable to the legislature in this one but albeit major constitutional regard, and thereby bucking an inacceptable parliamentary trend of recent decades, Bercow, his flaws notwithstanding, has shown himself to be one of the better Speakers of modern times.

Bercow has refused time and again to kowtow to the government, something of an exception in the UK’s long discredited parliamentary system.

In the UK’s unremittingly sordid parliament–  the hub of a corrupt patronage system predicated on bolstering privilege and dominated from its inception ages ago by unprincipled opportunists and craven toadies–  Bercow has emerged with much credit on his side.

Categories: News for progressives

Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:53

“For Sale” signs have replaced “Dairy of Distinction” on the last two dairy farms on the road I drive to town. The farm crisis of the 1980’s that never really went away has resurfaced with a vengeance. In 2013, aggregate farm earnings were half of what they were in 2012. Farm income has continued to decline ever since. The moment is ripe for the movement for a sustainable agriculture to address the root causes.

Just as in the 80s, a brief period of high commodity prices and cheap credit in the 2010’s resulted in a debt and asset bubble.

Then prices collapsed. Meanwhile, ever larger corporations have consolidated their dominance in the food sector resulting in shoppers paying more, and a shrinking portion of what they pay going to farmers. At first this mainly hit conventional farms, but in 2017, processors started limiting the amount of milk they purchased from organic dairies and cut the price paid below the cost of production. As a result, family-scale farms of all kinds are going out of business. Reports of farmer suicides are increasing dramatically.  Despite the shortage of farm workers, their wages remain below the poverty line.  People of color and women are often trapped in the lowest paying food system jobs and many are forced to survive on SNAP payments. The tariff game of #45 is only making things worse. The farm consolidation that has taken place has grave consequences for the environment and for climate change as well. The newly passed Farm Bill barely touches the structural and fairness issues that led to this on-going disaster for family-scale farms and the food security of this country.

An alliance of social movements and members of Congress led by newly elected Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) are proposing a Green New Deal that would initiate an emergency mobilization to address economic inequities and reverse our blind march toward catastrophic climate change, attracting much more attention than the Green Party version. In a draft resolution, Ocasio Cortez proposes the formation of a Select Committee to develop a plan to transition the US to a carbon neutral economy within ten years, together with a comprehensive package including guaranteed living wage jobs, public banks, and a “Just Transition” for all workers. As of this writing, 43 members of the House have signed on to the concept.

The sustainable agriculture movement with our many organizations and individuals – farmers, foodies, ngos, faith groups and enviros together with farmworkers, food chain workers and their advocates – should become active shapers of the food and agriculture aspects of the Green New Deal. Frontline communities that bear the brunt of the negative impacts of climate chaos and food and economic system breakdown often have the most penetrating insights into pathways forward and real solutions.  For this reason, in addition to the ethical imperatives, fair representation of frontline communities at decision-making tables (of the Select Committee and beyond) is essential.  As a white woman wanting to be the best ally I can, I hope to warmly encourage white people in the food movement to un-learn racism and use privilege to acknowledge and overcome our history of oppression.

What was the New Deal and What Did it Do for Agriculture?

Under tremendous pressure from the social movements in the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, “U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal—a set of government programs to provide employment and social security, reform tax policies and business practices, and stimulate the economy. It included the building of homes, hospitals, school, roads, dams and electrical grids. The New Deal put millions of people to work and created a new policy framework for American democracy. New Deal programs included public employment (Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps); farm price supports (Agricultural Adjustment Act); environmental restoration (reforestation and land conservation); labor rights (Wagner Act); minimum wages and standards (National Recovery Act and Fair Labor Standards Act); cooperative enterprises (Works Progress Administration support for self-help); public infrastructure development (TVA and rural electrification); subsidized basic necessities (food commodity programs and Federal Housing Act); construction of schools, parks, and housing (Civil Works Administration); and income maintenance (Social Security Act).”[i]

Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace fashioned the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), introducing supply management together with parity pricing, a national policy of price supports that functioned from 1933 – 53. In effect, parity provided a minimum wage for farms.  In “A brief history of Parity Pricing and the present day ramifications of the abandonment of a Par Economy,” Kevin Engelbert, NY’s first certified organic dairy farmer, explains how it established “commodity prices that would give farmers the purchasing power, with respect to items they buy, equivalent to the purchasing power of agricultural commodities in a ‘base’ period.” [ii]

In “Crisis by Design: A Brief Review of US Farm Policy,” Mark Ritchie and Kevin Ristau describe the parity system in more detail:

The parity program had thee central features:

(1) It established the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), which made loans to farmers whenever prices offered by the food processors or grain corporations fell below the cost of production. This allowed farmers to hold their crops off the market, eventually forcing prices back up. Once prices returned to fair levels, farmers sold their crops and repaid the CCC with interest. By allowing farmers to control their marketing, the CCC loan program made it possible for them to receive a fair price from the marketplace without relying on subsidies.

(2) It regulated farm production in order to balance supply with demand, thereby preventing surpluses. Since government storage of surpluses was expensive, this feature was crucial to reducing government costs.

(3) It created a national grain reserve to prevent consumer prices from skyrocketing in times of drought or other natural disasters. When prices rose above a predetermined level, grain was released from government reserves onto the market, driving prices back down to normal levels.

From 1933 to 1953 this parity legislation remained in effect and was extremely successful. Farmers received fair prices for their crops, production was controlled to prevent costly surpluses, and consumer prices remained low and stable. At the same time, the number of new farmers increased, soil and water conservation practices expanded dramatically, and overall farm debt declined. What is even more important is that this parity program was not a burden to the taxpayers. The CCC, by charging interest on its storable commodity loans, made nearly $13 million between 1933 and 1952. [iii]

What Could a Green New Deal (GND) Do for Agriculture?

First of all, instead of current subsidies that purportedly compensate for constantly falling farm prices, but really only subsidize the big processors, vertically integrated livestock factories, and international traders, family-scale farms need a system of fair pricing, that is, prices that cover the real costs of living and farming, including conservation practices that regenerate natural resources. We need to dust off and refresh the concept of parity to create a just transition out of our calamitous current conditions. Twenty-first century parity should provide price supports and supply management for the basic commodities – “wheat, cotton, field corn, hogs, rice, tobacco, and milk and its products”[iv] – as described by Ritchie and Ristau, and reestablish farmer held reserves for grains as buffer stocks in case of poor harvests or climate disasters that also protect farmers against price volatility.

Parity pricing and supply management should also be extended to other crops, what Farm Bill language calls “specialty crops.”  Since fruit and vegetables are perishable, the GND should invest in value-added enterprises that could be farmer or worker-owned coops in every county where these crops are grown.  If excess supply of fresh produce threatened to lower prices, the fruit and vegetables would be frozen, canned or dried, or made into products that can be stored for use year round.  Investing in local and regional processing would stimulate local economies and provide many jobs. The GND would return livestock onto family farms, in place of large-scale Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that have eliminated the need for diverse crop rotations. Family farm livestock production integrates crops and livestock for a much more flexible and resilient system that reduces the pressure for routine antibiotic use. This system also increases the biodiversity on these farms thus strengthening their economic viability adding opportunities for new farmers while improving the quality of the meat, milk, and eggs.

Next, farmers need contract reform.  Farmers that sell to bigger entities need legislation to protect their rights to freedom of association so that they can form groups or cooperatives to strengthen their bargaining position in negotiating fair contracts without threat of retaliation.  In addition, a limit must be set on the middlemen’s share of the final shopper dollar: if prices go up, middlemen must pay farmers more; if the prices processors pay to farmers go down, the final point of purchase price for shoppers should also go down.  With control by mega-corporations an ever greater threat to family-scale farming, the GND must be linked with anti-trust measures like the Booker bill that calls for a moratorium on mergers (S.3404, The Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2018).

All farmers should be eligible for GND programs whether they own land, rent it with cash payments or through share cropping.

The GND should include measures that are essential to establishing farm work as a respected and fairly remunerated profession. Ocasio-Cortez wants to guarantee living wages and green jobs – that must include the jobs on farms. Since farm worker advocates and department of labor staff agree that over 60% of farm workers on US crop farms are undocumented, immigration reform based on human rights needs to accompany the GND. Human rights based immigration reform would prevent the separation of families and include a path to legal status.  Farm workers should have the option of a path to citizenship if they want to remain in the US or freedom to come and go across the border to visit their families back home.

Like farmers, farmworkers need freedom of association so that they can form groups or unions to negotiate fair pay and working conditions. If farms are guaranteed prices that cover their costs of production, farm earnings will be high enough to pay farm workers time and a half for overtime over 40 hours a week like workers in almost every other sector of the economy.

In writing about parity, Ritchie and Ristau make a very important additional point: “Paying farmers a fair price would result in a one-time increase in food prices of only 3 to 5 percent, less than a nickel on a loaf of bread. Since the supply management proposal also contains provisions for doubling the funds available for food assistance, the poor would not be hurt by this small increase in food prices.” [v]

Investment in Regenerative Farming Practices

To invest effectively in “drawdown” of greenhouse gases (GHG), the GND must include incentives and training for farmers to become the true managers of solar power that photosynthesis makes possible. The largest, and only remaining, “sink” for carbon on earth is the soil and regenerative farming practices increase soil carbon. The more fertile the soil, the more carbon it holds. The same practices that improve soil health, such as planting cover crops, recycling crop residues, and reducing tillage, the basic practices of organic agriculture grounded in agroecology, build soil carbon. In a win-win-win combination, building the health of soil improves farm viability, increasing farm resiliency to extreme weather events, and improving food quality and surrounding water quality.

Since 1/3 of the energy used by conventional agriculture comes from the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers which are natural gas derivatives, farms under the GND will reestablish the importance of natural nitrogen creation by legumes and compost.

Confining cattle, hogs and poultry in huge structures turns manure from a valuable soil nutrient into a big storage problem, with lagoons that overflow during extreme rainfall events with large, negative environmental impacts. Ending the confinement of livestock will also lead to better manure management.  Raising livestock on pasture turns manure back into a benefit. Especially when combined with skillful rotations, integrating livestock with crops builds soil carbon. Planting trees in pastures (silvoculture) builds carbon even faster. The GND should invest in training and incentives for farmers to make these changes in their practices. Farmers will be able to afford to farm more ecologically, if we push for the structural changes that will be part of the GND and will revitalize farms and rural areas.

The GND should preserve farmland and discourage sprawl. Research in California and New York led by UC Davis and American Farmland Trust show that the conversion of agricultural land to development, particularly low-density real estate development, increases GHG emissions. Farms emit fewer greenhouse gases than the homes that often replace them. Tax and other incentives can make preserved farmland available to new farmers.

The GND should also ban speculation on agricultural commodities and farmland since this drives up the price of land and food. Strict regulations should control investors who are not producers or final users.  Food derivatives markets should not be used as investment vehicles by banks and investment funds.

A Just Transition for Farming

Ocasio Cortez calls for a “Just Transition” for all workers.  In agriculture, a just transition would mean providing access to farmland to those from whom it has been unjustly taken, the reparations called for by farmers of color and Native Americans.

Farmworkers should have the opportunity to become farmers. The GND should include training for farmworkers who have been trapped in repetitive, body-taxing jobs so that they can become farm managers themselves.

It should also include retraining for the farmers who now farm thousands of acres using heavy equipment, chemical fertilizers and pesticides to use regenerative practices with a buy-out scheme for CAFOs. Once these farmers give up the heavy use of chemicals, parity pricing and supply management will free them from needing so many acres for the economic viability of their farms.  GND incentives could encourage them to sell excess land to new farmers and to retrained farm workers.  Thousands of acres could become available for smaller scale farms and also for wildlife. Increasing the social diversity of farmers will at the same time promote biodiversity, since they will grow a greater variety of crops and livestock breeds, which also increases sustainability. As La Via Campesina and others note, small farmers cool the planet.[vi]

A Just Transition would provide incentives to farmers to reduce their production of bio-fuels that take land out of food production. Instead, farms could receive payment for other kinds of renewable energy production that makes use of marginal land, sun, wind and the heat of the earth.

With the goals of food, fiber and energy self-sufficiency and the elimination of hunger at the local, regional, or national level, farmers should be weaned from the current focus on an export economy.  Thus, changes in trade policies will also have to accompany the GND.

Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Participate in Creating a Green New Deal

Everyone eats. To “eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation,” as called for in the  draft resolution for the GND, means that everyone will have access to good food, fair food, food they can afford without impoverishing themselves or the world’s farmers. That has to be part of the GND. For the food system to be sustainable, we must balance the interests of farmers and farmworkers while constantly expanding access to local high quality organic foods for more and more people of all income levels, comprehensive domestic fair trade by definition.

When the 17% of all workers who are food workers earn living wages of $15 an hour or more, they will get off food stamps (a savings for tax payers) and be able to afford to buy high quality, locally grown food from their own earnings. The billions of dollars that currently go into subsidizing crop insurance could be reallocated to increase funding for SNAP and other nutrition programs so that low-income people can afford the higher prices that would be needed to fully cover farm production costs for fair, regenerative, ecological practices.

A recent article by Whitney Webb, “Corporations see a Different Kind of “Green” in Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal,” [vii] accuses the newly elected Representative of moving to the right and opening the door for corporate takeover: “Despite its pretty, progressive-sounding banner, Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal — in its current form — will continue to perpetuate gross distributive injustice by ensuring that the side with the most “green” keeps winning as the world continues to seek solutions to climate change.” This will only happen if social movements like the sustainable agriculture movement hang back and allow neo-liberalism which is dominant in both mainstream parties, to continue the cheap food policies that have put farms in crisis.

In “The Green New Deal: Fulcrum for the farm and food justice movement?” Eric Holt-Gimenez writes: “Social movements have an opportunity to join together as never before—not just to get behind the Green New Deal—but to form a broad-based, multi-racial, working class movement to build political power. Visionary leaders from these movements are already knitting together strategies for solidarity, education and action…The Green New Deal just might be the fulcrum upon which the farm, food and climate movements can pivot our society towards the just transition we all urgently need and desire.”[viii]

By not merely endorsing the Green New Deal, but insisting on a place at the table when the program is written, the sustainable and organic agriculture movement will open the path to the ecological, equitable and fair food system we dream about. And while we are in visionary mode, funding for the GND could come from taxing polluters.

Notes.

[i] 12 Reasons Labor Should Demand a Green New Deal by Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein, In These Times. Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, 6:20 pm.

[ii] Kevin Engelbert, “A brief history of Parity Pricing and the present day ramifications of the abandonment of a Par Economy” https://www.cornucopia.org/2013/01/a-brief-history-of-parity-pricing-and-the-present-day-ramifications-of-the-abandonment-of-a-par-economy/

[iii] CRISIS BY DESIGN: A BRIEF REVIEW OF U.S. FARM POLICY Mark Ritchie & Kevin Ristau, League of Rural Voters Education Project 1987, pp. 2 – 3. Also see “Parity and Profits” by Charles Walters. Posted on July 30, 2001 on Weston C. Price website. Remarks of Charles Walters, Executive Editor, Acres USA Given at the Acres USA Conference December 1999, Minneapolis, MN

[iv] P. 8,The Agricultural Adjustment Act, PUBLIC—No. 10—73D CONGRESS, H.R. 3835

[v] Ritchie and Ristau, op. cit., p. 14.

[vi] https://viacampesina.org/en/la-via-campesina-position-paper-small-scale-sustenable-farmers-are-cooling-down-the-earth/

https://fairworldproject.org/get-informed/small-scale-farmers-cool-the-planet/

[vii] The Green New Deal: Fulcrum for the farm and food justice movement? Eric Holt-Gimenez, Food First, 12.17.2018: https://foodfirst.org/the-green-new-deal-fulcrum-for-the-food-justice-movement/

This article originally appeared on Independent Science News.

Categories: News for progressives

Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:52

It’s a messy, though typical picture.  US President Donald Trump wants to pull out forces in Syria.  When announced in December, jaws drooped and sharp intakes of breath were registered through the Washington establishment.  Members of the military industrial complex were none too pleased.  The President had seemingly made his case clear: US blood and treasure will not be further drawn upon to right the conflicts of the Middle East.

His national security advisor, John Bolton, prefers a different message: the US will not leave north-eastern Syria till the militants of Islamic State are defeated and the Kurds protected.  If this was a message of intended confusion, it has worked.  The media vultures are confused as to what carrion to feed upon. The US imperial lobby is finding the whole affair disruptive and disturbing.  Washington’s allies attempt to read the differences between policy-by-tweet and policy by representation.

Trump’s pre-New Year announcement suggested speediness, a rapid removal of US forces supposedly indispensable in Making America Great Again.  Once made, US troops were to leave in a matter of weeks – or so went a certain wisdom. “They’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” ventured the president.  But Bolton suggested otherwise.  US personnel, he suggested, would remain in al-Tanf to counter Iranian influence.  Timetables could be left to the talking heads.

A change of heart also came from the White House, with Trump asserting that, “We won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.”  To reporters, he adopted a familiar stance in ever shifting sands: promising to do something meant doing something different. “We are pulling back in Syria.  We’re going to be removing our troops.  I never said we’re doing it that quickly.”

On Sunday, Trump delivered another streaky note on Twitter, thereby adding another lace of confusion. “Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions.” Last Thursday, information on the withdrawal of some US military ground equipment from Syria was noted.  On Friday, Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria, issued a statement claiming that the coalition had “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria” leaving little by way of details.  In Trumpland, the scanty detail often prevails over the substantive.

US strategy in the Middle East has tended to revolve around setting up figures for the fall while inflicting the fall of others. The Kurds have tended to find themselves in that role, encouraged and prompted to take up arms against their various oppressors, only to find themselves left to the slaughter in the subsequent geopolitical dramas of the region.  The promise by Great Britain and France at the conclusion of World War I that a Kurdish state be chalked out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire never materialised.  In the crude machinations of international relations, they have remained, as Joost Hiltermann describes them, the “expendable” ones.

Bolton is keen not to make that same mistake, which is exactly why he risks doing so.  The great enemy of the Kurds on this occasion remains a prickly US ally, Turkey.  “We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with the agreed to by the United States”.

Trump, similarly, suggested in a direct call with the Turkish president that the Turkish economy would be devastated “economically if they hit Kurds.” In a statement from White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, “The President expressed the desire to work together to address Turkey’s security concerns in northeast Syria while stressing the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat the Kurds and other Syrian Democratic Forces with whom we have fought to defeat ISIS.”

Bolton’s credibility in pursuing that agenda seemed to crumble in Ankara before a notable snubbing by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on January 8.  The national security advisor had to make do with a meeting with Erdoğan’s senior advisor, Ibrahim Kalin. Bolton was not one the Turkish leader particularly wanted to see in light of his comments that Turkey not harm members of the Kurdish Syrian militias in the aftermath of the US withdrawal.  Such views also fly in the face of Turkey’s self-appointed role as an agent of influence in the region.  An absent Washington is simply too good a chance to press home the advantage, and Ankara is bound to capitalise.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not fare much better in his regional whistle-stops in Egypt Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf states. In Cairo, Pompeo denied that there was any “contradiction whatsoever” about Trump’s position on withdrawal.  “I think everyone understands what the United States is doing.” If not everyone, then at the very least, “the senior leaders in their governments”.  Very good of them.

The views of American functionaries have not necessarily meant much in the righteous intent of other powers, but Bolton is nonetheless happy to pen his name to this mast.  He wishes for the Kurds to hold firm, avoid the temptation of seeking another sponsor who just might do a better job.  “I think they know,” suggested Bolton, “who their friends are.”  (Bolt is more than nudging here, making sure the Russians or the Assad regime are avoided in any future security arrangements that might supply a shield for the Kurds.)

Daft, can be Bolton, who sees himself as a true appraiser of the international relations system when he is disabled by presumption.  The Turks may, in time, hand Washington another bloody lesson of retribution showing that basic, keen hatreds in historical dramas are far more significant than sophisticated notions of self-interest.  The presence of US troops in Syria will no doubt be reclassified, withdrawal by which any other name would be as confusing.  The Kurds will have to chew over their options with the sort of caution nursed by a history of promise followed by abandonment.  Be wary of the expendable ones.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:52

President Trump’s unexpected December 19 twitter announcement ordering a 30-day timetable for the withdrawal of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria and 7,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan provoked a bipartisan panic in Washington. Defense Secretary “Mad Dog” James Mattis, “the butcher of Fallujah,” resigned in protest stating, according to the New York Times, that “Leaving Syria in 30 days would jeopardize the fight against the Islamic State, betray our Syrian Kurdish Arab allies on the ground, and cede the eastern part of the country to the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.”

The former commander of American-led troops in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, General Stanley McChrystal, warned that “Trump’s approach to national security was reckless.” Eight years earlier the same McChrystal, working under the Obama administration, pilloried then Vice President Joseph Biden for publicly revealing that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and other Gulf State monarchies had systematically provided weapons to and trained Al Qaida and other terrorist groups to invade Syria for the purpose of removing the Bashar Assad government. Biden soon after apologized for his “indiscrete” statements but never repudiated their validity.

Brett McGurk, U.S. representative to the so-called global coalition fighting ISIS, also resigned from Trump’s team stating “Fighters with ISIS were on the run, but not yet defeated as Trump had said.”

Pressing the panic button to the hilt, New York Times reporter, Vivian Lee opened her December 26 article with: “Turkey is threatening to invade Syria to eradicate Kurdish fighters. Syrian forces are rolling toward territory the Americans will soon abandon. Israel is bombing Iran-backed militias deep inside Syria and Russia could soon move to crush the last vestige of the Syrian anti-government insurgency.”

Joining the chorus of Trump naysayers was none other than former State Department Director of U.S. Policy Planning,

Richard N. Haass, today president of the ruling class’s top think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Haass tweeted his doomsday language worst-case scenario: “Israeli airstrikes in Syria, Saudi continuation of the war in Yemen, Turkey preparing to attack Syrian Kurds, Assad in power and ISIS anything but defeated, Iran expanding its regional reach, Russia the most influential external power: welcome to the post-American Middle East.”

Ruling class policy making

The warmongering Democrats joined their Republican counterparts along with a host of generals, past and present, to signal Trump that in the United States presidents  really don’t make fundamental policy. This remains the exclusive prerogative of the capitalist trillionaire corporate ruling class elite, who own and control the nation’s wealth, resources, dominate the government’s central institutions and engineer major policy decisions through their secret and private channels. Trump’s former Secretarey of State and past CEO of Exxon Mobile, Ross Tillerson is a case in point when he called Trump a “fucking moron” after Trump had left a National Security Council meeting where Trump has advocated a hundred fold increase in the quantitiy of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

Within days of Trump’s Syria withdrawl tweet these forces, through their myriad connections, signaled that Trump notwithstanding, there would be no withdrawal in 30 days, if at all. Declining to name names, the NYT postulated, “Some analysts said they believed Mr. Trump’s orders would not even be carried out — at least not on the 30-day timetable he imposed for Syria. The Pentagon has slow-walked his orders before, and already there is talk of a more gradual withdrawal given the complications that would probably arise from a hasty pullout. (Emphasis added.)

Trump’s extreme rightwing former top policy adviser, Stephen Bannon, chimed in, “The apparatus slow-rolled him until he just said enough and did it himself. Not pretty, but at least done.”

But it was not really “done.” In less than a week Trump got the word. The Timesheadlined, “Trump to Allow Months for Troop Withdrawal in Syria, Officials Say.” Their Dec. 31 article affirmed that, “Mr. Trump confirmed on Twitter that troops would ‘slowly’ be withdrawn, but complained that he got little credit for the move after a fresh round of criticism from retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and reports from the departing White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, himself a retired Marine general, about the president’s impulsive decision-making.”

Trump tweeted, “If anybody but Donald Trump did what I did in Syria, which was an ISIS loaded mess when I became President, they would be a national hero. ISIS is mostly gone, we’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants.”

Trump’s real intentions

In truth, Trump has no intention of ending the U.S. war against Syria, an imperialist slaughter that has taken the lives of some 350,000 to 500,000 Syrians and led to the tragic exodus of almost half the population.  Trump stated as much during his Iran visit in late December when he reported that the 2,000 U.S. Special Forces troops – trained killers – would be moved across the border to neighboring Iraq. He implied that the U.S. al-Asad air base in Qatar would be on the ready to bomb Syria at his command, as it has innumerable times over the past years. He made no mention of the thousands of additional U.S. forces stationed on the U.S. flotilla offshore Syria in the Mediterranean Sea.

A week latter, relatively quiet to date, John Bolton, Trump’s chief National Security/military adviser, told the media that his assignment was to “reverse engineer” Trump’s one-month withdrawal timetable. This was followed by The Times,mysteriously and daily quoting and invoking the authority of some dozen unnamed government “officials” to the effect that a U.S. Syrian withdrawal was on no one’s agenda. The finger on the ruling class panic button was relaxed, for the time being at least. Two weeks after his December 26 NYT end of the world-like assessment of Trump’s withdrawal tweet, CFR president Richard Haass stated on January 11, “We have got to find a middle ground between trying to transform the Middle East and increasingly walking away from the Middle East. We want to wash our hands of it, but history suggests that the Middle East won’t let us.”

The truth about U.S. Syria policy

Nevertheless, the hoopla over Trump’s announcement has revealed some truths that have usually been denied by all previous U.S. administrations as well as by significant portions of the U.S. left. Joseph Biden’s original statement, for example, that the Gulf State monarchies have been systematically arming, training and directing Al Qaida and related terrorists/jihadist groups to overthrow the Assad government has been fully confirmed today. Further, no one denies that the so-called Free Syrian Army, previously touted as representing “moderate rebels” is or has even been anything other than the creation of the U.S./NATO and Turkey. In the same vein, the so-called remaining Al Qaida/Nusra Front/Free Syrian Army imperialist “coalition” armed fighters in the northern province of Idlib, 30,000 or more, are the same U.S./NATO/Gulf State monarchy-financed and directed forces who exist today only at the discretion of and under the protection of the U.S. imperialism. When Syrian Army troops in early October made some initial moves to re-take, or better, liberate Idlib from its imperialist-backed occupiers, they were warned by the top UN diplomats from the U.S., France and Britain, that the full force of world imperialism would be launched against them. How dare the Syrians invade the land they were born in was the united refrain of the world’s superpowers! Worse still, neither Trump nor any other elements in ruling class circles has suggested in any form that these 30,000, perhaps 50,000 imperialist-backed troops be withdrawn from Idlib. None have suggested that imperialism’s chief cop in the region, Israel, cease its relentless bombing of Syria. And none have suggested that one cent of the $5 billion annually granted to the chief U.S. “enforcers” in the region, Israel and Egypt, be terminated. On the contrary, the unfolding post-Trump tweet scenario includes that the U.S. will send new forces to southern Syria, that it will never leave until “all Iranian forces leave,” and that if the U.S., ever leaves it will part of a U.S.-imposed “negotiated” settlement that meets the needs of U.S. “national security” interests.

Again echoing the real positions of the U.S. ruling class The Times and its quoted sources repeat ad nauseam that a U.S. withdrawal would “cede the eastern part of the country to the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies.” Imagine that! The Syrian government would regain the 30 percent of Syria now controlled by U.S. imperialism! And what would the Syrian government do with this regained region?  All sources have concluded that the Syrians would use this oil rich and fertile land to rebuild, with Russian and Iranian assistance, their devastated nation!

U.S. fossil-fuel imperialism

We should note here that over the past years when ISIS controlled the same oil resources, the complicit U.S. military consciously ignored the endless ISIS truck caravans that openly transported Syria’s stolen oil to Turkey where it was sold to finance ISIS operations. Oil, the central fossil fuel resource that powers the world capitalist economy and the same resource whose continued use threatens life on earth itself, has always been central to U.S. policy. As with the U.S.-backed fascist-led coup in Ukraine, where a key U.S. objective was to substitute U.S. pipelines and fracked eastern Ukrainian natural gas, for Russia’s equivalent, oil pipeline access from the Gulf States through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean has also been factored into U.S. policy, in Syria and the entire Middle East. The January 11 NYT had it’s own speculative commentary on this issue, Staff writer Ben Hubbard explained, “American protection is no longer necessary to ensure the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, for example, and a boom in domestic production has made the United States less dependent on Middle Eastern oil anyway.”  Less dependent or not, the production, transport and control of oil produced by U.S. competitors, whether they be Russia, Iran, Venezuela, or even Saudi Arabia and the Gulf State monarchies, has always been a central factor in U.S. foreign policy.

Trump had been skewered by Democrats for his 2016 campaign advocacy that the U.S. leave Syria. Indeed, in a one-on-one campaign debate with Hillary Clinton, who argued that the U.S. was winning in Syria and should continue its war, Trump countered, briefly, and without references, that the U.S. had already lost the war there. The fact that his campaign published a full-page ad in the NYT featuring a long list of retired generals and other top military officers served to indicate that Trump was not without full knowledge of the facts on the ground that informed him that only forces the U.S. could muster in their efforts to remove the Assad government were those bought and paid for by the U.S.-led “coalition.”

U.S. policy: Variations on a common theme

Today, the imperialist-promoted myth of an ongoing popular democratic insurgency against the Syrian government has been abandoned by virtually everyone. Yet, as in Vietnam, “knee deep in the big muddy, the big fool presses on.” This is not the first time when ruling class divisions over imperialist war policy have been brought to public attention. With regard to Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere, debates over whether to bomb the nation in question “back to the stone age,” or consider other options like imposing U.S. imperialist will by more subtle means, including behind the scenes negotiations, or embargos, sanctions, etc., have always been on the table. In Afghanistan, for example, U.S. troop withdrawals have been accompanied by the sending of the largest privatized army in U.S. history – 50,000 troops – to accomplish the same imperialist ends. In Nicaragua, it was the U.S.-organized and funded Contras, operating out of Honduras; in Cuba it was a U.S.-trained army in the Dominican Republic that invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. The blustering bully warmaker Donald Trump, whose military budget exceeds all others in world history, and who is fully is aware that U.S. death squads, sanctions, drone wars, embargo wars and never-ending real wars wreak death and destruction across the globe, was stupid enough to believe, for a moment at least, that he could tweet U.S. war policy on his own authority. No doubt he has now been convinced otherwise.

Kurds open talks with Assad

A few days after Trump’s 30-day pullout announcement the NYT headlined, “Syria’s Kurds Feeling Betrayed by the U.S., Ask Assad Government for Protection.” The article read:

“American-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., said the Syrian government should send troops to the city of Manbij, near the Turkish border.

“The request amounted to a United States ally calling on an enemy of the United States to protect it from another American ally, Turkey.”

To the horror of U.S. officials the Y.P.G. invited President Assad to visit areas under their control and to discuss a resolution of Kurdish demands for a form of federated participation in Syria wherein Kurdish majority regions would be granted greater autonomy and local control.

This was not the first time that Kurds have called on the Syrian government for aid against Turkish onslaughts in areas in the northern border regions where Kurds predominate. In the recent past, whenever the joint forces of the Syrian Army and the Kurdish militias approached areas where the U.S. was present, U.S.-backed warplanes were deployed against both. The same U.S. forces have been repeatedly deployed against the Syrian Army when it sought to re-take regions held by ISIS in the northeast and by other U.S.-backed terrorist forces.

The Kurds, for their part, have always rejected participation in the U.S./NATO-orchestrated conferences in Riyadh, Geneva and elsewhere when U.S. imperialism sought to unite its divergent coalition stooges for the purpose of partitioning Syria in accord with U.S. “interests.”

Syria withdrawal speculation 

Today’s invented talking points regarding whether the U.S. will consider any form of a future withdrawal from Syria include an assortment of speculating officials who publically wonder what to do with the $billions in remaining U.S. weaponry. Leaving some for the “U.S.-allied Kurds,” for example, is considered risky since the Kurds may well use these against the NATO-allied Turks. Or perhaps, the Kurds might simply turn the weapons over to the Syrian Army directly! Or, perhaps, the Arab component of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, might turn over their U.S. weapons to Al Qaida or ISIS. In past years U.S.-trained forces under the U.S. Special Operations, that is, illegal and secret operations expert, General Michael Nagata, ended up turning their U.S. weapons over to Al Qaida and related jihadist forces. The Pentagon expended over $1 billion for this “failed” operation. But perhaps it wasn’t a failure after all, since the weapons and most of the U.S.-trained Arab troops ended up aiming their fire at the Syria government, that is, at President Assad’s overthrow. Others ended up in the pay of the highest bidder, including going to war against the U.S. itself! (See: “Syria: Anatomy Of Another U.S. Imperialist War” by Jeff Mackler). In truth, however, there are zero forces in Syria today that have any desire or interest in fighting for the U.S. imperial behemoth. Close to all those who have done so in the past have been the creation of the U.S./NATO-orchestrated Gulf State monarchy “coalition.”

Today, the Zionist colonial, settler state of Israel, backed to the hilt by the U.S., has, according to the Dec. 26 NYT,  “made clear it will not tolerate an increased threat from Syria, which the Israelis demonstrated on Tuesday [Dec. 25] with airstrikes near Damascus.” Israel too, with U.S. support, occupies a portion of Syria that it annexed in the Golan Heights region in the 1967 war. Israel’s periodic and numerous bully bombing attacks on Syria in support of various terrorist forces have been painfully ignored by the Syrian government to avoid providing a pretext for a full-scale Israeli attack.

Trump’s tweeted withdrawal has proved to be a mere episode in the ongoing U.S. war and occupation of Syria. But it served well to reveal much of the truth about this eight-year savage assault on Syria’s fundamental right to self-determination and the U.S.-led mass destruction of Syria itself.  It also revealed that despite the abject failure of overall U.S. war policy in Syria, and its not too dissimilar failures in Afghanistan over the past 18 years, the imperialist beast presses on with impunity and with a cynicism stemming from a belief that there are still “benefits” to be gained, whether in the form countless billions in profits to be registered by the “war is good for business” military-industrial complex or in the cynical supposition that “victory” can or will eventuality be achieved by reducing Syria to ashes and demoralizing its government to the point that it will, in time, accept virtually any settlement offered by its would-be conquerors. Such are the exigencies of the U.S. warmakers.

U.S. Out Now!

In the U.S., challenging the U.S. war machine in Syria and the world over requires the construction of an independent massive and united antiwar movement capable of mobilizing hundreds of thousand and more in the streets to unequivocally demand, U.S. Out Now! Self-determination for Syria and all oppressed peoples and nations! and No to all U.S. wars at home and abroad! The nationwide antiwar protests initiated by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and joined by hundreds of antiwar and social justice organizations for a March 30 march and rally in Washington, D.C. and other cities is an excellent starting point.  Contact UNAC at: unacpeace@gmail.com

 

Categories: News for progressives

How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

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

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:47

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

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

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

Finally, we said “No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polumbo and Patrick Hauf write:

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

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

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

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

Polumbo and Hauf  write:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polumbo and Hauf write:

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

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

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

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

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

Polumbo and Hauf write:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Categories: News for progressives

Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:47

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

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

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

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

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

Extent of the problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consequences of violence against women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preventing violence against women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

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

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eisner goes on to state:

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

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

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative

Wed, 2019-01-16 15:31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

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

Wed, 2019-01-16 14:58

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot

Wed, 2019-01-16 14:51

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

– Simon and Garfunkel, My Little Town

Hello my old friends Paul and Art,

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

Here’s to chilling,

EJ

Categories: News for progressives

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

Tue, 2019-01-15 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

The Faux Political System by the Numbers

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:57

Image by Nathaniel St. Clair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

Amos Oz and the Real Israel

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:56

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

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

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

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

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

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

Redefining the Israeli Character

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

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