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Updated: 48 min 34 sec ago

“Go Back Where You Came From:” an Episode From Canada

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:53

An inuit family (1917) Photograph Source: George R. King – Public Domain

“… go back where you came from…” Not something one expects to hear from a head of state addressing his own citizens. When these taunts come from a man, a second generation American, whose entire pedigree as Captain America rests on having one natural born US citizen as an ancestor; it might be laughable, if it wasn’t so loathsome. But these are interesting times indeed.

The scene:

Vancouver BC, a busy street-lit intersection and sidewalk. A 64 year old, 6 foot tall, 190 pound, white male exits the stage door of the Playhouse Theatre (that’s me) and walks past a late twenties, 6 foot 3, 250 pound white male (that’s him.) Among the other pedestrians a couple, speaking some language other than English, walk by.

He to them: “Fucking immigrants; go fucking home.”

Me to him: “We all, including your family, were ‘fucking immigrants’ at some time.”

I turn away, to head back into the theatre, and the lights go out. Moments later I find myself on the sidewalk searching for my glasses and deeply confused. The following digressions, diversions and jump cuts lasted about an hour. It has taken months, and a little therapy, to distill them into something vaguely cohesive.

***

Part of me is stuck looping “What the fuck, was I just sucker-punched? At some level I knew I had been, and somewhere else I knew I knew, but I wasn’t quite sure if I knew I knew I knew. My central processor has lost contact with my sub-systems; the once interconnected matrices of grey matter were experiencing cascading system failures.

Part of me is oddly amused when I try to call 911. Video of Dr. Jill Bolte pops up, describing how she fumbled with her phone while having a stroke. With delightful scientific detail and humor she plots which bits of cortexes and lobes were failing to do what; which neurons have lost their paths and which synapses are just happily gimbling in the wabe. All I know is numbers are gibberish, and I do not have a vorpal sword.

Part of me is still precisely tracking the show clock. The show, after all, Must Go On and years of muscle memory direct me to the sound booth. The EMT, an immigrant, is still treating me as we go up, 45 seconds late. The horror!

Part of me imagined getting him on the ground and pounding his face into a bloody pulp. I would like to ascribe my violent reaction, at least in part, to some kind of instinctive preemptive defense doctrine, protecting others in the future. Or maybe it’s a teachable moment kind of thing, where he learns that he is a naughty, naughty boy. But that is all terribly flimsy after-the-fact revisionism. It’s so much simpler than that. The unleashed reptilian brain wants only to: Cause Pain and Feel Power.

Once I’m there, powerless and driven by raw fear; I have to sort of understand the guy. I get his position. He too feels powerless; faced with a world he cannot understand or control; and he feels like a loser. So: Cause Pain and Feel Power; it’s really all he has. The only difference between the two of us, in that moment, is that I will most likely not end up stuck there; as he appears to be.

Which leads us to him: This is a seriously damaged, and dangerous, human being.

What bad wiring or chemistry, what wretched life experiences turned him into him? Do we blame nature or nurture? Where did he learn and what? Who indoctrinated him? Maybe, given the theatre’s proximity to the nexus of Canada’s drug and mental health crises, he is schizophrenic or on poisoned heroin? Is his mother proud or mortified?

Officer Krupke, you’re really a square;
This boy don’t need a judge, he needs an analyst’s care!
It’s just his neurosis that oughta be curbed
He’s psychologically disturbed!

Thankfully, humming bits of West Side Story helps further diffuse the blood lust. It forces the primal brain, which is now imagining just kneecapping the fucker, to acknowledge it’s no longer in control.

***

Assuming Everett is right, (and who can resist the image of infinitely spawning multiverses,) in another universe, my rage is more controlled. I just incapacitate the guy. Perhaps a Vulcan nerve pinch or some secret Shaolin technique. Once he’s down, conventional wisdom says call the cops and let the system do its thing. But the system is supposed to represent me and, in this version of my l’esprit d’escalier; I chose to represent myself.

I know that hitting people to stop people from hitting people is an idiotic downward spiral into more people hitting more people. So hitting him is out. And it is equally unproductive to yell at people, who are not listening, that they are not listening.

So re-education perhaps, can we ‘fix’ him? Can we get him to articulate his position; does he even know what he thinks? If he is gently and logically presented with the fallacies in his positions can we get him past his rage? Can he be coaxed or coerced into examining his life.

I still, somewhat desperately, cling to the fantasy that there are no irredeemable humans. That there was a route into his chronic malice, thus there must be one out. If he ever choses to rejoin the species; I wish him well.

***

My complaints sometimes just feel petty. (Survivor’s guilt I’m told.) I was not run over or shot. Nobody flew a plane into or bombed or shot up my office, church or club. I was punched, once. But I think, in my assailant’s mind, the motives and intent were as depraved and indifferent as any of the more ‘successful’ terrorists. I think; had I not gotten an arm out in time to protect my most of my head, and been left permanently brain damaged or dead, he would have remained unmoved.

***

I am reminded of my reaction to the Kent State shootings. I, along with the rest of the counter-culture was horrified. This hit way too close to home; they were shooting middle class white kids, (the largest cohort of the anti-war protestors and hippies.) Their target was, figuratively, me. At the time I was fortunate in meeting a black draft dodger who was prepared to gently chide me for my ignorance. They had been shooting, lynching and burning civil rights workers for decades. Atrocities were being committed around the globe to support western civilizations greed. And I was a beneficiary. Before the term white privilege was in common use I had it, and undoubtedly still do.

By accident of birth I can never be anything but large and white and male; well fed and educated and living in the land of my birth. I cannot pretend or presume to ever grok lives that are truly “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. I have never left my home in search of food; dreading that I might fail. I have never left my country or family fleeing war or famine. I have never been enslaved or tortured. I have never watched my children die. I have never been a “fucking immigrant”. (In all fairness there is a large population in The Americas who might rightly call me and my ancestors: fucking invaders, fucking colonists, and fucking settlers.)

So while the initial shock of being slammed feels perfectly natural, I have to wonder if, in the longer term, part of my sense of wrongness stems from that place of unconscious privilege. He hit ME.

***

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern is right. Speaking their names aloud does invoke the Beetlejuice rather than Rumpelstiltskin effect. It gives them the fame and power they so desperately crave, it makes them feel real. But there is one, who has so clearly demonstrated his willingness, nay his eagerness, to be the poster boy for the deplorable; whose name we cannot avoid.

But we must still be careful. Thinking he is the source rather than a product and exploiter of these basest instincts of humanity is too easy. Blaming him for representing and emboldening these violent thugs is fair game. From his bully pulpit he champions irrational fear and the demonizing of the others; but such demagogues have existed throughout human history: always, forever and everywhere. He, Trump, is a mere symptom; just the currently most visible festering boil that reveals the underlying infestation.

***

Putting aside the academic discussion whether ‘race’: White, Black, Yellow, Red, and Brown, is just a transitory social construct. Race, as so defined, is only one of the many excuses used to rationalize despising others. Being of the wrong family, clan, or tribe; falling in thrall to the wrong king, being from the wrong country, supporting the wrong side; it doesn’t really matter. . Once you are ‘other’, for whatever reason, you are a target.

But as violent, hateful and xenophobic as they are, even most adamantly self-described racists don’t have a clue what race is. Their identity as Aryans (an Indo-Persian language group,) is founded on Nazi nonsense. Their bloodline purity is tainted by the one or two percent of their DNA which is Neanderthal; and all the rest cross culture fornication that begat their ancestors. They are genetic mongrels; just like the rest of us.

***

These are opportunistic vermin. In the right socio-economic climate they thrive and can spread uncontrollably. They have so much tied up in their cultish and delusional sense of cultural superiority that they will kill to maintain it. And they don’t have the honesty to say, as P. J. O’Rourke put it about apartheid South Africa, “Fuck you, we’re bigots.”

No, they try to claim that their gods directed them; that their victims themselves are to blame; that they are redressing some vague imagined historical wrong, or preventing a future one. “The other guy hit me back first,” has been used as an excuse for atrocities since time immemorial. Dehumanizing others is their most commonly used tool. “Those guys from the other valley; they eat babies!” (Or rip them from incubators in Kuwait.)

Whether they are chanting “Death to America” or “Make America Great Again” it sounds pretty much the same from outside the stadiums; where the vast majority of us live. And it is very scary indeed.

***

Complacency is not an option!

Martin Niemoller’s words still deeply matter: “First they came for the socialists”…

Martin Luther meant: “Here I speak, I cannot do otherwise.”

David Crosby was right: “Speak out against the madness. Speak your mind, if you dare.”

So in the same circumstances, given the same situation, I will do the same thing. I will not tolerate the intolerant. I will judge others by the content of their character. I will neither fight nor flee nor turn the other cheek. I will stand my ground. But, not being entirely incapable of learning; I sincerely promise: I WILL NOT TURN MY BACK AGAIN! (That, evidently, is just stupid.)

Epilogue:

The “fucking immigrants” who were the innocent triggers of the whole incident, are last seen on the security video walking away, apparently completely unaware of mess unfolding behind them. I suspect that they had not understood a single invective that Mr. White Power had hurled at them. As Bugs Bunny would say “What a maroon”

Epilogue deux: Canadian edition

Up here in Canada our delusional version of exceptionalism is that we are just so damn nice and polite; so smug in our self-deprecation; so much holier than thou. We would never… oh right, never mind.

We have our share of white supremacists: Proud Boys and Soldiers of Odin and Western Heritage and the Klan. We have holocaust deniers, anti-Muslims and anti-Semites, anti-gays and anti-intelligentsia. We have wife beaters and sexually predatory priests. We have all the same scum of the earth as the rest of the earth.

We have a history rife with injustices directed at just about every sub-group of humanity you can think of. We had two hundred years of sanctioned slavery, both black and native. We killed off the entire first nations Beothuk population of Newfoundland. We placed head taxes on the Chinese, and when that was insufficient to keep them out, excluded them. We interned the Japanese during WWII. We razed the 150 year old black community of Africville after we turned it into an un-serviced and unlivable shithole.

Our past leaders can speak for themselves.

John A MacDonald, Canada’s Founding Father and first Prime Minister, 1882: “The executions of the Indians … ought to convince the Red Man that the White Man governs,”… “I have reason to believe that the agents as a whole … are doing all they can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense.” (Indian Act, Residential School System: Hundreds of thousands abused or dead. Tens of thousands of children still suffer in abject poverty.)

The Komagata Maru Incident, 1914; H. H Stevens, Member, British Columbia Legislative Assembly: “I challenge any man living to bring out a single instance in the whole history of the (India) Indian nation to show that their civilization has done anything at all to uplift the other races of the world. I say their civilization is unproductive of good to the human race as a whole.” (Ship refused entry, returned to India, dozens confirmed dead)

The Voyage of the Damned, 1939; Frederick Blair, Canadian Director of Immigration: “Canada, in accordance with generally accepted practice, places greater emphasis on race than upon citizenship”. (Ship refused entry, returned to Europe, hundreds confirmed dead)

J. V. Clyne retired British Columbia Supreme Court Judge, Chancellor of the University of British Columbia, 1987: “I’d not want to see us cease to be a white country … We should maintain our generations, our heritage.” (My godfather… You gotta own your shit.)

Successive Canadian governments’ have apologized for these past ‘mistakes’. “Oops, we: kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed your children; silly us.” Well of course we had clear evidence that they were being returned to a sure death but, there ya go, shit happens.” Mistakes… fuck off. They were policies.

That a cowardly piece of shit bully-boy will lash out in anger and punch someone for questioning him is what it is; we can expect no different. That ‘learned’ men can sit and deliberate and arrive at conclusions which condemn innocents to agony, starvation and death; is manifest evil.

How Big Strike 30 Years Ago Aided Fight for Single Payer

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:52

Image Source: logo for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – Fair Use

Thirty years ago this summer, 60,000 telephone workers walked off the job in New York and New England — and stayed out for seventeen weeks. Their struggle against NYNEX, a telecom giant, became one of labor’s few big strike victories, during a decade that began with the disastrous defeat of PATCO, the national air traffic controllers union.

Within the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the model of membership mobilization and workplace militancy developed in 1989 has been used, to varying degrees, in every regional contract campaign they’ve conducted since then.

Telephone workers in the northeast, employed at successor firms of NYNEX (including Verizon) or AT&T, have struck seven times during that period, over a variety of regional and national issues. (For more on their recent disputes, see Dan DiMaggio, at New Labor Forum).

Three decades of joint bargaining and strike activity by more than thirty local affiliates of IBEW and CWA represents a major accomplishment by itself. In the rest of organized labor, workers represented by different unions which deal with the same private or public sector employer often fail to create any semblance of a united front.

In an era of revived US strike activity, what makes the NYNEX dispute most worthy of study is the central issue involved: health care cost shifting. Workers today face the same kind of management demands for medical plan give-backs that forced 40,000 CWA members and 20,000 IBEW members to spend four months “holding the line in ’89.”

As Washington state AFL-CIO president Larry Brown recently noted, health care is still “the biggest cause of strikes, lock-outs, and concession bargaining.” That’s because millions of workers with good union-negotiated benefits are paying more for them every year through increased co-pays, deductibles, and premium contributions or out-of-pocket payments for prescriptions or treatment not covered at all.

The answer, according to Brown, is “to take health care off the bargaining table by making it a right for all Americans.” In the meantime, he says, unions should stop “trying to circle the wagons around an unsustainable model of employment-based healthcare.”

The challenge facing labor negotiators today who favor Medicare for All is no different than in 1989. How do we defend past private insurance gains in a way that builds stronger support for universal coverage, based on the single-payer model?

Overcoming Internal Division

Before the showdown with NYNEX that enabled IBEW and CWA members to avoid making any health care premium contributions for the next two decades, the two telecom unions had to get their own act together.

In 1986 bargaining, conducted with each union separately, NYNEX got IBEW to refrain from striking and accept health care concessions. CWA members struck for nine days to defeat the same cost shifting demands. But IBEW-represented workers then got the benefit of CWA’s better settlement with no sacrifice, thanks to their union’s “me-too” deal with NYNEX. (In labor relations back then, “me-tooism: was a much-used management tool for sowing dissension and undermining solidarity.)

Fortunately, in the next round of IBEW local elections, incumbent officials who aided this divide-and-conquer strategy were defeated by rank-and-file dissidents. In 1988, this new leadership, personified by IBEW Local 2222 Business Manager Calvey in Boston, began to work closely with CWA on a coordinated campaign of membership education and mobilization, in hundreds of workplaces in six states.

The first goal of that internal effort was to expand existing shop steward networks by recruiting and training 4,000 “mobilization coordinators. Their job was to keep members active and informed about FACTS — the “Fight Against Cost Shifting.”

This became the acronymic focus of escalating “days of action” involving red T-shirt, sticker, and button wearing, informational picketing, and then a union takeover of an employee gathering held on the eve of NYNEX’s annual shareholders’ meeting.

The facts were simple. The $10 per week payroll deduction for health insurance sought by NYNEX would, under its proposed cost-sharing escalator and medical spending cap, leave union members footing 30 percent of the bill for their benefits by contract expiration.

To back up its demand — even before 1989 negotiations over this issue started — NYNEX sent every bargaining unit employee a form authorizing future sharing of health insurance premium costs. Those who failed to return this paperwork by a company-set deadline were threatened with higher deductibles for the next three years.

Demonstrating the potency of an eleven-month internal organizing drive that built workplace solidarity and trust, 85–90 percent of all CWA-represented technicians, operators, and customer service reps refused to turn in the payroll deduction cards.

Demanding a Political Solution

When the NYNEX strike began on August 6, 1989, the fight against cost-shifting had to be framed differently. Most phone company customers, including those who belonged to unions, already made premium contributions, if they were lucky enough to have job-based coverage.

The public was not likely to be sympathetic if NYNEX succeeded in depicting strikers as selfish, overly privileged defenders of a medical plan better than anyone else’s. So, CWA and IBEW went on the offensive, printing up thousands of strike posters, stickers, and leaflets which highlighted the demand: “Health Care For All, Not Health Cuts At NYNEX.”

In press interviews, strike-related op-eds, letters to the editor, radio talk show appearances, and rally speeches, union representatives rejected the idea that medical cost inflation could be solved through worker give-backs to individual employers like NYNEX, which was hugely profitable.

Strike organizers argued that the United States needed a tax-supported system of coverage not tied to employment, in which a single government payer would replace the role of private insurers with their billions of dollars’ worth of wasted overhead and administrative costs. Only then would all workers, union and nonunion, have access to affordable and quality care, with effective cost controls.

To expose the interlocking director relationships that were part of the reason why corporate America (NYNEX included) favored the health care status quo, strikers staged protests at the headquarters of big private insurers with ties to their employer. They targeted NYNEX board members, by picketing their homes in wealthy neighborhoods, places of business, and public appearances before civic groups.

NYNEX strikers linked up with other union members engaged in simultaneous work-stoppages, about benefit issues, at Pittstonand Eastern Airlines. Coal miners and pilots were prominently featured at CWA-IBEW rallies, marches, and regular strike meetings; meanwhile, the NYNEX walkout became a major focus of trade union solidarity throughout the northeast.

Siding With Consumers

Community outreach by the striking unions took multiple forms. CWA aligned itself with customers concerned about the cost and quality of NYNEX’s state-regulated service. Telephone workers gathered 100,000 signatures from poor and working-class phone users in NY opposed to a $360 million rate hike sought by the company. A majority of state legislators also lent their names to union ads opposing the increase.

During the strike, more than 15,000 IBEW and CWA members gathered in Boston for one of the biggest labor protests in that city’s history, a mass rally and march featuring recent presidential candidate and single-payer advocate Jesse Jackson.

In addition to Rev. Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition, strikers teamed up with Citizen Action, the National Organization of Women and Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). A then-unemployed Vermont politician named Bernie Sanders (who was sojourning at the Kennedy School of Government in the fall of 1989) organized a forum that brought together Harvard students, NYNEX strikers, and health care reform advocates.

Creative messaging, progressive coalition-building, and pro-active legislative/political work all helped to defeat NYNEX’s drive for concessions. But the 1989 strike ultimately succeeded because of the courage, determination, and personal sacrifice of thousands of workers.

Before a settlement was reached, the company cut off medical coverage for all 60,000 strikers and their families, creating a huge strike relief challenge — and a teachable moment about the downside of job-based benefits. There were two strike-related fatalities — a CWA steward in New York was hit and killed by a scab-driven car; and an IBEW member in New Hampshire, forced to take a job in a nonunion factory to support his family, died in a grisly industrial accident.

Due to their highly effective mobile and mass picketing, many strikers were arrested. Several hundred faced strike-related suspensions or firings (which took many months to contest and resolve in arbitration proceedings held after other strikers returned to work). Allegations of sabotage became the subject of full-page NYNEX ads in the Boston Globe and New York Times, which offered $100,000 rewards to readers with information about the culprits.

Blocking a Back-Door Deal

Like NEA and AFT bureaucrats in some recent “red state” teachers’ struggles, higher-level officials of the IBEW were deeply unnerved by rank-and-file militancy. The leadership of the IBEW nationally and regionally at the time was conservative, building trades–oriented, and not supportive of strike activity. Telephone workers were treated as second-class members within the IBEW.

Strikers in New England got some assistance from an emergency relief fund that raised and disbursed less than $200,000. Meanwhile, one electrician local continued to supply its own members to NYNEX contractors doing struck work, until that form of union scabbing was finally stopped.

As the strike dragged on, one IBEW International Vice-President tried to bypass his own union’s elected bargaining committee and reach a separate settlement with NYNEX that included concessions. Only the direct intervention of IBEW strikers — who picketed his office by the hundreds — aborted this back-door deal, a return to work by the IBEW, and fatal unraveling of union unity.

Meanwhile, the 40,000 CWA strikers were strongly backed by their national and regional officials. Everyone picketing had access to a $16 million CWA defense fund. Based on personal need, local union committees authorized payment of medical bills or COBRA coverage; to prevent eviction, overdue rent or mortgage payments were also made.

NYNEX strikers residing in New York became eligible for state unemployment benefits after an eight-week waiting period. But even in those enviable and unusual circumstances, CWA’s relief fund was not adequate. To provide aid to members and their families near the end of the struggle, CWA had to borrow $15 million (at a generously low interest rate) from ZENDENTSU, the Japanese telephone workers’ federation.

In the strike’s aftermath, CWA convention delegates decided that the union should never again be caught short, so quickly, due to a work stoppage of such large scale and long duration. They approved a dues increase to finance a new Members’ Relief Fund. The MRF now has a balance of more than $425 million and provides fixed weekly strike benefits (which start at $200 and increase to $400, in longer disputes).

Post-strike, single-payer advocacy continued, including a union attempt to get NYNEX shareholders to adopt a resolution in favor of Canadian-style health care reform. The first anniversary of the strike was observed by a Jobs with Justice-initiated “Health Care Action Day,” in which IBEW and CWA members participated in their own workplaces.

Learning Strike Lessons

Around the same time, 100 strike veterans convened in Boston to evaluate what contract campaign strategies and strike tactics might be most effective in the future. In workshops and plenaries, they evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of the NYNEX walkout, post-strike problems with contract enforcement, and ongoing changes in telecom industry structure and technology.

Among the challenges discussed was the need to organize more nonunion telephone workers, particularly those employed in new wireless divisions of landline companies. During the 1989 strike, CWA gained its first toehold among mobile phone technicians in NYC; in the next decade, several thousand New England customer service reps unionized as well.

In 2000, 75,000 IBEW and CWA members struck over organizing rights for wireless workers from Maine to Virginia. Subsequent (and very difficult) organizing of some wireless retail store employees, enabled CWA strikers to picket unorganized retail locations as a pressure tactic in 2016, building on similar activity five years before.

Outside and inside the telephone industry, the struggle with NYNEX had a positive impact, both short- and longer term. After their return to work in late November 1989, a few strike veterans attended the national AFL-CIO convention. There, Rich Trumka, leader of the coal miners’ strike at Pittston, told them: “You don’t know how grateful the Mine Workers are. Our struggle would have been that much more difficult if you had not won your outstanding victory.”

More than a generation later, when CWA Local 1101 in New York City was revving up for a seven-week work stoppage in 2016, its first contract campaign event commemorated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the NYNEX strike. On behalf of 39,000 CWA and IBEW members from Massachusetts to Virginia, 1101 members warned Verizon that: “We walked then. We will strike again.”

“For members who went through 1989, it was a defining strike,” says Verizon technician Pam Galpern, a Local 1101 mobilizer and shop steward. “In addition to ensuring that we didn’t pay premium costs for more than twenty years, it fostered a culture of militancy and union solidarity that we could rekindle and build on at Verizon three years ago.”

According to Boston IBEW leader Myles Calvey, the telephone workers once divided in their union bargaining would not have forged such enduring ties without the shared experience of the 1989 strike. Says Calvey: “Remembering that history and continuing to stay united is the key to overcoming the many threats and challenges we face today.”

(In 1989, Steve Early and Rand Wilson helped coordinate NYNEX strike activity in New England. Early was a CWA International Representative and organizer in the region for twenty-seven years. Wilson is now the chief of staff at SEIU Local 888, a statewide public service union in Massachusetts. They can be reached at Lsupport@aol.com.)

Sexual Predators in the Power Elite

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:51

“As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensating to increase. And the dictator (unless he needs cannon fodder and families with which to colonize empty or conquered territories) will do well to encourage that freedom.”

—Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Power corrupts.

Anyone who believes differently hasn’t been paying attention.

Politics, religion, sports, government, entertainment, business, armed forces: it doesn’t matter what arena you’re talking about, they are all riddled with the kind of seedy, sleazy, decadent, dodgy, depraved, immoral, corrupt behavior that somehow gets a free pass when it involves the wealthy and powerful elite in America.

In this age of partisan politics and a deeply polarized populace, corruption—especially when it involves sexual debauchery, depravity and predatory behavior—has become the great equalizer.

Take Jeffrey Epstein, the hedge fund billionaire / convicted serial pedophile recently arrested on charges of molesting, raping and sex trafficking dozens of young girls.

It is believed that Epstein operated his own personal sex trafficking ring not only for his personal pleasure but also for the pleasure of his friends and business associates. According to The Washington Post, “several of the young women…say they were offered to the rich and famous as sex partners at Epstein’s parties.” At various times, Epstein ferried his friends about on his private plane, nicknamed the “Lolita Express.”

This is part of America’s seedy underbelly.

As I documented in the in-depth piece I wrote earlier this year, child sex trafficking—the buying and selling of women, young girls and boys for sex, some as young as 9 years old—has become big business in America. It is the fastest growing business in organized crime and the second most-lucrative commodity traded illegally after drugs and guns.

Adults purchase children for sex at least 2.5 million times a year in the United States.

It’s not just young girls who are vulnerable to these predators, either.

According to a 2016 investigative report, “boys make up about 36% of children caught up in the U.S. sex industry (about 60% are female and less than 5% are transgender males and females).”

Who buys a child for sex?

Otherwise ordinary men from all walks of life. “They could be your co-worker, doctor, pastor or spouse,” writes journalist Tim Swarens, who spent more than a year investigating the sex trade in America.

Ordinary men, yes.

But then there are the extra-ordinary men, such as Jeffrey Epstein, who belong to a powerful, wealthy, elite segment of society that operates according to their own rules or, rather, who are allowed to sidestep the rules that are used like a bludgeon on the rest of us.

These men skate free of accountability by taking advantage of a criminal justice system that panders to the powerful, the wealthy and the elite.

Over a decade ago, when Epstein was first charged with raping and molesting young girls, he was gifted a secret plea deal with then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, President Trump’s current Labor Secretary, that allowed him to evade federal charges and be given the equivalent of a slap on the wrist: allowed to “work” at home six days a week before returning to jail to sleep. That secret plea deal has since been ruled illegal by a federal judge.

Yet here’s the thing: Epstein did not act alone.

I refer not only to Epstein’s accomplices, who recruited and groomed the young girls he is accused of raping and molesting, many of them homeless or vulnerable, but his circle of influential friends and colleagues that at one time included Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Both Clinton and Trump, renowned womanizers who have also been accused of sexual impropriety by a significant number of women, were at one time passengers on the Lolita Express.

As the Associated Press points out, “The arrest of the billionaire financier on child sex trafficking charges is raising questions about how much his high-powered associates knew about the hedge fund manager’s interactions with underage girls, and whether they turned a blind eye to potentially illegal conduct.”

In fact, a recent decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals allowing a 2,000-page document linked to the Epstein case to be unsealed references allegations of sexual abuse involving “numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well-known Prime Minister, and other world leaders.”

This is not a minor incident involving minor players.

This is the heart of darkness.

Sex slaves. Sex trafficking. Secret societies. Powerful elites. Government corruption. Judicial cover-ups.

Once again, fact and fiction mirror each other.

Twenty years ago, Stanley Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut provided viewing audiences with a sordid glimpse into a secret sex society that indulged the basest urges of its affluent members while preying on vulnerable young women. It is not so different from the real world, where powerful men, insulated from accountability, indulge their base urges.

These secret societies flourish, implied Kubrick, because the rest of us are content to navigate life with our eyes wide shut, in denial about the ugly, obvious truths in our midst.

In so doing, we become accomplices to abusive behavior in our midst.

This is how corruption by the power elite flourishes.

For every Epstein who is—finally—called to account for his illegal sexual exploits after years of being given a free pass by those in power, there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) more in the halls of power and wealth whose predation of those most vulnerable among us continues unabated.

While Epstein’s alleged crimes are heinous enough on their own, he is part of a larger narrative of how a culture of entitlement becomes a cesspool and a breeding ground for despots and predators.

Remember the “DC Madam” who was charged with operating a phone-order sex business? Her clients included thousands of White House officials, lobbyists, and Pentagon, FBI, and IRS employees, as well as prominent lawyers, none of whom were ever exposed or held accountable.

Power corrupts.

Worse, as 19th-century historian Lord Acton concluded, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a politician, an entertainment mogul, a corporate CEO or a police officer: give any one person (or government agency) too much power and allow him or her or it to believe that they are entitled, untouchable and will not be held accountable for their actions, and those powers will eventually be abused.

We’re seeing this dynamic play out every day in communities across America.

A cop shoots an unarmed citizen for no credible reason and gets away with it. A president employs executive orders to sidestep the Constitution and gets away with it. A government agency spies on its citizens’ communications and gets away with it. An entertainment mogul sexually harasses aspiring actresses and gets away with it. The U.S. military bombs a civilian hospital and gets away with it.

Abuse of power—and the ambition-fueled hypocrisy and deliberate disregard for misconduct that make those abuses possible—works the same whether you’re talking about sex crimes, government corruption, or the rule of law.

It’s the same old story all over again: man rises to power, man abuses power abominably, man intimidates and threatens anyone who challenges him with retaliation or worse, and man gets away with it because of a culture of compliance in which no one speaks up because they don’t want to lose their job or their money or their place among the elite.

It’s not just sexual predators that we have to worry about.

For every Jeffrey Epstein (or Bill Clinton or Harvey Weinstein or Roger Ailes or Bill Cosby or Donald Trump) who eventually gets called out for his sexual misbehavior, there are hundreds—thousands—of others in the American police state who are getting away with murder—in many cases, literally—simply because they can.

The cop who shoots the unarmed citizen first and asks questions later might get put on paid leave for a while or take a job with another police department, but that’s just a slap on the wrist. The shootings and SWAT team raids and excessive use of force will continue, because the police unions and the politicians and the courts won’t do a thing to stop it.

The war hawks who are making a profit by waging endless wars abroad, killing innocent civilians in hospitals and schools, and turning the American homeland into a domestic battlefield will continue to do so because neither the president nor the politicians will dare to challenge the military industrial complex.

The National Security Agency that carries out warrantless surveillance on Americans’ internet and phone communications will continue to do so, because the government doesn’t want to relinquish any of its ill-gotten powers and its total control of the populace.

Unless something changes in the way we deal with these ongoing, egregious abuses of power, the predators of the police state will continue to wreak havoc on our freedoms, our communities, and our lives.

Police officers will continue to shoot and kill unarmed citizens. Government agents—including local police—will continue to dress and act like soldiers on a battlefield. Bloated government agencies will continue to fleece taxpayers while eroding our liberties. Government technicians will continue to spy on our emails and phone calls. Government contractors will continue to make a killing by waging endless wars abroad.

And powerful men (and women) will continue to abuse the powers of their office by treating those around them as underlings and second-class citizens who are unworthy of dignity and respect and undeserving of the legal rights and protections that should be afforded to all Americans.

As Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the at the University of California, Berkeley, observed in the Harvard Business Review, “While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing; when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualities begin to fade. The powerful are more likely than other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior.”

After conducting a series of experiments into the phenomenon of how power corrupts, Keltner concluded: “Just the random assignment of power, and all kinds of mischief ensues, and people will become impulsive. They eat more resources than is their fair share. They take more money. People become more unethical.They think unethical behavior is okay if they engage in it. People are more likely to stereotype. They’re more likely to stop attending to other people carefully.”

Power corrupts.

And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

However, it takes a culture of entitlement and a nation of compliant, willfully ignorant, politically divided citizens to provide the foundations of tyranny.

As researchers Joris Lammers and Adam Galinsky found, those in power not only tend to abuse that power but they also feel entitled to abuse it: “People with power that they think is justified break rules not only because they can get away with it, but also because they feel at some intuitive level that they are entitled to take what they want.”

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, for too long now, Americans have tolerated an oligarchy in which a powerful, elite group of wealthy donors is calling the shots. They have paid homage to patriotism while allowing the military industrial complex to spread death and destruction abroad. And they have turned a blind eye to all manner of wrongdoing when it was politically expedient.

We need to restore the rule of law for all people, no exceptions.

Here’s what the rule of law means in a nutshell: it means that everyone is treated the same under the law, everyone is held equally accountable to abiding by the law, and no one is given a free pass based on their politics, their connections, their wealth, their status or any other bright line test used to confer special treatment on the elite.

This culture of compliance must stop.

The empowerment of petty tyrants and political gods must end.

The state of denial must cease.

Let’s not allow this Epstein sex scandal to become just another blip in the news cycle that goes away all too soon, only to be forgotten when another titillating news headline takes its place.

Sex trafficking, like so many of the evils in our midst, is a cultural disease that is rooted in the American police state’s heart of darkness. It speaks to a far-reaching corruption that stretches from the highest seats of power down to the most hidden corners and relies on our silence and our complicity to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing.

If we want to put an end to these wrongs, we must keep our eyes wide open.

Teach the Children Well: the Unrealized Vision In Teaching and Learning in the Residential Schools

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:50

Haida totem pole, British Columbia. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Through the entire era of the residential school in Canada, from the 1880s until the 1980s, parents, public school inspectors and departmental officials made serious complaints about the “poor education” the Native children were receiving. John Milloy (A national crime: the Canadian government and the residential school system, 1879 to 1986 [1999]) observes poignantly: “From the very first decade of the life of the school system, the Department had to face the troubling realization that not only would children return to their communities but that that reconnection might well undermine whatever civilizing influence the school had on the child” (p. 158).

The “civilizing process” was not working. The depressing old savage habits didn’t seem to go away. In Milloy’s acid words, “Equally evident was the fact that the children who returned to their communities had not been well-educated. They had not been transformed; they were not capable of moving their communities along a civilizing path” (p. 159). The lads who stayed on the reserve, wrote Superintendent General Henson in 1903, were more self-reliant and able to work than those who braved the icy waters of boredom and incompetent teaching in the residential schools. The grand transformative vision of the re-making of the Indian into the “new civilized man” was a bloody botch-up.

Departmental officials and their church supporters tried to blame the dismal outcomes on the reserve “environment” or those recalcitrant “older Indians.” But the educational failure lay with the “internal problem endemic to the school system itself”(ibid.). The residential schooling had “profound deficiencies”—both in the internal pedagogics of the school as well as two persistent characteristics of the system: “inadequate funding and the Department’s lack of supervision of the operation of the schools” (ibid.). The latter deficiency had devastating consequences because the government did not enforce its own standards. Native children and youth were constantly short-changed.

One is struck by how often the Department stonewalled making changes in response to endless calls for reforms. This theme weaves its way throughout every scholarly work on the schools. Milloy states: “That severe problems existed in every major element of the education sector, in skill and language training, in the content of the literary curriculum, and in the quality of the teaching corps, was constantly brought to the notice of the Department” (p. 162). The most radical message delivered to the obdurate Department contested the logic of the residential school itself. This argument, delivered by external educational experts and its own employees, asserted that “Aboriginal culture and education in western knowledge and skills were not mutually exclusive and, furthermore, that children would learn only within a program that took heed of the persistence of Aboriginal culture” (ibid.).

It is worth observing what is lost when a learning process damages the lifeworld foundation of problem-solving enabling conditions. Jurgen Habermas (“Equal treatment of cultures and the limits of postmodern liberalism,” in Between Naturalism and Religion) observes that:

“A culture can be conceived as an ensemble of enabling conditions for problem-solving. It furnishes those who grow up in it not only with elementary linguistic, practical, and cognitive capacities, but also with grammatically prestructured worldviews and semantically accumulated stores of knowledge….Young people must be convinced that they can lead a worthwhile and meaningful life within the horizon of the assimilated tradition. The test of the viability of a cultural tradition ultimately lies in the fact that challenges can be transformed into solvable problems for those who grow up within the tradition” (p. 302).

By the time Native children and youth limped out of the residential schools, they had lost any hope of a meaningful life.

The “founding vision” of the residential school lacked a solid epistemic foundation. The founders had no understanding of the nature of the learning process that would replace the “enabling conditions for problem-solving” of indigenous traditions and world-views. They were totally clueless. They had little understanding that learning processes had to be grounded in children’s experience and culture. Learning had to linked carefully to cultural understandings and problem-areas in the children’s lives. Dewey taught us that! Even though ideas about child-centred pedagogy were seeping into educational thought in the early 1900s, they had little idea, it seems, about the necessity of a nurturing environment for raising children who need to be loved, comforted and encouraged to have a strong sense of self-confidence and self-respect.

Contemporary psychology would have been appalled at the very idea that children could be taken from their parents and community surround, have their language banned and culture denigrated. Yet the founding vision actually imagined that that one could incarcerate children in a dismal, spite-filled and fearful environment and somehow hammer away to mould this new, civilized and shiny being who would have highly developed linguistic, practical and cognitive capacities. What a travesty of human imagination and intellect. Rather like providing a bunch of people with picks and shovels and asking them to tunnel through Rogers Pass.

The residential schools built schools in places where only the traditional way of life was possible. There was no direct relationship between the school curriculum and the learning challenges facing graduates. Lifeworld schools nestled within traditional ways of life would have been the appropriate educational form. These “schools for life” would have taught traditional cultural ways and wisdom. The “practical orientation” of the pedagogy would have been towards caring for the sources and sustenance of traditional resources. As “new problems” intruded into the lifeworld, tribal elders (in dialogue with expert sources of knowledge) could determine how to maintain a stable society. Answers might have been provided and the precise nature of more formalized learning institutions most relevant to the pressing learning challenges chosen carefully.

Some “good ideas” confronted bureaucratic mindlessness. In the 1880s, J. Powell, an Indian Commissioner, thought that an industrial school for BC coastal areas could be revised. They could learn how to develop an immense “Sea Farm” which would be a “source of great wealth for the country at large” (p. 163). He wanted one school to “operate out of a cannery where the children could be taught deep-sea fishing, curing, and not only Canadian culture but ‘fish culture,’ too” (ibid.). But a kind of recruitment mania, pushed by the churches, gripped the residential school scramble for recruits to boost revenues. Youth from “hunting and fishing” districts were removed from their locales and asked to do things which were of no practical use whatsoever.

This rift between school and place was evident early in the career of the residential school. Anglican activist S.H. Blake lobbied the Department in 1906 for an Indigenous education that would provide the training for “future usefulness in … [their] particular part of the country” (ibid). In 1926, the Indian agent reported that at the Alberni Residential School still trained the Native youth to work in agriculture. But the West Coast Indians did not follow agriculture. Despite repeated calls from a few Department officials to train Native kids on the West Coast to work in fish canneries and on commercial vessels, this useful education was blocked. Milloy points out that: “In terms of the time and energy devoted to it, practical instruction probably ranked third in a curriculum comprised also of religious instruction and ‘literary’ subjects” (p. 165).

For their part, Aboriginal parents were also highly critical of the inadequacy of the equipping of their children with “skills that could aid in in forging a new life for their communities … “ (p. 166). Displeased, these parents pulled their children out of schools. In 1938, one group of parents voiced their complaints about the Birtle School in Manitoba. “Their children received instruction in arithmetic, reading, and writing, but they returned home with neither farming knowledge nor any practical skills” (ibid.). In the 1930 and 1940s, inspector’s reports, school by school, were considered by R.A. Hoey, the Department’s Superintendent of Welfare and Training, 1936-1945, as “rather disturbing” (p. 167). Hoey had some sensibility to the contrasts between vital, lifeworld-enhancing education and the empty mindless routinizing of control over Indigenous personal flourishing.

Although Hoey made some attempts to address the “growing interest in skill training among school administrator’s themselves, his efforts were stymied by the old bugaboo, underfunding. Thus, for Milloy, “The economic situation of schools determined the practical curriculum more than curricular philosophy born of the Davin Report … “ (p. 168). The economic plight of the schools was often met by overworking the youth to subsidize the school’s funding. This work was sheer drudgery and bone-and-mind-numbing. Lots of studies tell us tales of woe—where the youth did not gain practical knowledge and skill-sets could be useful.

Teaching and learning in the residential schools–the “curriculum, literary and practical, was meant to be the bridge from savagery to civilization over which the children would be led by caring and talented staff” (p. 172). But the Eurocentric nature of the curriculum was an impediment to the “much-longed-for cultural transformation of the children” (ibid.). If one begins with the rigid dichotomy (anchored in the notion of an unequal treatment of cultures) between savage and civilized. The Department was told numerous times, Milloy states, that because there was “very often a very wide difference in the life experiences of Indian children and white children, . . . [that] difference . . .should be reflected in courses of study” (ibid.). These suggestions were never heeded.

Inspector Warkentin articulated the cultural critique of the curriculum. Beginning with the Dewyian-inflected pedagogical insights, he told the Department in 1940 that the curriculum had to be “child-based.” Warkentin and others called for the development of a “curriculum specially aimed at instruction for Indian children”—one that “reflected, rather than ignored or denigrated, the children’s cultural heritage—for example, “giving the students an understanding of their own tribal law, art, and music.” Indeed, Inspector Sigvaldson thought that social studies could be “taught by a due recognition of Indian background” and by using “story telling,” an Aboriginal teaching method, to “more effectively … arouse interest” (cited, p. 173). Inspector of Schools H. McArthur even suggested that Native children’s interest in learning could be heightened “through a well planned program of craft work—particularly work based on Indian arts and crafts” (ibid). All of the suggestions for curricular reform urged the need for toleration of a “rich store” of “Indian art, and Indian culture generally” (p. 174).

In the late 1930s, even a few churches annunciated the “astounding principle” that: “Nothing in an indigenous culture should be destroyed or condemned unless it can be proved that it does in fact obstruct the progress of culture” (ibid.). But Milloy cautions us to observe that this statement was not quite as radical as one might think. The churches selected those Native traits that would fit them for national life. They gave no quarter to Aboriginal spirituality and did not mention the sustenance of language. Aboriginal spirituality, they claimed, “hampered the work of physician, missionary, and school. It fosters superstition, degradation, and a certain distrust of the whiteman” (ibid.).

The traditional epistemological foundation of the residential school—the savage/civilized dichotomy– was falling apart in the 1940s. And the revolutionary potential was never integrated not the Department’s educational philosophy. This was yet another unheeded message. Milloy states: “The retention of an unreformed curriculum that reflected that original vision and strategy would only telegraph the school system’s failure into the post-war future” (p. 175). The Department did not heed the calls for the “indigenization” of the curriculum. Even if did, the teachers were so badly educated that they could not either comprehend or implement it.

In the end, Milloy concludes bitterly, Native children returned home “unable to led any sort of productive life, old or new” (p. 185). Indeed, “The pattern of neglect and abuse rooted in the very bones of the system and the dynamics that animated it, as well as the earth of financial and moral resources, did not change throughout those next four decades [1940-1980]. There were hundreds of new stories of neglect and abuse, school by school, but only that one, old persistent narrative” (p. 186).

Iran’s Not the Aggressor, the US Is

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:49

It’s easy to be confused about what’s happening between the U.S. and Iran.

On July 10, President Trump again accused Iran of violating the Obama-era nuclear deal, in a tweet that he concluded by promising to increase U.S. sanctions “substantially.”

Similarly,  headlines — such as a recent New York Times article that originally proclaimed, “With a New Threat, Iran Tests the Resolve of the U.S. and Its Allies” — strongly suggest that Iran is the aggressor, and taking steps that heighten tensions in the Middle East.

That view is driven by Trump administration officials like Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, National Security Advisor and long-time proponent of invading Iran John Bolton, and other right-wing officials like Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. Cotton said in an interview on Fox News Sunday that he sees “Iran steadily marching up the escalation chain,” which he said justifies U.S. air strikes against the country.

In June, administration officials made the serious allegation that Iran had attacked two cargo ships in the Gulf of Oman — only to see their account disputed by a captain on one of the very ships that was attacked. Then there was a week of movement toward military action — at the height of which the acting secretary of defense stepped down because stories of horrific domestic violence toward his wife came to light.

Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone, with Iran and the U.S. asserting conflicting stories about whether or not the aircraft was in Iranian airspace. And then, of course, the president ordered an airstrike on Iran — only to cancel it with U.S. planes presumably moments away from killing up to 150 Iranians, which would have dramatically escalated the conflict.

Throughout these twists and turns, Trump, his Secretary of State, and other officials have repeated the phrase “we don’t want war.” If that’s the case — that the U.S. wants to avoid war, even as Iran is supposedly taking a hostile posture and unilaterally escalating tensions — then the Trump administration’s instability and incompetence is surely worrisome. As a result, critics in both the media and Congress, not to mention the Democratic presidential field, are warning the administration could “bumble” into a war.

But whatever officials say, and as erratic as the sequence of events has been, one thing is clear: It’s the U.S. that is belligerently threatening Iran, not the other way around. And if a war breaks out, it won’t be because the administration “bumbled” into one.

It was, after all, the Trump administration that pulled out of the nuclear agreement — an agreement that Iran was fully complying with — which makes the administration’s complaints about Iran’s present enrichment levels totally bankrupt.

It was the U.S. that sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, to the Gulf of Oman, right off Iran’s coast. It’s worth imagining how Americans might respond were Iran to send military vessels to the coast of California. And it’s the U.S. that’s sent nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to the region, too.

In May, Trump announced that he was deploying 1,500 U.S. troops to the Middle East — in addition to the thousands already stationed in the region. At the same time, the U.S. withdrew diplomatic staff from Iraq, removing them from harm’s way should there be a military confrontation. In June, officials announced the deployment of 1,000 more troops. And as the U.S. has shifted ships, sailors, and marines toward Iran, the Middle East is now home to the largest number of U.S. naval personnel, despite American officials’ preoccupation with an increasingly powerful China many thousands of miles away.

Having set assets in place to carry out military operations, Hook and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarked on a tour of the Middle East and Europe to shore up alliances and isolate Iran.

All this comes on top of the punishing sanctions regime the U.S. has imposed on Iran, breaking a promise made under the Iran nuclear agreement. Targeting Iran’s oil, steel, copper, and other industries, these sanctions have isolated the country’s economy from financial systems around the world. They’ve caused Iran’s currency to plunge in value, which has sharply curtailed access by ordinary Iranians to consumer goods. They’ve made diapers, baby formula, and feminine hygiene products especially difficult to buy, disproportionately impacting Iranian women and children — as sanctions typically do.

The U.S. is brutalizing ordinary Iranians, even as its actions and rhetoric are driving toward a more serious military confrontation. Despite this clear pattern, the U.S. media has more typically expressed concern for what seems to be an inept approach by the Trump administration. As the New York Times editorialized a month ago, “the Trump administration’s lack of a coherent strategy for dealing with Iran has resulted in a series of conflicting messages, all of which contribute to a growing sense of foreboding and unpredictability.”

But we should pay more attention to the administration’s actions than its words. In fact, rhetoric that decries war — coupled with actions that pursue it — seems to be the order of the day for Trump and his officials, as well as commentators itching for a U.S. attack.

Perhaps the right-wing Times columnist Bret Stephens captures the contradictory approach best. He concluded a bellicose recent column by saying that “nobody wants a war with Iran,” but points out that the U.S. has sunk the Iranian navy before and that “Tehran should be put on notice that we are prepared and able to do it again.”

It is simply a lie that the U.S. — or its hardline government, at least — does not want war. Politicians’ and commentators’ words may be muddled, but we should be clear: The administration is already devastating Iran with sanctions and is setting the stage for worse. We must do everything we can to stop it.

Khury Petersen-Smith is the Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

This article first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

Kip Sullivan and Dr. Matthew Hahn on How Value Based Programs Are Undermining Medicare and Single Payer

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:44

There is a growing sentiment, bubbling from the ground up, that before we get to Medicare for All, we need to first fix Medicare.

Richard Bazarian, an eye surgeon in Portland, Maine, is supportive of the idea.

“The senators who tout Medicare for All could prove their commitment by sponsoring legislation to expand coverage for existing Medicare beneficiaries,” Bazarian wrote to the New York Times last week. “Prove a willingness to cover all costs by eliminating the current Medicare deductible and covering 100 percent rather than the current 80 percent of allowed charges. Show the ability to take on the big corporations by dismantling privately run for-profit Medicare Advantage plans.”

“Once they have proved this can be done for current Medicare enrollees, then it may be a plausible health care solution for all,” Bazarian wrote.

Get rid of the $135 a month premium for Medicare Part B. Get rid of the 20 percent Medicare deductible. Get rid of Medicare Advantage corporate medicine. And get rid of the value based programs — with mind numbing acronyms like MACRA, MIPS, PVBM, HRRP — that have infected Medicare like a bad virus.

One piece of Medicare for All single payer legislation does the job — the House version, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s (D-Washington) HR 1384 with 116 co-sponsors.

The other piece of Medicare for All single payer legislation does part of the job, but leaves the nasty value based programs in the tent. That would be Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) S 1129 with 14 co-sponsors in the Senate.

Kip Sullivan, a health care policy analyst based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, says that the Sanders bill is not a single payer bill because it leaves the value based programs in. (See Kip Sullivan on Why the Bernie Sanders Bill is Not Single Payer.)

Last week, the Single Payer Action Podcast brought Sullivan together with Dr. Matthew Hahn, a family doctor based in Hancock, Maryland and author of Distracted: How Regulations Are Destroying the Practice of Medicine and Preventing True Health-Care Reform for a deep dive into how value based programs are undermining Medicare and the drive for single payer.

“Every single payer advocate I am aware of takes a position we’ve got to get rid of the Medicare Advantage program, because we sure as heck aren’t proposing to enroll one third of Americans in insurance companies and call that a single payer,” Sullivan said. “The single payer movement recognizes that Medicare is gradually being privatized by these overpayments to Humana and United Healthcare and Blue Cross and they use those overpayments to seduce more elderly people to enroll in them.”

“In addition, the Affordable Care Act inflicted a host of obnoxious managed care programs on the fee for service Medicare program, the classic program — not Medicare Advantage — where two thirds of all Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled. The Affordable Care Act, on the basis of nothing other than conventional wisdom, imposed Accountable Care Organizations, medical homes, pay for performance, more and more reporting burdens on doctors. They don’t cut costs. They worsen disparities.”

“If we were to pass legislation that inflicted all of that, in addition to Medicare Advantage, on the American populace, there would eventually be hell to pay. We would all be embarrassed to have had anything to do with such a system.”

“The problem is there’s a single section in Bernie’s bill, section 611(b). It’s one sentence long. And it basically says that all the nonsense programs that were inflicted on the fee for service Medicare program by the Affordable Care Act, and subsequent legislation, all of that nonsense will not only not be repealed under Bernie’s bill, it’ll be extended to the entire country. Single payer advocates simply are not aware of that.”

“Part of the problem is, they feel that Bernie is part of our tribe. God knows I love the man. I supported him during the Democratic primary of 2016. But there’s an awful lot of reluctance out there to say — Bernie, you’ve got to get that section 611(b) out of your bill. And until you do, you don’t get to call it a Medicare for All bill.”

Dr. Hahn gave some examples of what Sullivan was talking about.

“I am a family doctor in a small, somewhat rural community taking care of a lot of older lower income patients,” Dr. Hahn said. “There are some evil abbreviations. And when you say that doctors are now burned out, you just have to say MACRA or MIPS or MU — meaningful use — and doctors will start ripping their shirts off and throwing punches. And here’s why. Let’s let’s take the most basic measure of health care quality, and see what happens when you set up an idiotic program of penalties.”

“Let’s take the most basic version of a quality measure. I take care of diabetics. The number one measure of diabetes is a test called the Hemoglobin A1c. It reflects the average glucose level for a diabetic over the past two to three months. And it guides our care in many ways. The objective is to try to get that Hemoglobin A1c in general under the level of seven or so. So a patient of mine comes in and we’re reviewing their labs and I say — hey, I noticed your Hemoglobin A1c went up from 7 to its 8.5. And the patient says to me — Doc, that’s because of the bag of candy I eat every day.”

“Years ago that was my opportunity to say — hey, you need to take better care of yourself, you need to eat healthy. Whereas today, there may be a penalty associated with my number. If there are more patients like this gentleman in my practice and my Hemoglobin A1c numbers go above the national average, I might get a substantial penalty to how much I’m paid.”

“So now rather than wanting to help this gentleman, I start to think — well, gosh, I’ve been working on this with him for the last ten years. I know him like family. And one of the things I know is that it’s very difficult for me to change his behavior. Maybe I shouldn’t even take care of him. Maybe I’d be better off if he wasn’t in my practice. And you know, that breaks my heart — I can’t tell you because it is my life’s goal, it was my mission to take care of people like this.”

Sullivan said he wants every listener to ask themselves — “How stupid is it to pass a law or regulation that assumes that doctors didn’t learn in medical school that you should worry about the glucose levels of your diabetic patients?”

“We will not only assume you’re too stupid to remember that or were you not trained well enough, we’re going to pass a law that requires you to give us little reports on the A1c levels of all your diabetics. And by gosh, If your diabetics can’t stop eating candy, we’re going to punish you. How stupid is that?”

Dr. Hahn said — “Beyond that, to collect that data they require doctors like me to use these horrible electronic medical record systems, these computerized systems that are absolutely destroying doctors ability to practice medicine. These things are so slow and cumbersome, that doctors can’t document their notes anymore while they’re seeing their patients.”

“They stay up at night,” Dr. Hahn said. “They’re called pajama doctors. They have to wait until the end of the day to write their notes. That introduces the possibility of errors, which are now very real and happening. And also it starts to tire out the doctors. So in order to impose this system on us, they require us to use these horrible electronic medical record systems which are an immense cost to the healthcare system.”

“Matt, the story you have just told is what happens to a doc in a rural, slightly poor community,” Sullivan said. “Now imagine you’re a doctor in a wealthier community where everybody is much more health conscious. You’ve got fewer diabetic patients. What happens in a system where you, through no fault of your own, are penalized? And the penalties are then taken and given to doctors in wealthier areas. That sets off worsening of disparities that many of us are so critical of when we’re talking about these value based payment programs.”

“The people who promote this obsession with measuring everything that moves in doctors’ offices, they will tell you — oh, well, fairly soon, we’re going to learn how to adjust scores or Matt’s score on how well he’s taking care of his diabetics, we will adjust the scores to reflect factors that are outside of Matt’s control. That process is called risk adjustment. It makes eyes roll when you try to get people to think about it. But it is the ultimate Achilles’ heel of all of this nonsense that has been promoted ever since the HMO was invented in 1970. They are never going to risk adjust accurately. They will always wind up punishing someone like Matt in a poorer area for reasons not within his control, and rewarding doctors and wealthier areas for no good reason other than they serve wealthier and healthier patients.”

A Fearless and Free Press is Essential to Our Democracy

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:43

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

—Thomas Jefferson

Make no mistake about it, the individual sitting in the highest office of our nation is trying to destroy the foundational institution upon which our democracy was founded — a fearless and free press. And why would anyone who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, including the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and press, do so? Because unlike his ever-changing coterie of hired and appointed sycophants, our 325 million citizens must rely on a free press to sift fact from fiction. And without a free press, the truth is buried beneath the lies that spill endlessly from his lips.

As Trump put it during the misnamed “social media summit” hosted by his right-wing supporters last week: “See, I don’t think that the mainstream media is free speech either because it’s so crooked. It’s so dishonest. So to me, free speech is not when you see something good and then you purposely write bad. To me, that’s very dangerous speech, and you become angry at it. But that’s not free speech.”

Compare Trump’s interpretation with what some of our founding fathers and great minds have said about a free press.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

—Thomas Jefferson

“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”

—Benjamin Franklin

“The freedom of the press should be inviolate.”

—John Quincy Adams

“When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.”

—Christopher Dodd

“Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.”

—George Orwell

Why do we need a free and fearless press in Montana?

To tell us the truth when Greg Gianforte body-slams a harmless reporter and then lies openly about it.

To tell us what’s going on as Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency and ARCO-BP try to scuttle out of Butte and Anaconda after 40 years of mostly burying toxic wastes beneath a thin blanket of soil and grass so they don’t have to follow Montana’s Constitutional mandate that “all lands disturbed by the taking of natural resources shall be reclaimed.”

To let us know who is spending how much on which politicians to purchase “the best government money can buy.”

To tell us that the endless string of innocent sounding phrases increasingly used by the U.S. Forest Service actually mean plain old clear-cutting.

To report when they catch highly positioned and well-paid government officials with their hands deep in the public till.

To keep us informed of pending decisions by public policymakers and give citizens the chance to participate in the matters that affect our lives before the votes are cast or the decisions finalized.

To bring us the Opinion Page, where diverse opinions about the current state of affairs can be published and read, letting the public draw its own conclusions.

Our democracy has survived nearly two and a half centuries with our Constitutional guarantee of a free press vital and intact and we will survive this authoritarian and benighted blight on the presidency. And in the final analysis, it is not the free press that is Donald Trump’s enemy — it’s the truth that he doesn’t want us to hear, read or know.

Billionaires and American Politics

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:29

Is the United States becoming a plutocracy?

With the manifestly unqualified but immensely rich Donald Trump serving as the nation’s first billionaire president, it’s not hard to draw that conclusion. And there are numerous other signs, as well, that great wealth has become a central factor in American politics.

Although big money has always played an important role in U.S. political campaigns, its influence has been growing over the past decade. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, by 2014 the share of political donations by the wealthiest 0.01 percent of Americans had increased to 29 percent (from 21 percent four years before), while the top 100 individual donors accounted for 39 percent of the nation’s super PAC contributions.

With the 2016 presidential primaries looming, would-be Republican nominees flocked to Las Vegas to court billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, who had donated well over $100 million to Republican groups during the 2012 election cycle. Although even Adelson’s money couldn’t save them from succumbing to vicious attacks by Trump, Adelson quickly forged a close alliance with the billionaire president. In 2018, he became the top political moneyman in the nation, supplying Republicans with a record $113 million.

In fact, with Adelson and other billionaires bringing U.S. campaign spending to $5.2 billion in that year’s midterm elections, the big-ticket players grew increasingly dominant in American politics. “We like to think of our democracy as being one person, one vote,” noted a top official at the Brennan Center for Justice. “But just being rich and being able to write million-dollar checks gets you influence over elected officials that’s far greater than the average person.”

This influence has been facilitated, in recent years, by the rise of enormous fortunes. According to Forbes―a publication that pays adoring attention to people of great wealth―by March 2019 the United States had a record 607 billionaires, including 14 of the 20 wealthiest people in the world. In the fall of 2017, the Institute for Policy Studies estimated that the three richest among them (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett) possessed more wealth ($248.5 billion) than half the American population combined.

After this dramatic example of economic inequality surfaced in June 2019, during the second Democratic debate, the fact-checkers at the New York Times reported that the wealth gap “has likely increased.” That certainly appears to be the case. According to Forbes, these three individuals now possess $350.5 billion in wealth―a $102 billion (41 percent) increase in less than two years.

The same pattern characterizes the wealth of families. As Chuck Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies recently revealed, Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries (their fossil fuel empire), the Mars candy family, and the Waltons of Walmart now possess a combined fortune of $348.7 billion―an increase in their wealth, since 1982, of nearly 6,000 percent. During the same period, the median household wealth in the United States declined by 3 percent.

Not surprisingly, when billionaires have deployed their vast new wealth in American politics, it has usually been to serve their own interests.

Many, indeed, have been nakedly self-interested, sparing no expense to transform the Republican Party into a consistent servant of the wealthy and to turn the nation sharply rightward. The Koch brothers and their affluent network poured hundreds of millions (and perhaps billions) of dollars into organizations and election campaigns promoting tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of corporations, climate change denial, the scrapping of Medicare and Social Security, and the undercutting of labor unions, while assailing proposals for accessible healthcare and other social services. And they have had substantial success.

Similarly, billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, spent $49 million on rightwing political ventures in 2016, including funding Steve Bannon, Breitbart News, and Cambridge Analytica (the data firm that improperly harvested data on Facebook users to help Trump’s campaign). After Trump’s victory, Robert stayed carefully out of sight, sailing the world on his luxurious, high-tech super yacht or hidden on his Long Island estate. But Rebekah worked on the Trump transition team and formed an outside group, Making America Great, to mobilize public support for the new president’s policies.

The story of the Walton family, the nation’s wealthiest, is more complex. For years, while it fiercely opposed union organizing drives and wage raises for its poorly-paid workers, it routinely channeled most of its millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Republicans. In the 2016 elections, it took a more balanced approach, but that might have occurred because Hillary Clinton, a former Walmart director and defender of that company’s monopolistic and labor practices, was the Democratic standard-bearer.

Although some billionaires do contribute to Democrats, they gravitate toward the “moderate” types rather than toward those with a more progressive agenda. In January 2019, an article in Politico reported that a panic had broken out on Wall Street over the possibility that the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee might go to someone on the party’s leftwing. “It can’t be Warren and it can’t be Sanders,” insisted the CEO of a giant bank. More recently, billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman made the same point, publicly assailing the two Democrats for their calls to raise taxes on the wealthy. “Taxes are high enough,” he declared. “We have the best economy in the world. Capitalism works.”

The political preferences of the super-wealthy were also apparent in early 2019, when Howard Schultz, the multibillionaire former CEO of Starbucks, declared that, if the Democrats nominated a progressive candidate, he would consider a third party race. After Schultz denounced Warren’s tax plan as “ridiculous,” Warren responded that “what’s `ridiculous’ is billionaires who think they can buy the presidency to keep the system rigged for themselves.”

Can they buy it? The 2020 election might give us an answer to that question.

Cheap Shots at the Trump Economy

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:13

I am not anxious to defend Donald Trump’s economic performance, but a complaint by Steven Rattner in his New York Times column caught my attention. The column features a graph showing that the ratio of the median wage for blacks has fallen relative to the median wage for white workers since 2016.

This bothered me, because in general the situation for blacks, and other groups who face discrimination, improves in a tight labor market. While it is possible that the plight of blacks has deteriorated due to Trump’s open racism, there is another plausible explanation.

The improvement in the labor market has had a considerably larger impact on employment rates for blacks than for whites. If we compare averages for the first six months of 2019 with the 2016 average, the employment to population ratio for blacks has risen from 56.4 percent to 58.3 percent, a rise of 3.3 percent. For whites, the increase has been from 60.2 percent to 60.8 percent, a rise of 1.0 percent.

The increase in black employment has been a very important gain for hundreds of thousands of black families, but it also means that the composition of black workers has changed somewhat. Let’s assume that the new workers have less education and experience than most of the people working in 2016.

In the extreme case, that they all fell near the bottom of the wage ladder, the increase in employment by 3.3 percent will mean that the median black worker in 2016 is now the 53.3 percentile worker, whereas the 46.7 percentile worker in 2016 is now the median worker.

When we compare medians from 2019 with 2016, we are looking at workers that were considerably further down the income ladder in 2016. This effect would be much smaller with white workers since their employment rates changed by less.

One piece of evidence supporting this story is that Rattner’s graph shows that drop in the ratio of medians under Trump essentially continues a trend that had been in place since 2012 when the labor market began to tighten substantially. To get the fuller picture, we really need to control for factors like education and experience or use longitudinal data sets that track the pay of individual workers through time, but it’s fair to say that Rattner’s graph really is not telling us much.

A Firm Grasp of the Obvious: Kim Darroch and the Weakness of Britain

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:59

Photograph Source: UK Government – OGL 3

The resignation of Sir Kim Darroch as British ambassador to Washington, because of his leaked messages to London criticising President Trump, is highly revealing about the real state of British knowledge of what is going on in the US.

Supporters of the former ambassador portray him as a skilled and experienced foreign office official who was “only doing his job” until brought low by the machinations of the Brexiteers and the treachery of Boris Johnson. His detractors view him, on the contrary, as an old-style representative of a europhile British foreign policy establishment which is out of place in the age of Trump.

Most striking in the copious excerpts from Darroch’s cables to the home government between 2017 and the present day – published by the Mail on Sunday – is that they do not contain a single original fact or opinion. They are a relentless repetition of  the shallowest Washington conventional wisdom about the intentions of the Trump administration.

“This is a divided administration,” Darroch tells his readers and says that there are angry disputes within the White House which he compares to a knife fight. He suspects that Trump could be indebted to “dodgy Russians” and fears that his economic policies could wreck the world trading system. Possibly the president could “crash and burn” because he is “mired in scandal”, though politicians in London should “not write him off”.

Our man in Washington since 2016 believes that Trump has the ability to shrug off scandals and emerge from the flames, battered but intact, “like [Arnold] Schwarzenegger in the final scene in the Terminator”.

A senior diplomat from the British embassy goes to a Trump rally and finds the crowd to be almost exclusively white. He describes the enthusiastic atmosphere as being similar to that of home fans at a sporting event and the faithful attending a religious meeting. The ambassador suspects that Trump’s campaign strategy in the presidential election will be to “go with what he knows best” and appeal to his core supporters. Cunning fellow!

Darroch demonstrates a firm grip on the obvious, citing his own sources as confirming information which was already the lead item on every news channel and newspaper front page across America. On occasion, even these sources fail, as they do when Trump is deciding whether or not to launch retaliatory airstrikes on Iran after the Iranians shoot down a US drone over the Strait of Hormuz.

In an excerpt from a cable written at 12.39am UK time on 22 June, Darroch detects disarray in Washington: “Even our best contacts were unwilling to take our calls.”

Isabel Oakeshott, who obtained and published the cables, does her best to make Darroch’s words sound interesting and original by claiming “astonishingly” that the ambassador was dubious about Trump’s statement that he changed his mind on US airstrikes because of his concern over Iranian casualties. Similar scepticism had earlier been expressed by every new channel in the country.

Looking through the excerpts from Darroch’s cables, I searched for something that was not common knowledge and found nothing. Could Oakeshott, known to be sympathetic to Brexit, have deliberately excluded anything really new from her quotes? This is unlikely because journalists generally boost the explosive nature of the “bombshell comments” in their scoops.

It is equally unlikely also that she would deliberately fillet Darroch’s prose style and leave in only the cliches and tired phrases. Assuming that her excerpts are representative of the rest of his cables, it becomes clear that Britain’s most senior man in Washington knew so little about developments in the White House that he might as well have stayed in London, or, for that matter, the Outer Hebrides.

Does this matter? Yes it does, because it highlights the real weakness of Britain at the very moment that a British warship is in the Gulf – with another one on the way – confronting Iranian Revolutionary Guard gunboats, in a conflict which is driven by the US, and whose direction we cannot predict or even influence.

Is Britain kowtowing to the US? You bet she is, but this is scarcely fresh news. In the 40 years that I have been writing about British foreign policy in the Middle East, the priority of British governments has invariably been to find out what the Americans want, do the same thing as them as cheaply as possible and demonstrate what a valuable and irreplaceable ally we are.

This has been the ongoing British approach since 1940 with a brief wobble at the time of the Suez crisis in 1956. The British drew the conclusion from Suez that they must be more closely allied to the US, while the French decided that, on the contrary, they needed to cooperate more closely with other continental states in Europe.

There is nothing foolish about a policy of Britain piggy-backing on American power though the strategy was accompanied by a great deal of self-deception. Brexit or no Brexit, it is not likely to change much. Tony Blair is unfairly blamed by many for cravenly joining the US in invading Iraq in 2003, but another prime minister – Labour or Conservative – would have done exactly the same thing.

The British acted in lock-step with the Americans and appeared to have little other purpose in being in Iraq. As soon as the bulk of US forces left, the British did the same thing and promptly lost interest in the place. The same was true when Isis captured Mosul and advanced on Baghdad in 2014. A House of Commons Defence Committee report the following year that as Isis was preparing to capture Mosul “the political section of the British Embassy in Baghdad consisted of three relatively junior, although extremely able, employees on short term deployment.” When Isis attacked the Kurds in northern Iraq the same year, the Germans poured in thousands of machine guns, assault rifles and anti-tank weapons while we managed to send just 40 heavy machine guns.

What Brexiteers – as well as many anti-Brexiteers – fail to understand is the degree to which Britain’s real political and commercial power has declined. There are lamentations about the decline of the foreign office and the defence forces, but it is too late to do much about this. It was, after all, the slogan of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that the government apparatus was the problem, not the solution. This was always nonsense, but one result has been the ebbing effectiveness of the British state in general of which the weakening of the diplomatic and armed forces are only one aspect.

The vacuous cables and humiliating departure of Darroch, and Britain’s reliance on the US in any confrontation with Iran, tell the same story. Both expose in different ways just how isolated and ill-informed about the world Britain has become. So long as it stuck to old routines and alliances, this was not as obvious as it is now becoming. The only option will be to stick even closer to Trump’s America, but we have no means of influencing or even knowing about Trump’s chaotic course, as our former ambassador has discovered to his cost.

The World Needs a Water Treaty

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:58

Image Source: Keenan Pepper – CC BY-SA 4.0

During the face-off earlier this year between India and Pakistan over a terrorist attack that killed more than 40 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir, New Delhi made an existential threat to Islamabad. The weapon was not India’s considerable nuclear arsenal, but one still capable of inflicting ruinous destruction: water.

“Our government has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan,” said Indian Transport Minister Nitin Gadkarikin on February 21. “We will divert water from eastern rivers and supply it to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.” India controls three major rivers that flow into Pakistan.

If India had followed through, it would have abrogated the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between the two counties, a move that could be considered an act of war.

In the end, nothing much came of it. India bombed some forests, and Pakistan bombed some fields. But the threat underlined a growing crisis in South Asia, where water-stressed mega-cities and intensive agriculture are quite literally drying the subcontinent up. By 2030, according to a recent report, half the population of India — 700 million people — will lack adequate drinking water. Currently, 25 percent of India’s population is suffering from drought.

“If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water,” warns Ismail Serageldin, a former executive for the World Bank.

Bilateral Strains

While relations between India and Pakistan have long been tense — they have fought three wars since 1947, one of which came distressingly close to going nuclear — in terms of water sharing, they are somewhat of a model.

After almost a decade of negotiations, both countries signed the IWT in 1960 to share the output of six major rivers. The World Bank played a key role by providing $1 billion for the Indus Basin Development Fund.

But the ongoing tensions over Kashmir have transformed water into a national security issue for both countries. This, in turn, has limited the exchange of water and weather data, making long-term planning extremely difficult.

The growing water crisis is heightened by climate change. Both countries have experienced record-breaking heat waves, and the mountains that supply the vast majority of water for Pakistan and India are losing their glaciers. The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment report estimates that by 2100, some two-thirds of the area’s more than 14,000 glaciers will be gone.

India’s response to declining water supplies, like that of many other countries in the region, is to build dams. But dams not only restrict downstream water supplies, they block the natural flow of silt. That silt renews valuable agricultural land and also replenishes the great deltas, like the Ganges-Brahmaputra, the Indus, and the Mekong. The deltas not only support fishing industries, they also act as natural barriers to storms.

The Sunderbans — a vast, 4,000 square-mile mangrove forest on the coasts of India and Bangladesh — is under siege. As climate change raises sea levels, upstream dams reduce the flow of freshwater that keeps the salty sea at bay. The salt encroachment eventually kills the mangrove trees and destroys farmland. Add to this increased logging to keep pace with population growth, and Bangladesh alone will lose some 800 square miles of Sunderban over the next few years.

As the mangroves are cut down or die off, they expose cities like Kolkata and Dhaka to the unvarnished power of typhoons, storms which climate change is making more powerful and frequent.

The Third Pole

The central actor in the South Asia water crisis is China, which sits on the sources of 10 major rivers that flow through 11 countries, and which supply 1.6 billion people with water. In essence, China controls the “Third Pole,” that huge reservoir of fresh water locked up in the snow and ice of the Himalayas.

And Beijing is building lots of dams to collect water and generate power.

Over 600 large dams either exist or are planned in the Himalayas. In the past decade, China has built three dams on the huge Brahmaputra that has its origin in China but drains into India and Bangladesh.

While India and China together represent a third of the world’s population, both countries have access to only 10 percent of the globe’s water resources — and no agreements on how to share that water. While tensions between Indian and Pakistan mean the Indus Water Treaty doesn’t function as well as it could, nevertheless the agreement does set some commonly accepted ground rules, including binding arbitration. No such treaty exists between New Delhi and Beijing.

While relations between China and India are far better than those between India and Pakistan, under the Modi government New Delhi has grown closer to Washington and has partly bought into a U.S. containment strategy aimed at China. Indian naval ships carry out joint war games with China’s two major regional rivals, Japan and the United States, and there are still disputes between China and India over their mutual border. A sharpening atmosphere of nationalism in both countries is not conducive to cooperation over anything, let alone something as critical as water.

And yet never has there been such a necessity for cooperation. Both countries need the “Third Pole’s” water for agriculture, hydropower, and to feed the growth of mega-cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Beijing.

Stressed water supplies translate into a lack of clean water, which fuels a health crisis, especially in the sprawling cities that increasingly draw rural people driven out by climate change. Polluted water kills more people than wars, including 1.5 million children under the age of five.  Reduced water supplies also go hand in hand with waterborne diseases like cholera. There is even a study that demonstrates thirsty mosquitoes bite more, thus increasing the number of vector borne diseases like zika, malaria, and dengue.

Regional Pacts Won’t Cut It

South Asia is hardly alone in facing a crisis over fresh water. Virtually every continent on the globe is looking at shortages. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2030 water sources will only cover 60 percent of the world’s daily requirement.

The water crisis is no longer a problem that can be solved through bilateral agreements like the IWT, but one that requires regional, indeed, global solutions. If the recent push by the Trump administration to lower mileage standards for automobiles is successful, it will add hundreds of thousands of extra tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which, in turn, will accelerate climate change.

In short, what comes out of U.S. auto tailpipes will ultimately be felt by the huge Angsi Glacier in Tibet, the well spring of the Brahmaputra, a river that flows through China, India, and Bangladesh, emptying eventually into the Bay of Bengal.

There is no such thing as a local or regional solution to the water crisis, since the problem is global. The only really global organization that exists is the United Nations, which will need to take the initiative to create a worldwide water agreement.

Such an agreement is partly in place. The UN International Watercourses Convention came into effect in August 2014 following Vietnam’s endorsement of the treaty. However, China voted against it, and India and Pakistan abstained. Only parties that signed it are bound by its conventions.

But the convention is a good place to start. “It offers legitimate and effective practices for data sharing, negotiation, and dispute resolution that could be followed in a bilateral or multilateral water sharing arrangement,” according to Srinivas Chokkakula, a water issues researcher at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research.

By 2025, according to the UN, some 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water shortages, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be under “water stress” conditions. There is enough fresh water for seven billion people, according to the UN, but it is unevenly distributed, polluted, wasted, or poorly managed.

If countries don’t come together around the conventions — which need to be greatly strengthened — and it becomes a free for all with a few countries holding most of the cards, sooner or later the “water crisis” will turn into an old-fashioned war.

Britain Grovels: the Betrayal of the British Ambassador

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:58

Photograph Source: U.S. Department of State – Public Domain

Here in Ukania, where I’ve been for the past week, many things are going on: Wimbledon tennis, the cricket World Cup, the British Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Brexit fiasco, the shitty drama that is the Tory party leadership contest, revived interest in the “friendship” between the Queen’s son Prince Andrew (“Randy Andy”) and the sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, and the resignation of the UK’s ambassador to the US at the instigation of Donald Trump.

The UK ambassador, Kim Darroch, was thrown under the bus by the soon-to-be prime minister BoJo Johnson, who, when asked repeatedly on TV, refused to give his support to the ambassador after the latter’s unflattering memos to the Foreign Office, on Trump and his administration, were leaked anonymously.

Darroch’s assessment of Trump was spot-on, simply because it was fully in line with numerous other such assessments, As such, it was a repetition of what is now conventional wisdom. Darroch said: “We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction-riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”

Darroch also asked whether the White House “will ever look competent”.

Far more scathingly accurate accounts have been given of Trump and has administration. Nonetheless, Darroch’s commonplace memos sent Trump into a rage.

To quote The Guardian: “Even so, he [Darroch] could never have imagined that his distinguished 40-year diplomatic career at the Foreign Office would end with the US president publicly volleying insults his way, calling him “a very stupid guy”, “wacky” and a “pompous fool”.

Trump said he would have no more dealings with Darroch. It must however be remembered that Darroch had insisted on maintaining contact with Trump in the 2016 election campaign, which Hillary Clinton was expected to win by a mile. To quote The Huffington Post:

“One great irony in the affair, according to a former foreign office minister, is that Darroch was in fact one of the few people who kept open lines to Trump’s team during 2016 when everyone else was writing off his presidential bid. “Everyone though Hillary would win, but Kim was the utter professional and kept saying we needed to keep close to Trump,” the ex-minister said.

In fact, it was Darroch who helped arrange for Johnson to get a foot in the door with the Trump transition team in early 2017. Johnson had needed to rebuild his relations, having once attacked the former reality TV star for his remarks about London being a no-go area for crime”.

Trump’s insistence that Darroch would henceforth be persona non grata, coupled with BoJo’s refusal to back Darroch no less than 6 times on TV, meant the ambassador had little choice but to resign.

A couple of matters are of possible significance here. The first concerns the source of the leaks, and the second involves the course of events that may unfold from the ambassador’s resignation.

Regarding the source of the leaks, there are two hypotheses (and they are no more than that, pending a fuller investigation).

One is that Trump and BoJo want a British ambassador who will be much more supportive of Brexit, which was not the case with Darroch. Hence, the ridiculous suggestion has been made in Ukanian far-right circles that the white-supremacist Trump fan boy, Nigel Farage, would be a good choice to succeed Darroch.

The second, weaker and much more cynical, hypothesis is that the leak of the Darroch memos was instigated by someone close to the outgoing prime minister Theresa May, so that Darroch (whose term as ambassador was due to end in December) could be replaced by May with a career diplomat who would be in situ for several years while not accommodating the agendas of Trump and BoJo.

May has a week left in office, so she will have to move quickly if she wants to make this unprecedented appointment of an ambassador purely in order to preempt the choice of the individual who succeeds her as prime minister.

May, whose social background is several steps lower down the ladder than BoJo’s, is reported to dislike his patronizing ways, so who knows how much credence should be attached to this second hypothesis.

In any case, BoJo has undermined from the beginning all of May’s haphazard and unsuccessful attempts to strike a Brexit deal with the EU. So perhaps enough reason for May to poke BoJo in the eye in her final week as PM.

The British press, and even his fellow Tories, have denounced BoJo for sacrificing one of the UK’s top diplomats in order to know-tow to Trump, thereby making it clear that BoJo was now putting Trump’s boorish prejudices ahead of Ukania’s interests.

In effect, it seems that while BoJo is PM no UK ambassadors will be appointed who aren’t prepared to bend to Trump’s diktat.

According to The Guardian, Darroch grew up on a council estate but became a high-society party animal over the course of his diplomatic career.

Trump’s flunkeys–Sarah Sanders, Kellyanne Conway, treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, among others—were said to be regulars at Darroch’s popular embassy parties. Sanders also attended a private dinner a few months ago. Alas, their boss has called time on their British embassy partying by blackballing Darroch!

The two-faced Wilbur Ross then promptly cancelled a long-planned meeting with Liam Fox, the UK Secretary for International Trade, who had come to Washington to see Ross to facilitate a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, because Darroch had been expected to attend. Instead Fox, a staunch Brexiter and BoJo backer, had a meeting with Ivanka Trump.

The fawning Fox said he was apologizing to Ivanka for Darroch’s memos, saying:

“I will be apologising for the fact that either our civil service or elements of our political class have not lived up to the expectations that either we have or the United States has about their behaviour, which in this particular case has lapsed in a most extraordinary and unacceptable way”.

Ivanka, the handbag designer and phony, who owes her undefined position in the White House to sheer nepotism, should of course have been told by Liam Fox that Darroch, in his assessment of her father and his administration, was merely repeating what is spoken of without the slightest controversy within the Beltway.

Theresa May was usually on her knees when she dealt with Trump (who responded by calling her a fool later on), but Fox and BoJo are taking servility to another level– they resemble supplicants of yore who had to crawl the length of a palace chamber on their stomachs as they approached a mediaeval potentate.

The motto of the Brexiters is “Take back control (from the EU)”. While the EU has never succeeded as a democratic project, it nonetheless has not expected or required stomach-crawling from Ukanians.

No wonder Trump loves this kind of Brexiter Brit—“We won’t be slaves of the EU!” has clearly been replaced by “Mr President, we will grovel and suck-up to you, because that’s what a special relationship requires!”.

This Land Was Your Land

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:58

Teton Range. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

For the past 10 years I’ve been documenting the fate of the least protected and most at-risk portion of the national commons: the roughly 450 million acres across 12 Western states overseen on our behalf by the United States Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service.

It’s an astonishingly diverse landscape of grasslands, steppe, mountains, deserts, forests, rivers and watersheds — places of beauty and wildness that Woody Guthrie once sang about, where no one person, or institution or corporation, is supposed to be privileged above the other.

Both the B.L.M. and the Forest Service operate with a congressional mandate for what’s called “multiple use” management. On paper, multiple use means exploiting the land for its resources in a way that maintains ecosystem health.

In practice, it long amounted to what William O. Douglas, a backpacker, outdoorsman and the longest-serving Supreme Court justice, described in 1961 as “semantics for making cattlemen, sheepmen, lumbermen, miners the main beneficiaries.”

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Regulation has improved somewhat since that time, thanks to sweeping environmental laws passed in the 1960s and ’70s. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 stipulated that “scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource and archaeological values” and “the long-term needs of future generations” must be taken in account in managing those expanses. But the land still suffers, as those laws too often are ignored or soft-pedaled.

Journey across the B.L.M. and Forest Service domain today and you’ll find no shortage of uses that look more like abuses. Oil and gas fields blight the deserts and steppe. Coal, copper, silver and gold mines stab into cliffs and mountains. Forests are felled for timber interests, grasslands are overgrazed for the benefit of cattlemen. The result is ecological impoverishment, biotic simplification and a widespread collapse of biodiversity.

If you’re lucky in your travels, you might end up talking with Mary O’Brien, a botanist in southern Utah with the nonprofit Grand Canyon Trust. Dr. O’Brien argues that the B.L.M. has permitted so many cattle to graze on the fragile desert landscape that native plants have been eaten away and the sensitive cryptobiotic soil — which takes a century to mature — has been eroded to dust.

“This is what’s happened to the promise we made the American people,” Dr. O’Brien told me. “You’ve heard about the banality of evil. This is the banality of normalized degradation.”

“The only acid test is,” she said, “‘Is it good for cattle?’”

You might also end up talking with Leslie Hagenstein, a nurse practitioner who grew up in Pinedale, Wyo., in the Upper Green River Valley, and who practiced there for close to 40 years. I sat in her living room in the house she was raised in on a September evening, looking out the window at a fracking well a half-mile away that was drilled in the final months of the Obama administration.

The drill bit thumped and pounded for close to a year. Her house shook. The noise, the tremors and glaring klieg lights left her sleepless. She complained. She says the company and the B.L.M. ignored her.

The well sits on an area called the Mesa Breaks, public land. When she was a young woman in Pinedale, the B.L.M. designated the Mesa Breaks a critical wildlife corridor for wintering mule deer and pronghorn, and barred all energy exploration there.

“It’s rape and pillage now,” she told me.

Now? Liberals pathologically allegiant to the Democratic Party want to blame Donald Trump for it all, as if history began in 2017. Don’t be fooled. Gas drilling in the Upper Green River Valley began under Bill Clinton, accelerated under George W. Bush, continued under Barack Obama and has accelerated again under President Trump.

The Upper Green River Valley once had some of the cleanest air in the country. The energy industry brought its armadas of diesel trucks, drilled with abandon, laid its pipelines and dumped the fracked wastewater in toxic evaporation pits where once there had been sagebrush that was habitat for endangered sage grouse.

The air filled with volatile organic compounds, the contaminants associated with fracking and with nitrogen oxides from diesel engines. Now the ozone pollution cooked out of that brew by the Wyoming sun forms a veil of smog.

It’s your land put to productive use, made hideous with drill pads, warehouses, parking lots, cranes, bulldozers, storage tanks, emission stacks and roads that lead always to more artifacts of industry.

The public land is behind fences, behind barbed wire. The signs saywelcome to the “Pinedale Complex, Authorized Persons Only.”

Among the lyrics that never made it to radio when Woody Guthrie released “This Land Is Your Land” in 1951 were the ones nakedly socialist in message. “There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me,” Guthrie sang in his original version that went unheard.

The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing
This land was made for you and me.

The high walls today consist of management protocols set by complicit federal regulators, who are overseeing public land for its tacit privatization — land that we might as well declare public in name only.

But the federal regulators answer to Congress, and Congress answers to us, the owners of the land. We need to rise up and speak for the commons as a people, collectively. The rabble-rousing Guthrie would have us do nothing less.

This column originally appeared in the New York Times.

What Right Has Britain to Seize an Iranian Tanker Off Spain?

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:56

Photograph Source: Bengt Nyman from Vaxholm, Sweden – CC BY 2.0

“We have reason to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas Refinery in Syria. That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria.”

– Fabian Picardo, chief minister of Gibraltar

“[Praise for Gibraltar and the British marines] for this bold move to enforce Syria sanctions [that deny] valuable resources” to the Syrian government.

– British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt On Twitter

The EU has banned the sale of oil to Syria. Very well, but what has that to do with Iran, or its sales of oil to Syria? Tomasz Wlostowski, a lawyer who specializes in EU regulations, says there is no legal basis in EU sanctions law to take such action.)

– Tomasz Wlostowski on Twitter

What gives the UK the right to seize on July 4 an Iranian oil tanker in Spanish territorial waters, force it to Gibraltar, interrogate its four-man (non-Iranian) crew, and arrest its captain and chief officer?

Why, the request of the U.S. of course.

The Spanish government has stated that the British marines and Gibraltar port authority operated at the behest of Washington, after Trump threatened then called off airstrikes against the Islamic Republic. (Gibraltar authorities deny this.) The piratical act was naturally denounced by Iran, which threatens to seize a British tanker if London does not return its vessel. The Brits respond that they might return the ship if given assurances it was not headed to Syria; indeed, Foreign Minister Hunt had a “constructive” phone call with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif.

Iran for its part denies that the ship was heading to Syria, but what if it was? What is wrong with any country selling oil to Syria, whose government is recognized by many large powerful countries and needs oil to recover from its horrific civil conflict?

The EU has slapped sanctions on Syria since the Arab Spring protests and outbreak of war in Syria in 2011, in compliance with the U.S. decision to effect regime change through aid to armed rebels, and a concerted U.S.-Israeli campaign to isolate Damascus. The premise is that the U.S. determines a government’s legitimacy; when it withdraws it, Europe must go along.

And when Europe tells Iran it must not sell oil to Syria, Iran must go along. Despite Iran’s extraordinary patience in the face of Trump’s provocations, its determination to stick to the JCPOA, its willingness to discuss with France some changes to the deal, it remains a pariah in Washington’s eyes.

Despite the fact that Trump himself is deplored by world leaders generally and the U.S. has lost prestige in the world since his election, Britain still does its bidding. The British ambassador to Washington has been obliged to quit his post after the leaking of diplomatic cables accusing Trump of ineptness and incompetence, but still, London marches almost lock-step with Washington in foreign policy.

Britain might have told Washington: “We don’t have any right to seize a commercial vessel in foreign waters engaging in legal activities. And why would we want to cooperate with you in exacerbating tensions with Iran?” Instead the British Marines act as Trump’s buccaneers.

The U.S. press does not problematize the ship seizure itself. It reports on attempts to “violate sanctions” as though the sanctions are themselves proper and worthy of observance. China, Russia, India, South Africa, many countries do not sanction Syria or buy the U.S. interpretation of Syrian realities. It is not the “international community” that wants to punish Syria, or cut its ties to Iran. It is the U.S., which seems of late to be testing its lingering clout with its allies.

The UK was on board the Iraq War-based-on-lies, but has not committed to a U.S.-Israeli-Saudi war on Iran. Perhaps the favor of the tanker seizure was designed to deepen London’s involvement in the U.S.’s long-term regime-change projects in both Iran and Syria. As Trump tries to woo the UK away from Europe, the “special relationship” acquires new meaning, even as an ambassador departs for candidly noting the Trump administration’s ineptness. The seizure looks to me like a loyalty statement. Britain remains the U.S.’s poodle.

Democratic Virtues in Electing a President

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:54

Photograph by Joshua Frank

Privatizing the US elections?

I enjoyed listening to the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates speak of their hopes for the future of this country. What I did not like was the NBC umbrella over the aspiring candidates. Why should large TV monopolies run the presidential campaigns?

Who gave this “media” money-machine the right to have its employees ask questions of the presidential candidates? First of all, these “reporters” are by no means objective. Their sole preoccupation is the advertisement dollars their company earns during the “debates.” Second, some of the questions they asked reflected their priorities but not necessarily those of the candidates.

As a result of this undemocratic practice of giving the process of electing the next president to the big media, the twenty Democratic presidential candidate failed to address climate change in a meaningful manner. Climate change is a life and death concern for us and the rest of the world.

Mumbling while the world burns

Some of the candidates agreed global warming was important. But no one of them was given a chance to explain what he / she would do about the country’s fossil-fuel addiction. It’s this addiction that has corrupted politics and changed everything.

With president Trump and his administration denying climate change, the petroleum industry is working day and night, reaching new heights of irresponsibility and moral bankruptcy. It’s drilling, fracking, and extracting 12 million barrels of oil per day. Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, warned the international community in Abu Dhabi, June 30, 2019, of a “grave climate emergency” embracing the planet. Climate disruption is hitting all of us now, Guterres said. It has come about at a much faster rate top scientists had predicted.

Masters and slaves

The same disconnect became obvious in the TV-supervised discussion of inequality in the United States. Only Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren seem to have grasped the political danger of inequality.

Sanders is right saying democracy practically dissolves in the political reality of 3 Americans (Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett) having more wealth and power than 150 million Americans — half of the population of the country.

This outrageous inequality compares nicely with the class-ridden, master-and-slave inequality of dark ages. In fact, these three billionaires act like independent states. In all likelihood, they are paying no taxes, and, in theory, they are in a position of hiring their own armies. They buy and sell politicians, subverting democracy in unimaginable ways.

However, with some exceptions, neither most of the presidential candidates nor other Americans seem to understand the political gravity of astronomical differences between citizens of the same country.

Democratic ideals

Each of the Democratic candidates had a few minutes explaining his / her reason why they would like to govern the country: bring the troops home; there’s no problem with migrants entering the country, legally and illegally; open economic opportunities for blacks and other minorities; do something about gun violence; America needs free state college education, forgiving of student debt, and free pre-school; workers need the support of the government to include most of their brother and sister workers in unions; increase the minimum wage to 15 dollars per hour; manufacture most of the stuff we need here at home.

A couple of Democratic candidates hinted Sanders’ proposals on Medicare for all, federal regulation and taxation of Wall Street bankers, and free education smelled of socialism, an ideology practically un-American. Some said China is a national security threat.

Author candidate, Marianne Williamson, has spoken eloquently about moral awakening and moral leadership. She is the only presidential candidate that urged offering $ 100 billion reparations to black Americans. She is white and she is right.

The country should make a material gesture of apology for the violence it inflicted on Africans kidnapped and brought to America as slaves. Use this money to train black students for organic farming. Fund black Americans to buy farmland: give them the post-Civil War promised equivalent of 40 acres and a mule.

However, the TV context of the “discussion” all but ignored Williamson. It degenerated into lots of ambiguity and little light.

Senator Kamala Harris attacked the front-runner and former vice-president Joe Biden. She said Biden was not pro-black decades ago. Biden froze. He said he served this country’s black president Obama faithfully. He also took pride in his humble origins and his life-long public service: always being the negotiator and mediator, working across lines for the public good.

The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, also reminded the audience he is raising a black son. In addition, the mayor boasted he is running a gigantic city that, for all intends and purposes, is ready for the current and forthcoming difficulties of climate change, inequality, college education, minimum wage and racial crisis. Yet, he said nothing about the predatory Wall Street bankers who have raised inequality to the level of science. He is protecting them.

Electing a president

Becoming a president should be very difficult. Simply allowing citizens with money and funders for more money to campaign for the presidency is not enough. In fact, money should be taken out of elections. There should be minimal amounts of federal money for presidential candidates covering their travel costs, but no money for TV advertisements. Large national TV networks should have to give free and equal time to presidential candidates.

Equal care is necessary in selecting the next president. The person aspiring to the country’s highest office must have a reservoir of ethical, political and environmental knowledge and passion for his / her country and the world.

The aspiring presidential candidate should also have a life-long record of honesty, justice, and public service. He / she should be able to convince Americans that his / her priority would be their welfare and security. An America of healthy citizens and healthy natural world, and how to craft an administration to bring that about, should be the highest virtue of a presidential candidate. The successful candidate should make clear that money has no role in state and federal elections and, second, America would replace fossil fuels with solar and wind energy.

It goes without saying that billionaires should not be allowed to run for office.

Equally important, C-Span TV or PBS TV should be sponsoring the debates, not private media giants, which should be forbidden from making money from politicians seeking public office. Injecting democracy in the election process might also strengthen democracy in America.

 

Free Speech Just isn’t That Complicated

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:54

It’s hard to believe we need to have this conversation in this day and age. But if we don’t keep having it, at some point we might not be allowed to have it.

Question: What is free speech? Or, rather what is NOT free speech?

In 2017, former Vermont governor,  presidential candidate, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean informed the American public that “[h]ate speech is not protected by the first amendment.”  That’s one variation of the “hate speech is not free speech” claim.

Yes, “hate speech” is free speech (and yes, it’s protected by the First Amendment).

On July 12, speaking at a White House “social media summit,” President Donald Trump opined that “free speech is not when you see something good and then you purposely write bad. To me, that’s a very dangerous speech, and you become angry at it. But that’s not free speech.”

Yes, calling something “bad” that Donald Trump calls “good” is free speech too (and yes, it is also protected by the First Amendment).

This  shouldn’t even be an “issue.” It’s just not that complicated, folks. But for some reason we’re still MAKING it complicated.

Ever since the framers enshrined freedom of speech in the Constitution, Americans have struggled with what, if any, limits can be legitimately placed on that freedom.

The law and the courts have carved out limited exceptions for things like speech “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action,” “true threats of violence,” and knowingly false speech aimed at defaming a person’s character or defrauding others in a commercial sense (e.g. “I’m selling you one ounce of gold” when it’s actually one ounce of lead with gold paint on it).

There are plenty of reasonable arguments to be had about what, if any, exceptions to unfettered freedom of speech might make sense.

But when it comes to matters of opinion,  the only reasonable position is that you’re entitled to have opinions, and to express them, period.

Even if Howard Dean thinks they’re “hateful.”

Even if Donald Trump thinks that he’s “good” and that you’re making him look “bad.”

Even if they make someone feel angry or, to use the latest non-specific catch-all complaint, “unsafe.”

We don’t have to agree with others’ opinions. We don’t have to like the manner in which others express their opinions. We don’t even have to listen to other people when they express their opinions. But we don’t get to stop them from expressing their opinions. Not even if we’re Howard Dean or Donald Trump.

In anything resembling a free society, that’s just not negotiable. And no politician who argues otherwise should ever win an election to the position of dog-catcher, let alone governor or president.

The Resigning Ambassador

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:50

Rarely do ambassadors resign after an intense self-assessment of worth. Diplomatic immunity does not merely extend to protecting the official from the reach of local laws; it encourages a degree of freedom in engaging as a country’s representative. Sir Kim Darroch, as UK ambassador to the United States, felt that any freedom afforded him in that capacity had ended. “The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would have liked.”

The storm between Darroch’s good offices and the Trump administration was precipitated by the publication in the Mail on Sunday of content drawn from leaked diplomatic cables. Darroch expressed a view both unsurprising as it was prosaic. “We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”

Specific foreign policy areas were singled out. Regarding Tehran, a memorandum from June 22 notes that it was “unlikely that US policy on Iran is going to become more coherent anytime soon. This is a divided Administration.” Future British-US relations are in for a heady time. “As we advance our agenda of deepening and strengthening trading agreements,” comes Darroch’s warning in a June 10 memorandum, “divergences of approach on climate change, media freedoms and the death penalty may come to the fore.”

Darroch’s assessment might have been withering, but he was keen to provide his superiors a portrait on how best to approach Trump. All importantly, emphasise concentrated repetition. “It’s important to ‘flood the zone’: you want as many as possible of those who Trump consults to give them the same answer.” It was important to keep up his interest on the phone: speak two or three times a month, maybe more. Flatter him and treacle-glaze words. “You need to start praising him for something that he’s done recently.” Be blunt; if critical of Trump, be sure it is not personal and not a matter or surprise. Throw him parties, roll out the red carpet, and entertain the beast.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, while caught off guard, did not flinch in backing her man in Washington. What mattered was not the content of the correspondence but the fact of its revelation. (Ignore the substance; punish the leaker.) “Contact has been made with the Trump administration, setting out our view that we believe the leak is unacceptable,” came the view of May’s spokesman. “It is, of course, a matter of regret that this has happened.”

Such regret tends to take the form of safe, internally orchestrated inquiries. At their conclusion, amnesia would have set in, making no one the wiser. UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt has promised “serious consequences” for the source, but he was also open to the default position of Anglo-US politics when matters sour: the Russians might have done it. “Of course,” he told The Sun, “it would be massively concerning if it was the act of a foreign, hostile state.” Feeling some unnatural urge for balance, he felt it necessary to tell the paper that he had “seen no evidence that’s the case, but we’ll look at the leak inquiry very carefully.”

Former British ambassador to Washington, Christopher Meyer, cast the net wider. “It was clearly somebody,” he opined on BBC radio, “who set out deliberately to sabotage Sir Kim’s ambassadorship, to make his position untenable and to have him replaced by somebody more congenial to the leaker.”

On July 8, Trump issued a spray on Twitter designed to sink the ambassador’s continued appointment. “I do not know the Ambassador, but he is not well liked or well thought of within the US. We will no longer deal with him.” The comment was a prelude to his usual self-congratulatory view on such matters as Brexit. “I have been very critical about the way the UK and Prime Minister Theresa May handled Brexit. What a mess she and her representatives have created.” May, he felt, had refused to accede to this all shaking wisdom.

Darroch’s exposure to the Trump show was never going to have unqualified shielding. May will shortly vacate the prime minister’s office, leaving the way for either Boris Johnson or Hunt to take the reins. Given that the UK is set – at least as things stand – to leave the European Union on October 31, being in the Trump administration’s good books for a US-UK trade deal is a matter of distracting importance. To illustrate the point, UK trade minister Liam Fox made a note on a visit to Washington to issue an apology to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.

Darroch’s remarks, to that end, assumed another degree of importance. Would Britain’s representative in Washington have the support of May’s successor? The stance taken by the main contender for the Tory leadership in a debate on Tuesday cast doubt on that position. Johnson’s opponent, Jeremy Hunt, failed to receive a clear answer after questioning Johnson on whether he would stick with the ambassador should he become prime minister.

On Friday, the BBC’s Andrew Neil got closer, but received a good deal of waffle by way of response. “I stood up completely for the principle that civil servants should be allowed to say what they want for their political masters without fear or favour.” Not quite. An old tradition was broken with, and Trump, as he continues to do, had gotten his way – again.

Everybody Must Get Stoned

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:49

I recently wrote on these pages about the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee. Reading an article that the committee references on the Pentagon’s past commemoration of the war, I was not surprised to find pure and unabashed vitriol hurled at the peace movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. Yogi Berra might have observed that “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

The article “How Pentagon Plans To Whitewash 50th Anniversary of Vietnam,”(Forward, May 1, 2015) illuminates much of the pro-war psyche of the war makers:

The Pentagon is pushing to whitewash history. It hopes schools, civic organizations and state and local governments will hold ceremonies, mount exhibits and promote a version of history that honors those who fought the war while banishing from memory those who opposed it.

This assessment in the Forward is not new: In fact, it’s been going on since the inception of the Vietnam War in the early 1960s (the American War) and continues today. Ronald Reagan promulgated the first iteration of the “noble cause,” then ushered in his low-intensity wars in Central American countries that resonate at the U.S. border with Mexico today. Burns and Novick in The Vietnam War (2017) paint a disturbingly one-sided view of the carnage of that war leaving out masses of antiwar activism and references. The Guardian recirculates that view of the war in its unequivocal endorsement of the filmmakers’ work in “The Vietnam War review-Ken Burns makes a complex story immediately comprehensible,” September 26, 2017).

The culture wars go on and on and on, as is obvious from the comments section appended to the Forward article, the main thrust of which is that the Vietnam peace movement (read antiwar in a society that fights and profits from endless wars) was comprised mostly of communists who had only mean-spirited intent against those who fought that war. The latter is such trash that it almost begs not to be confronted, especially since one of the most prominent, but not the largest part of the Vietnam antiwar movement were the Vietnam antiwar veterans who conducted the 1971 Winter Soldier testimonials that documented some of the war’s atrocities and the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Former senator and secretary of state John Kerry was a prominent member of the group and his prominence is documented in the manner in which he was swift boated by his right-wing adversaries during the presidential campaign of 2004.

Veterans for Peace, in its effort to provide an intelligent view of the Vietnam War and protest of the war in its Vietnam Full Disclosure project, sets the record straight.

The most personal and upfront confrontation I have experience vis-à-vis the culture wars took place while completing the 2010 census. I finished the day’s work enumerating the data of a person who was a Vietnam veteran and suffered the effects of Agent Orange; the herbicide sprayed over Vietnam to make the forces of the North more visible in forested areas. When I asked the veteran what his attitude toward war resisters of that war was, he said that he would like to have been able to stand at the border between Canada and the U.S. shooting at those resisters. He now thought, decades later, that the war was wrong, but could not let go of his hatred toward those who resisted the war.

Recently, I spoke with a leader of a national peace group. We discussed the state of the peace movement in the U.S. and that leader observed that when millions march, no one pays attention because the obscenity (my categorization) of money in the political system makes it unnecessary to give even lip service to protest. Citizens United opened the floodgates. Look back to Nixon and his reaction to protest, even as he continued his vicious assault in Southeast Asia. He was profoundly fearful of protest in an almost paranoid-like manner.

Closer to home the culture wars continue with the ever-present anticommunism of the right in its treatment of the scholar and civil rights icon, W. E. B. Du Bois. Shades of racism also are a shadow cast over Du Bois. For decades a heated debate has raged in this part of the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts about how best to honor, and alternately how to demonize, Du Bois’ legacy. Two of the key parts of Du Bois’ life were his antiwar beliefs and his antipathy toward nuclear weapons. Those views and actions have drawn the extreme criticism of a few people who insist on focusing on Du Bois’ beliefs about communism and the former Soviet Union. The pushback has slowed, but not stopped, the effort of local groups and local governments to honor Du Bois’ legacy in several ways including considering erecting a statue in his hometown of Great Barrington and considering naming a school for him (“Effort underway in Great Barrington to rename middle school for Du Bois,” Berkshire Eagle, February 5, 2019).

The antipathy never ends!

*”Rainy Day Women #12 & 25″ by Bob Dylan

 

Nukes For Peace?

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:45

Surrounded by trigger happy Tonkinesque gunboats and drowning in debt, the Islamic Republic of Iran has made the risky decision to play the last card left in their deck; to defy the P5+1 Deal in order to save the P5+1 Deal. It’s a hell of a gambit but it already has those pussies in the EU clamoring for new talks with the embattled nation. Under the circumstances, I would argue that Iran’s decision to enrich Uranium past the amount allowed in the deal but still far short of anything potentially lethal isn’t just tactically savvy, it’s the right thing to do.

Iran offered Europe and the US everything but a weekly colonoscopy with that deal and we’ve given them jack shit in return for their patience. While Trump shredded the agreement in a reckless Israel-friendly hissy fit, Europe has sheepishly reneged on their promises to stand up to Orange-Man-Bad and ease their own sanctions. Their indecision isn’t just an embarrassing display of geostrategic cowardice that would gag Charles de Gaulle like a gimp, it’s a brazen violation of the very deal they claim to remain committed to. In this dire situation, for Iran to continue to sit on their hands, would be a betrayal of both international diplomacy and their long suffering citizenry who these values are supposed to protect.

But this move also begs a bigger and rather uncomfortable question for peaceniks like me. Could Nukes be good for peace? Just typing those words feels blasphemous on my fingertips, but history speaks for itself. Iraq and Libya both forfeited their own nuclear weapons programs for the sake of self-preservation and both ended up brutally mugged for their efforts by the world’s preeminent nuclear superpower. Further more, international law on this regard, is little more than a sick fucking joke. Iran has been hounded for decades by an illegally nuclear armed Israel and the only nation to ever use one of those goddamn things while even the intelligence agencies of these very rogue states admits that this program is a total fiction. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan continue their own flagrantly illegal arms race while being bathed in buckets of western aid. And evil Iran should what, be the last boy-scout while they get ransacked? It clearly doesn’t make any fucking difference whether they actually have the bombs or not, so why not arm up?

This has essentially become the policy of North Korea, who originally sought little more than to update their dusty moribund nuclear program for the use of hard-water power to help them weather the post-Cold War winter. When confronted by an increasingly belligerent Clinton Administration on the issue, they decided that they might as well double-down and go back to making bombs until Jimmy Carter went rogue on the White House and cobbled together a peace deal that held until Bush decided to follow in Clinton’s imperial footsteps with more baseless dick-wagging and saber-rattling. North Korea simply flipped that New England hick the bird and diligently returned to their nukes, braving power both soft and hard, until being offered another equally precarious deal with our current Schizophrenic-in-Chief. North Korea didn’t exactly come out of this thing unscathed. Millions of their citizens have starved beneath the weight of our crippling sanctions. But they’re still standing and without the taste of Uncle Sam’s cock in their mouth. So why not Iran?

This is a question the western world will have to answer as Iran has chosen a middle ground, between Iraq and Korea, to throw the ball in our court. Expecting exposed third world nations to embrace nuclear dovery runs as patronizingly hollow when all the rich countries singing Cat Stevens songs are armed to the fucking teeth. Iran has never invaded a single sovereign nation and yet its expected to play Gandhi to a gang of colonialist bloodhounds who’ve left rotting carcasses on nearly every continent they’ve ever raped with a flagpole. In what hopped up universe is this mindset anything but atrociously racist and downright rude? I still think sticking to that deal as long as they did showed the world a lot of class on Iran’s part. But class wont cure kids with leukemia or keep food on the table. When it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, whether it ever becomes more than fictional or not, don’t hate the player, hate the game.

You want peace, dearest motherfuckers? Me too. In fact I wage to bet even those dastardly Mullahs do. But the cowboy in the red, white and blue hat is gonna have to drop his pistols first. After all, he’s the only one who’s been caught using them.

The United States of Overreaction

Tue, 2019-07-16 15:36

On July 4, at a Starbucks in Tempe, Arizona, six police officers were asked to either move out of a customer’s line of sight or leave the establishment because they were making a patron uncomfortable—for being police.

As a progressive-minded American who believes certain (unjust) laws are meant to be broken and who strongly opposes any manner of police abuse or overreach, I am not particularly comfortable around police myself (although, admittedly, I am white and tend to get the benefit of the doubt during confrontations). However, I am equally uncomfortable with an uncanny overreaction to what amounted to uniformed police officers having a cup of coffee, which they paid for, at a public location.

I also scoff at the idea of a #boycottstarbucks (hashtag) for what amounted to the actions of one misguided barista. Twitter is akin to a lightning strike in an otherwise quiet, flame-free forest. It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is anymore or whether it stirs up the Right or the Left. There should be a rule that states: No one, in the name of support or solidarity, should be allowed to be more outraged than the victim of the mistreatment/offense/injustice.At no point did the Tempe Police Department or the officers who were asked to move-it-or-leave-it call for a boycott, so their so-called supporters are nothing more than digital grandstanders.

It’s to the credit of the involved parties that they did not join in the overreaction. Apologies were made and accepted. Increased understanding should always be the first objective in situations of low-level conflict. After all, mistakes will inevitably be made in a pluralistic society that suffers from a strong case of oversensitivity. We’re afraid of everything except our own shadows, which we seem to worship. We should instead be happy that our many cleavages exist in a relative state of equilibrium. It’s a minor miracle that we haven’t descended into civil war post-November 8, 2016. Yet.

I’m not sure why we can’t continue to build a nation that includes lingering lawmen, craven customers, crafty corporate owners, and even tumultuous tweeters. There’s room for all of us—along with the scores of ill-treated immigrants about whom we should be far more concerned than those who can easily defend themselves.

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