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Beware the Emergency State

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:56

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

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

It’s all happening according to schedule.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power corrupts.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rather this is a word of warning.

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

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

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

We’ve been down this road before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We no longer have a system of checks and balances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The leader’s name was Adolf Hitler.

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

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

Clearly, we are not heeding that lesson.

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

Brace yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:55

Hamburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

Labor in the Age of Trump

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:55

If not now, when?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:50

After having been a mainstream TV news pundit, I’m unfortunately addicted to cable news (mostly MSNBC and CNN) and all the blather and repetition – laughably overhyped as “breaking news.” Even when it’s the same news that’s been breaking . . . and breaking . . . for hours or days.

But I’m more bothered by the repetition of pundits and the narrowness of discussion, resulting in a number of unexamined clichés. Although the Democratic race for president has barely launched, mainstream media bias is already in orbit.

As everyone in politics knows – and mainstream pundits acknowledge – the Democratic Party is seriously divided in two. The conflict today may be as intense as during the 2016 primary battle:

** On one side is the party establishment, allied with corporate donors – preaching pragmatism, caution and incrementalism.

** On the other side is much of the party’s activist base, animated by issues and allied with elected officials like Bernie Sanders and a young crop of insurgent Congress members – calling for transformative change to protect the planet and people from corporatism and greed.

Strange thing: only the corporate Democratic side is regularly represented on MSNBC and CNN, and in mainstream media at large.

(Actually it’s not so strange, given the powerful economic forces that own and sponsor mainstream news: Comcast, Time Warner, Jeff Bezos, etc.)

The now daily MSNBC and CNN discussions of the Democratic 2020 race – which usually include mainstream print reporters and Democratic operatives singing the same tune – feature a chorus of corporate Democratic talking points (standards like “go moderate”), while the progressive wing of the party is often alluded to but rarely heard from.

During the Hillary vs. Bernie battle of 2016, CNN made a fleeting attempt to add a few pro-Bernie voices to balance the many on-air Clintonites. That effort faded when the primaries did – and you could almost sense the relief among network executives now that calls for taxing the rich, breaking up big banks, Medicare for all, and free public college were once again muted.

The absence of pundits firmly allied with the progressive wing of the party leads to un-rebutted establishment clichés, like: “Democrats who are too progressive can’t win the votes of moderate and swing voters.” This line persists despite Hillary Clinton, the candidate of supposed moderation and realism, having lost the White House to the most disliked candidate in the history of polling. And despite Clinton’s  narrow losses in Michigan (by 11,000 votes), Wisconsin (23,000 votes) and Pennsylvania (44,000 votes) – with survey data indicating that the number of voters who supported the unabashedly progressive Sanders in primaries and then voted for Trump in the general was far larger than Clinton’s margin of defeat: 48,000 voters in Michigan, 51,000 in Wisconsin and 117,000 in Pennsylvania.

It’s not hard to find these swing voters. I coproduced a soon-to-be-released documentary, “The Corporate Coup D’Etat,” and our film team easily located and interviewed working-class people in Ohio who’d voted for Obama and Bernie . . . and then chose Trump over Hillary in November 2016.

If genuinely progressive pundits were present in mainstream media, they’d argue that anti-corporate, populist candidates are often better positioned to win a large portion of swing voters. By definition, swing voters are not heavily political, partisan or ideological; they are assuredly not activists for feminism or Black Lives Matter. But in 2016, Bernie never shrank from his strong support of civil rights, abortion rights and gay rights (arguably stronger than Hillary on those issues), and he was capable of winning swing votes that Hillary could not.

Yet in major news outlets, the truism remains that “moderate Democrats” (meaning corporate-cozy, non-populists) have a better chance of winning in swing states or districts.

Let’s be clear: One reason mainstream journalists were so wrong about the 2016 election is because they are largely divorced from poor and working-class voters of all races. They seem especially clueless about “non-college-educated whites.” Which may explain their obsession with a group of swing voters they can better relate to: “moderate Republicans in the suburbs.”

On last Friday’s “Meet the Press Daily,” MSNBC host Chuck Todd brought on Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos for a segment largely pooh-poohing Bernie Sanders’ chances in 2020. That’s not an unusual topic for Todd or Markos. But in introducing the segment, Todd confusingly described Moulitsas as the publisher of an outlet that represents “the same part of the Democratic Party that embraced Sanders early on in the 2016 campaign.” A more accurate and helpful introduction would have been: “Markos is a longtime skeptic and critic of Bernie Sanders, beginning early on in the 2016 campaign.”

Unlike Moulitsas, who says he wants to bridge the party’s competing factions, there are genuine advocates for the progressive wing of the party and they’re easy to find. As mainstream media accelerate their discussions of Democratic strategies and candidates in 2019, how hard would it be to include advocates for both the establishment and progressive wings of the party? How hard for MSNBC and CNN to add a progressive to balance regular Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress, a fervent Clinton loyalist and militant foe of the Democratic left? Tanden is now waging a war against progressive critics of Beto O’Rourke – just as she did in 2016 against criticism of Clinton’s flawed candidacy.

When it comes to assessing which Democrat is “electable” in a general election, the last group I’d rely on would be the current narrow array of mainstream pundits who dominate the TV networks. If they were reliable, we’d now be awaiting Hillary Clinton’s second State of the Union address.

Categories: News for progressives

Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:50

In a Washington Post column Megan McArdle suggests that we pay people to donate their kidneys as a way on increasing the number of donors and reducing the number of people who must rely on dialysis. Needless to say, to many folks it is attractive to get market relationships into ever more aspects of our lives. However, if we are interested in getting more kidneys, rather than just getting more money for the health care industry, this is likely a bad way to go.

There was a great study done a few years back with child care centers in Israel. As it was, the vast majority of parents picked up their children on time because they knew that being late meant a teacher had to stay late. The study examined what happened if centers charged a small fee to parents for being late to pick up their kids. It turned out that the fee significantly increased the frequency with which parents picked up their kids late.

The explanation offered is that when there was no fee parents felt an obligation not to make teachers stay late. When they paid a fee, they felt that they were compensating with the fee, therefore they didn’t feel guilty about being late.

Would it be the same story with kidneys? It’s hard to say, but people donate now with the idea of providing help to someone in need, often a family member or friend. These donations may well fall off if they know kidneys are readily available for the right price.

For my part, I no longer check off the spot on my drivers’ license to be an organ donor. While I would be very happy if one of my organs could extend the life of a person in need, I remember how Mickey Mantle was pushed to the front of the line to get a liver transplant. The great baseball player had destroyed his liver with a life of hard drinking. Nonetheless, he was pushed to the front of line to get a transplant at the age of 64. He died shortly after the transplant.

I have spent my life trying to combat this sort of sleaze. If some doctors want to get rich providing transplants for the rich and famous, I don’t intend to help them with my death.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

Categories: News for progressives

Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:44

Montana’s Legislature convened its regular 90-day session last week. And while the thousands of bills introduced run the gamut from great ideas to really bad ones, Montana Senate President, Bozeman Republican Scott Sales, went over the edge into pure theater of the absurd when he suggested sending $8 million of Montanans’ state tax dollars to build Donald Trump’s equally absurd $5.7 billion border wall for a non-existent “emergency.”

The Montana Legislature has some very well-defined constitutional duties, primarily to write the state laws under which all Montanans live, pass bills establishing taxation to raise revenue for government operations and to appropriate money for the implementation of those operations.

The Montana Constitution provides no authority or mandate to send Montana taxpayers’ dollars to the president for the expenses of federal government. In fact, Article 5, Section 11, (4) specifically states that: “A general appropriation bill shall contain only appropriations for the ordinary expenses of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, for interest on the public debt, and for public schools.” That is followed by (5), which states: “No appropriation shall be made for religious, charitable, industrial, educational or benevolent purposes to any private individual, private association, or private corporation not under control of the state.”

In the meantime, as Trump’s shutdown achieves the dubious record as the longest in federal government history, the impacts on Montana’s furloughed federal workers and government agencies are escalating. The Washington Post, in an article on the shutdown’s effects on individual states, listed Montana as one of the top-ranked states for furloughed federal employees. These are our neighbors, Montana citizens, who are in the middle of winter without receiving their paychecks — nor are federal government contractors who run Montana businesses and pay Montana taxes.

Montana’s many Superfund sites are likewise awaiting remediation while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is shut down. Unfortunately, unlike the shuttered federal agency, the toxic pollutants from those sites continue to seep into surface and groundwater and are blown into the air, exacerbating the problems the EPA was supposed to be solving.

To put a more definitive face on Sales’ ridiculous idea, that $8 million would pay for about 650 students to attend college debt-free for a year. Or it could pay for expanded preschools for our children or used as a match to leverage about $53 million in federal highway funds to rebuild roads and bridges. It could be used to provide health care for our citizens. Or it could go to any of a thousand different pressing needs to keep the fourth-largest state in the union going by taking care of Montana and Montanans.

But even though the facts are clear that illegal immigration is at its lowest point in years and most of Trump’s claims of drugs and terrorists are pure bunk, Senator Sales thinks we should send the money off to Trump or Texas or wherever he thinks it should go to assuage a petulant president’s hissy fit over building his unneeded and ineffective wall on our southern border.

Were Sales to adhere to Republican ideology he would be condemning Trump’s threat of declaring an imaginary national emergency as a vast overreach of executive power. Likewise, Sales seems to have abandoned the Republican claim of “fiscal conservatism” with his willingness to spend scarce Montana state revenue on a federal project that Congress won’t approved.

It’s time for Sales to do his job of running Montana’s Senate and taking care of Montanans — not give us theater of the absurd to support an unpopular president and his even more unpopular border wall.

Categories: News for progressives

Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:43

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 Guardianas 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

On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:43

On Monday, the Los Angeles Unified School District teachers strike for the first time in 30 years. United Teachers of Los Angeles is demanding significantly lower class sizes and proper staffing of schools. LAUSD claims it agrees with most of our demands, but simply can’t afford them. The “we have no money” mantra is so powerful, it’s practically LAUSD’s only negotiating position. However, there is much evidence which contradicts LAUSD’s cries of poverty. For example:

+ According to UTLA, “Beutner and his allies at the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) continue to claim that LAUSD is in a financial crisis and has had a running deficit for many years. [This]…is false: The district has had surpluses every year ranging from $210 million to $517 million since 2013-14.”

+ Arbitrator David A. Weinberg, the Neutral Chair of the California Public Employment Relations Board fact-finding panel, while noting the challenges LAUSD faces, found that the District’s reserves skyrocketed from $500 million in 2013-2014 to $1.8 billion in 2017-2018. How does one run a deficit every year and then quadruple one’s reserve in a five-year period?

+ LAUSD currently has the largest reserve in the history of California education. This reserve is 26 times as big as what is legally required. (The required reserve is 1% of annual revenue. LAUSD’s is 26% of annual revenue).

+ Three years ago LAUSD projected that their 2018-2019 reserve would be only $100 million—it’s actually $1.98 billion.

+ LAUSD now has another $140 million coming from Sacramento. This is 70% of the amount they would need to bring class sizes down to 2008 levels. With that money, they could achieve these levels with only $60 million more—a mere 1/33rd of their current reserve, and 1/127th of their overall operating budget.

+ According to UTLA, “LAUSD CFO Scott Price was shown his own budget documents that unambiguously substantiate that LAUSD does not have a deficit now and has not had a deficit in the past five years. With those documents in front of him, he refused to answer the simple question, ‘Has LAUSD had a deficit in the last five years?’”

+ In August the Los Angeles press carried headlines such as “’LAUSD is not too big to fail’: School board members alarmed by LA County official’s dire financial projections.” We were told “LAUSD could lose control of its finances if it agrees to a teachers contract that depletes reserves, county warns.” Dr. Candi Clark, the chief financial officer of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, gave board members a devastating speech about district finances at an Aug. 21 meeting. Except, as UTLA later learned, it was not her speech at all—it had been written by LAUSD. UTLA got its hands on the email stream between LAUSD and LACOE (courtesy of a Public Records Act request) and learned that an LAUSD official wrote the speech for Clark—”a fact that completely undercuts its value as an independent analysis of the district’s fiscal state,” UTLA explains. UTLA says, “A review of the metadata in the email attachment ‘lausd speech’ sent from LAUSD budget official Cheryl Simpson to Clark reveals that Simpson was the actual author of the speech and discloses the amount of time Simpson spent writing it.”

+ In a 2016 study, the MGT consulting group estimated that the diversion of students to charter schools costs LAUSD $508 million a year. Yet in the recent state fact-finding report, one panel member found that LAUSD “does not even collect the legally authorized 3% oversight fee from co-located charter schools”—charters using LAUSD facilities. The member notes this amounts to a district subsidy of charters at a time when LAUSD claims to have catastrophic financial problems.

+ LAUSD has not been forthright about its reserve. Just within the past nine months, we had first been told that it was around $700 million, then $1.2 billion, then $1.86 billion, and now $1.98 billion.

+ The Los Angeles Times’Editorial Board correctly noted last year, “L.A. Unified’s finances have always been a murky business that few people have claimed to understand fully… It’s difficult for any outsider, including this editorial board, to say yes, the district can afford to do this, or no, it can’t.” To Beutner’s credit, when he came in he said “he intends to change” this. But if Beutner himself claims that the district’s finances are opaque, it seems odd that he would be surprised that UTLA—which has every reason to be suspicious—would be suspicious.

UTLA has never denied that part of the money needed has to come from Sacramento, and has made efforts towards this end. But we demand that LAUSD meet us halfway. LAUSD can’t resolve the entire problem, but it can resolve some of it. When it is willing to do that, our strike will end.

UPDATE…

“We Shut LAUSD Down!”

Yesterday Los Angeles Unified School District teachers struck for the first time in 30 years. Over 50,000 strikers and strike supporters rallied in downtown LA and marched to LAUSD headquarters.

Superintendent Austin Beutner held a press conference and with a straight face actually said that only 3,500 teachers participated. In reality, 30,000 UTLA members manned picketlines in the morning. We shut Beutner’s schools down.

For example, at my high school:

+ 106 out of 107 UTLA members honored our picketline

+ 75+ students joined our picketline in the rain, as well as many parents

+ Only 246 out of 2,200 students came to school today. We had almost as many people on our picketline as were in school.

LAUSD Claims of Poverty Debunked

United Teachers of Los Angeles is demanding significantly lower class sizes and proper staffing of schools. LAUSD claims it agrees with most of our demands, but simply can’t afford them. The “we have no money” mantra is so powerful, it’s practically LAUSD’s only negotiating position. However, there is much evidence which contradicts LAUSD’s cries of poverty. For example:

+ According to UTLA, “Beutner and his allies at the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) continue to claim that LAUSD is in a financial crisis and has had a running deficit for many years. [This]…is false: The district has had surpluses every year ranging from $210 million to $517 million since 2013-14.”

+ Arbitrator David A. Weinberg, the Neutral Chair of the California Public Employment Relations Board fact-finding panel, while noting the challenges LAUSD faces, found that the District’s reserves skyrocketed from $500 million in 2013-2014 to $1.8 billion in 2017-2018. How does one run a deficit every year and then quadruple one’s reserve in a five-year period?

+ LAUSD currently has the largest reserve in the history of California education. This reserve is 26 times as big as what is legally required. (The required reserve is 1% of annual revenue. LAUSD’s is 26% of annual revenue).

+ Three years ago LAUSD projected that their 2018-2019 reserve would be only $100 million—it’s actually $1.98 billion.

+ LAUSD now has another $140 million coming from Sacramento. This is 70% of the amount they would need to bring class sizes down to 2008 levels. With that money, they could achieve these levels with only $60 million more—a mere 1/33rd of their current reserve, and 1/127th of their overall operating budget.

+ According to UTLA, “LAUSD CFO Scott Price was shown his own budget documents that unambiguously substantiate that LAUSD does not have a deficit now and has not had a deficit in the past five years. With those documents in front of him, he refused to answer the simple question, ‘Has LAUSD had a deficit in the last five years?’”

+ In August the Los Angeles press carried headlines such as “’LAUSD is not too big to fail’: School board members alarmed by LA County official’s dire financial projections.” We were told “LAUSD could lose control of its finances if it agrees to a teachers contract that depletes reserves, county warns.” Dr. Candi Clark, the chief financial officer of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, gave board members a devastating speech about district finances at an Aug. 21 meeting. Except, as UTLA later learned, it was not her speech at all—it had been written by LAUSD. UTLA got its hands on the email stream between LAUSD and LACOE (courtesy of a Public Records Act request) and learned that an LAUSD official wrote the speech for Clark—”a fact that completely undercuts its value as an independent analysis of the district’s fiscal state,” UTLA explains. UTLA says, “A review of the metadata in the email attachment ‘lausd speech’ sent from LAUSD budget official Cheryl Simpson to Clark reveals that Simpson was the actual author of the speech and discloses the amount of time Simpson spent writing it.”

+ In a 2016 study, the MGT consulting group estimated that the diversion of students to charter schools costs LAUSD $508 million a year. Yet in the recent state fact-finding report, one panel member found that LAUSD “does not even collect the legally authorized 3% oversight fee from co-located charter schools”—charters using LAUSD facilities. The member notes this amounts to a district subsidy of charters at a time when LAUSD claims to have catastrophic financial problems.

+ LAUSD has not been forthright about its reserve. Just within the past nine months, we had first been told that it was around $700 million, then $1.2 billion, then $1.86 billion, and now $1.98 billion.

+ The Los Angeles Times’Editorial Board correctly noted last year, “L.A. Unified’s finances have always been a murky business that few people have claimed to understand fully… It’s difficult for any outsider, including this editorial board, to say yes, the district can afford to do this, or no, it can’t.” To Beutner’s credit, when he came in he said “he intends to change” this. But if Beutner himself claims that the district’s finances are opaque, it seems odd that he would be surprised that UTLA—which has every reason to be suspicious—would be suspicious.

UTLA has never denied that part of the money needed has to come from Sacramento, and has made efforts towards this end. But we demand that LAUSD meet us halfway. LAUSD can’t resolve the entire problem, but it can resolve some of it. When it is willing to do that, our strike will end.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Love in a Cold War Climate

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:40

Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War. Amazon Studios.

It’s not a Hollywood movie. That’s clear from the start. Cold War (2018), the feature film made by the Polish-born director, Pawel Pawlikowski, is in black-and-white. The characters have names like Wiktor, Kaczmarek and Mazurek, and the actors include Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot and Borys Szyc to give just a few from a large cast of characters. There isn’t a James, a Barbara or a Marilyn among them, though Kulig turns in a credible performance as a kind of Polish Marilyn Monroe who makes her way up the ladder of success and then throws it all away.

No American or British director has made a movie titled “Cold War,” but many American and British directors have taken slices from the big Cold War pie and hurled them at the big screen, some with logic and beauty. Think of Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949), which is set in Vienna right after the end of World War II and that stars Orson Welles as Harry Lime, the American hustler and human rat out to make a profit at everyone else’s expense.

Think also of Stanley Kubrik’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) with Peter Sellers, George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden, which persuaded audiences to laugh at the nuclear apocalypse and not cower under it.

Pawel Pawlikowski was born in Warsaw in 1957, when the Cold War was very hot, indeed. The Russians launched Sputnik in 1957 and the space race was off and running. Pawlikowski left Poland at the age of 14, later attended Oxford University and made his first movie, From Moscow to Pietushki with Benny Yerofeyev, in 1990.

The Cold War has long haunted him. His film, Cold War, offers a Polish take on the mega conflict between the two superpowers, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., that mushroomed after the end of World War II and that ended, according to some American politicians, with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, which now seems like a long time ago and another era.

Revisionist historians such as D. F. Fleming, the author of The Cold War and Its Origins, 1917-1960, argue that the Cold War began when the Western powers tried to throttle the Bolshevik Revolution and prevent Communism from spreading like the plague. Contemporary pundits and journalists insist that the Cold War is alive and doing well, thank you, despite the seeming bromance between Trump and Putin, two thugs recycled from the junk heap of authoritarian personalities as old as Stalin and Joe McCarthy and as new as themselves.

Pawlikowski’s film has already won international recognition, including the award for best director at Cannes. It has been nominated for an Oscar as the best foreign film of 2018. Cold War has a lot going for it, including the romance between a dark, tall handsome man and a gorgeous, impulsive woman who love each other and betray each another, break up with one another and get back together again. Their relationship is as crazy as the Cold War itself. Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot play two lovers who can’t detach from one another, though their relationship is corrosive and though they wander back and forth from one side of the so-called “Iron Curtain” to the other and from East to West and back to East.

Pawlikowski uses music as a vehicle to tell his Cold War story, which doesn’t take sides, much as his lovers don’t affiliate permanently either with capitalism or Eastern bloc socialism.

Cold War moves from Polish folk music to western jazz and then to rock n’ roll. Each new musical wave carries the plot forward. Each one feels surprising as it unfolds on the screen, but at the end when one looks back at the movie, the music feels inevitable and predictable. Of course, there’s going to be jazz and then rock ‘n’ roll in a movie about a female singer and a male piano player and conductor in the 1940s and 1950s. But the music is also energetic and worth hearing.

Cold War offers stark Eastern European settings. The language is mostly Polish, with English subtitles and the pace is much slower than blockbuster Hollywood films. But it does have a Hollywood ending. Zula and Wiktor come together once again. Still, it’s not clear if they’re going to live with one another, or commit suicide and cross the boundary that divides life from death. If nothing else, they’re people who break boundaries.

I recommend the film. Joanna Kulig is beautiful, sexy and smart as Kulig. Tomasz Kot is crafty, creative and romantic as Wiktor. The images on screen are enticing and the camera work is often dazzling. But the big draw is Pawlikowski’s handling of the Cold War, which has no precise beginning, no clear ending in sight, and that’s always ripe for artistic interpretation.

Viewers like me, and my peers who remember the deep-seated American fear of Communism will relate to the story instinctively. Those who came of age in the 1980s, when Reagan revived the Cold War, will likely remember the high jinks of that era and vault into the picture.

Members of those two generations and younger viewers will also identify with the characters who try to save their souls and their integrity as artists, and who are compromised by power politics and the ravages of the Cold War that nobody won.

 

Categories: News for progressives

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

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:38

This is the first 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 here.

[W.E.B.] Du Bois’s notion of double consciousness reflects a dialectical relationship, a unity and struggle of opposite forces in one dark body. We literally have the worldviews of two civilizations in conflict and struggle within the black mind. This double consciousness is a manifestation of a clash of civilizations, a contradiction that will be resolved by the decline of European hegemony and the transformation of human civilization. The working out of the dialectic within the consciousness of the black individual is a struggle between the hegemon of the modern world, the other (the African past), and the human future. Pregnant within the conflict in each black person is the future beyond European hegemony, an historical movement from the Age of Europe to the Age of Humanity.

– Dr. Anthony Monteiro (2011) ‘The Epistemic Crisis of African American Studies: A Du Boisian Resolution’, Socialism and Democracy, 25:1

As we enter 2019, wherein the preparations for the next presidential election will begin, it proves worthwhile to elaborate upon two basic questions:

1) What are the features of the Green New Deal promoted by the Green Party?; and

2) What differentiates it from what the Democrats propose?

The first distinction is in terms of what Greens must advocate for in general terms also. The Green Party argues that it is:

+ Intersectionally feminist;

+ Anti-colonial;

+ Anti-imperial;

+ Grounded in an affirmation of the nature of America as a settler-colonist society wherein the country was built upon the twin genocides of the Indigenous and Africans brought to this hemisphere in captivity as chattel bond slaves, which therefore requires a program of reparation and restorative justice.

While these are important principles to advocate for, they remain simply slogans without economic policy propositions to present a concrete illustration of what the Green Party is advocating for. Slogans remain slogans unless they are elaborated upon by concrete material demands using those particular lenses of analysis so to provide an example of the eco-socialist praxis promoted in the Green Party’s 2016 platform document. Reparations and restorative justice for these genocides cannot be addressed solely with a jobs program. However, it does provide some preliminary coordinates. Furthermore, recall the words of 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,” meaning that the liberation of Black and Indigenous is the kernel of emancipation for all.

Furthermore, we need to be conscious of the explicitly racialized nature of the Roosevelt New Deal. In order to maintain his political coalition, Roosevelt intentionally crafted the balance of power in that coalition to favor the fascist southern Dixiecrats. He added measures to all of his New Deal programs to maintain the allegiance of southern politicians and voters. For instance, the National Labor Relations Act, which legalized the right to unionize and created the National Labor Relations Board to adjudicate labor disputes, intentionally excluded the majority of Black and Brown workers by barring domestic (butlers, maids, cooks, nannies, etc.) and agricultural workers from the right to form a union.

Consider also the point raised by the classic SDS pamphlet White Blindspot co-authored by Noel Ignatiev and Theodore Allen:

…“Fair employment through full employment” is another way of saying that job discrimination against Negroes will be maintained as long as it is possible to do so… Raising the demand for a larger slice of the pie for the working class does not in itself alter the apportionment of the slice within the working class. In fact, the ruling class has always utilized every concession won from it to increase the gap between white and black, thus turning even a victory of the working class into a cause of greater division. The shorter work week, with the promise of more jobs for those last hired, does not challenge the pattern of who shall be last hired [namely Blacks], and therefore does not alter the inequality of white and black workers.

If we look back on the history of the 1963 March on Washington and strip away the multiple coats of saccharine lacquer that have transformed that memory of history into something totally divorced from its original intent and execution, one is forced to realize the true nature of the March. As a project of Black union leader and Socialist A. Phillip Randolph, it had been formulated originally during World War II as a protest against the racism of the Roosevelt administration’s job programs both during the New Deal period and also during the war years, when the entirety of American industry was transformed into a centrally-planned economy with strict rationing and quotas mandated by the federal government. And despite the mandate of the war transforming the economic landscape into something unseen before or since, the white supremacist nature of the project excluded Black and Brown workers so significantly that Randolph was compelled to organize a massive protest march that notably did not materialize during wartime because of prioritizing “national unity” over combatting white supremacy within the governing coalition.

Twenty years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. took up the banner and brought forward a successful march that again protested the racialized exclusion of Black workers from a full employment economy during a Democratic Party presidency which was maintaining many elements of the New Deal agenda. Indeed, a year later, when Lyndon B. Johnson won the presidency but lost the South to Barry Goldwater because of his passage of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts, America witnessed the collapse of the New Deal coalition and went on to see the problematic implementation of the Great Society legislation. Johnson’s refusal to run for a second term in 1968 had multiple reasons, including the genocidal Vietnam War, but part of his collapse in popularity stemmed from the loss of a New Deal coalition to support the Great Society. The Dixiecrats that year instead elected Republican Richard Nixon as a self-described “law-and-order” candidate who began the racist War on Drugs.

I for one have no interest as a Green in proposing a color-blind economic program that seeks to replicate the logic of a racist program that was only enacted on the basis of Jim Crow apartheid’s security and maintenance for another generation.

At this juncture, the Democratic Party, even its Progressive caucus, is not proposing such a framework for their version of a Green New Deal (hereafter DGND). While some would argue that Greens should make a tactical alliance with the reformist elements in the Democratic Party (cf. Is the Green New Deal a Revolutionary Reform? by Richard Moser, 12/21/18, CounterPunch), I beg to differ with that proposition and instead argue that such an alliance would effectively and totally negate the implementation of a viable Green New Deal that makes a real impact on our climate catastrophe. The Democratic Party’s neoliberal formulation of identity politics, featuring politicians who hail from a variety of demographics while promoting war and austerity, is incapable at this juncture of creating a truly transformative jobs and works program. The proposition to the contrary is simply erroneous and easily disproved.

By contrast, our Green New Deal, grounded squarely in the Four Pillars and the Ten Key Values of the Green Party of the United States, is intended to create truly revolutionary change and alter the social landscape for the better in a permanent fashion. To do this, I argue it must emphasize political orientations it already espouses in other contexts.

The first distinction to indicate in my view is the centrality of the Indigenous and African American worker in the Green New Deal. There are three reasons for this that merit serious elaboration.

The first is in regards to restorative justice and reparations for the continuing and persistent crimes of genocide and chattel slavery. It is incumbent upon the American government to proactively affirm its responsibility for these crimes and make meaningful restitution for them in terms of lasting social and economic justice. Furthermore, we are already seeing these communities on the front-lines experience the repercussions of the climate crisis, whether it was the historic Black community in New Orleans that was displaced by Hurricane Katrina or the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe that was called the “first US climate refugees” (cf. First US climate refugees get $48 million to move by Madison Margolin, 5/3/16, Christian Science Monitor) Our Green New Deal must be attenuated to their needs rather than those of the 1%, which seems to be the inclination of the DGND.

The second pertains to demographics. We know from population data derived from censuses that the majority of the Black population is located in urban centers nationwide, such as New York, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, and Atlanta. Indigenous are found predominantly in Anchorage, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and New York City. These urban centers are important locations for deployment of renewable energy infrastructure. America is slowly but surely being re-oriented towards urban as opposed to suburban landscapes, accelerating the pace of gentrification nationwide. A jobs program centered on Black and Brown workers may be a useful systemic way to fight back against historic Black community displacement.

The third is a synthesis of these two. It is incumbent upon sustainability-focused public policy to implement renewable energy infrastructure in the major urban centers and place emphasis upon affirmative action hiring practices, including in particular, as a constituent element of a wider reparations package, the elimination of any hiring practices that prevent the formerly incarcerated from being given meaningful employment in the various Building and Trades unions as well as other sections of the labor market. A jobs and public works program is incapable of making a significant reparation with regards to the twin genocides that birthed the United States; however, such a program can provide the preliminary coordinates for such efforts.

Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report says in an interview:

You won’t see any frontal assault on the mass Black incarceration state from those aspects of Black American political activity that revolve around the Democratic Party. What we’ll see is a lot of hooplah about ‘prison reform’, tinkering on the edges. That does not directly address the absolutely undemocratic nature of policing as it exists in the United States, a policing system that is at its core designed to contain and terrorize and subjugate at every possible level the Black American population. That is the purpose of the mass Black incarceration state, although it has economic aspects in terms of making profits from prisons. But the central purpose is to contain and terrorize Black folks. And with that kind of mission, the tinkering around with reform measures, although useful but avoiding the central demand of Black community control of the police who patrol the Black community, will be ineffective in dismantling that whole structure.

As such, the Green Party can and should utilize this shortcoming within the Democratic Party policy agenda to their advantage and link the articulation of a Green New Deal with the radical emancipatory liberation struggle of the working class that is prison abolition and Black community control of the police.

At this current moment, we know that the majority of Black workers are employed by the public sector and that Black women make up the largest membership demographic of the AFL-CIO. As such, the Green New Deal proposed by the GPUS should aim to fulfill the promise to create a “Marshall Plan for the Cities” that has been a longtime aspiration in Black political discourse. The Green Party proposes a paradigm that will be focused on public infrastructure and works projects, something that is therefore able to be synoptic with the Marshall Plan for the Cities framework.

Ford explains that the Marshall Plan for the Cities, first proposed by Rep. John Conyers, “Became a perennial Black Democrat rallying cry and others in Black civil society. We heard it every year, in fact it got kind of boring and hollow. It was basically an economic and social policy that was directed at the folks in the cities (and that meant Black folks) who had been bypassed by all of these redevelopment schemes of the American post-World War II world, which seemed to be developing everything in the nation except Black people. That’s the way it looked to Black people in the cities which they inherited from white folks after white flight and those cities were immediately de-invested. And so that was the rallying cry every political cycle.”

“What was noteworthy was that, with the advent of the first US Black President, even the possibilityof one during the 2008 campaign, we stopped hearing about a Marshall Plan for the Cities. In fact, we didn’t hear anything from Black Democrats who were afraid, frankly, to make any demands on this incoming and then incumbent Black president because those demands, the mere utterance of them, might tend to embarrass or put too much pressure on this Black president. We saw the neutralization of Black Democratic politics and Black politics in general with the coming of Obama a great silence, great realhollowness of Black politics,” Ford continues.

In James Forman, Jr.’s recent Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, one aspect of the Marshall Plan for the Cities policy proposal was a combining of the promised urban revitalization policy package with racist Tough on Crime legislation. “That book, Locking Up Our Own, is indispensable and I found it so interesting and, in fact, it made me do some soul searching myself because much of the book is centered on Washington DC in the ’70s and ’80s and that is where I was based and I knew most of the actors who he talked about,” continues Ford. “I was somewhat embarrassed that I had not seen these ‘Lock Up Our Own’ precursors to the full-blown mass Black incarceration state, that is some of these proposals coming straight out of the Black community! I didn’t remember history that way and I’m still questioning what kind of reporter I was back then,” says Ford.

“But it is interesting that the Congressional Black Caucus’s ‘Marshall Plan for Black America’ has a Division B, which is focused on criminal justice and policing reform,” Ford continues.

“We can’t expect anything but a replay of what James Forman, Jr. was recounting from the ’70s and ’80s in terms of Black Democratic proposals in the criminal justice arena. We know what the recent history of the Congressional Black Caucus has been in that regard. In 2014, when there was a chance, a bill came up in the House that would have abolished the infamous Pentagon 1033 program, which funneled millions and it turned into billions of dollars worth of weapons and gear, full battle gear and weaponry, into the cities. Thatis the militarization of the police,” he says.

“In 2014, 80%, 4 out of every 5 Congressional Black Caucus members voted not to shut down the 1033 program but to continue it,” he continues. “This year, we saw a bill come before the House that 75% of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for that made police into a protected class! Now here we have the police, the group in US society that has the most institutionalized, legalized impunity now becoming a protected class as if they are somehow a class that is endangered.”

“So we know the political character is of the Congressional Black Caucus today regarding policing and mass Black incarceration and that’s part of their bill for a Marshall Plan for Black America. So I am sure James Forman is taking note of the latest iteration of that political tendency.”

Categories: News for progressives

The Tears of Justin Trudeau

Mon, 2019-01-14 16:02

On January 7th the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) swept into a non-violent checkpoint set up by the Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. Fourteen people were violently arrested in the ambush by the militarized colonial forces. The camp was set up by hereditary leaders to defend the ancestral lands of the Unist’ot’en and other clans from the unwanted incursions of TransCanada and its Coastal Gaslink pipeline. Following the incident Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had the temerity to extol the neoliberal scheme behind the incident as something that is good for the earth. In a speech to supporters he said: “We moved forward on the LNG Canada project, which is the largest private sector investment in Canada’s history, $40-billion, which is going to produce Canadian LNG that will supplant coal in Asia as a power source and do much for the environment.” After being pressed in a radio interview about the brutal raid Trudeau said of the arrests that it is “not an ideal situation, but at the same time, we’re also a country of the rule of law.” Apparently he does not consider Article 10 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be law. It states: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their land or territories.” It may be difficult for ordinary people to choke out hypocritical, ahistorical fallacies without missing a beat, but the Prime Minister has a gift for spouting empty platitudes that fly in the face of reality and he isn’t alone.

There is something familiar about Trudeau’s lamentation on this situation as well as his appeal for the rule of law. This is because neoliberal leaders around the world have used similar justifications for the violence of the corporate state. And while Trudeau has attempted to brand himself a leader on reconciliation with First Nations and for addressing climate change he has demonstrated time after time his true allegiance is to the corporate state. Last year he pledged 4.5 billion dollars of tax payer money to purchase the controversial, badly aging and perpetually leaking Kinder Morgan pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to BC. Protests and a court decision have stymied this for the moment, but in taking this action he has joined a cadre of world leaders who only pay lip service to indigenous concerns, ecological impacts and the science of climate change while steamrolling ahead toward a dystopic future. Of course like any neoliberal politician Trudeau ultimately does the bidding of the fossil fuel industry which works tirelessly behind the scenes writing and directing policy, like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) who has an army of lobbyists that outnumber any other group in Ottawa.

Like the US, Canada is a settler colonial state founded upon the expulsion, ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide of its indigenous population. Its history is drenched in the blood of broken treaties with First Nations and tainted by the cruelties meted out over decades to the present day against indigenous children. And while Canada may now possess more progressive domestic policies than its ruthless neighbor to the south, it is a fallacy that it is a leader when it comes to indigenous rights, protection of the environment and climate change. One look at the Tar Sands is a testament to this. Bigger in area than England, it is the third largest reserve of oil on the planet. So it is of little surprise that those who profit from them the most have enormous sway in the Canadian political process. In addition to their tremendous greenhouse gas emissions the Tar Sands also use gargantuan amounts of fresh water creating massive lakes of poisonous effluent while belching out tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. Great swaths of forest and wetlands have been decimated creating a new cancer alley mainly afflicting First Nations in the region. In short, it is a lethal, festering and human inflicted wound on the skin of the earth, so big that it can be seen from space. And Trudeau has fashioned himself to be the charming, boyish face that hides all its hideousness.

Trudeau, like Macron or Merkel, possesses an enormous capacity for doublespeak. He is well known for shedding tears for Canada’s crimes of the past on more than one occasion. Sometimes he genuinely appears to care for people and the environment. Barrack Obama had this gift too. And when comparing actions and policies to words it is easily demonstrated as a trick of optics and branding. Interestingly enough Obama has given several speeches since his presidency for his admirers on Wall Street, imploring them to thank him for making them so much money and turning the US into the world’s biggest oil producer while admitting those policies gave aid to the rise of the far right. It is a kinder face for plutocratic corporatism that may make it seem more palatable to some than the ugly face of fascism espoused by Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro. But we have seen how neoliberal policies are opening the way for these fascist populists so there is no innocent game being played here.

Neoliberal politicians ultimately strip people of their agency by supporting or enacting policies that break down the commons and privatize everything, all while drowning them in sugary bromides and platitudes of meaninglessness. They pay lip service to the plight of the poor, the oppressed, indigenous communities, people of colour, and the living earth itself while they laugh it up at galas done in their honour by the 1%. And in doing so they have paved the way for the rising global fascism we see today. The incident at the Unist’ot’en camp last week may not become Trudeau’s Standing Rock, but it certainly echoes it. The image of tanks, attack dogs and heavily armed police raining tear gas down and firing water cannons at unarmed Native Americans must certainly be in the back of his mind. But no matter what he is thinking, no tears he sheds now will obscure his role in defending an economic and political order that has maintained merciless colonialism, is ravaging the very foundations of democracy and may very well drive the biosphere toward its full scale collapse.

Categories: News for progressives

California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:59

As global warming makes California warmer and drier, its wildfires worsen and more people have died. California has the biggest economy in the United States and now has the 5thlargest economy in the world. What California does affects the globe.

For three years the New York state assembly had passed the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) to make New York invest in clean, non-fossil energy; create union-paying green jobs; and invest in low-income and communities of color. This year with the N.Y. state senate going Democrat and Governor Cuomo’s just announced support of CCPA, New York will likely have a state Green New Deal soon.

California still produces a lot of oil–only Texas and North Dakota produce more oil.  During Governor Brown’s time in office he has signed over 20,000 permits for oil drillings with 77% of the new oil wells near low-income and communities of color. Governor Newsome has taken a strong stance saying that California needs to transform two oil platforms offshore into wave/tidal platforms to generate energy and that the state needs more offshore wind generators for energy. Still many communities in the state live next to oil drilling using toxic chemicals that spew out toxic air and water pollution daily. The state needs to immediately ban fracking oil using huge amounts toxic chemicals, ban oil drilling within 2500 feet of homes and schools, and develop a plan to end use of fossil fuels within 10 years.

California’s legislature has in 2018 passed a law requiring every new home to have solar panels, a 2ndlaw to ban any new offshore oil drilling, and a 3rd law to make the states’ electricity grid 100% carbon-neutral by 2045 long after the state experiences climate catastrophe. California needs an immediate Green New Deal that calls for government investment in massive tree planting to stop air pollution and conversion to green energy such as solar, geothermal, and wind power; a tax on profits of fossil fuel companies that is invested in renewable energy-and-energy efficiency and ending oil drilling. low interest rates for green investment such as electric cars; and green jobs crucial to building a low-carbon infrastructure.

The 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps had its workers plant millions of trees that stopped the environmental catastrophe in the Midwest.  In Korea, Japan’s 35-year occupation left large tracts of its forests logged.  In 1961 South Korea started a huge tree planting program that had resulted in 11 billion new trees by 2008. In 2018 Pakistan’s government started a program to plant 10 billion trees while China has 60,000 soldiers planting trees to reforest an area the size of Ireland. California can immediately create its own CCC hiring the homeless and unemployed to plant millions of trees across the state that will reduce C02 levels.

By 2020, all mainstream renewable power generation technologies will have average costs at the lower end of the fossil-fuel cost range.  California can in its CCC program offer 40 training programs to teach how to install solar panels on every government building in the state, insulate all public buildings, and install wind farms.  CCC workers can then install the solar panels and offshore wind farms on all the state’s public buildings.

For clean transportation, California is falling behind 17 governments that have banned sales of new gasoline-engine cars:  Korea’s ban starts in 2020; Costa Rica in 2021, and Norway in 2025. Norway in eight years increased the number of electric cars to 30% of car.  Have California CCC workers install state-wide electric power stations for free charging of electric vehicles as well as build safer pedestrian walks and bicycle pathways, low-carbon bus rapid transit, and electrified light rail. A tax of fossil fuels can be used to partially finance solar panels for home owners and businesses as well as to pay for weatherizing homes.  Fossil fuels can be phased out by 2018 with no more oil drilling and offshore oil platforms closed. The legislature could enlarge Buy Clean standards to require that government contractors pay family-sustaining wages, hiring and training local workers in working class communities and communities of color.

The Green New Deal is popular with voters. Huffington Post shared the survey results from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University that nationally 92% of Democrats supported the idea, 64 percent of Republicans supported it, and 88% of independents endorsed the policies. Be the environmental governor the state and world needs.

Categories: News for progressives

Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:57

There have been several pieces in recent weeks about the drop in birth rates in recent years. Birth rates declined in the recession and they have not recovered even as the economy has improved.

As these pieces point out, economics plays a big role in the drop in birth rates. Young adults often are having difficulty finding and keeping jobs that provide a decent wage. This was certainly true in the downturn, but it is still often the case even now with the unemployment rate at 50-year lows.

In addition, the United States badly lags other rich countries in providing support to new parents. We are the only wealthy country that does not guarantee workers some amount of paid parental leave or sick days. While many companies offer these benefits, millions of new parents, especially those in lower paying jobs, cannot count on any paid leave. (It is important to note that many states and cities have required paid family leave and/or sick days in the last two decades, making up for the lack of action by the federal government.)

Child care is also a huge problem for young parents. Quality care is often difficult to find and very expensive. This leaves many young parents, especially mothers, struggling to provide care for their children even as they hold down a job.

These are real and important policy concerns. People should be able to have children without undue hardship. We also want to make sure that children have decent life prospects. Having parents that are not overstressed and access to good quality child care are important for getting children on a good path is school and their subsequent careers and lives.

For these reasons, leave policy and child care need to be near the top of the policy agenda. However, the fact that people are having fewer kids is not a good rationale for supporting these policies. A stagnant or even declining population is not a public policy problem.

The pieces noting the prospect of a declining population usually treat it as self-evident that this is a bad development. It isn’t. The prospect of fewer traffic jams and less crowded parks and beaches does not sound especially scary.

There are some who see a declining population as a threat to the United States status as a world power. It’s not clear that this is especially true. Indonesia ranks 4th in world population with 270 million people, more than four times the population of the United Kingdom, but Indonesia does not usually get listed among the world’s most powerful countries. More importantly, many of us don’t necessarily like everything the United States does as a world power, so doing somewhat less of it may not be a bad thing.

If we focus on the economics of a stagnant or declining population the standard story is that we will have a smaller number of workers to support each retiree. This is true, other things equal, but also not an especially big deal.

First, the “other things equal” is a big qualification here because for the foreseeable future we are likely to be able to get as many working-age people we want from the rest of the world by relaxing immigration restrictions. Working at even the lowest paying jobs in the United States is likely to offer a huge improvement in living standards for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world. This means that if we are worried about having too few workers at some point in the future, we just need to open the door to more immigrants.

But even pulling out the impact of immigrants, the reality is that we have been seeing a fall in the ratio of workers to retirees pretty much forever. Life expectancies have been rising as people have better living standards and better health care. (Recent years have been an exception, where life expectancies have stagnated.) In 1950 there were 7.2 people between the ages of 20 and 65 for every person over the age of 65. This ratio now stands at just 3.6 to 1.

Over this 70-year period, we have seen huge increases in living standards for both workers and retirees. The key has been the growth in productivity which allows workers to produce much more in each hour of work. (We also have a much higher rate of employment among workers between the ages of 20 and 65, as tens of millions of women have entered the labor force.)

The impact of productivity growth swamps the impact of demographics, as can be shown with simple arithmetic. The Social Security Trustees project that the ratio of people between the ages of 20 and 65 to people over age 65 will fall to 2.8 by 2070. In its “high-cost” scenario, which assumes both lower birth rates and higher life expectancies, this ratio falls to 2.03. Let’s take a more extreme case and assume it falls to 1.8.

Not everyone in the age 20 to 65 group works. Let’s assume an employment rate for this group of 75 percent. Of course, this can vary depending on economic conditions. In a tight labor market, with wages being bid up, more people are likely to choose to work.

This is also the case with people over age 65. Many already are working and we can expect this number to increase over time as the people in these older cohorts are increasingly educated and there are more employment opportunities that are not physically demanding. But for purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume no one over age 65 works.

I’ll also assume that retirees get on average 75 percent of the income of a worker. This is considerably more than the average Social Security benefit, but it should in principle include other sources of income for retirees. I treat their income as a tax on the working population.

Here’s the basic picture.

I have assumed a 1.4 percent annual rate of real wage growth, which is roughly the projection used by the Social Security trustees. The index number in the first row should be understood to be hourly compensation since the trustees assume that an increasing share of compensation will go to non-wage benefits, primarily employer-provided health care insurance.

As can be seen, in spite of the projected fall in the ratio of workers to retirees, the after-tax wage would still be considerably higher in 2070 than it is today. While before-tax income slightly more than doubles in the middle scenario, after-tax income still rises by almost 91 percent. Even in the extreme demographic case, after-tax income still rises by more than 66 percent over this period.

I then played with a more rapid productivity growth scenario where I assumed that productivity growth averaged 1.7 percent annually.[1] In this case, before-tax income in 2070 would be 236 percent of its 2019 level. In that case, even in the extreme demographic scenario shown in the last column, after-tax income would be 151.7. This is higher than the 149.6 level shown in the middle scenario with the standard wage growth projection.

In other words, the impact of a modest increase in the rate of productivity growth will more than offset the impact of even very extreme demographic assumptions. And, a 1.7 percent rate of productivity growth is hardly unrealistic. The economy saw a 3.0 percent average rate of productivity growth in the period from 1947 to 1973 and again from 1995 to 2005.

So it is certainly possible that the rate of productivity growth will again accelerate. Or to take the other side, the slowdown of productivity growth from its 1995–2005 pace, to the rate of the last dozen years of less than 1.5 percent, was largely unexpected. While the impact of this slowdown on living standards, if sustained, will swamp any conceivable impact of changing demographics, it has received far less attention.

One final point on this topic: the robots will take all the jobs story is a scenario of massive increases in productivity growth. It is truly incredible, we can find stories of demographic collapse in the media, where we don’t have enough workers to change the bedpans for us old-timers. While on the next page there will be stories of robots eliminating the need for workers in large, and growing, areas of the economy.

In principle, one of these can be a problem, but it doesn’t make sense that both a shortage of workers and a shortage of work can be a problem at the same time. Such is the state of economic debates in the United States.

Notes.

[1] This assumes away issues with deflators in the measure of productivity. The analysis also implicitly assumes that the median worker gets the same share of wage growth as the average worker. This would not be true if wage income is redistributed upward, as has happened over the last forty years. However, this upward redistribution is separate from the demographic issue.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

Categories: News for progressives

The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:57

I hate television “experts”, the infamous “analysts” who know all – and support all – about the military, the televisual ex-generals with vain presidential ambitions and the infamous American “think tank” personnel whose right-wing, pro-Israeli beliefs are carefully shielded from viewers by the US networks who employ them. I always characterise the antiseptic and pseudo-academic institutions to which they belong as the “Institute for Preposterous Affairs”.

The Fisk “IPA” contains hundreds of robotic folk who will churn out claptrap about “key players”, “stakeholders” and “moderate allies” and, of course, “world terror”. They turn up on CNN, Fox and Russia Today. And, of course, the BBC.

But William Arkin was always a bit different. This ex-US marine intelligence author of ground-breaking work on secret CIA “black sites” and equally secret US weapons dumps (nuclear and non-nuclear) has a respectful audience at both Harvard and Maxwell US Air Force Base. And when he quits, I take notice.

Here’s a guy the Reagan administration wanted to send to prison for revealing the location of US and Soviet nuclear weapons, and who – in his own words – “had to fight editors who couldn’t believe that there would be a war in Iraq”. He’s just resigned his job as a talking head. Goodbye NBC News. That’s what I call a real story.

And here’s what Arkin told his colleagues about the American military when he left NBC last week. “There is not a soul in Washington,” he wrote to them, “who can say that they have won or stopped any conflict. And though there might be the beloved perfumed princes in the form of the [David] Petraeuses and Wes Clarks, or the so-called warrior monks like James Mattis and HR McMaster, we’ve had more than a generation of national security leaders who have sadly and fraudulently done little of consequence.

Arkin’s draw – for me, at least – is that he doesn’t suck on the rubber tube of Wikileaks or social media whistle-blowers. He prefers to dig down through the pages of dull, boring real military information available in serious army and air force journals and official government documents. I came across his work when a reader in Japan sent me pages from Arkin’s book Code Names: Deciphering US Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World.

I was investigating just how Israel was able to maintain its massive aerial bombardments of Lebanon and Gaza without running out of “smart” bombs, cluster munitions and air-to-ground missiles. Even Nato ran low on ammunition in the 1999 Serbian War. But not Israel when it was blasting its enemies – including lots and lots of civilians – in the Middle East.

So here is what I found in Arkin’s work as long ago as 2005. “Quietly,” he wrote, “the US maintains pre-positioned equipment and munitions on Israeli soil for use by US and Israeli forces. The War Reserve Stocks for Allies-Israel (WRS-I) programme includes ammunition owned by the US but intended for Israeli use, overseen by the army and Marine Corps.” Locations, according to Arkin, include Ben Gurion IAP (International Airport), Herzliya-Pituach, Nevatim airfield and Ovda AB (air base).

So there you have it. The Arkin system of picking up rock-hard intelligence is not impossible, providing you have the patience to sit down and read. I wrote a story for The Independent out of Israel when Israeli lobbyists were fearful the US might be restricting arms supplies to Ariel Sharon – as a means of forcing him to sign up to a new Israeli-Palestinian “peace” agreement. They had nothing to worry about, I reported.

Only a month earlier, the Americans had rolled out their first S-70A-55 troop-carrying Black Hawk helicopter to be sold to the Israelis. Israel had purchased 24 of the new machines, costing $211m (£166m) (most of which would be paid for by the US) even though it had 24 earlier model Black Hawks. The logbook of the first of the new helicopters was ceremonially handed over to the then director general of the Israeli defence ministry, Amos Yaron.

I was immediately abused. I had revealed Israel’s military secrets, a telephone call from an Israeli supporter in London told me. I had leaked military secrets for Israel’s enemies to read, an anonymous reader informed me. It was balderdash. I had merely done what I always do in Israel: scrupulously read the local papers and studied economic and military magazines – because the Israelis were always boasting of their home-made weaponry and military relationship with the US. The story cost only a few shekels at a newsagents in Tel Aviv.

But Arkin goes for facts in a much bigger way. He hoovers them up off every page. And NBC have just lost him. His expertise, he says, seems to be of less value right now. He was “out of synch with the network”.

Journalists were turning the world’s national security into a political story: Rumsfeld versus the Generals, Wolfowitz versus Shinseki, the CIA versus Cheney, bad torturers versus the more refined variety. And all the while, Arkin writes, NBC would be looking over its shoulder at “upstarts creeping up on the mainstream”.

After Donald Trump’s election, journalistic investigations “got sucked into the tweeting vortex, increasingly lost in a directionless adrenalin rush, the national security and political version of leading the broadcast with every snowstorm … in many ways NBC just began emulating the national security state itself – busy and profitable”.

Because of Trump, the networks had become anti-Trump and the national security establishment “gained dangerous strength”. So Arkin claims that he is ever so happy to return to writing and thinking in new books “without the officiousness of editorial tyrants or corporate ‘standards’”.

He continues: “And of course I yearn to go back to my first love, which is writing boring reports about secret programmes, grateful that the American government so graciously obliges in its constant supply.” Arkin doesn’t p**s on his colleagues at NBC. He rather wanly praises his former employers, the “excellent” young television reporters and the “great team” he worked with, which leads me to believe that he’d like to go back some day.

He’s not a bitter man, though I suspect he’s not likely to be a leftist hero. While acknowledging that Trump is “an ignorant and incompetent imposter”, Arkin wonders if the television networks aren’t in favour of more conflict and more war. “We shouldn’t get out of Syria? We shouldn’t go for the bold move of denuclearising the Korean peninsula? … do we really yearn for the Cold War. And don’t get me started with the FBI: What? We now lionise this historically destructive institution?”

I get Arkin’s point, even if he’s still in danger of making the presidential lunatic into a statesman-to-be in generations to come. But there’s a telling moment in his goodbye letter to NBC – which is longer than any general’s resignation from the White House, by the way.

He says that journalists “have become exhausted parents of our infant (and infantile) social media children. And because of the ‘cycle’ [the 24-hour news system], we at NBC … suffer from a really bad case of not being able to ever take a breath. I also don’t think that we are on a straight line towards digital nirvana … I sense that there is already smartphone and social media fatigue creeping across this land, and my guess is that nothing we currently see – nothing that is snappy or chatty – will solve our horrific challenges of information overload or the role (and nature) of journalism.”

Well, maybe it’s true that when Trump goes, we’ll all suffer from a gigantic media hangover. I’m not so sure. Where Arkin gets it wrong, it seems to me, is his faith that his own fact-digging will somehow come back into fashion in a world where falling into line – with the “authorities”, the FBI, the comfortable generals and the taboo on talking about Israel and America – will be discarded in the face of hard-hitting journalism.

As a matter of fact, that particular taboo against talking about the Israeli-American relationship – all important when Trump is in love with Benjamin Netanyahu – appears to be strictly observed in Arkin’s own goodbye letter. It doesn’t get a mention.

I’m delighted to hear that this particular expert is now going to write another non-fiction essay on national security “and why we never seem to end our now perpetual state of war”. I’m equally distressed to hear that Arkin is planning a 9/11 conspiracy novel, even though it will supposedly ask how we can “understand terrorists in a different way”. It’s the state of perpetual war and those who accept that this is a necessity which interests me most. War sells weapons and war sells newspapers and war boosts ratings. And war puts mendacious “experts” on our screens. It’s crabby old boys like Arkin who have to stop the rot. By going back to NBC, maybe?

Categories: News for progressives

5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:52

On Jan. 1, 5.5 million women in the Indian state of Kerala (population 35 million) built a 386-mile wall with their bodies. They stood from one end to the other of this long state in southwestern India. The women gathered at 4 p.m. and took a vow to defend the renaissance traditions of their state and to work towards women’s empowerment. It is not an exaggeration to say that this was one of the largest mobilizations of women in the world for women’s rights. It is certainly larger than the historical Women’s March in Washington, D.C. in 2017.

Kerala’s government is run by the Communists. It is not easy for a left-wing government to operate in a state within the Indian union. The Central Government in New Delhi has little desire to assist Kerala, which suffered a cataclysmic flood last year. No assistance with the budgetary burdens of relief and reconstruction, and no help with financing for infrastructure and welfare services. The Communist government has a wide-ranging agenda that runs from its Green Kerala Mission — a project for stewardship of the state’s beautiful environment — to its fight for women’s emancipation. The Left Democratic Front government believes that dignity is a crucial a goal as economic rights, and that it is centrally important to fight against everyday humiliation to build a truly just society.

Over the course of the left’s government in Kerala, it has pushed ahead the agenda against everyday humiliation. For instance, in 2017, the government provided free sanitary pads for young women in school. The logic was that during their periods, young women who could not afford sanitary pads avoided school. Prejudices against menstruation had become a barrier to equal education. The government called this project “She Pad,” which benefited students and teachers. Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala, said of the effort, “Menstrual hygiene is every girl’s right. The government is hoping that initiatives like these will help our girls to lead a life of confidence.”

A hundred miles north of Kerala’s capital — Thiruvanthapuram — sits a temple for Ayyappan, a celibate god. Women between the ages of 10 and 50 had not been permitted into the temple due to a belief that the celibate god would not be able to tolerate women who menstruate. The Indian Supreme Court took notice of this and, in September 2018, declared that the temple must allow all women to enter. The Left Democratic Front government agreed with the courts. But the temple authorities, and the far-right groups in the state, disagreed. When women tried to enter the temple, the priests blocked them, assisted by the far right. The situation was at a deadlock.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called upon progressive organizations across the state to start mobilizing the citizens toward the building of a Women’s Wall (Vanitha Mathil) on Jan. 1. The energy in the state was electric. Women gathered at hundreds of mass meetings across the state. They recognized immediately that this was not a fight only to enter a temple, but this was a fight principally for women’s emancipation, for the right of women, as Vijayan had said, “to lead a life of confidence.”

The public meetings in November and December galvanized the opposition to the far right, arguing that women have every right to enter public spaces, including religious buildings. January began in anticipation. Women had been organized by districts and knew where to go. Women of all ages and backgrounds, from schoolteachers to members of the fishing community, began to line up around 3 p.m. After taking an oath, they marched through their towns and cities. They exuded joy and confidence, a freedom that should warm the hearts of sensitive people.

Strikingly, the media outside India paid little attention to this global, historical event. Press coverage in the United States was nearly absent. Internationalism in our time is such a façade, with so little care to amplify the bravery of people around the world. When the Women’s March took place in Washington, D.C., newspapers in Kerala reported it in detail. The favor was not returned. Silence was the answer.

Two days after the Women’s Wall, the right-wing in Kerala went on a rampage. Their members attacked the leaders on the left and threw bombs at government buildings. Over 700 people — mostly men on the far right — were arrested that day.

Walking down a main shopping street in Thiruvanthapuram, I see visible signs of the far-right’s attack. On one side of the street are posters and signs of left organizations torn and broken during the day of rampage by the far right. On the other side of the street, far-right supporters sit on a hunger strike.

Even liberals have taken the side of the far right. One liberal politician said that while he favored women’s rights, he also favored the temple’s rights. But the temple has no rights, nor does tradition. As Gandhi wrote almost a hundred years ago, “If I can’t swim in tradition, I’ll sink in it.” Neither the temple nor tradition trumps the rights of women to live with confidence. If a tradition is discriminatory, it deserves to be set aside.

There are no half measures in this debate in Kerala. The mood is that one must not walk away from one’s principles.

5.5 million women in Kerala — one in three women in the state — took to the streets to champion the emancipation of women. What brought them to join the Women’s Wall was that the Left Democratic Front government took a clear position, a principled position: that menstruation should not be used as a penalty against women’s full participation in society. Clarity defines the struggle. It is a lesson worth learning around the world.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Lessons From Rojava

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:48

This holiday season was unusually kind to the anti-imperialists among us or at least it could have been. Trump shocked the world the week before Christmas by actually putting America first for a change and calling for the immediate withdrawal of the some 2000 troops still illegally occupying North Eastern Syria. Regardless of his motives, which I’m sure had very little to do with anything vaguely resembling the Christmas spirit, it’s hard to deny that this executive decision would have been a decisive win for peace.

Hard but not impossible. The doves of the progressive left have enthusiastically jumped through their own pinched assholes to stomp on McGovern’s grave with talking points straight out of Karl Rove’s playbook. Sadly, their onslaught of non-stop pro-war agit-prop, aided and abetted by the double-speak of Mad Man Bolton and the other rabid war junkies of Trump’s own administration, may have worked. The perpetually spineless Trump has moved the goal post for the pull-out from 30 days to 90 days to 3 months to ‘maybe later, we’ll see…’

Regardless, the rift within the Pentagon is likely irreversible and the chaos its caused can only be interpreted as the official failure of America’s 6 year imperial project for the region. Being the peace-loving bomb-thrower that I am, the one part of this splendid fiasco that feels truly tragic to me is the increasingly likely implosion of the Rojava Revolution.

Amid the apocalyptic hellscape of Uncle Sam’s latest jihad jamboree, one tiny light burned bright enough to singe the dim. While the rest of Syria collapsed in panic over the crumbling of the Baathist state, the nation’s long maligned Kurdish community embraced their new found statelessness with open arms and created a successful anarchist society among the wreckage. Guided by the philosophy of Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned Nelson Mandela of the Kurdish independence movement, the people of the Syrian region of Rojava busied themselves establishing a multi-ethnic, non-sectarian, and gender equal confederation of fully autonomous collectives, councils, guilds, and syndicates. All while defending themselves from the genocidal onslaught of the Islamic State.

This display of ferocious courage stoked a fire in the hearts of many disenchanted anarchists across the globe, much the way Catalonia did during the Spanish Civil War. I include myself among these wide-eyed renegade dreamers. During one of the darkest times of my life, the Rojava Revolution inspired me to keep up the good fight. The sad fact that the good name of this revolution became tainted by America’s illegal troop presence in Rojava didn’t make the YPG’s stand any less heroic, though it did cast a black cloud over it for those of us who are familiar with America’s long tradition of leaving these impoverished mountain folk holding the bag.

Indeed, Trump’s triumphant Christmas peace declaration came just a week after the Donald spoke with Turkey’s revanchist sultan, Recep Erdogan, who subsequently announced his intention to invade the region with America’s consent. It appears that Trump may have simply been attempting to outsource the war to Turkey who has long seen the entire nation of Syria as lost territory held by Shia savages. With Rojava out of the picture, what would be left to stop these neo-Ottomans from reinvesting in what’s left of their former friends in ISIS? Perhaps this is why Assad has readily offered his Kurdish frenemies back-up on the border. If Russia steps in as well while Trump dicks around with a swamp-friendly exit date, this could prevent Erdogan from creating another Yemen-style proxy-genocide in Rojava. But it will also likely still spell out the tragic end for the Kurds dreams of a truly autonomous and stateless society.

So what do we take away from this tragedy so that the brave actions of the fallen YPG not be taken in vain and so that future stateless liberation movements can emulate their triumphs while avoiding the pitfalls that prevented their permanence? I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I do see a few clears lessons worth learning in no particular order.

1. Never Trust an Imperialist  You would think that the Kurds would have learned this one by now, after getting railed by Kissinger in the 70’s and HW in the 90’s. Some habits die hard, I suppose. As alluring as the uranium tipped largess of the world’s only super-power may appear, it always comes at a steep price. America is an empire on the ropes. The last thing they want to do is empower a movement that could render their influence in the region irrelevant. Why do you think we skull fucked Somalia so hard under Clinton? Their booming Khat industry? No, they formed an alternative to the state in the wake of the Cold War that empowered Africa’s pre-colonial tribal roots much the way Rojava did and we didn’t want it to spread. In the Middle East, where no one has been left unmolested by American weaponry, endorsing the Rojava Revolution was the smartest way to damn it while encouraging Turkey to bring NATO into the clusterfuck. Think about it, America has created a disposable allie too toxic for it’s neighbors to touch. Machiavelli would be jealous of such artful treachery. But that’s what you get when you fuck around with empires.

2. Keep it in the Neighborhood  The second worst thing the US could do to the YPG was to turn them into a mercenary army and stretch them razor thin by sending them to fight ISIS in regions with little traditional Kurdish presence. The Kurds were riding high with US air support until they began dipping into the hinterlands. They would have been much better off solidifying their gains then doing the Yankees dirty work in Raqqa. And the Turks would have struggled to get popular support for yet another all out toss-up with the Kurds, something Erdogan originally ran on putting an end to, if the YPG would have stuck to their end of the Euphrates. Revolutionary 101 should be ‘let the other motherfucker throw the first punch then kick his fucking ass on the high ground’. In other words, fighting ISIS when they attack Kobani is fine but chasing them into the desert where they came from is just moronic. Initiatory violence is always stupid. Stay on the defense, think Globally and act locally.

3. Socialists and Nationalists Over Globalists and Neoliberals  Perhaps this is redundant considering lesson 1. but nations with an emphasis on soil and/or anti-colonialism will always make for more reliable allies than massive states with lofty global ambitions. Even bourgeois nationalists like Putin will almost always prize regional stability over all-out conquest. These certainly make for some uncomfortable bedfellows for anarchists, as do Third World socialists like the Syrian Baathists, but at least they have some kind of principles to be bargained with as well as more frugal budgets. When you’re talking to Russia and Syria, for better or worse, you’re talking to Russia and Syria. When you’re talking to the US, the EU, or NATO, you’re talking to the banks and, just ask anyone who’s ever been foreclosed on, there is no bargaining with the banks. You’re better off with the fucking buzzards. I hate the idea of Rojava going back to the Syrian Army and their Russian handlers but at least they’ll stop at the border. The US will never stop. They couldn’t if they wanted to. They’re hooked on capitalism and our only hope may be a Trumpian overdose. Lets just hope Pence forgot the Narcan.

4. Never Underestimate a Peoples Will to be Free  I spent over six years without leaving my house. The Kurds have spent over six centuries without a homeland. I should have hung myself years ago. The Kurds should have assimilated and melted into the Arab world forever ago. They’re still there and the centuries of oppression have only lead them to embrace a liberty that transcends the jerry-rigged borders of Sykes-Picot. As I’ve said, their fight is part of what inspired me to burn the noose. Justice will find the Kurds and their enemies alike. Erdogan can’t kill them all anymore than MBS can kill every Houthi or Nixon could kill every Vietcong. Those who underestimate the will of the oppressed will find themselves decorating the light posts of a future utopia. Rojava had a taste of that dream and that taste will never die on their tongues.

We can all learn from those who dare to die for their dreams, dearest motherfuckers. As long as we keep their spirits alive, those dreams will never die. Power to Rojava! Power to all the people! And death to the imperialist insect that preys upon them. They will never win. They have no soul to keep alive. They will grow to fear us.

Categories: News for progressives

Here is the Progressive Agenda

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:46

Clintonite corporatists still control the Democratic National Committee despite their long string of failure at the polls. But the overwhelming majority of Democratic Party voters—72%—are self-identified progressives.

44% of House primary candidates in 2018 self-IDed as progressive. If you’re after the Democratic nomination for president you have to be—or pretend to be—progressive. Even Hillary Clinton claimed to be “a progressive who gets things done.”

All the top likely contenders for 2020 claim to be progressive—but they would prefer that voters ignore their voting records and unsavory donors. “Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris have spent the past two years racing to the leftmost edge of respectable opinion,” reports New York magazine. “In recent weeks, they have also all reached out to Wall Street executives, in hopes of securing some funding for their prospective presidential campaign.” It does no good for your heart to be in the right place if your ass is owned by bankers.

“You don’t just get to say that you’re progressive,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told progressive donors recently.

Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, called the 2020 election a chance to “leverage our power.” She says it’s critical “that we have some very clear guidelines about what it means to be progressive.”

Here are those guidelines.

You can’t be a progressive unless you favor a big hike in the minimum wage. Elizabeth Warren, the first pretty-much-declared candidate for 2020, wants $15 an hour. But she told a 2013 Senate hearing that it would be $22 if it had kept up with increases in worker productivity. The official inflation rate makes that $24 today. And according to the real inflation rate (the official number as it was calculated before the Labor Department downgraded the calculation in 1980 and 1990) at ShadowStats.com, $22 in 2013 comes to at least $35 today.

If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968 using the same methodology used to track inflation at the time, it would be closer to $80 per hour.

What should be the progressive demand for the minimum wage? Nothing less than $25 per hour.

(For the record, I see no reason why the minimum wage should be lower than the maximum wage. But we’re talking about progressivism here, not socialism or communism.)

Thanks to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign “free college became a litmus test for liberals,” notes The Atlantic. But a 2017 bill cosponsored by Sanders and Warren defines “college for all” rather narrowly. It only addresses public colleges and universities. It would “make college tuition free for families earning $125,000 a year or less and allow current student loan borrowers to refinance their debt at lower interest rates.”

A quarter of American college students attend private schools. Considering that the average cost is $35,000 a year and some run as high as $60,000, even families earning more than $125,000 need help too.

The progressive stance on college should be three-pronged. First, the obscene $1.5 trillion student loan business should be abolished. Student loans should be replaced by grants but if loans exist at all they should be a zero-profit government program. Second, all outstanding loans should be forgiven or have their interest rates dropped to a zero-profit basis. Third, the government should rein in out-of-control public and private college tuition and fees—which have gone up eight times faster than wages—by tying them to the official federal cost of living index.

Progressives agree that Obamacare didn’t go far enough. With 70% of voters in favor, even centrist Democrats like Kamala Harris have climbed aboard Bernie Sanders’ call for “Medicare for all” bandwagon. Warren, Gillibrand and Booker now say they want single-payer public healthcare. Being progressive, however, means demanding more than what mainstream politicians deem practical—it’s about pushing hard for more ways to improve people’s lives.

In 2020 progressives should be calling for nothing less than universal healthcare. If it’s good enough for the rest of the developed world and many developing countries like Botswana and Bhutan, why not us?

I cosigned a letter to Sanders calling on the Vermont senator to use his platform as the country’s most prominent and popular progressive to talk more about foreign policy and to openly oppose militarism. Now it’s time to get specific.

Progressives should demand that U.S. troops come home from any country that did not attack the United States—i.e., all of them. They should put an end to the disgusting drone wars. The bloated nearly-$1 trillion Pentagon budget should be shredded; let’s see what they can do with $100 billion (which would still be far more than Russia’s defense spending).

From banks that charge usurious credit card interest rates to employers who fire full-time employees and hire them back as “independent contractors,” there are plenty of other targets for progressives to go after.

Progressives: you are no longer the ugly stepdaughter of the Democratic Party. You own the joint.
Now’s the time to demand what’s yours, what you want and what’s right.

Categories: News for progressives

A Green Future is One Without War

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:45

Donald Trump and his base — the leftover scraps of Jim Crow, the broken shards of racist hatred that once were the American mainstream and made the country seem “great” to those who weren’t its victims — have, it appears, a crucial role to play in our future.

President Trump is the increasingly naked truth. He’s what we have wound up with: a raw, uncensored scapegoating and fear-mongering that’s too much for most of the American public. And thus the political center, the military-industrial-media consensus that has ruled the country for the past four and a half decades, pushing progressive values to the margins of American politics, is unraveling. Centrist compromise, which birthed the Trump presidency, can’t mask the truth anymore.

It’s time to evolve.

If we don’t, we’re stuck in the mire of racism, exploitation, empire and war. We’re stuck in the dead past, which has given us the current state of Planet Earth: a planet at war with itself in multiple ways. We’re stuck in a dead past and a dying future.

This is the context, I believe, in which we should evaluate the Green New Deal, which may well be the most brightly shining political ideal to emerge on the national horizon in my Boomer lifetime. Here’s how one of the Deal’s arch enemies, Justin Haskins of the Heartland Institute, described it recently in the Washington Examiner:

“Make no mistake about it: This is one of the most dangerous and extreme proposals offered in modern U.S. history. It’s the sort of thing you’d see in the Soviet Union, not the United States. If we don’t stop the Green New Deal, our economy may not survive. This isn’t a battle we can afford to lose.”

So it must be good! If nothing else, it’s a piece of potential legislation with real traction that transcends Democratic centrism and timidity — its instinct to cave to well-funded right-wing criticism and avoid upsetting the military-industrial applecart — that became de rigueur party behavior since the defeat of George McGovern in 1972.

But the GND needs to go further than it does. Since it’s already being pilloried as the most radical piece of legislation in modern history, it might as well open itself up to become just that: the cornerstone of a truly sustainable national and global future. The Deal should take on militarism and war as well as climate change and poverty; they are all linked. Our near-trillion-dollar military budget, and the endless and needless wars it funds — not to mention the ongoing development of our nuclear arsenal — can’t be quietly, politely ignored as we envision a sane tomorrow.

Right now, the draft legislation for the Green New Deal calls for ten years of intense national focus on such objectives as: establishing 100 percent of national power generation from renewable sources; decarbonizing U.S. industry, agriculture and transportation; the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases; the building of an energy-efficient national grid; and, along with this, the recognition “that a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone,”

This is no small plan! It’s a rallying cry and vision that virtually transcends political thinking as we know it, reflecting a near-complete dismissal of status quo politics and its obeisance to Big Money. It refuses to comprise with the forces of either Trump or the Koch brothers. It challenges America to be a democracy.

Let it also challenge the military-industrial complex. The organization Code Pink has taken the lead in calling for it to do so, suggesting, for instance, that the list of goals on the draft legislation should include this one: “a major transition away from the environmental destruction of war and war-preparations, including the closure of most of the U.S. military bases abroad and within the United States and the thorough cleanup of the land and water in those locations.”

Code Pink also suggests, regarding funding for the project, that “much of the 60 percent of discretionary spending now going into the environmentally destructive project of militarism can be moved to environmental protection.”

The point, as I see it, is to create a holistic vision for the future. We can’t just shrug that war is politically untouchable. Doing so — avoiding all serious discussion of militarism, both its costs and its consequences — leaves the global noose dangling.

The military-industrial PR machine spews noise about glory, honor and national defense, but mostly what keeps the system running in perpetuity is a complete lack of discussion about alternatives to violent self-defense. The need for a strong military presence — my God, the need for a new generation of nuclear weapons — is taken for granted by the mainstream media and much of the public, and must be challenged at the national level. The time to do so is now.

A number of years ago I wrote: “From the radioactive fallout spread by depleted uranium munitions to the destruction of the ‘compression-fragile’ desert floor, we are pursuing a geopolitical strategy with single-minded, and ultimately suicidal, indifference to the consequences of our actions. And nothing can stop us except our own awakened consciences.”

The Green New Deal resonates with awareness and awakened conscience, with transcendent vision and, hallelujah, youthful determination. It represents a yanking of the future away from the moneyed interests that think they own it. Let the future it begins to build be one of peace: with the planet and with ourselves.

Categories: News for progressives

The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:44

The fact is, the U.S. interventions in the Middle East since 9/11—-especially the illegal, immoral war on Iraq based on lies—has, as regional leaders predicted it would, generally “destabilized” the area, and nearby regions.

The ruination of the Baathist Iraqi state has by this point produced a Sadrist-led regime that must maintain a degree of friendship with the U.S. that ushered in its ascent to power but is closer to Iran and will, defying the U.S., maintain that relationship based in part on religious commonality. This is an awkward situation, in that a regime produced by U.S. imperialist aggression chooses to ally itself with a regime that the U.S. (by bipartisan consensus) wants to topple.

U.S. military aggression in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya has flooded Europe with refugees, provoking multiple political crises and producing gains for the anti-immigrant right. Europeans properly blame the refugee problem on the U.S. and its arrogant imperialist explosions.

Each invasion has produced spinoffs. Al-Zarqawi, driven from Afghanistan, relocated in Iraq, forming a new Al-Qaeda franchise (that became ISIL). The occupation of Iraq led directly to ISIL’s spread into Syria (and the U.S. military’s pursuit). One thing leads to another. The destruction of Libya spread chaos into Niger and Mali and gains for local al-Qaeda and ISIL forces.

Meanwhile U.S. pressure on Middle East allies to embrace (at least show-window) “democracy”—really a neocon afterthought to lend some bogus moral content to the effort to control the region, to justify the war-based-on-lies—led to
electoral victories by Hamas in Palestine (2006), Hizbollah in Lebanon (2018), and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (2012). These were followed by U.S. efforts to topple the (annoyingly victorious) parties in those democratic exercises (and of course further instability).

U.S. (rhetorical) allegiance to democratic principles may have encouraged the mass rebellions of the “Arab Spring” (2011), during which the Obama administration gave erstwhile allies (like Ali Saleh in Yemen and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt) their marching orders, and (with NATO) destroyed the Libyan state facilitating the grotesque murder of (recent friend) Moammar Gadhafy. And U.S. support for Saudi Arabia—possibly the world’s very worst violator of human rights, although the U.S. corporate press treats it with kid gloves—allowed for the crushing of the Bahraini Shiite mass protests by Saudi-led Sunni forces, and the ongoing Saudi destruction of Yemen.

The U.S. has done absolutely no good in the so-called “Greater Middle East” since its imbecilic leadership in 2001 proclaimed a vague “War on Terror” aimed mainly at Islamist forces seen as terrorists—but open-ended enough to include North Korea (in the stupidly conceptualized “Axis of Evil”), Filipino Maoists, or units of the Iranian military. (By the way, note that the author of that stupid term, Bush speechwriter—now a respected CNN “political news analyst”—-David Frum, is a Canadian interfering in the U.S. political process. But nobody cares. Imagine if he were Russian.)

Repeat: absolutely no good. No more good than the Nazis did when they launched their comparable immoral, unjustifiable imperialist invasions. (We should never thank the purveyors of mass murder for their “service” as is the norm, indeed required etiquette on corporate cable news.) All the war on terror and its spin-offs has produced is human misery.

The “War on Terror” label was dropped under Obama, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s latest pronouncements in Cairo indicate that the U.S. retains its drive to remake the Middle East

destroy “radical Islamism” in the Middle East. He even warned the Lebanese people about voting for Hizbollah, which has many members in parliament and holds posts in the Lebanese cabinet, lest they raise the U.S.’s wrath. Quite likely his crude efforts to meddle in foreign elections will backfire.

And of course in Pompeo’s list of terrorists to destroy is the Iranian leadership, and the Islamic Republic as currently structured. This puts the U.S. in conflict with Europe and the world in general, which wants to have normal relations with Iran and mutually beneficial trade.

Turkey, a close U.S. ally and NATO member—indeed the NATO member with the second largest army within the alliance—is one of these countries wanting normal relations with Iran. The two countries have differences, including in Syria, but are working (with Russia) to reduce those differences through the “Astana Process.” And now Turkey’s differences with its old ally Washington are strained as never before.

The problem is the Kurds and prospect of an independent Kurdish nation. This was the Turkish concern (that is, the concern of the Turkish ruling class) all along. The current president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, supported the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 (while the Turkish parliament failed to support it)—but only if it allowed for the deployment of Turkish forces in northern Iraq to suppress any prospect of Kurdish independence (that might encourage Turkish Kurds in their drive to acquire independence). He feared that the toppling of Saddam Hussein would, if not coupled with the suppression of any Kurdish independence hopes, threaten Turkey.

The U.S. State Department, to say nothing of the political class in general, was clueless about the distinction between Kurds and Arabs, as it was of the distinction between Shiites and Sunnis, or Turks and Iranians. Now the inevitable has happened. The U.S. in an effort to “destroy” ISIL (Obama’s language) made common cause with the only people in Syria willing to join with its (discredited, hated, exposed, imperialist) self: the Kurdish Peshmergas. It has used them to whittle down the ISIL forces, whose existence is a painful embarrassment to the U.S. since its actions obviously produced it in the first place. But it has wanted to use them ultimately to bring down the Assad government and replace it with a pro-U.S., Israel-friendly puppet regime.

Trump (for whatever reasons, while probably involve no moral reflection) seems to have given up on the latter ambition. He sounds content to accept an independent Syria enjoying cordial ties to Russia, Iran, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, China, etc. (The U.S. always depicts states targeted for regime change as “isolated” from what they call “the international community” which somehow routinely excludes major countries not subject to U.S. hegemony.)

Still, there’s that problem of the 2000 Special Forces there in Syria, operating alongside Kurds that Turkey sees as “terrorists.” And since Trump wants to withdraw them, Erdogan wants to move in to eradicate what he sees as a national security threat. Which is to say: the U.S. imperialist orgy in the Greater Middle East has finally reached the crisis-point in which its imperialist interests conflict with those of a close ally, and there way be war between its NATO pal and its Syrian Kurdish clients.

This is very, very embarrassing. And since the president is an unstable, unpredictable fool—alternately stubborn and malleable—his national security advisor John Bolton (the very worst man imaginable in the current situation—a lying, amoral, opportunistic, crazed thug) has to go off to Israel to promise Netayahu that Trump, having announced a Syrian withdrawal, won’t in fact withdraw troops unless Turkey and Israel agree on the specifics.

Meanwhile the Kurds themselves, with long experience of U.S. betrayal, have reached out to the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, which is willing to negotiate with the peshmerga for an autonomous Rojava region. It is possible that the horrific Syrian tragedy will end with the re-consolidation of the secular state, including that plan for autonomy, with security assurances to Turkey and support from Russia and Iran, leaving the U.S. aside (as an unhelpful, indeed toxic, partner).

It’s also possible that the Turkish leader, who has had an on-again, off-again friendship with the mad president and who pointedly snubbed Bolton during his visit the other day, will break with Washington, realign with Russia (from whom he has already agreed to purchase billions in armaments, to the consternation of NATO leaders) and make it finally clear to the world that the criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq produces some very heavy karma.

In attempting to reconfigure and dominate the Middle East, the neocon-led George W. Bush administration triggered a process that now leads—perhaps inevitably—to division within the U.S.’s own camp. The obvious, embarrassing division between idiot Bolton’s iterations in Cairo and Tel Aviv, and his boss’s idle blabbering about pulling out of Syria, results from the illogic of the whole U.S. enterprise in the first place.

You cannot simply announce that you—as the world’s “exceptional” nation—are entitled to impose your (myth of) “democracy” (= smiling submission to capitalist-imperialist domination) on all other nations, in which effort your nurtured allies since the 1940s are supposed to collude.

But no, dumb-ass! You cannot reconcile the differences between Turkey and the Kurds, or any of the other fundamental conflicts in the Middle East, on the basis of your warped consciousness of “national interests” and contemptuous ignorance of history. You cannot prevent the vicious assault of the Bush-Cheney regime on the Middle East—-continued by the cowardly continuance of Bush-Cheney policy by Barack Obama and his bloodthirsty secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, throughout the region culminating in the absolute wreckage of North Africa’s most advanced, affluent state—from leading the chickens home to roost.

You cannot prevent your unforgivable, savage interventions in the Middle East from shattering your own long-cherished alliances with client states whose interests actually now oppose your own. Welcome to imperial decline, you dumb-ass Bolton, you moronic sociopath Donald Trump. Chickens are jumping up and down in the chicken-coop, agitated, reorienting. The sky is falling, this time, really.

Good!

Categories: News for progressives

LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:36

The chair of UTLA at our high school today wrote:

We are making history as this strike looms. Every school district in the country is watching what we are doing, and we are getting support from all over the country. We are not just fighting for us but for the future students of all school districts. That is why we must not fail–we must keep our lines strong.

Why Is LAUSD Provoking a Strike?

While some who haven’t followed what has been going on for the past 21 months may tend to fall for LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner’s deceptions, there is no doubt that this strike is being provoked by LAUSD. The only question is “Why?” I’ve wondered for a while why they’re doing this, and it seems like it comes down to one of (or a combination of) several possibilities:

Possibility #1: LAUSD is Disorganized

It is possible that they’re simply too disorganized to be capable of making UTLA a real contract offer. To be fair to LAUSD, they have had an unstable superintendent situation, some of which wasn’t their fault.

We started negotiations for this contract back in April of 2017 when Michelle King was the superintendent. She went on medical leave due to cancer late that summer, and Vivian Ekchian became acting superintendent. King stepped down in January. The Los Angeles Times said “Because senior officials have praised her performance, Ekchian is likely to be a candidate for the permanent job.”

However, the billionaire-funded charter lobby poured money into some of the school board elections, and we ended up with  pro-charter majority, who then appointed Beutner, who took office in May. Ref Rodriguez, once the leader of the charter school-backed majority that took over the board, resigned and pled guilty to a felony. It’s been a chaotic situation Then again, by now they’ve had plenty of time to get organized.

Possibility #2: LAUSD Leadership is Incompetent

Beutner has no education experience. Some people who work at Beaudry have told me there’s a lot of conflict between the existing staff and the people Beutner brought in, and much of the existing staff doesn’t think Beutner knows what he’s doing. I’ve also been told that many at Beaudry think this strike is being provoked, and hope that we stick to our guns and win.

Possibility #3: Beutner Believes He Can Deliver UTLA a Crushing Blow so He Can Move Forward with Plans to Break Up, Privatize & Charterize LAUSD

Perhaps Beutner believes that with the power of the charter lobby behind him and the PR hatchet job the charters have done on public schools, teacher unions, and public school teachers, we’re ripe to be taken down.

We’re the only thing standing between him and his goal of dividing LAUSD into charter schools which choose the students they want and get rid of the ones they don’t, and rump traditional schools with large class sizes and scant resources. Then when the charters score better on tests than the traditional schools, that will be evidence for the naïve and uninformed that charters are better. Some might say “but that’s what is already happening!” Yes, it is, and Beutner wants to extend it.

Possibility #4: LAUSD Is Willing to Make a Real Offer, but They First Want to See If We’ll Fight

Perhaps they’re prepared to make us a decent offer but they want to see if we can pull off a strike with solid picket lines before they make concessions. Perhaps they question the commitment of the UTLA rank & file, or the ability of the current UTLA leadership to do the ground-level work of organizing a solid strike. Perhaps LAUSD thinks we’ll fold. Good luck with that.

Possibility #5: LAUSD Thinks Teachers Only Care about Money, Not Our Students

Beutner has negotiated this way, in that the only thing of significance he’s offered UTLA is a 6% “raise” over two years (really just a Cost of Living Adjustment) in 21 months of negotiations. He seems mulishly committed to pretending that most of the other contract issues don’t exist.

Possibility #6: Beutner Wants Us to Strike Because He Wants to Rise Politically

One of my colleagues raises a sixth possibility—Beutner’s frustrated political career. He writes:

Beutner tried unsuccessfully to become mayor of Los Angeles he lost because he was an unknown. If he makes us strike, his name and face gets in the media. He doesn’t need the money, and the longer the strike goes, the better for him. When it ends he can then go to his privatizer friends and say “Look what I did–I took on the mighty UTLA and almost won! Give me money, I’ll go into politics and make sure we win next time.”

Is Austin Beutner What UTLA Says He Is?

When Beutner first came into office in May I was a little put off by UTLA’s negative attitude towards him. I even wrote a column in a Los Angeles newspaper respectfully offering him my friendly advice on how to do his new job. He emailed me thanking for my suggestions, though I doubt he read it. But I must admit that in his eight months in office he’s shown himself to be every bit the privatizer/charterizer/unionbuster that UTLA always said he was. I’d still like for us to be wrong, but it doesn’t seem likely.

 

Categories: News for progressives

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