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The Virginia Mountain Valley Pipeline Boondoggle

Tue, 2019-02-05 15:58

Two pipelines– the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP)—now being constructed in Virginia have been the source of massive controversy.

This article will deal with the MVP, saving the equally controversial ACP for future discussion.

The MVP consists of 304 miles of pipelines (with an additional 8 miles) that will transport natural gas by connecting new and existing pipelines throughout the southern Virginia-northwestern West Virginia region.

Construction is currently underway, as are legal challenges to the project, which was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in October 2017.  FERC voted 2-1 that the pipeline’s public benefits will offset any negative impacts.

Those undertaking the project were also required to convince FERC that market demand exists for the gas conveyed by their pipeline.

FERC ruled that there was a market demand for the gas, by basing its ruling on contracts made between the pipeline’s owners and its shippers, overlooking the fact that both entities are part of the same corporate structure.

(There are shades here of the Enron “cooking the books” boondoggle, where inflated, and ultimately fictional, profits were “generated” simply by shifting money from one wing of the corporation to another.  After its collapse, Enron’s CFO spent years in jail for devising “ghost” subsidiaries whereby money transferred from Subsidiary X to Subsidiary Y counted as an asset-gain in the latter’s accounts (and thus Enron’s overall), even though no “gain” was actually generated.  A former Wall Street banker who decided to become an academic in the humanities by doing a PhD in my department at Duke described such ruses to me as “postmodern accounting”.)

This aspect of corporate structure was latched onto by opponents of the pipeline, who contended in court that since these contracts between the pipeline’s owners and its shippers were really between wings of one corporation (Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC), they were not based on genuine negotiations between two independent parties that would have shown a viable market taking public need seriously into account.

These intra-corporation contracts were, in effect, the resultant of “postmodern accounting”?

The case is now before a 3-judge panel of the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (aka the DC Circuit), which has in the past tended to side with FERC in its judgments.

The judges at the court hearing appeared to side with the lawyers for FERC and MVP when the latter countered the pipeline’s opponents’ argument (regarding MVP’s alleged failure to demonstrate a genuine market need for the pipeline) by saying MVP would never have invested $4.6 billion in the project unless it was convinced a market existed for the gas pumped through the pipeline.

The Roanoke Timeshas provided excellent coverage of the pipeline controversy, and reportsa key exchange between the judges and the attorney for the pipeline’s opponents during the court hearing:

“They’re putting skin in the game, which tends to show they are using their best judgment about future demand,” Judge Gregory Katsas said in one of several questions put to Luckett (the attorney for the pipeline’s opponents).

And the pipeline’s capacity is fully subscribed to the Mountain Valley shippers, is it not? asked Judge David Tatel.

Yes, Luckett responded, but 80 percent of the end users — the homeowners, businesses or power plants that will actually burn the gas — have yet to be identified and are based solely on speculation.

That may be so, Judge David Sentelle interjected, but the Mountain Valley shippers “are purchasers. They are buyers. They are creating a demand for the gas that is passing through the pipeline.”

The judges will issue a written decision within 3 to 6 months.

Judge Katsas seems seriously ignorant of the history of capitalist enterprises, when countless entrepreneurs have “put skin in the game” only to bankrupt themselves and have the public pick up the tab for their ensuing failures.

Plenty of boondoggles have involved people with “skin” in this or that game.

WorldCom had a market capitalization of $175 billion (alas all due to the dot.com bubble) when it went belly-up in 2002.

Many had “skin in the game” when General Motors and Chrysler were driven into bankruptcy in the last decade.

Katsas may perhaps need to read Capitalism for Dummiesbefore he writes his decision.

Judge David Sentelle appears to believe in a version of the utterly discredited Say’s Law (“supply creates its own demand”), judging by the interjection he directed at Attorney Luckett.

Sentelle may perhaps need to read Economics for Dummiesbefore he writes his decision.

Any judge who accepts that a genuine market transaction occurs when Division X “sells” to Division Y of the same corporation is likely to confirm the adage that the law is an ass.

This would be akin to my insisting that a genuine exchange occurs when I move coins from the left pocket to the right pocket of my coat.

Furthermore, MVP started to fall foul of regulators the moment work began on the pipeline a year ago.

MVP has been cited for violations of Virginia’s Stormwater Management Act, over problems with runoff from land clearance causing erosion and sedimentation. To quote The Roanoke Times:

A lawsuit filed by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality accuses construction crews of breaking the rules more than 300 times in the six counties — Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin and Pittsylvania — through which the pipeline will pass.

Mountain Valley has also lost two permits awarded by federal agencies following FERC’s initial approval of the pipeline.

MVP is now having to reapply for these permits. Whatever the outcome of this reapplication, there is furious and entirely understandable opposition to the project.

Local people have had their land seized by the government without right of appeal, under the “eminent domain” process, for the construction of a pipeline whose sole known beneficiary will be a private corporation.

Protesters on these seized tracts of land have camped in tree-tops to halt construction.

The pipeline will traverse a region of outstanding natural beauty, cutting across national parks including the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia and West Virginia and the Appalachian Trail.  It will pose a threat to the streams, rivers, and drinking water of this area, as well as its forests, endangered species, and fisheries.

A clue to the presence of these risks is afforded by the fact that the National Forest Service, in order to accommodate the pipeline, lowered its standards for water quality, scenic impacts, and destruction of canopy within the Jefferson National Forest.

Also to be taken into account are the safety risks posed by leaks and explosions from the pipeline. Living in one of the counties affected by the pipeline I drive frequently through small towns with designated “explosion risk zones” cutting right through them.

Economic gains are of course touted by supporters of the pipeline (including the corporate Democrat governor of Virginia, now in deep trouble over another issue involving a racist past), such as more jobs, enhanced tax revenues, and increased local spending.

To be fair, there have already been gains from tax revenues, but the other supposed gains have yet to transpire.

At the same time, the viable economies of small towns are already being threatened in a serious way, not least because property values in places adjacent to the pipeline are falling, in some cases precipitously, especially those right next to an ““explosion risk zone”.

Communities established over the course of a couple of centuries or more are being destroyed, in the name of “gains” that in the main are merely projected.

The pipeline, whose lifetime is entirely contingent on the vagaries of the fracking industry, will almost certainly become surplus to requirements many decades fewer than it took to fashion these long-established functional communities.

And nothing has been said so far of the costs incurred by any despoliation of the region’s ecosystem.

These communities are being ridden-over roughshod by a something chronic in the US today, namely, government of the corporations, by the corporations (admittedly by surrogacy), and for the corporations.

This corporatocracy privatizes profit and “socializes” risk, so there is thus no other word for it: in the land of the free, the American people, in this case the citizens of Virginia and West Virginia, are in essence being told to go f— themselves.

Categories: News for progressives

Low Unemployment: the Recipe for Higher Wages

Tue, 2019-02-05 15:57

Back in 2013, Jared Bernstein and I wrote a book called Getting Back to Full Employment: A Better Bargain for Working People (free download). The main point of the book was that low unemployment rates disproportionately benefited those who are most disadvantaged in the labor market. For this reason, we argued for using macroeconomic policy to get the unemployment rate as low as possible, until inflation became a clear problem.

At that time the unemployment rate was still close to 7.0 percent. It was still coming down from its Great Recession peak of 10.0 percent, but there were many economists, including many at the Federal Reserve Board, who argued that it should not be allowed to fall below a range between of 5.0–5.5 percent, because lower rates of unemployment could trigger spiraling inflation.

In fact, this was pretty much the consensus view in the economics profession. At the time, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) put the non-accelerating inflation rate (NAIRU) of unemployment at 5.5 percent. The NAIRU is essentially the target rate of unemployment for policymakers since they want to prevent the accelerating inflation that would result if the unemployment went much lower. CBO’s numbers are also important in this respect, not only because it is seen as an authoritative source, but also by design it tries to produce estimates that are well within the consensus in the economics profession.

Our argument was directed at these people. We felt the evidence that unemployment rates this high should pose any sort of floor for macroeconomic policy were weak. We also pointed out that economists had been badly mistaken two decades earlier, in the 1990s, when they argued that the unemployment rate could not get below 6.0 percent without triggering spiraling inflation.

Fortunately, the Greenspan Fed ignored that view and allowed the unemployment to fall to 4.0 percent as a year-round average in 2000. This gave us the late 1990s boom, the only period of sustained real wage growth for those at the middle and bottom of the wage ladder since the early 1970s. Given the enormous gains from allowing the unemployment rate to fall further, we felt the Fed should take the small risk of accelerating inflation, and allow the unemployment to continue to decline below the conventional estimates of the NAIRU.

Thankfully, Janet Yellen, who was then Fed chair, agreed with this position. (It helped that our friends with the Fed Up Coalition were also pushing hard in this direction.) She held the Fed’s key federal funds rate at zero until December of 2015, at which point the unemployment rate had fallen to 5.0 percent. Since then, the Fed has had a path of moderate rate hikes (faster than I would have liked), that have not prevented the unemployment rate from falling further.

It hit 3.7 percent in September and November, the lowest reading since 1969. Its current rate of 3.9 percent is well below almost any estimate of NAIRU available at the time Jared and I wrote our book. And, we are still seeing very little evidence of any acceleration of inflation. On this score, that we could allow the unemployment rate to get well below 5.5 or even 5.0 percent, we seem to have been very much on the mark. We also have been right that the most disadvantaged in the labor market would be the main beneficiaries of low unemployment.

Starting with changes in unemployment rates, in 2013 the unemployment rate for blacks averaged more than 13.0 percent. The average for the second half of 2018 was just over 6.0 percent. The unemployment rate for Hispanics fell from more than 9.0 percent to 4.5 percent. For workers with less than a high school degree, the drop was from more than 11.0 percent to less than 6.0 percent. For workers with just a high school degree, the drop was from 7.5 percent to less than 4.0 percent.

While it would be foolish to celebrate unemployment rates that are still way too high, it would also be foolish not to acknowledge the enormous gains to the most disadvantaged segments of the labor market that have resulted from the low overall unemployment rate.

We see a similar story if we flip this over and look at the employment-to-population ratios (EPOP). At the time, there was a widely told story that workers had permanently left the labor force either because they no longer had the right skills for the jobs that were available, or alternatively that they just didn’t feel like working. The latter story was supposed to be especially the case for young men, with the argument being that they would rather look at Internet porn and play video games than work at low-paying jobs.

The overall EPOP for prime age workers (ages 25 to 54) stood at 76.0 percent in the fall of 2013, well below the pre-recession peaks of more than 80.0 percent. The drop from pre-recession levels was roughly 5.0 percentage points for men and 3.0 percentage points for women. In the most recent data, the EPOP for prime-age men is still more than a percentage point below its pre-recession peak, while for women it is slightly higher, although still well below peaks hit in 2000.

As for the porn-watching video game playing 25- to 34-year-old men, their EPOPs are up by roughly four percentage points from 2013 levels, although they are still two percentage points below pre-recession peaks. Anyhow, it seems that labor demand was a more important factor than the quality of video games in the drop off in employment.

While the number of people who were able to find work due to the drop in unemployment over the last five years is large, the number who have been able to secure pay increases because of the increase in bargaining power is even larger. And the gains have been especially impressive for many of those most disadvantaged segments of the workforce.

The Story on Wage Growth

The labor market first tightened enough for workers at the middle and bottom to start seeing real wage gains in 2014. Since then, the gains have been impressive.

Over the last four years, average weekly earnings, adjusted for inflation, have risen by 10.1 percent for workers at the cutoff for the bottom tenth of the wage distribution. They rose 8.5 percent for workers at the cutoff for the bottom quarter and 5.6 percent for workers in the middle. Increases in state and local minimum wages almost certainly contributed to the wage gains at the bottom, although low unemployment was undoubtedly the major factor higher up the wage ladder.

The path of real wage growth is shown in Table 1, with wages indexed to 100 for the fourth quarter of 2014. The data are for weekly earnings of full time workers (more than 34 hours a week) in the fourth quarter of each year.[1]

Table 1

Percentile of Wage Distribution

10           25           50           75           90               

2014                       100         100         100         100         100

2015                       103.3     103.4     102.8     105.1     104.1

2016                       104.6     105.2     104.0     104.9     106.0

2017                       105.7     107.1     102.8     104.3     105.3

2018                       110.1     108.5     105.6     106.9     108.8

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are a couple of points worth making about the table. First, the changes, especially at the bottom end, are affected by the number of people working. As we pull more people into jobs, the ones being added are likely to have less education and experience than the workers who are already in the labor market. This means the 10thpercentile worker in 2018 likely has less education and experience than the 10thpercentile worker in 2014. That makes the 10.1 percent reported wage gain for the 10th percentile workers over this period even more impressive.

A second point is that the numbers are somewhat erratic. There is a substantial amount of measurement error in these data. For example, the 1.2 percentage point reported fall in the wage of the 50th percentile worker for 2017 may not be accurate.

The third point is that the price of oil is a big factor in the story. The sharp rise in the real wage in 2015 is partly due to a sharp drop in world oil prices that held inflation near zero. By contrast, the growth in 2017 was dampened by a partial reversal of the earlier drop. When discussing short-term changes in real wages it is important to distinguish what is attributable to nominal wage growth and what is attributable to changes in oil prices. We expect nominal wage growth to persist, whereas changes in oil prices tend to be erratic and are often reversed.

Differences by Gender

While in general the tighter labor market has disproportionately benefited the most disadvantaged, it has not helped to reduce the gender gap among those at the middle and bottom of the wage ladder. Table 2 shows the changes in wages for men and women separately at the 10th, 25th, and 50th percentile of the wage distribution.

Table 2

Percentile of Wage Distribution

Men                                                       Women

10           25           50                           10           25           50                

2014                       100         100         100                         100         100         100

2015                       103.6     102.7     102.4                     104.3     101.2     100.3

2016                       104.5     101.7     102.8                     105.8     103.0     102.4

2017                       109.1     102.1     102.8                     105.8     103.9     101.8

2018                       114.1     106.4     105.5                     108.7     106.4     102.8

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The gender gap by this measure has risen even as the labor market has tightened. It would require a more detailed analysis to determine the reasons for this increase, but in any case, this is an area where the tighter labor market has not had the effect of disproportionately benefitting the more disadvantaged group.

Differences by Race and Ethnicity

In contrast to the story with gender, the data do show that non-whites have seen more rapid wage growth than whites over the last five years. Table 3 shows wage growth at the median since 2014 for whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.

Table 3

Wage for the Median Worker

White                    Black                     Hispanic               Asian                            

2014                       100                         100                         100                         100

2015                       102.5                     103.1                     103.6                     113.3

2016                       104.7                     106.3                     105.3                     104.3

2017                       103.7                     102.7                     104.9                     105.9

2018                       106.0                     107.4                     106.8                     107.0

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The table does show some modest narrowing in the wage gap at the medians, with the median wage for blacks and Hispanics rising somewhat more rapidly over this period. This is true with the median for Asian workers also, although the median wage for Asians is somewhat higher than the median for whites. While the greater relative gains for Blacks and Hispanics are not huge, at least the gap is getting smaller, as opposed to the gender gap over these years. It is also worth noting that since blacks and Hispanics have accounted for a disproportionate share of the employment gains over this period, the changing structure of the employed is likely to have more of an impact on the wage distribution for workers in these demographic groups.

In other words, if we assume that the newly employed workers are mostly towards the bottom end of the wage distribution (since they have less education and experience) the 50 percentile white worker in 2018 may have been the 48th percentile white worker in 2014. By contrast, the 50 percentile black or Hispanic worker in 2018 may have been the 45th percentile black or Hispanic worker in 2014. It would require an analysis of the microeconomic data to determine the extent to which this could be the case, but on its face, this composition story could be a factor in why median wages for Blacks and Hispanics did not rise more rapidly.

It is worth noting the big jump in the median wage for Asians from 2014 to 2015 and then the fall in the subsequent year. This almost certainly did not happen in the world and just reflects the erratic nature of the data. As we get to smaller groups, the quality of the data deteriorates and we are more likely to see sharp jumps or falls that do not correspond to trends in the labor market.

Differences by Educational Attainment

Workers with lower levels of educational attainment have done considerably better than workers with just a college degree over the last four years, and even slightly better than workers with advanced degrees. Table 4 shows the changes in median wages by levels of educational attainment over the last four years.

Table 4

Wage for the Median Worker by Educational Attainment

LTHS                      HS                          SC                           Col                         Ad. Deg.[2]                                                    

2014                       100                         100                         100                         100                         100

2015                       101.8                     103.5                     97.8                        100.6                     102.7

2016                       103.4                     102.8                     100.2                     100.9                     103.1

2017                       103.6                     103.0                     99.4                        99.1                        101.7

2018                       103.6                     105.3                     103.7                     99.8                        103.3

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The picture in the table goes directly at odds with the conventional wisdom that changes in technology are leading to a relative increase in the demand for workers with more education and reducing the demand for less-educated workers. Over this four-year period, workers with just a college degree have fared the worst, actually seeing a small drop in their median wage. This is consistent with the story of many new college grads struggling with debt, as the jobs they are able to find do not pay them a wage high enough to pay off their loans.

By contrast, workers with just a high school degree have seen the largest increase in their pay, with the real median wage rising by 5.3 percent over this period. To be clear, this is not an argument that workers should not try to get more education. The median pay for a worker with a college degree is far higher than for a worker with just a high school degree, but over the last four years, this gap has been getting somewhat smaller.

Low Unemployment is Good News for Workers

The last four years are the only period, apart from the low unemployment years of the late 1990s, when workers at the middle and bottom of the wage distribution have seen sustained real wage growth. The story is turning out pretty much as Jared and I had expected when we wrote our book in 2013. Low unemployment rates give relatively disadvantaged workers increased bargaining power, allowing them to share in the benefits of economic growth. There are even reports of employers looking to hire people with disabilities and criminal records, people they would never look to hire in a labor market with high unemployment.

The fact that workers at the middle and bottom have been seeing healthy wage gains for the last four years does not mean the economy is great. There are still many people who cannot afford health care, rent, child care for their kids, and other necessities of life. Four years of decent wage growth does not undo the effects of forty years of rising inequality.

But it is important to recognize that at least things are moving in the right direction for now. If the current sub-4.0 percent rate of unemployment can be sustained, or ideally even pushed lower, it will mean that workers in the middle and bottom will continue to share in the gains from economic growth and make up some of the ground lost in prior decades.

As a practical matter, there are many policies that we might like to see the government pursue to help those at the middle and bottom. But having a full employment economy is by comparison relatively simple. We just have to keep the Federal Reserve Board from slamming the breaks on the economy with high interest rates. There are many good things we want the government to do, but in this case, we just need to keep it from doing something bad.

Notes.

[1] Data are taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Usual Weekly Earnings Seriesand are adjusted by the Consumer Price Index. It is also worth mentioning that these are weekly earnings. This should correspond closely to hourly earnings since there has been virtually no change in average weekly hours over the last five years.

[2] LTHS – less than high school, HS – high school, SC – some college, COL- college only, Ad. Deg. – advanced degree.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

Categories: News for progressives

The Monitoring Game: China’s Artificial Intelligence Push

Tue, 2019-02-05 15:56

It’s all keen and mean on the artificial intelligence (AI) front in China, which is now vying with the United States as the top dog in the field.  US companies can still boast the big cheese operators, but China is making strides in other areas.  The UN World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Thursday report found that IBM had, with 8,920 patents in the field, the largest AI portfolio, followed by Microsoft with 5,930. China, however, was found dominant in 17 of 20 academic institutions involved in the business of patenting AI.

The scramble has been a bitter one.  The Trump administration has been inflicting various punitive measures through tariffs, accusing Beijing of being the lead thief in global intellectual property matters.  But it is also clear that China has done much to play the game. “They are serious players in the field of intellectual property,” suggests WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry.

Machine learning is high up in this regard, as is deep learning, which saw a rise from a modest 118 patent applications in 2013 to a sprightly 2,399 in 2016.  All this is to the good on some level, but the ongoing issue that preoccupies those in the field is how best to tease out tendencies towards bias (racism, sexism and so forth) that find their way into machine-learning algorithms. Then comes that problem of technology in the broader service of ill, a point that never really goes away.

In other areas, China is making springing efforts. Moving in the direction of developing an AI chip has not been missed, propelled by moves away from crypto mining. “It’s an incredibly difficult to do,” claims MIT Technology Review senior editor Will Knight.  “But the fact that you’ve got this big technological shift like it once in a sort of generation one means that it’s now possible, that the playing field is levelled a little bit.”

The nature of technological advancement often entails a moral and ethical lag.  Functionality comes before philosophy.  AI has been seen to be a fabulous toy-like thing, enticing and irresistible.  But what is good in one field is bound to be inimical in another.  The implications for this should be clear with the very idea of deep learning, which stresses the use of neural networks to make predictions on collected data. Enter, then, those fields of natural language processing, facial recognition, translation, recommendation algorithms.

Canadian computer scientist Yoshua Bengio, regarded as a storming pioneer in the field of deep learning along with Yann LeCun and Geoff Hinton, has felt his conscience prick in this regard.  “This is the 1984 Big Brother scenario,” he observed in quotidian fashion in an interview.  “I think it’s becoming more and more scary.”

Bengio seems a bit late to the commentary on this point, given the prevailing dangers posed by existing technologies in the private sector in the field of surveillance.  He could hardly have missed the fact that the tech company sector took the lead in matters of surveillance, leaving governments in the lurch on how best to get data on their citizens. Where there are the confessional solicitations of social media, monitoring officials have their work cut for them, a result which seems attempts to find backdoors and encourage compliance.

The PRC has enthusiastically embraced elements of facial recognition in its quest to create a total surveillance society, one that sorts the desirable wheat from the undesirable chaff.  Anti-social behaviour is monitored.  The way services are used by citizens is also controlled through its National Credit Information Sharing Platform, which is fast becoming a model for other states to emulate.  Algorithmic tyranny has become a reality.

In January, George Soros, problematic as he has been in his financial meddling, noted how AI had supplied “instruments of control” which gave “an inherent advantage of totalitarian regimes over open societies.” (It was a pity that his speech was delivered before the failed managers and plunderers of the global economy at that holiday gathering known as the World Economic Forum in Davos.)  China had become “the wealthiest, strongest and most developed in machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

The AI frontier, in short, teems with prospects dire and fascinating.  But the way technology companies deal with data remain as important as those of the states that either sponsor them as champions or see them as collaborators on some level.  The point is, both are out, through their use of artificial intelligence, to get at the basic liberties of citizens even as they claim to be advancing their interests. For some, is the making of a buck; for others, it’s that old issue of control.

 

Categories: News for progressives

L.A Teachers Strike: Wins, Losses and Prospects

Tue, 2019-02-05 15:55

After seven solid days on the picket lines in drenching rains and in the face of a poor-mouthing school district that swore to the high heavens that they were dead broke, 34,000 Los Angeles teachers overwhelming voted to approve a three-year contract that most teachers saw as an important first step toward stemming the decades long tidal wave of disastrous cuts imposed on teachers and students in the nation’s second largest school district.

The strike was led off with a city-wide massive mobilization of 50,000 teachers and community supporters, a prime indication that the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) had prepared well in advance to engage the broad Los Angeles community – students, parents and working people in general – in a united and sustained effort for improved schools and to advance teacher and community interests. UTLA, a long merged union of CTA/NEA and CFT/AFT members, fully anticipated a bitter fight against a reactionary locally-elected corporate-oriented school board that had laid its own secret plans, separate and apart from any union contract, for a massive Los Angeles privatization/charter school project. Their objective, according to UTLA-released documents, was, and perhaps remains, to break up the sprawling school district into 32 separate corporate-run private school entities.

The charter school challenge

Indeed, School Superintendent Austin Beutner, a billionaire former investment banker with zero experience in public education, had made his fortune largely in the charter school business, wherein public schools are converted to private-for-profit entities that are funded from public resources. Charters are largely exempt from statewide education regulations.

Los Angeles schools today, already replete with a significant number of these largely non-union charters – 22 percent, or almost 200, of the city’s 900 schools to date – drain huge financial resources from the public school system. With slick corporate advertising campaigns, falsified achievement statistics, appeals to “school choice,” or “vouchers” paid to parents to use at parochial schools, and with across-the-board gutting of public education funds, they are touted as superior, if not a vibrant alternative for young people and their parents, who face a bleak future in capitalist America. In truth, charters are part and parcel of the ruling class’ overall strategic objective to boost declining profit rates by looting a myriad of social services and transferring the booty to the corporate elite – in the name, of course, of allowing the capitalist market to miraculously arrive at the “best possible educational outcome!” Here we note in passing a recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) that revealed that students’ test scores may prove that public schools are now outperforming charter schools. For the purpose of this article however, it is sufficient to postulate that free, quality education for all in the context of a humanitarian and egalitarian society that offers everyone a full and productive life with fundamental security and rewarding opportunities to maximize the potential in all human beings is far superior to any private-for-profit institution based on measuring success on the always exploitive and predatory capitalist market system.

Today, seventy five percent of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) students are Latino, 10 percent Black and a similar percentage of Asian origin; 80 percent are low income, a terrible example of the ongoing racist process of school re-segregation wherein white students with financial means flee deteriorating, underfunded public schools to various forms of private enterprises, whether they be charters or parochial schools. Charters are allowed to “cherry pick” students, that is, mostly white students, and exclude English as a Second Language (ESL) students, that is, a significant percentage of Spanish-speaking youth. In some schools, within the confines of the same building, public and charters co-exist, with LA teachers repeatedly scoring this now legalized striking racial divide.

Tragically, the new UTLA contract makes no changes to this racist and corporatist scenario other than to record in their contract an “agreement” with the charterizing school board, whose members spent an estimated $11 millions to win a pro-charter majority, that the school district would urge the State Legislature to cap charters at 20 percent. This Democratic Party-dominated “blue state” legislature presently has zero caps on charters. For the corporate plunderers who run the state capping charters is an oxymoron akin to capping profits. Charter schools are no newcomers in challenging public education. Fully half of Detroit’s school age children attend charters or related private schools. The entire post-Katrina New Orleans school system is today privatized.

Thirty percent of Oakland schools today are charters, with more in the works as well as an Oakland School District plan to close some 24 public schools over the next five years, likely to make way for even more privateering schemes. Oakland teachers are currently in the final stages of the negotiations/fact-finding process and are expected to call a late February strike to challenge the district’s charter school proposals, planned school closures and to fight for major class size reductions. .

The new UTLA contract leaves all the current charters in place, perhaps with UTLA leaders invoking the rationale that negotiations on this key issue are “out of scope,” or perhaps “illegal” with regard to California’s teacher collective bargaining laws.

Example of “red state” strikes

UTLA members, as with teachers across the country, were no doubt inspired by last year’s “red state” strikes, especially by West Virginia teachers, who defied threats of mass arrest and injunctions and closed down the state’s entire schools system to demand, and then win, major gains for teachers, students, public school funding and, amazingly, equal salary increases for most all state public employees. The red state victories were powered by statewide strikes, often of wildcat origin, to demand that the same $billions gifted to the corporate elite over the past decade be returned to state budgets, post haste, to finance public education and related social services. No doubt West Virginia teachers, along with their sisters and brothers, to one degree or another, in Kentucky, Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada and other “red states,” that is, Republican-dominated states, paved the way, for the first time in a half century, to bringing capitalism’s one percenters, who dominate all state and national legislative bodies, to heel.

West Virginia’s shining example notwithstanding, the UTLA strike was a loner – a single and almost totally isolated fightback, however impressive, in a state with 1,100 school districts. A handful districts, Oakland in particular, saw its teachers engage in partial one-day “sickouts” and other solidarity action aimed at lending a statewide air to the UTLA action. Yet, few would dispute that all of the state’s districts are suffering the same major cutbacks and related financial gutting of public education. Indeed, UTLA strikers repeatedly pointed out that California, ranked fifth in GDP in the world, if it were designated as a nation, yet it ranks near the bottom of all 50 states in school expenditures, class size and other key indices of the quality of public education. At $11,00 annual per pupil expenditures (based on inflated and manipulated figures used by all school districts to demonstrate their “fealty” to public education), California’s school funding compares pathetically to New York State’s $22,000 per pupil. But even here, the statistics cover a bitter truth. Fifty years ago, when this writer was a New York City school teacher, a full 53 percent of all city high school students, after “completing” 12 years of public education, “graduated” as officially designated functional illiterates”! Fifty years later I would guess that the figures remain close to the same.

Class size Section 1.5

UTLA contract gains, albeit, modest in the extreme with regard to class size, were registered. Here the major victory resided in the elimination of the heinous Section 1.5 provision in UTLA’s last contract wherein whatever class size maximums were negotiated could be unilaterally ignored whenever the school district decreed a financial emergency – which it did almost every year of the contract.

The class size provisions in the new contract, according to the UTLA were as follows:

“2019-2020: [class size] reduction of 1 student per grade level, and an immediate reduction in secondary [schools] from an unenforceable 46 to a now enforceable 39 for English Language Arts and Math.” In the following two years of the three-year contract, additional class size reductions will be implemented via one less and then two less students per year, for a total reduction of 4 over the course of the contract. While undoubtedly a gain, it must be said that even with these reductions, Los Angeles class size figures remain far above most California school districts, including the already overcrowded districts in Oakland and San Francisco. The fact that UTLA’s previous contract contained a provision for “an unenforceable class size ‘maximum’ of 46,” that is, even more than 46 students could be crammed into classrooms, was obnoxious in the extreme. UTLA’s strike, its first in 30 years, ended this atrocity, but the union has a long way to go in fighting for qualitatively greater class size reductions that are among the key factors related to student success, not to mention teachers’ capacity to educate.

Strike gains

An UTLA Bulletin #9 stated, “In waging a strike not for money for ourselves but for money for our students, teachers reclaimed the moral authority they’ve always merited.” True enough, for without this moral authority, that is, without the broad support of Los Angeles’ working class communities, the strike would have been doomed from the start. UTLA listed other important contract gains as follows:

Nurses: LAUSD will hire 150 fulltime nurses for 2019-2020 and at least 150 for 2020-2021, to provide a fulltime nurse at every school every day of the week.

Librarians:LAUSD will hire 41 full-time teacher librarians for 2019-2020 and at least 41 more for 2020-2021, to provide a full-time teacher librarian at every secondary school every day of the week.

Counselors: The district will hire additional full-time counselors by October 1, 2019 to achieve a counseling service ratio of 500-1 per secondary school. The union honestly stated their victory with regard to counselors was far from perfect. The same bulletin reported that, “Students’ limited access to their overscheduled counselors is made worse by counselors’ obligation to do yard duty during nutrition and lunch. One gain from UTLA’s victorious 1989 strike was the elimination of yard duty for teachers. We sought but did not get the same for counselors.” [Emphasis added].

Salary: On salary, the union won a retroactive 3 percent salary schedule increase for last school year plus an additional 3 percent for the current year, for a total of just over 6 percent, a modest and more than justified average gain of $2250 for this year and the following two. But the seven-day strike cost the teachers close to $3,000 on average in lost pay for the year, fully justifying their claim that salary was not their central objective but rather improvements in the overall quality of education. While the 6 percent was essentially the same proposal that was offered before the strike, a salary-related provision pressed by the district to make it harder for new teachers to have healthcare retirement benefits was dropped at UTLA insistence, a positive signal to new teachers that they would not be sacrificed to the advantage of older teachers – a phenomenon that has become all too common in trade union contracts. There is zero doubt, however, that Los Angeles’ salaries and, indeed, all teachers and working people more generally, have been hostage to a virtual ruling class-backed freeze on all wages for the past several decades. Los Angeles teachers are fully justified in seeking to win salary improvements as well as to be champions of broader working class interests., as was the case with their January 23, just-concluded strike.

Other modest contract wins

The UTLA contract included a provision beginning next year for a “joint UTLA/LAUSD committee tasked with identifying all district required assessments [standardized tests]. The committee will develop a plan to reduce the amount of assessments by 50%.” But an UTLA statement made clear that “We have not made an issue of the tests mandated by the state and federal governments—that’s a battle for another time and place.” Thus, UTLA negotiators again acceded to the “law of the land” wherein massive and reactionary standardized tests are mandated on school districts and teachers as a condition for federal and state funding. Teachers are compelled to spend countless days and hours devoted to endless, if not worthless, testing of students, not to mention the inevitable byproduct of “teaching to the test.” The truth is that standardized testing is aimed qualitatively more at providing school officials with so-called empirical data that they can use to “measure” teacher competence than it is to improve the quality of education. In time, punishing, firing and otherwise scapegoating “incompetent teachers” is but another means to blame the ”failure” of public education on teachers as opposed to the overarching massive broadside attacks on every aspect of the public education system, not to mention the demoralizing effects on students that are daily subjected to conditions to poverty and repression (the school-to-prison scenario) that combine to undermine their efforts in the class room. It is true that ending such mandated state and national testing is, among a myriad of other critical factors deemed “out of scope” with regard to what is “negotiable” at the bargaining table. By the same token in decades past, if not today, unions themselves have been decreed by the state power to be “illegal,” as has free speech during the McCarthy era and increasingly today, or school desegregation, women’s and LGBTQI rights, the right to assemble, the right to breathe clean air and to drink clean water, to name a few of the items banned or regulated by capitalist legislatures or the courts or by presidential decree. In all these matters, however, the “law” in all its “grandeur” has been proven to be subordinate to the mobilized challenges of its victims. Defiance, as with the West Virginia teachers, as opposed to compliance with reactionary legislation, is central to teacher unionism and to the future of public education.

Los Angeles teachers registered modest gains, and some losses in a broad range of negotiable items. They won a guaranteed daily preparation period for Regional Occupation Center teachers and the right of teachers to vote whether to convert their schools to Magnet schools. They established a LAUSD-provided “Immigrant Defense Fund” that includes a dedicated hotline and some attorney consultation for immigrant families. “As teachers our loyalty is to our students. If it’s a problem for them in their community, then it’s a problem for us” said a union strike bulletin. Similar modest gains listed include limited funding allocations for Community Schools, that is, schools in the poorest areas, and funds for Special Education. Other advances, some critical, were registered with regard to “Local School Leadership Councils, limiting the racist practice of “random” student searches, Green Space, Substitute Educator, Adult Education, Workspace for Itinerant Employees, UTLA Rights, protection of healthcare for striking adult education and substitutes and Protection for striking substitute teachers.”

The bottom line

The UTLA leadership published on its website both a summary of the new contract provisions as well as the entire contract. Its concluding “bottom line” public statement read:  “We fought for this agreement for 21 months, worked without a contract for 18 months, and finally, forced to the wall, we struck for seven days. What we ended up with was vastly better than what was originally offered, and significantly better than what we were offered on the eve of the strike. There are certainly things lacking in this agreement, but it is a major step forward.”

The battle over school funding

The LAUSD had taken to the airwaves with ceaseless claims that it was broke, in spite of the fact that it had assigned some 25 percent of its annual budget to the category of “reserves,” that is, unbudgeted funds to the tune of nearly $2 billion to be held for unknown future contingencies. State law requires a contingency reserve fund of only 1 percent! Needless to say, the district’s reserves were set aside for all contingencies other than meeting the just demands and needs of Los Angeles teachers and parents. The same can be said of the California State Legislature’s budget, geared to advancing corporate interests at the expense of all others. Today, the great portion of California’s education funding derives from local property taxes, to be more accurate, the taxes imposed on homeowners. Commercial property is essentially excluded from the state’s overall taxation system, the result of the infamous Proposition 13 or Jarvis-Gann ballot initiative of 1978 that reduced property taxes by some 57 percent and thus posed a major threat to public education funding.

Today, more than 40 years later, California homeowner property taxes, have thus escalated in direct proportion to the incredible rise in property valuations. The 1 percent Proposition 13 cap on property taxes of four decades ago was levied on homes that then had an average market price of some $40,000. Today, given the fact the average homeowner sells their property every five years, the same house has a market value of more than ten times that amount. A Proposition tax of 1 percent in 1978 would have amounted to roughly $400; today the same house today, valued on average at $570,000, would be taxed at $5,700 annually, plus the allowed addition of 0.5 percent for local or city homeowner taxes, bringing the total annual property tax to an incredible $8,550 – a 21-fold increase!

No to regressive tax measures

In this context, the UTLA contract includes an agreement with the LAUSD to jointly lobby the State Legislature to support a 2020 state ballot initiative that would modify Proposition 13 to include taxing commercial property, a measure that could be expected to add additional tens of $billions to the state, a portion of which would be set aside for public education. But this gain, to be achieved by taxing commercial property notwithstanding, leaves the highly regressive Proposition 13 homeowners tax intact, leaving an ever-increasing portion of the working class population totally incapable ever buying a house, paying for qualitatively increased property taxes, not to mention for the multi-thousand dollar monthly costs in paying off impossibly high mortgages. Tragically, teacher unions have largely accepted this regressive tax system, wherein the corporate elite and their $trillion dollar corporate entities are provided with endless tax exemptions, or “loopholes,” to avoid taxation entirely, coupled with outright grants for corporate services, while working people are always subjected to an endless variety regressive tax measures. West Virginia and other red state teachers faced this dilemma directly when they demanded that state legislatures tax the rich heavily and return the funds stolen from public education to their rightful place. The NEA and AFT support to continued and ever-deepening regressive tax measures can only serve to alienate its working class supporters.

Unfortunately, taking the tax the rich road is the farthest thing from the minds of these top union misleaders. The AFT’s president, Randi Weingarten, a member of the Democratic Party National Committee, as well as the top leaders of the NEA, has long subordinated the issue of school funding to mobilizing teachers in every state to fund and support Democratic Party politicians at every level, regardless of their anti-union policies. In blue state California, where Democrats hold perhaps the largest majority anywhere, school funding stands near the bottom of all states, while the corporate interests of the state’s ever-increasing billionaires are prioritized to the hilt.  The future of teacher unionism, and indeed, with public education more generally, rests in the capacity of teachers to match and exceed the fighting example set by their red state sisters and brothers and in their collective capacity to help initiate their own working class party based on renewed, militant fighting unions and their allies among the nation’s oppressed and exploited.

Categories: News for progressives

The Long Goodbye of Antiwar Protest 

Tue, 2019-02-05 15:55

It’s been a case of the long goodbye for what’s left of the peace movement in the U.S. On Saturday (January 26, 2019), a small group, very small by historic peace actions go, protested in front of the White House.

Watching the protest and interviews with protest participants on The Real News Network was almost painful. Medea Benjamin’s insightful observations, and a few other people’s, about the ongoing coup against Venezuela were just about the only sane and adult comments in the “room.” Across the globe, the vast majority of governments lined up behind the U.S. administration in its attacks against the people of Venezuela and Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.  The fallen zeitgeist of peace was as clear as it was after September 11, 2001.

Maduro is not blameless in what has happened in Venezuela, but that nation’s demise is a complicated matter with many domestic missteps along the way, particularly connected to the lack of domestic economic diversity. Venezuela has enormous fossil fuel reserves, along with other highly valued minerals, which makes it open to the predatory wolves of the global market. Look to Iraq as an example.

Then there are the media outlets across the U.S. and Europe pushing for this bald-face regime change in Venezuela. Imagine a major newspaper or other news outlet in the U.S. or elsewhere suddenly proclaiming that some unknown entity ought to be supported as president of the U.S. Imagine again, sanctions brought to bear against the U.S. for failing to heed that regime change advice. Suggesting that U.S. wealth be tied up by legal stratagems and handed over to the newly selected president would automatically be seen in the media as a case of high treason.

Why bother with the CIA or NSA, or other intelligence agencies when regime change is now handled in plain sight? It used to be that the process was slow, sort of like watching a kettle come to a boil, but this is now the stuff of a post 9/11 world and an Orwellian thought process that is truly disconcerting. The government tells us who we are at war with, and woe to those who buck the tidal wave of warmongering. It was as if they gave the merchants of war a ticker-tape parade through the streets of New York City and the sycophants of endless war were the cheerleaders of the confetti brigades.

A comment on The Real News Network piece observed that the disarray in the peace movement reached its apex during the Obama administration when people were sucked in by the empty rhetoric of hope and change and promptly left the streets and ignored Obama’s expansion of the war in Afghanistan.

The long march of the acceptance of regime change through war and subterfuge began long before the Obama administration. Regime change followed upon the heels of World War II and the Cold War. The U.S. championed dictators who toed the U.S. foreign policy line and cared little for issues such as human rights and economic development that would benefit masses of ordinary people.

The September 11, 2001 attacks put regime change on the fast track and a series of nations were placed on one axis of evil list or another and mayhem broke out. Syria and Iraq come to mind as do Venezuela and Iran now. The axis transforms into the troika and few are paying any attention.

Perhaps the cliche fits that when a movement hits rock bottom, then the only way is up. But cliches are always weighed down by the reality on the street and that reality is anything but hopeful. This society has been carefully taught to accept war as a necessity, and not even a necessary evil. Journalist Chris Hedges wrote that War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002). Instead of something to be avoided at all costs, they have sold us a bill of goods about the trillions of dollars that are wasted on wars instead of on social programs. For those of us who were on the streets during the Vietnam War and continued on through the present-day’s endless wars, the writing has always been on the wall. They can fool most of the people most of the time about war. It’s not even seen as sexy to protest war anymore.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Migrant Caravan Members Are Not a Threat to U.S. National Security

Tue, 2019-02-05 15:54

On January 14, 2019, another migrant caravan of about 1,800 Central American refugees—mostly from Honduras—began its treacherous journey marching across Mexico with hopes of reaching the U.S. border.  Unsurprisingly, U.S. President Trump responded to last year’s caravan by demanding neighboring governments stop the caravan, sending 5,000 more troops to the border, and threatening to close the U.S. southern border.

This new caravan offers an opportunity to highlight how the Trump Administration’s continued anti-immigrant rhetoric carries with it a dangerously mistaken premise that immigrants in the United States, at best, steal jobs from U.S. citizens, and, at worst, are dangerous criminals.

But do a couple of thousand impoverished Central Americans really represent a threat to the United States? Recent research on immigration suggests otherwise and provides insights into immigration that can help to better address the problem.

First, migrating families are not a threat to the United States. Researchers at the American Immigration CouncilNational Bureau of Economic Research and Department of Justice found U.S.-born citizens are far more likely to end up committing a crime and/or in prison than either legal or undocumented immigrants. Furthermore, the conservative Cato Institute documented in  2017how undocumented immigrants—including the young, the less-educated, and men—are, in fact, less likely to commit violent crimes than U.S.-born individuals. Finally, even newer research has proven states with higher percentages of undocumented immigrants have lower violent crime rates.

Second, Central American immigrants are not stealing jobs from U.S. citizens. Studies have long illustrated how Latino and other immigrant entrepreneurs complement, not hurt, the U.S economy, stating that “between 1990 and 2001, the U.S. regions with the most entrepreneurial activity experienced, on average, 125 percent higher employment growth, 109 percent higher productivity growth, and 58 percent higher wage growth than regions with the least entrepreneurial activity.”

Moreover, the United States is need of young, low-skilled workers, as it is facing an aging population, lower birth rates, and higher education levels. Thus, to remain competitive and sustain economic growth, the United States needs more, not less, foreign workers with little or no education.

Third, the United States exported violence and lawlessness to Central America. In 1954, the CIA overthrew Guatemala’s democratically elected government, installed a military dictatorship, and denied Guatemalans their popular sovereignty—all in assistance to the United Fruit Company the CIA director was invested in. Decades of civil war followed.

The United States also exported its most violent offenders and gangs to Central America. In the 1980s and 1990s, Central American gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 began on California’s streets. L.A. introduced its gang culture to Salvadoran immigrant youth and turned them towards violent crime. Then, the U.S. mass deported back to Central America these L.A. gang members and other undocumented immigrants, who had grown up in the United States, barely spoke Spanish, and were unfamiliar with their countries of origin. In the Northern Triangle, they had few opportunities and sought out other gang members to survive.

So, if the United States wants to successfully reduce the number of migrants, it must continue to work collaboratively with Central America and Mexico to give people another way out of violence. Instead of building more walls and threatening Mexico, the United States should focus more attention on exporting its lessons learned in places like Los Angeles by funding more USAID programs in the most marginalized communities in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

In the 1980s and 1990s, L.A. faced the same challenges Central America does today—high homicide rates, police corruption, gang violence, and lawlessness. By shifting to a more balanced, community-based, public health strategy focused on why people joined gangs and what ultimately disengaged them, L.A. cut its gang-related violence in half. Youth joined gangs for protection, money, respect, and community, and creating social programs increased people’s access to education, training, counseling, income, and civic participation, enabling the poor and most vulnerable to gain greater access to and control over resources.

These lessons are an opportunity that cannot be wasted.

To reduce the number of migrant caravans in the long run, instead of focusing on higher security, the United States should focus more on the many things it can do to stop gangs, violence, and poverty. For example, increasing aid for more social programs is significantly more effective than policing at decreasing the incentives for youth to join gangs and ties individuals to their local communities making them less likely to migrate to the United States.

But to do this, the United States must first reframe its immigration narrative. It must rebuff the Trump Administration’s tall-tales about immigrants, stop viewing its southern neighbors as a threat, and embrace the reality—that people like members of this new caravan have not brought violent crime, gangs, or lawlessness to the U.S. Just the opposite. The U.S. exported those conditions to Central America.

The United States must also renew its partnership with Central America and Mexico not in terms of border security and enforcement but through a humanistic, public health lens.

Ultimately, the United States has to think beyond its own borders. What happens in Central America can reduce the number of border crossers into the United States and, thus, is good for the United States as well.

Categories: News for progressives

Vultures Over Greece and Macedonia

Tue, 2019-02-05 15:52

European and American economic and military-NATO pressures forced the Greek government in gifting of the name Macedonia to a former Yugoslav province. This foolish act is weaponizing and destabilizing Southeastern Europe

How Euro-American vultures have been looting Greece 

In 2019, Greece is in chaos. Since the American-triggered global financial meltdown of 2008, the country has been drained of wealth, sovereignty and, above all, self-respect.

The agents of this rapid decline and fall are the usual suspects: irresponsible American-educated Greek politicians who borrowed money from German, French, and American banks, and the international debt collectors determined to get back the borrowed money from Greece at any cost.

The American reporter Greg Palast is right calling the debt collection agencies vultures and poisoners. I call them dark-age landlords and servants of the billionaire class. In the case of Greece, they include the European Union Central Bank, the European Commission, and the American International Monetary Fund.

For some ten years these vultures used the proven methods of propaganda, threats, humiliation, and bribery to force Greece to the abyss of self-doubt and defeat.

Not only Greece has been paying back huge sums but was forced in selling its assets to foreigners. Germany now operates Greek airports and telecommunication; China is in charge of the country’s largest harbor in the city of Piraeus, next to Athens; Italy is managing the railroads.

The EU-IMF conglomerate, like seasoned and rapacious dark-age feudal lords, kept the appearances of “helping” Greece by raiding the funds Greece has had for modest retirement of working people, and support of medical care, schools, environmental protection, infrastructure, national defense, and archaeological research and protection.

The result of this extorsion is a country in deep trouble.

Millions of tourists keep Greece afloat: the country is busy for several months a year. On the surface, you rarely see real impoverishment.

But then winter comes, the streets and museums are with few if any tourists, and the real crisis comes to the surface: Huge unemployment; no heating of apartment buildings and most homes; hospitals are barely functioning, lacking the basics; the best educated Greeks are working in Western Europe and North America; all proceeds from museum tourism go to Germany.

Meanwhile, America’s wars in the Middle East triggered rivers of refugees towards Turkey and Europe. Turkey struck back at its Greek enemy by diverting thousands upon thousands of desperate Moslem refugees to the Aegean islands. No doubt, some of those refugees are Turkish agents or jihadists.

NATO and Macedonia

As if these calamities were not enough, NATO kept pressuring Greece to negotiate with its northern Skopje neighbor, a former Yugoslav province peopled by Albanians and Bulgarians. These guys, now in charge of an independent nation, loved the name Macedonia the Yugoslav communist boss, Tito, gave their province during the Cold War. The name included both the glorious Greek Macedonian history and culture and Greek Macedonia all the way to the Aegean.

Greek governments resisted Skopje and NATO propaganda – until in 2018 the communist and hopelessly anti-Greek government of Alexis Tsipras gave in to the NATO-European Union threats and gifted the name Macedonia to the unprincipled small Albanian-Bulgarian conglomerate in the northern border of Greece.

The 2018 giveaway started in 2004 with the second administration of George W. Bush who had no problem recognizing Skopje as “the Republic of Macedonia.”

On May 18, 2009, about 200 Classical scholars from America, Europe and elsewhere wrote a letter to president Barack Obama saying only Greeks can be Macedonians. Albanians and Bulgarians arrived in southeastern Europe about a millennium after Alexander the Great. They urged Obama to “intervene to clean up some of the historical debris left in southeast Europe by the previous U.S. administration.

“On November 4, 2004, two days after the re-election of President George W. Bush, his administration unilaterally recognized the ‘Republic of Macedonia.’

“This action not only abrogated geographic and historic fact, but it also has unleashed a dangerous epidemic of historical revisionism, of which the most obvious symptom is the misappropriation by the government in Skopje of the most famous of Macedonians, Alexander the Great.

“We believe that this silliness has gone too far, and that the U.S.A. has no business in supporting the subversion of history.”

About a month later, on June 22, 2009, the same Classical scholars sent a brief update to Obama. This time their letter had 332 signatures from all over the world. The situation was urgent.

However, Obama had other things in mind. The subversion of history was not one of them. He ignored the letter. He was busy showing the white establishment how tough he was in fighting “terrorism.”

European governments did not lose any sleep over the falsification of Macedonian-Greek history. They, too, honored the Albanians and Bulgarians of Skopje as Macedonians. Suddenly, the subversion of history became routine.

For a temporary gain of encircling Russia even more, American and European political elites started lying and supporting the fake Macedonian news of Skopje. Historical integrity did not matter anymore. Skopje had to join NATO.

America had boosted the fake aspirations of the Skopje and UN elites on why Skopje was Macedonia. America’s man behind the propaganda was Matthew Nimetz, an old hand in corporate law, business, diplomacy and government policy.

Nimetz directed the Greek-Turkish affairs at the State Department for several years. This was a time of American hegemony in Vietnam and around the world.

President Lyndon Johnson, faithful to Cold War hysteria, demanded that Greece and Turkey slice Cyprus in two. Turkey could then have half of the island. When Alexander Matsos, Greek ambassador in Washington, refused to agree to that hostile proposal, Lyndon Johnson was brutal. He turned to the ambassador and hurled at him a threatening and thunderous insult:

“Fuck your Parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If those two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked… We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your prime minister gives me talk about democracy, parliaments, and constitutions, he, his parliament, and his constitution may not last very long… Don’t forget to tell old papa-what’s his name [prime minister George Papandreou] what I told you.”

Nimetz came out of that hubris — as large as Johnson’s elephant. The American president’s word was international law.

In 1995, president Bill Clinton sent Nimetz as a special envoy for the Skopje regime and Greece. He had to find a suitable name for the Albanian-Bulgarian state that also did not offend Greece: an impossible task. He had made up his mind, however. He saw his role the facilitation of the NATO solution. He suggested the first temporary name of Skopje: Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. And, in 2018, he insisted that Skopje deserved the name Northern Macedonia.

So, the join EU-IMF debt collectors-NATO pushers for Skopje used the trauma of debt to crush Greek resistance. The Prespes Agreementof June 17, 2018 codified the Nimetz proposal.

Soon thereafter, Zoran Zaev, prime minister of Skopje, said something to the effect the Greeks in Greece need to learn Macedonian, a fake language found legitimacy in the Prespes Agreement. The result of such irredentist rhetoric was a firestorm in Greece against Skopje.

Nevertheless, the Greek elite, hoping against hope, is supporting the Prespes Agreement as a magic formula for a “pro-Western orientation of Skopje and minimizing Russian influence” in Skopje and Southeastern Europe.

But the outcome of this forced negotiation humiliated the vast number of Greeks as much as if they had lost a war. Their government had just handed over to Skopje a tremendous victory: in a sense, it was like giving them the keys to the history and civilization of Macedonia and Greece, which, Greeks thought belonged to them alone.

This was an intolerable insult. Greeks are talking in the open that Alexis Tsipras, his SYRIZA party parliament deputies, and the president of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, are guilty of treason.

This bodes ill for Greek political life. The country is deeply divided. Most Greeks feel contempt for Tsipras and his party.

Athanasios Karantzikos, a retired general, denounced the political leadership of Greece and that of the allies, including NATO and the UN, for their support of the Prespes Agreement, which ignores Greek history and the sacrifices of the Greek Macedonians for the freedom of their country.

“I feel shame, humiliation, and uneasiness for the future of Greece,” he said. He resented the diplomatic defeat of Greece at the hands of a country openly looting the history and culture of Greek Macedonia. In addition, seeing NATO officers greet the illegal leaders of Skopje was utterly humiliating: it was proof NATO leadership has no respect for Greece, democracy, and international law and order.

Mythology-history

There’s little doubt Greeks are very angry. They know their mythology connects them and the Greeks of Macedonia to Zeus. Hellen, who gave his name to the Greeks as Hellenes, was the son of Deucalion who was the son of Prometheus. Another tradition makes Hellen son of Zeus.

We also have the same roots for Macedon who gave his name to the Macedonians. He was son of Zeus. The eighth-century BCE poet Hesiod makes those connections.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, the 10thcentury medieval Greek emperor, was a man of letters. In his book, De thematibus, he cites Hesiod to the effect Macedon was the son of Zeus.

Then we have the history of Alexander the Great who in late 4th century BCE defeated the world’s largest empire, Persia, and founded a vast empire and spread Greek civilization all over the world. The Alexandrian Age, with its pioneering Mouseion (Institute for Advanced Studies-University) and the world’s greatest Library in Alexandria, Egypt, spawned an unprecedented scientific and technological revolution that, during the Renaissance, sowed seeds that made our world.

This is the legacy engulfing the minds of all Greeks. They see the international community that sided with Skopje as untrustworthy. Allowing Skopje to call itself Macedonia, which also has a “Macedonian language” and “Macedonian ethnicity,” is threatening the Greeks no less than the Turks do.

The threats now are psychological. On January 29, 2019, Skopje’s propaganda agency, Rainbow, urged Greece to apologize for is crimes against Macedonians. Imagine the hubris of this organization, which is located in the Greek Macedonian town of Florina. And, of course, imagine the outrage of the Greeks.

General Karantzikos sees Skopje, powered by the name Macedonia, NATO and EU, opening the leather bag of Aeolus, and releasing the winds of strategic instability and danger.

Southeastern Europe is entering another age of tension verging on war.

Categories: News for progressives

I Pledge Allegiance to the United States of Sociopathy

Tue, 2019-02-05 15:46

In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller, Shadow of a Doubt, spunky, recent high school grad Teresa Wright discovers her beloved uncle is a serial killer.

Wright’s subsequent efforts to protect herself and others from psychopathic Joseph Cotten are continually frustrated by the extraordinary denial of her family and her community lost in the “thrall” of the worldly, smooth-talking Uncle Charlie.

Heartbroken and distraught, she must contend with her uncle’s violent agenda while being obstructed by a naive and vulnerable community of his enablers and/or soon to be victims.

Wright’s horrifying predicament resonates as I witness my – our – psychopathic uncle – UNCLE SAM, the U.S. government – perpetrate violent crime upon crime against humanity enabled by a maddening, morally mute, over-trusting, under-informed and/or indifferent citizenry.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully wrap my mind or heart around the profound lack of outrage and empathy among government leaders from both corporate parties, the corporate media, as well as the vast majority of my fellow citizens at the ongoing atrocities of the Global War on Terror (more accurately, the “US Global War of Terror”) and the “regime change” covert and/or overt operations initially and sinisterly described as “humanitarian interventions.”

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 seemingly justified a “gloves off” bloodlust defiance by the political and military “guardians” of America of the legal and moral pillars of our democracy.  All these years since, the mandates for constitutional and moral justice “for all” have gone unheeded.

The Iraq war was launched illegally and with manipulative lies.  Bush’s torture program was in total opposition to constitutional, international and moral law.  Its perpetrators deserved serious prosecution.

The Geneva Conventions were ratified once upon a time by a U.S. Congress.  Habeas corpus, in place since 1679, so cavalierly suspended with the GWOT’s “anything goes” rationale.

When such gobsmacking evil manifests on such a collective and global level for such a sustained amount of time, it deserves a serious analysis by those of us still spiritually awake enough to protest it.

At this point in my concerned citizenship, I am moving beyond anger into an awe of the scope of the – well – I call it downright and seriously unchallenged EVIL. Looking for a more clinical term than that?  How about patriarchal psychopathology?

In his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter acknowledged the long trail of U.S. international war crimes as well as the lack of historical and current accountability by this government, corporate media and its citizenry for them.

“It never happened.  Nothing ever happened.  Even while it was happening, it wasn’t happening . . . You have to hand it to America . . . masquerading as a force for universal good.  It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Speaking of bottom-line and minimized evil, the specter of torture has reared its ugly head once again with President Donald Trump, an unabashed torture enthusiast, and the confirmation of his choice for Director of the CIA, “Bloody Gina” Haspel, notorious overseer of a secret black prison in Thailand where brutal torture was conducted.  She was readily confirmed by a combination of Democratic and Republican senators. Senators, no doubt, who after fearful years of being labeled “too soft on terror” were not about to stick their necks out for decency and morality.

Too many of my fellow citizens, terminally influenced by an amoral corporate media, I am nonetheless at a loss for their easy acceptance of torture.

A Pew Research poll released in 2017 revealed that 48% of the US citizenry believed that some circumstances could justify the use of torture, and 49% maintained there were no circumstances that would ever justify it.

Every other US citizen is thumb’s up for the use of torture!

How disturbing over the last decade for the use of torture to be normalized and decriminalized by the military, citizenry, politicians, media, and those government lawyers who early on cravenly defied the obvious spirit of basic “Golden Rule” morality, the Constitution, and international law, to minimize the savagery of torture with euphemistic labels still parroted by much of the corporate media and or applied as fig leaves over the reprehensible.

“Enhanced interrogation techniques.”  Thank you, New York Times.  They are monstrous methods of inflicting debilitating psychological and physical anguish on victims even at times to the point of death. Techniques that, along with being illegal and immoral, are universally regarded as unreliable.  They are reliable only in generating false confessions (which apparently was one of the goals of the original, craven perpetrators).

Torture is wrong. It is evil.

Reading Jacob Weisberg’s book, The Bush Tragedy, I learned that the main ego-armature for George W. Bush during his Yale University years was his participation in the fraternity culture.

Weisberg discloses that when “W” finally became head of a fraternity, he “ruled” at one point that lowly pledges be branded with real, Texas branding irons as part of their hazing.

When the Yale Daily News got wind of Bush’s sadistic and zealous intention, it disclosed it to the entire university community. The Yale administrative patriarchs immediately huddled together to deal with the negative P.R.  (I’m guessing that far outweighed the actual physical or psychological welfare of the targeted pledges.)

The patriarchs’ solution?  Rein in Mr. Bush, whose sociopathy they presumably minimized as an impish, “boys-will-be-boys”-ness.  With the proverbial wink and nod, they insisted young Bush forego the branding irons and instead ONLY make use of scalding metal coat hangers or lit cigarettes to burn freshman flesh.

Say what?

Problem solved? This Yale incident foreshadowed and undoubtedly helped foster the ultimate creation of the craven and covert torture program by Bush and cabal, particularly with the ever-Satanic Dick Cheney.

The green-lighting of that more modest degree of torture speaks volumes of a troubling, profoundly unempathetic – sociopathic— macho-mindset within the deepest, most influential halls of America’s supposed intellectual and ruling class elite and mentors of said elite.  They enabled and abetted young, already morally-deranged Master Bush, instead of role modeling and enforcing boundaries of basic human decency.

Just another rite of male passage?  No wonder our American culture is so violent.

Andy Worthington, a prime advocate for victimized prisoners of Gitmo once reminded his audience during a NYC anti-war forum that in 2007 it was Senator Obama who declared:

“In the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantánamo, we have compromised our most precious values.  What could have been a call to a generation has become an excuse for unchecked presidential power.”

President Obama posed as a person of character most convincingly.  It got him the White House.  Twice.

Obama took no responsibility for his breathtaking, 180-degree reversals of golden promises of anti-Bush reform, pre-election.

The most obvious and necessarily immediate reforms that he failed to act on were the restoration of habeas corpus rights and the prosecution of the perpetrators of the clandestine Bush torture program, of those who had most reprehensibly exploited the post-9/11 fear, outrage and vengeance sensibility of much of the citizenry.

Obama’s policy decisions instead included deadly drone warfare, assassination kill lists, unlimited due-process-less detentions, military tribunals, countless corporate wars and U.S. military (corporate-opportunistic) garrisoning; and the continuation of Gitmo and God only knows what other black sites.

Obama’s posture was of an always rhetorically amiable and faux-reasonable Roman emperor with thumb’s up or down power over life and death.  Many of his “subjects” adored him.

“We tortured some folks,” he finally admitted with a shrug at a press conference.  As if it was not a colossally serious deal.

“Folks”?  Now there’s a friendly word.

This is heart-of-darkness territory.  Obama chose to become an enabler of violators of human rights and then a violator of them himself.  To add to the horror, Obama so readily was enabled by the media in this, the vast majority of Congress, and the vast majority of citizens.

Does the cult of celebrity in America overwhelm basic human decency?  It seems so.

Do U.S. leaders as diverse (but all amoral) as Bush, Obama and Trump, along with callous political cronies, military leaders and media, only need to repeat the word “terror” enough times to have so much of America fall into a “do with us, our money, or anyone else whatever depraved, anti-humanity behavior you want” kind of swoon?

“To torture or not to torture” not only a hot news media topic, but fodder for jingoistic and sensationalized movies and TV shows (as the normalization of torture steamrolls on).

Loyalty and admiration for the troops (no matter what war crimes they may be committing) and/or blind trust in a national administrative and military authority should not override human decency.  American “exceptionalism” should not override identifying and ending war criminality.  It does.

The status quo establishment in America has us locked into perpetual war with untold mass global deaths and maiming and ever-increasing economic hardship for all humanity except for a tiny percentage of transnational elites.

A paradigm shift from a “profits over people” patriarchy to the humanism of partnership and cooperation is the answer, but that would require decisions based on a U.S. leadership, a U.S. media and a U.S. society that seriously honored empathy, justice and the law.

Ours do not.

Scott Peck asserts in his book, People of the Lie, that mental health is “dedication to reality at all costs.”  This healthy sense of reality includes an in-touchness with one’s inner reality and a respect for the reality of others.  It requires the capacity to fully think and FEEL.

This “feeling capacity” – including and especially EMPATHY — seems most vulnerable to dysfunction in our society and world, among both leaders and followers.

Feelings are profoundly under-valued in our U.S. society, and this feeling dysfunction is at the heart (or lack thereof) of the existing suffering and injustice.

Alice Miller, in her book For Your Own Good, refers to a “poisonous pedagogy” that can infect a society.  She explains that that was what made the “good” (as in compliant) German population easy prey for the authoritarianism of Hitler.

Miller emphasizes that the capacity for empathy is not linked to one’s intelligence.  She points out that both Hitler and Stalin had enthusiastic, highly intellectual followers.

If one is not able to respond with authentic feelings and thoughtful consideration to real life situations involving oneself or others, one is susceptible to “enthrallment” to the will of a toxic and controlling leader, asserts Miller.

She also contends that unprocessed trauma in one’s childhood, that is, when children are exposed to profound degrees of non-empathy from adult caretakers, will cause a crippling or shutting down of their feeling capacity later in adult life along with the potential of a sudden dismantling of their own will for the will of another.  Miller explains that such trauma undoubtedly also happened to the original destructive caretakers during their childhoods in a continuing, generational cycle of dysfunction.

When trauma goes unprocessed by feelings, that is, it stays unfelt and un-grieved, it induces one to over-identify with an aggressor and enter his or her “thrall” later in adulthood.  Also, such conditioning can induce one to project one’s negative feelings about oneself onto others as scapegoats.  People with a disordered feeling capacity cannot handle and take mature responsibility for whatever guilt, shame, anger, frustration gets triggered within them in the present and must deflect it.

In People of the Lie, Scott Peck discusses the experiments of Dr. Stanley Milgram at Yale in 1961 which revealed how people were so readily intimidated by an authority in a white coat that they willingly would inflict what they thought were disabling electric shocks on strangers without question.  Six out of 10 of the tested humans were willing to inflict serious harm on strangers from their own over-conditioning to the will of authority figures.

Peck emphasizes how obedience is the foundation of military discipline.  “A follower is never a WHOLE person,” he maintains. Tragically, most people are far more comfortable in the “follower” role, leaving the responsibility and decision-making to those who step forward as leaders.  When ruthless, reckless, immature, even sociopathic persons assume leadership positions, especially in an authoritarian system, the results can be tragic.

He also contends that a lack of conscience in human beings is partly due to “specialization”, a detachment from responsibility.  One regards oneself as simply playing a role in a group scenario and thus can easily pass the “moral buck” so-to-speak to another part of the group.  Troops shooting foreign civilians with a kind of “video-game aloofness”, for example will rationalize:   “We don’t kill the people.  Our weapons do.  Whoever gave us these weapons and instructions are really responsible for the killing.  Not us.”

Another example he cites is of how weapons manufacturers, sellers, lobbyists, etc. feel no personal responsibility for the consequences of violence from the weapons they distribute.  The moral decision as to the use of the weapons is not part of their “specialized” roles.  (And the financial profits are just too damn juicy to consider otherwise.)

Peck also cites the regressive shutting down of authentic and appropriate feelings in people due to a phenomenon called “psychic numbing.”  The mind has the ability to anesthetize itself from feelings in the face of trauma. “The horrible becomes normal,” he writes.

Finally, he explains that groups bond often within a collectively egotistical groupthink by circling the proverbial wagons against a common, demonized enemy.  “The other.”  Scapegoating occurs when a group collectively projects the “badness” of themselves, too difficult to fathom, onto others.

James Lucas in an article for globalresearch.com back in 2015 declared that the United States has killed approximately 20 million people in 37 countries since the end of World War II.

How many of us can actually begin to feel and process the utter enormity of such a revelation? (One thinks of a quote attributed to the profoundly non-empathetic Joseph Stalin:  “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.”)

What say you to 20 million, America?  Look what our UNCLE SAM has wrought.

Can we as a nation cultivate a collective capacity for “empathy”?  A critical mass of us reached a breakthrough of collective conscience during the Vietnam era (though it took us long enough, admittedly).

Can each of us dedicate ourselves to a “reality at all costs” awareness for our individual as well as collective mental health?

The fast hardening of soft fascism seems to be happening with little conscious struggle among the masses who seem convinced we non-elites can get away with staying passive and will be supported by our corporate-captured politicians and media.

Can we face down and acknowledge the relentless criminality of our government and representatives (who are not really OUR representatives).

If such crimes are not acknowledged, called out and then accounted for they will continue and escalate in number and nature.  Even more frightening, more and more and more “good” Americans will succumb to this “normalization” of evil.

Confronting evil is daunting.  Confronting mass and institutionalized evil all the more so.  Sickening.  Spiritually exhausting.  It even has been said to biologically weaken one’s thymus gland that supports the body’s immune system.

We must detach from seductive “cronyism” with authoritarians or authoritarian followers and encourage others to do so.

We must explore the details of what is going on in our citizen name, with our tax dollars and especially with our vulnerable, patriotic and earnest young who can become tragically confounded by and induced to perpetrate institutionalized evil policies.

We owe it to ourselves and our world to stay whole and awake as citizens. To speak truth to power. Once again, “a follower is not a whole person” as Scott Peck declared.

“This is why the individual is sacred.  For it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.”

It has been said there are three types of people in this world.  A smallish group of people who make things happen.  A larger group of people who watch things happen.  (I am thinking, of those “good people who do nothing.”)  And finally the third, excessively large and clueless group, exclaiming, “WHAT THE F*CK HAPPENED???”

Let’s try to shrink the second and third groups and expand the first by getting up and exercising those consciences.

Categories: News for progressives

On Extinction’s Edge: Fall Fish Survey Finds Zero Delta Smelt

Tue, 2019-02-05 15:33

For the first time ever, a fish survey that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) conducts every autumn turned up zero Delta smelt throughout the monitoring sites in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in September, October, November and December 2018.

The smelt, a 2 to 3 inch fish listed under both federal and state Endangered Species Acts, is found only in the Delta estuary. It is regarded as an indicator species, a fish that demonstrates the health of the entire Delta ecosystem.

Once the most abundant fish in the entire estuary, the population has collapsed to the point where not one fish was found in the 2018 Fall Midwater Trawl survey. The 2018 abundance index (0), a relative measure of abundance, is the lowest in FMWT history.

“No Delta Smelt were collected from any station during our survey months of September- December,” wrote James White, environmental scientist for the CDFW’s Bay Delta Region.

This is not the only survey of Delta smelt populations that the CDFW conducts — and the other assessments have found smelt, although in alarmingly low numbers.

White noted, “While this survey did not catch any Delta Smelt, it does not mean they are not present. Spring Kodiak Trawl (SKT) survey caught 5 Delta Smelt in December.”

White also said another survey, the Enhanced Delta Smelt Monitoring (EDSM) survey, caught 13 Delta Smelt during December.

While decades of water exports and environmental degradation under previous governors and federal administrations have brought the smelt, once the most abundant fish in the Delta, to the edge of extinction, Governor Jerry Brown and his administration did nothing to reverse the trend, but only helped to worse the endangered fish’s status, according to fishermen and environmentalists.

Before this fall, the 2017 abundance index (2) was lowest in FMWT history. Only 2 Delta smelt were collected at index stations in the survey during the fall of 2017.

The Delta smelt is not the only fish absent during the fall 2018 survey. The CDFW didn’t observe any Sacramento splittail, a native minnow species that was formerly listed under the Endangered Species Act until Bush administration delisted the species and the Obama administration agreed with the delisting, in the 2018 fall survey either.

The striped bass, a popular gamefish that migrates from the ocean, San Francisco Bay and Delta up into the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers every spring to spawn, also showed an alarming drop in abundance during the survey.

The 2018 abundance index (42) for striped bass was the lowest in FMWT history, slightly less than the previous low value (43) in 2010. Thirty-one age-0 striped bass were collected at index stations, noted White.

The longfin smelt, a cousin of the Delta smelt, isn’t faring very well either in the estuary. “The 2018 abundance index (52) was the 5th lowest value in FMWT history, a 63% reduction from the previous year. Thirty-one Longfin Smelt were collected at index stations,” said White.

The number of threadfin shad, an introduced forage fish species, continued to decline. The 2018 abundance index (198) was the 4th lowest in survey history, a 32% reduction from the previous year. The CDFW found 150 threadfin shad at index stations.

The abundance of American shad in the trawl is also disappointing. The 2018 abundance index (1064) was the 21st lowest value on record, a 66% reduction from the previous year. Seven-hundred and two American shad were collected at index stations.

The January 2 memo summarizing the Fall Midwater Trawl results is available here: nrm.dfg.ca.gov/…

The link to the Fall Midwater Trawl monthly abundance indices is available here: www.dfg.ca.gov/…

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), commented on the disastrous decline of Delta smelt and other fish species in the Fall Midwater Trawl by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

“The abundance of both Delta smelt and striped bass is the lowest in the trawl’s history,” said Jennings. “Longfin is the fifth lowest, threadfin shad is the fourth lowest, American shad is a 66 percent reduction from the previous year and the splittail is zero. This is a very comprehensive trawl and the results were a disaster for Delta fisheries.”

“Not only is the Delta smelt on the brink of extinction but there are several species lined up behind it,” noted Jennings. “Governor Brown’s legacy is likely to be several extinctions of fish that flourished in this estuary for millennia.”

“We know what fish need. Fish prosper when they have adequate flows and quality water. They suffer when they don’t. The question is how do we get them to survive on less water of poorer quality than they evolved with for thousands of years. The answer appears to be they can’t,” Jennings concluded.

Dr. Jonathan Rosenfield, the Lead Scientist for The Bay Institute, emphasized in a tweet that Delta smelt are “not extinct,” since other sampling programs still catching them.

“Extinction is not imminent (if agencies take action),” he noted. “‘Flexible”, ‘adaptive’ implementation of the ESA (Endangered Species Act) has not worked. It’s time to enforce protections.”

Scientists don’t have any easy answer for the precipitous decline of Delta smelt over the past couple of years, particularly in 2017, a record water year when biologists would have expected a rebound.

“The answer is that we really don’t know,” said Dr. Peter B Moyle, Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, at the Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, Center for Watershed Sciences, UC Davis, in December 2017. “The best explanation I can think of is that numbers are so low that an increase (or decrease) in the index would not be detectable with the FMT sampling.”

“Another is that there was so much water last winter (2017) that smelt were more dispersed than usual and had a hard time finding mates; this would keep numbers low. When numbers are as low, as they clearly are for smelt, random factors in sampling, in distribution, in spawning success etc can make a big difference to the total population or the index,” said Moyle.

“Note that Delta smelt are still abundant enough in places so that focused sampling can find them. For example, Tien-Chieh Hung had no problem collecting a 100 smelt in one day for his smelt culture program,” he noted

A number of factors have resulted in the decline of Delta smelt and the other pelagic species, including increases in toxics and invasive species, but no factor has helped precipitate the collapse of Delta fish species more than the export of big quantities of water to agribusiness and Southern California water agencies from the state and federal pumping facilities in the South Delta over the past 50 years, according to fish advocates.

The record total for water exports, including water diverted by the Contra Costa Canal and North Bay Aqueduct, was 6,633,000 acre-feet in 2011 under the Brown administration. That was 163,000 acre-feet more than the previous record of 6,470,000 acre-feet set in 2005 under the Schwarzenegger administration, according to DWR data.

Found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the Delta smelt mainly inhabits the freshwater-saltwater mixing zone of the estuary, except during its spawning season. That’s when it migrates upstream to freshwater following winter “first flush” flow events, around March to May.

The smelt is very susceptible to changes in the environmental conditions of its habitat due to its one-year lifecycle and relatively low fecundity. Because of this, the fish is regarded as an “indicator species” that demonstrates the health of the Delta ecosystem.

It is imperative that the Gavin Newson administration break with the failed water policies of Brown and his predecessors and adopt rational water policies, based on science, that restore Delta smelt, Chinook salmon, steelhead and other fish species and the San Francisco Bay Delta ecosystem while providing a reliable and sustainable water supply for all Californians.

Remember: Extinction is forever. If the smelt becomes extinct, salmon, steelhead and other fish species will soon follow.

Background from CDFW: The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has conducted the Fall Midwater Trawl Survey (FMWT) to index the fall abundance of pelagic fishes nearly annually since1967. FMWT equipment and methods have remained consistent since the survey’sinception, which allows the indices to be compared across time. These relative abundance indices are not intended to approximate population sizes. However, we expect that our indices reflect general patterns in population change.

The FMWT conducts monthly surveys from September through December. The annual abundance index is the sum of the September through December monthly survey indices. During each monthly survey, one 12-minute oblique midwater trawl tow is conducted at each of 100 index stations used for index calculation and at an additional 22 non-index stations that provide enhanced distribution information.

The 2018 sampling season completed on December 18. Field crews successfully conducted tows at all index and non-index stations during the first three survey months. Two non-index stations in Cache Slough (stations 713 and 721) were not sampled in December due to heavy vegetation damaging sampling gear.

Categories: News for progressives

Economic and Emotional Rehabilitation of such Women in Kashmir?

Tue, 2019-02-05 15:13

There are some compelling examples of Kashmiri women working through the discourse of victimhood to construct their identities as survivors.

One example of powerful agential roles played by Kashmiri women is the Women’s Self-Defense Corps (WSDC) formed in 1947. This organization comprised Kashmir Muslim as well as Kashmiri Hindu women of diverse class backgrounds. This organization is a compelling example of the formation of a coalition across religious and class divides to further the nationalist consciousness of a society in the process of self-determining. In the second half of the 20th century, Kashmiri women like Begum Akbar Jehan Abdullah, Mehmooda Ahmad Ali Shah, Sajjida Zameer, and Krishna Misri, made a transition from keepers of home and hearth to people engaged in sociopolitical activism within the confines of nationalist discourse.

Moving on to the latter half of the 20th century, Parveena Ahangar is a lower middle-class Kashmiri Muslim woman, who after her son was said to be arrested and killed in custody of the security forces, instead of lamenting voicelessly, formed a grass roots organization called the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in the early 1990s, comprising other bereaved mothers like her. The APDP relies on the cultural and moral authority of the mother, sanctioned by religion and mobilizes women to courageously challenge the apathy and complacency of the political and bureaucratic machinery.

I see this the mothers in this organization as a powerful illustration of the connection between biological motherhood and the political participation of women in bringing the nurturing and communal spirit, traditionally identified with the family, into the public sphere. Women are fighting hard against legal discrimination and economic disadvantage against bereaved mothers.

However, I observe that this organization has not had a great degree of success in influencing branches of state government responsible for women’s issues and humanitarian assistance. The state government has yet to recognize the worth of the peace-building work that this organization has the potential to contribute to at the local and regional levels. The demand of bereaved mothers for accountability and the return of their children is yet to be employed for the reinstatement of democracy and restoration of justice. This organization, like the Northern Mothers’ Front in Sri Lanka, is mobilized “around women’s role as mothers and their duty and moral obligation to protect their children,” so, again like the Northern Mothers’ Front, the APDP has “never challenged disempowering or limiting gendered roles” (Samuel 2001: 193).

Kashmiri Women’s Vigilante Groups: Forms of Subjectivity that Reinforce Essentialist and Dichotomous State-Nationalist Subjects

There are other instances of women’s mobilization, which some Kashmir analysts might see as agential but, which I would argue, attempt to validate the “isolationist admiration” of Kashmir, of which I am wary. For instance, the Dukhtaran-e-Milat (DM), instead of pressing for women’s political empowerment and addressing the protracted crises of security and legitimacy, sanctifies the reductive portrayal of a Muslim woman as a veiled sociocultural icon who is mobilized more for who she is than for what she believes in, ignoring the diverse interpretations and the rich heterogeneity of cultural traditions This assertion of the salience and meaning of the identity of a “Kashmiri Muslim Woman” takes the form of trying to legitimize sociocultural practices like veiling, polygamy, punitive action against behavior deemed “unIslamic,” such as the mixing of sexes in public places, in an attempt to define the “proper” place of women. The regressive discourse propounded by this organization is highly questionable. It would be good to remember that the model of hierarchy between men and women might be institutionalized in legislations made and executed by the state or in Muslim Personal Law, but gender ideologies are neither impenetrable, nor do they remain fixed till kingdom come. Even when cultural values and religious law are incorporated into legislations, they are capricious and subject to personal discretion (Doumato 2000: 228).

On the other end of the spectrum is the Daughters of the Vitasta, a Kashmiri Hindu women’s organization, which seeks the resolution of the Kashmir conflict in the creation of a separate homeland for internally dislocated Kashmiri Hindus within the Valley. The Daughters of the Vistasta is an exclusionary Kashmiri Hindu women’s organization, comprising middle-class, and professional women. Lower-middle class Kashmiri Hindu women are not part of the upper crust of this organization.

These organizations are glaring illustrations of those insurgent manifestations of the armed rebellion and counterinsurgency in Kashmir that are striving for exclusionary and patriarchal nationalisms. It might be useful to point out that the DM comprises educated as well as uneducated women of the lower middle-class. Its influence is restricted to the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar city. The ideology and politics of this vigilante group have not seeped into grassroots cadres in rural areas. My contention is that fundamentalist ideologies of organizations like the DM and the Daughters of the Vitasta have grown in spaces created by structural inequities, repression, and a sense of injustice by state and non-state actors. Although the Daughters of the Vitasta would align itself with an ultra Indian-nationalist ideology, its growth is the blowback of the dislocation and displacement of the Kashmiri Hindu community subsequent to the inception of armed insurgency in 1989, and the inability of the Government of India to take substantive measures toward facilitating its return and rehabilitation in the Kashmir Valley.

The Daughters of the Vitasta gives an essentialist Hindu identity a privileged place in political discourse, unambiguously defining that identity and projecting it in order to solicit support. An astute observer must recognize that given the gender, ethnicity, and class status of the members of the DM and the Daughters of the Vitasta, they experience and recover from the effects of violence, displacement, and disenfranchisement differently. Also, both organizations espouse an identity politics that “appeals to that part of individual identity that is shared in a collective identity.” But, “the question to ask about this kind of politics is, ‘Which collective identity?’ It is a question that is never asked in the process of political mobilization on the basis of identity; indeed, the question is often actively suppressed, sometimes violently” (Smith 2001: 36).

These organizations do not have clear nation-building programs, which would involve reviving civil society, resuscitating the shattered economy, providing sources of income, and building social and political structures. How will these organizations pave the way for sustainable peace, human rights and security which would diminish the potency of militarized peacekeeping, following closely on the heels of militarized interventions?

I would assert, more work needs to be done to strengthen the work of women in civil intervention in the conflict, campaigns for demilitarization, rehabilitation of dislocated Kashmiri Hindus, rehabilitation of detainees, revocation of draconian laws, and restoration of civil liberties. The essentialist politics of the vigilante groups I have explored do not allow for change that would enable “peaceful conflict resolution, reconciliation between traditional enemies, justice between different races and gender equality” (46).

It is in the arena of domestic politics that changes in gender composition to favour women today would have an enormous impact on policies and practices, and such rearrangements of roles could be seen as responses to the need for social processes of a pro-democratic and pro-feminist kind.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Venezuela – Capitalist Success, Not Socialist Failure

Tue, 2019-02-05 15:12

A “democratic” U.S. government legally elected by a minority of the vote is now calling for democracy in Venezuela by attempting to overthrow its government, which was recently elected by a more than two-thirds vote after a highly-fragmented political opposition abstained from participation (on U.S. instructions) because it lacked popular support and felt that it was unlikely to win. The point man for the regime change operation is Elliott Abrams, whose biography tells us everything we need to know to evaluate the alleged democratic intentions of the Trump administration.

A fire-breathing fanatic for imperial Israel who championed the invasion and destruction of Iraq, Abrams was formerly Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights for the Reagan administration, and famously called U.S./Salvadorean death-squad operations that produced tens of thousands of mutilated civilian corpses (1979-1994) a “fabulous achievement.” He also claimed that the Nicaraguan contras, famous for torture, rape, and murder in a campaign to overthrow the socialist government of Nicaragua, would one day be fondly remembered as “folk heroes.” Today he is a member of the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy, which was created to be a continuation of CIA skullduggery by other means, and currently finances Washington’s destabilization efforts not only in Venezuela, but also in Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Cuba. Convicted of lying to Congress about Iran-Contra, Abrams called his prosecutors “filthy bastards,” dismissed the proceedings as “Kafkaesque,” and denounced the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee as “pious clowns.” After hearing Abrams’ testimony, then Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton expressed a common reaction: “I want to puke.”

So much for Washington seeking democracy, as though we didn’t already know. For the plain fact is that there is more democracy in Venezuela now, where members of the vast poor majority can be routinely found in animated political discussion of the events that shape their lives, than there has ever been in the United States, where the poor are deliberately excluded from representation or even consideration, and have therefore long since dismissed politics as a sensible concern.

But if not democracy, what then is the U.S.’s motivation in Venezuela? Well, Venezuela has large gold and nickel reserves, along with the largest oil supply in the world. Gaining control of such resources is an attractive prospect for any U.S. president, but especially for one under siege from multiple investigations and constant media questioning of his legitimacy. Making America great again by plundering Venezuela oil supplies would be an imperial achievement that the entire U.S. political class would admire. Witness Nancy Pelosi reaching across the aisle to tweet support for the coup right off the bat, to wit: “America stands by the people of #Venezuela as they rise up against authoritarian rule and demand respect for human rights and democracy.” Who says Trump and the Democrats can’t get along?

Though the current coup in Venezuela has roots going back to 2002 (when President Chavez was kidnapped and nearly killed by the U.S. backed “opposition”), long before any economic crisis was even on the horizon, giddy triumphalists of American Empire stridently declare that the Venezuelan crisis proves nothing more than the “failure of socialism.” Ignoring the deliberate U.S. policy of sowing economic chaos, they denounce the Bolivarian Revolution as a sham on the grounds that its supposed beneficiaries are now allegedly suffering mass starvation due to lunatic Marxist policies run amok.

Except that there is no mass starvation, the mass Chavista base remains intact, and the Venezuelan economy is overwhelmingly in private hands.

In other words, the entire thesis of “socialism has failed” is a propaganda offensive, not a news story. And those who try to make Venezuela a news story by getting out the real facts on the ground are regularly threatened with being burned alive by the U.S.-led political opposition now claiming it wants to re-establish democracy in Venezuela. In recent years it has attacked and killed dozens of poor black Chavistas in the streets (often torched), attempting to provoke police responses that can subsequently be denounced as socialist “authoritarianism.” Imagine the reaction in the United States if a foreign power were sowing arson and murder in the U.S. in an effort to force Trump out of office for having lost the popular vote in 2016. We’d launch a nuclear war.

There are, of course, real economic issues, such as hyper-inflation and food shortages. However, the shortages are often of staple items produced by a handful of companies that withhold them from the market as a form of class warfare. In any case, the crippling sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in 2017 on the ludicrous pretext that Venezuela represents a national security threat to the United States have made the situation worse, not better (as intended).

With the Trump administration now extending the sanctions to the energy sector, a solution could become outright impossible. About one-third of Venezuelan exports are to the United States, and Venezuela meets about 40% of its economic needs through the foreign exchange it earns by exporting. If it can’t export to the U.S. it suffers a huge loss of income that previously went for purchasing imports. This is the heart of Washington’s longstanding “make the economy scream” strategy previously successfully employed in Chile (1973) to overthrow a socialist government and install a dictator (Augusto Pinochet), who promptly initiated a bloodbath.

To make a long story short, the current crisis has been meticulously planned, nurtured, and yearned for years by U.S. imperial strategists, who are now perfectly delighted, not appalled, by the crisis. For them to call the situation a failure of socialism is like Jack the Ripper pronouncing his strangled female corpses a failure of feminism.

There is nothing to discuss with the Venezuelan opposition, which is obviously only interested in the complete eradication of the Bolivarian Revolution, the detested policy of meeting the needs of Venezuela’s poor black and Indian majority with Venezuelan oil revenue. It would be nothing less than treason to collaborate with these right-wing demagogues. At the same time, however, it would be suicidal to pretend that the U.S. is not exploiting real popular disenchantment with Chavez and Maduro’s economic policies, especially Maduro’s exchange controls.

But let’s let Venezuelans solve their problems for themselves, not force them to submit to imperial ultimatums.

Categories: News for progressives

Ex Hex – Tough Enough

Tue, 2019-02-05 02:13

Categories: News for progressives

How the Murders of Journalists in the Middle East Are Brushed Aside

Mon, 2019-02-04 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

It’s encouraging to hear that Agnes Callamard, the UN’s execution expert, is at last in Istanbul to lead the “independent international inquiry” into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Better late than never, perhaps, but the old UN donkey clip-clops upon the world stage according to the politics and courage of the panjandrums beside the East River in New York.

Thus Callamard arrived all of four months after Khashoggi was butchered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. And she is now politely asking the Saudis themselves – “respectfully”, she tells us – to give her access to the murder scene “at some stage”.

As we all know, Khashoggi wrote the truth about Saudi Arabia, was lured to his country’s consulate in Istanbul, got strangled, chopped up and secretly buried. And if we’re going to come down hard on those who kill members of our journalistic profession – alas, we’ll have to put aside for the moment all those Turkish journos banged up in their own country – Callamard has made a start. As opposed to all those like the boss of the Morgan Stanley investment bank, James Gorman, and the president of Switzerland, Ueli Maurer, who are keen to get back to business with Saudi Arabia. 

“We have long since dealt with the Khashoggi case”, Maurer has announced. Common sense, I suppose. But then there’s very little chance that Gorman or Maurer will be lured to a Saudi embassy, strangled, sawed into bits and dumped in an unknown grave.

But that’s not quite my point. What I’m really asking is why the killing of one Arab journalist is more equal than the killing of other Arab journalists? Why, for example, is the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, a friend and colleague of many of us, of infinitely more pressing importance than the fate of Yaser Murtaja?

The first clue is that Yaser Murtaja was killed in Gaza. The second is that he is one of 15 reporters or camera crew, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, killed by Israeli fire since 1992, two of them last year. Shooting at reporters in Gaza has become so routine – four more were wounded by Israeli bullets between May and September 2018 – that western newspapers and television scarcely bother to record their suffering. 

Just as the Saudis talked of Khashoggi’s links with “terrorism” – they meant the Muslim Brotherhood – so Israel talked of the dead Gaza journalist’s imaginary links with “terrorism”. In Yaser Murtaja’s case, this was supposed to be Hamas – which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood for whom Khashoggi worked in the never-never land of Saudi imagination. 

Forget for a moment that there is no more proof that Murtaja was ever a Hamas agent than there is that Khashoggi was in the Brotherhood; the former’s production company, according to the Associated Press, had recently won a grant from USAID after vetting by the US government. Murtaja was wearing a flak jacket marked “Press” when he was shot on 6 April 2018, 300 feet from the Gaza/Israel border during the weekly Palestinian “Great March of Return”. Nine other Palestinians were killed the same day and 491 wounded by live rounds, steel-coated rubber bullets and tear gas grenades.

Murtaja was filming among many Palestinians, with black smoke swirling in the air. But a sniper hit him below the arm – where there is a fatal gap in all flak jackets – and he fell as he shouted to a colleague: “I’m wounded. I’m wounded. My stomach.” Flak jackets are regularly worn by many western correspondents in the Middle East – far too often, critics say, when they are far from the scene of battle. But Murtaja was no poseur. 

Khashoggi was writing a regular column for The Washington Post. Murtaja, who uniquely used a drone during his reporting for the Ain Media Production Company, contributed reports to the BBC and Al Jazeera. The Hamas leader turned up for Murtaja’s funeral, but Murtaja was one of Gaza’s best-known journalists – and Ismail Haniyeh should have been there. And at least Murtaja got a funeral – which is more than we can say for Khashoggi. 

Four years earlier, Murtaja was beaten by Hamas thugs for refusing to surrender news film to them, and there was no evidence he ever worked for or with Hamas. Even if these lies were true, it’s well known that for many years before he sought exile in the US, Khashoggi had been a supporter of the head-chopping Saudi regime – a fact we didn’t worry much about when we condemned his killing.

But a UN enquiry in Turkey to enquire about the nefarious deeds of its current antagonist, Saudi Arabia, is a far cry from a full UN investigation in Gaza into the killing of Palestinian journalists already slandered by Israel and its propaganda folk as “terrorist” supporters. 

After the report and recantation of UN envoy Richard Goldstone into the 2008-2009 Gaza war – for which read, slaughter – and his trashing by Israel and its friends as an antisemitic, “evil” and “quisling” enemy of truth (even though he was Jewish), I doubt if Agnes Callamard would fancy a trip to enquire into Yaser Murtaja’s demise. And nor, after the Goldstone fiasco, would the UN folk beside the East River have much appetite for taking on Israel yet again.

In fairness, the UN did note Murtaja’s death, and its human rights staff keep a sharp tally of the deaths of civilians, medical workers and journalists in the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip. But there’s a habit of all governments to promise investigations after each outrage committed by its servants – and it’s a question of whether these pledges count for anything more than a time-and-forget drug. 

According to Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, Israel deploys a very aggressive “silencing campaign” against any criticism of the occupation of Palestinian land. First, it announces that enquiries will take place. “But 97 per cent of the time, no investigation will be opened – or an investigation will be opened but no one will be charged.” International opinion is then mollified by news of the “investigation”. 

The Palestinian Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza – which is “respected”, as journalists like to say of NGOs they can trust – has gone to the Israeli High Court over the deaths of civilians, aid workers and journalists. “Killing journalists is a violation of human rights and international law,” Al-Mezan’s communications director Mahmoud Abu Rahma repeated again and again when I spoke to him. “Yaser Murtaja was a person whom everyone knew. He didn’t have a Hamas connection. There was an outcry, if not as much as for Khashoggi. And there was a strong reaction by international bodies.”

But – and here’s the rub – Abu Rahma, like many others, regards these investigations as “rubbish”, albeit promoted in a sophisticated way. “Israeli investigations are no better than Saudi investigations,” he says. “Action is necessary for Khashoggi – but also for Murtaja and others who were clearly marked as journalists, who could be clearly seen by [Israeli] snipers. And the Israelis announced that they would ‘investigate’.”

Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent MindsAnd after Murtaja was shot, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote to Benjamin Netanyahu to demand that the Israeli prime minister “ensure that the shooting of journalists covering demonstrations in the Gaza Strip is quickly and thoroughly investigated”. The Israelis, the CPJ’s executive director Joel Simon wrote, appointed a brigadier general to investigate the army’s reaction to Palestinian protestors – and in particular the killing of Yaser Murtaja – so the “investigation” must be made public.

The world awaits Netanyahu’s reply. We all wait for the results of that “investigation” – once the Israeli brigadier general has reached his onerous conclusions. Just as we wait with utter confidence for the results of the extraordinarily fair and thorough “investigation” by the Saudis into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, an enquiry ordered by the same Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman whom the CIA believes ordered his murder in the first place.

Unfortunately, “investigation” in the Middle East means obfuscation. It’s like the sign they leave on your hotel room handle when you wish to sleep. Do not disturb. Silence. And when you wake up, with luck, the nightmares will all have been forgotten.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Will Trump Really Launch a War on Iran?

Mon, 2019-02-04 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Keeping track of the Trump administration’s foreign policy is like trying to track a cat on a hot tin roof: We’re pulling out of Syria (not right away). We’re leaving Afghanistan (sometime in the future). Mexico is going to pay for a wall (no, it isn’t). Saudi Arabia, Russia, the European Union, China, Turkey, North Korea — one day friends, another day foes.

Even with a scorecard, it’s hard to tell who’s on first.

Except for Iran, where a policy of studied hostility has been consistent from the beginning.

Late last year, National Security Advisor John Bolton pressed the Pentagon to produce optionsfor attacking Iran, and he’s long advocated for military strikes and regime change in Tehran. And now, because of a recent internal policy review on the effect of U.S. sanctions, Washington may be is drifting closer to war.

Sanctions as Pretext

According to “On Thin Ice,” a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), the Trump administration has concluded that its “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions has largely failed to meet any of the White House’s “goals” of forcing Iran to re-negotiate the 2015 nuclear agreement or alter its policies in the Middle East.

While the sanctions have damaged Iran’s economy, the Iranians have proved to be far more nimble in dodging them than Washington allowed for. And because the sanctions were unilaterally imposed, there are countries willing to look for ways to avoid them.

“If you look at the range of ultimate objectives” of the administration, from encouraging “protests that pose an existential threat to the system, to change of behavior, to coming back to the negotiating table, none of that is happening,” Ali Vaez of the ICG’s Iran Project told Laura Rozen of Al-Monitor.

That should hardly come as a shock. Sanctions rarely achieve their goals and virtually never do when they’re imposed by one country, even one as powerful as the United States. More than 50 years of sanctions aimed at Cuba failed to bring about regime change, and those currently aimed at Russia have had little effect beyond increasing tensions in Europe.

This time around, the U.S. is pretty much alone. While the Trump administration is preparing to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the European Union (EU) is lobbying Iran to stay in the pact. Russia, China, Turkey and India have also made it clear that they will not abide by the U.S. trade sanctions, and the EU is setting up a plan to avoid using dollars.

But the failure of the White House’s sanctions creates its own dangers because this is not an American administration that easily accepts defeat. On top of that, there is a window of opportunity for striking Iran that will close in a year, making an attack more complicated.

The nuclear agreement imposed an arms embargo on Iran, but if Tehran stays in the agreement, that embargo will lift in 2020, allowing the Iranians to buy weapons on the international market. Beefing up Iran’s arms arsenal wouldn’t do much to dissuade the United States, but it might give pause to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates (UAE), two of Tehran’s most implacable regional enemies.

It’s not clear who would be part of a coalition attack on Iran. Saudi Arabia and the UAE would almost certainly be involved, but that pair hardly has the Iranians quaking in their boots. The rag-tag Houthi army has fought the two Gulf monarchies to a standstill in Yemen, in spite of not having any anti-aircraft to challenge the Saudi air war.

Iran is a different matter. Its Russian-built S-300 anti-aircraft system might not discomfort the United States and the Israelis, but Saudi and UAE pilots could be at serious risk. Once the embargo is lifted, Iran could augment its S-300 with planes and other anti-aircraft systems that might make an air war like the one the Gulf monarchs are waging in Yemen very expensive.

Would the U.S. or Israel Actually Attack?

Of course, if the United States and/or Israel join in, Iran will be hard pressed. But as belligerent as Bolton and the Israeli government are toward Iran, would they initiate or join a war?

Such a war would be unpopular in the United States. Some 63 percent of Americans oppose withdrawing from the nuclear agreement and, by a margin of more than 2 to 1, oppose a war with Iran. While 53 percent oppose such a war — 37 percent strongly so — only 23 percent would support a war with Iran. And, of those, only 9 percent strongly support such a war.

The year 2020 is also the next round of U.S. elections, where control of the Senate and the White House will be in play. While wars tend to rally people to the flag, the polls suggest a war with Iran is not likely to do that. The U.S. would be virtually alone internationally, and Saudi Arabia is hardly on the list of most Americans’ favorite allies.

And it’s not even certain that Israel would join in, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls Iran an “existential threat.” Polls show that the Israeli public is hardly enthusiastic about a war with Iran, particularly if the U.S. isn’t involved.

The Israeli military is more than willing to take on Iranian forces in Syria, but a long-distance air war would get complicated. Iraq and Lebanon would try to block Israel from using their airspace to attack Iran, as would Turkey. The first two countries might not be able to do much to stop the Israelis, but flying over a hostile country is always tricky, particularly if you have to do it for an extended period of time. And anyone who thinks the Iranians are going to toss in the towel is delusional.

Of course Israel has other ways to strike Iran, including cruise missiles deployed on submarines and surface craft. But you can’t win a war with cruise missiles; you just blow a lot of things up.

Fissures in the Gulf

There are deep fissures among the Gulf monarchs. Qatar has already said that it will have nothing to do with an attack on Iran, and Oman is neutral. Kuwait has signed a military cooperationagreement with Turkey because the former is more worried about Saudi Arabia than about Iran, and with good reason.

A meeting last September of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Emir Sabah Al-Sabah of Kuwait to discuss problems between the two countries apparently went badly. The two countries are in a dispute over who should exploit their common oil fields at Khafji and Wafra, and the Saudis unilaterally stopped production. The Kuwaitis say they lost $18 billion revenues and want compensation.

The bad blood between the two countries goes back to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, when Saudi Arabia refused to accept the borders that the British drew for Kuwait and instead declared war. In 1922 the border was re-drawn with two-thirds of Kuwait’s territory going to Saudi Arabia.

Lebanese legal scholar Ali Mourad told Al-Monitor that Kuwait has tightened its ties to Turkey because “they are truly afraid of a Saudi invasion,” especially given “the blank check Trump has issued” to Prince Salman.

Whether Kuwait’s embrace of Turkey will serve as a check on the Saudis is uncertain. Prince Salman has made several ill-considered moves in the region, from trying to overthrow the government of Lebanon, blockading Qatar, to starting a war with Yemen. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are currently at odds over the latter’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, probably the only thing that the Saudi princes hate more than Iran.

Would — or could — Ankara really defend Kuwait from a Saudi attack? Turkey is currently bogged down in Northern Syria, at war with its own Kurdish population, and facing what looks like a punishing recession. Its army is the second largest in NATO, and generally well-armed, but it has been partly hollowed out by purges following the 2015 coup attempt.

Taking the Neocons at Their Word

So is U.S. National Security Advisor Bolton just blowing smoke when he talks about regime change in Iran?

Possibly, but it’s a good idea to take the neo-conservatives at their word.

The U.S. will try to get Iran to withdraw from the nuclear pact by aggressively tightening the sanctions. If Tehran takes the bait, Washington will claim the legal right to attack Iran.

Bolton and the people around him engineered the catastrophes in Afghanistan and Iraq (the Obama administration gets the blame for Libya and Yemen), and knocking out Iran has been their longtime goal. If they pull it off, the U.S. will ignite yet another forever war.

Categories: News for progressives

Kill That Bear: Anti-Grizzly Fever Hits Wyoming Again

Mon, 2019-02-04 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Anti-bear fever has again gripped Wyoming politicians in the wake of Judge Christensen’s restoration of endangered species protections for Yellowstone grizzlies. Last week’s press was peppered with hostile rhetoric from people in high places. Several inane bills are being debated in the state legislature that presume to strip federal grizzly bear protections and institute a grizzly bear hunt with the stated goal of “ensuring public safety.”

Brian Debolt of Wyoming Game and Fish further fueled public confusion by publicly claiming that the 59 grizzly bears captured during conflicts last year was “about normal,” when that number is, in fact, twice the 2005-2017 annual average.  And after only a few days in office as Wyoming’s Governor, Mark Gordon called for punitive management of grizzly bears by the state, saying to a group of reporters: “bears have no respect for us.” His statement fits squarely in the tradition of invoking violence and punishment as means of instilling “respect,” which is conservative shorthand for “fear.”

Last week’s antics build on widespread anti-bear vitriol in the “Equality State” that seems to be increasing since the Judge’s ruling.   Before getting into why this is happening, it’s worth first unpacking some facts, starting with Debolt and the 2018 Wyoming Game & Fish (WGF) report on grizzly bear conflicts.

Never have Wyoming wildlife managers killed so many grizzly bears in one year: 32, all outside National Park boundaries, almost all associated with conflicts over livestock. This toll is about half of the total 65 grizzlies that died ecosystem-wide. Moreover, the 2018 deaths are 30% higher in Wyoming than the previous record set during 2016. The only year when more bears were captured in response to conflicts was during 2010, when 65 bears were trapped. For Wyoming’s grizzlies, there was absolutely nothing normal about 2018.

Not apparently deterred by inconsistency, Debolt went on to make the opposite point, claiming that bears are causing intolerable problems because they are expanding beyond the Demographic Monitoring Area (DMA) where they are less “socially acceptable.” But the map shows that almost all the captures — maybe 52 out of 59 – occurred inside the DMA, where you expect most bears to be. So, which is it Brian, a “normal” or “out of control” situation? You can’t have it both ways.

Second, the state legislature. A resolution and separate bill seek to strip federal endangered species protections from grizzlies and reinstate a hunt. Wyoming Senator Eli Bebout concedes that, if his bill actually required WGF to initiate a hunt, officials could be imprisoned for a felony crime so he made the language more permissive — filled with “mays,” not “shalls.”

A third proposal that sought to create a fund to compensate victims of bear attacks was killed last week in committee. The bill was a direct link to the tragic fatal mauling of hunting guide Mark Uptain last fall. While a recently released final investigation report by WGF on Uptain’s death made it clear that bear spray, if properly deployed, could have saved his life (more on that in an upcoming essay), regressive politicians are using the tragedy to fuel anti-bear furor. These measures have one aim: to amp anger and angst about bears so as to kill more.

Governor Gordon’s comment serves the same purpose: to hype the narrative that “bears are out of control, we need to hunt them.” A recent essay by David highlights other choice details from recent months of news. In the current climate, it doesn’t seem to matter that there are reasons for the conflicts, proven techniques to avoid them, and federal laws that supersede state authority. I would have thought that the boundaries of federal and state authority were definitively settled in the 1860s—after the Civil War.

Why Lie?

Grizzlies and public lands are owned by all of us. But to Wyoming’s elites in the ranching and outfitting industries who profit from the public domain, delisting bears is an ideological issue, but also yet another opportunity to make money at public expense. Dare we call it welfare? Certainly, outfitting grizzly bear trophy hunts would be big bucks, with one hunt going for $10,000 or more. And it would be the outfitters who profit most from a hunt, not any of the state wildlife management agencies that would be charging a relative pittance for grizzly bear hunting licenses. Ranchers too see the possibility of more profit with fewer restrictions on exploiting the public domain, hence the desirability of delisting. But profit is only part of it: the rest has to do with power. Industry has long benefited by wresting power from the federal government. Local officials are easier to intimidate, manipulate, and seduce.

State wildlife agencies are, in turn, cowed by the political, ideological, and financial masters they serve. Most potently, they are financed largely by sales of hunting licenses and taxes derived from sales of arms and ammunition. And the pervasive ranchers turned state politicians hold their leash as well. Amping up these dependencies, those who go into state game management agencies are invariably hunters and often wannabe cowboys. They see themselves not as regulators as much as bros.

Given all of these corrupting influences, it is no wonder that WGF officials lie and prevaricate in service of promoting removal of ESA protections and instituting a trophy hunt. Debolt and others reserve special animosity for those who oppose divesting authority over managing of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears to the states — especially those who are half-way successful in their opposition, including my husband David and yours truly.

This truly astounding and unseemly behavior by state wildlife managers is a long-standing tradition. I recently reviewed my notes taken at meetings of grizzly bear managers during the last 30 years and was reminded that Wyoming’s aggressive promotion of delisting and demeaning comments about adversaries go back decades. It is probably no coincidence that Wyoming’s wildlife managers are pretty much all men.

In this regime there is no place for the broader public interest, or even Judges who are often called upon to defend it.

The Changing Face of Grizzly Conflicts

Nonetheless, reports periodically produced by state wildlife managers include some good information on grizzly-human conflicts. Along with the ecosystem-wide compilations maintained by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST), state reports provide a window on the drivers and dynamics behind conflicts. The specific nature of the conflicts has changed over the past few decades, but one fact has not: most are avoidable, even according to government officials.

Until the 1990s, attraction to human food and garbage was the leading cause of human-bear conflicts and resulting bear deaths. Managers routinely killed bears that had become hooked on human foods and, because of that, more aggressive. But starting in the 1970s, the National Park Service and US Forest Service instituted programs requiring people to store food away from the reach of bears. These mandates paid off. Conflicts related to food conditioning have plummeted. The point is that, if we put our minds to it, we can reduce conflicts with bears without resorting to bloodshed.

So why the recent spike in conflicts?  The government mantra is that the population of grizzly bears has been relentlessly growing and, because of that, spreading inexorably out. But according to IGBST data, that is simply not true. The size of the Yellowstone population more or less stopped growing over 15 years ago. But grizzly distribution has expanded by threefold (Map 3). Why? The most plausible explanation is the collapse of a key food, whitebark pine, from an unprecedented climate-driven outbreak of mountain pine beetles that peaked between 2003 and 2009.

Not only do whitebark pine seeds efficiently fatten bears for survival of hibernation’s winter famine, but the trees also grow at high elevations in some of the most remote backcountry in the ecosystem. Healthy whitebark pine forests nourish bears while keeping them safe and securely away from conflicts with people.

Over time, grizzlies responded to the loss of whitebark pine by spreading out more widely, which brought them more often into contact with people under circumstances that were a recipe for trouble. It did not take long for ever-more bears to dial into beef as a high calorie food–to the dismay of cattlemen. Wyoming’s 2018 report on conflicts is testimony to the shift that has occurred. Only about 7 out of 59 captures in Wyoming were related to attractants such as dog food, apple trees, and a corn maze, whereas almost all the rest related to conflicts over livestock – mostly cows.

Interestingly, 2010 pops out as the other blockbuster conflict year, with, as I mentioned earlier, 65 captures in Wyoming alone. Why? A plausible answer is that this was right after the bottom had fallen out for whitebark pine. In 2009 I was part of a team with Dr. Jesse Logan, Wally Macfarlane, and the US Forest Service that conducted the first-ever comprehensive aerial survey of whitebark pine health. An astounding 70% or so of mature whitebark were dead by then, in the relative blink of an eye. You can just imagine bears’ shock: “oh crap, where do we find dinner now?”

In addition to cows, grizzlies have also turned to eating more elk, both vulnerable calves during early summer, and hunter-killed elk during fall. Interestingly—and perhaps revealingly—state conflict reports do not include incidents involving hunters, perhaps because state officials are typically not present where and when these sorts of conflicts occur, and perhaps because such conflicts pose an inconvenient challenge. Today, big game hunters and livestock conflicts—not garbage—are the leading causes of bear deaths in the Greater Yellowstone, in large measure because bears’ have shifted to eating more meat to compensate for losses of whitebark pine.

Parenthetically, the only rich natural food that does not draw bears closer to people is the army cutworm moth. Moths, whose small bodies are 40-70% fat, live on nectar of alpine tundra flowers on the remote eastern flanks of the Absaroka Mountains. Not surprisingly, bear use of this food has increased dramatically during recent years. But not only are moths unable to fully compensate for lost foods, they will likely be gone in the not too distant future, as climate warming drives tundra off the tops of the highest peaks.

Hunting Grizzlies is Not the Answer

The Thermopolis-based legislator who introduced the grizzly bear hunt bill seems to be under the impression that hunting grizzlies is an effective way to reduce conflicts. Similarly, Governor Gordon seems to think that hunting or otherwise more often killing grizzlies will instill “respect” (i.e., fear) of humans in bears.

The reality is that hunting bears will likely increase conflicts with humans, in part by disrupting the social ordering among bears. The same principle holds true for other large carnivores, most definitively for species such as mountain lions. Because of aggressive competition among adult males for breeding opportunities, the killing of resident boars by hunters will create openings likely to be filled by younger, often more troublesome, males. Such males will predictably attempt to kill the cubs produced by the deceased male. Their aim? To accelerate the onset of estrus among neighborhood females. The consequence? A younger, more rambunctious population comprised of proportionately more bears that are learning less from other bears about how to live with people and, as a consequence, more often ending up in conflicts.

Don’t take my word on this. State-of-the art research on the topic has been done over the last few decades by Scandinavians, led for many years by Jon Swenson who once worked for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. Also, you might want to listen to my podcast (Episode 29) with large carnivore scientist Dr. Rob Wielgus who has done impeccable research on the impacts of hunting on large carnivores. Hunting, Wielgus and others conclude, exacerbates rather than ameliorates conflicts.

Could it be that Debolt, the state’s lead grizzly bear “expert,” had not read this relevant scientific research when he said last week: “Data on how hunting impacts conflicts is not that abundant?” There are, in fact, over 40 peer reviewed publications on the topic of how disproportionate mortality of males adversely impacts conflicts and survival of young for not only bears, but also other large carnivores such as mountain lions and wolves. And the weight of evidence overwhelmingly supports concluding that hunters out killing males will make problems worse, not better. So we are supposed to trust these guys with management of our imperiled grizzly bears?

A Better Way

There are better ways to deal with conflicts. The first step is to take a comprehensive look at the data: where, when, and why problems occur. That means systematically evaluating all relevant data, including the details surrounding incidents such as specific landscape or habitat features, husbandry practices, and seasonal factors that may configure conflicts. State reports provide a start, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. I have fought for many years to get these details, with only limited success. At this point, all of us would benefit from transparency and inclusion in a public dialogue about what is really going on.

A second step is to examine efforts in the northern Rockies that have led to successful coexistence between grizzlies and livestock producers, such as in the Madison Valley and Tom Miner Basin of Montana. I have written about enlightened operators, including some in Wyoming such as Jon Robinett of the Diamond G Ranch near Dubois. Much has been written about ranchers in the Blackfoot Challenge south of the Bob Marshall Wilderness who have reduced grizzly bear conflicts by over 90% through a mix of carcass removal and composting, electric fence, and a phone tree that provides an early warning system when grizzlies are in the neighborhood. Many commonsense lessons can be harvested from successful coexistence efforts that would likely work in Wyoming’s troubled rangelands.

A third step involves prioritizing interventions according to which are most practical and would give the biggest bang for the buck. The government took some steps in this direction by evaluating conflict and mortality data in five different reports, the first of which dates back to 1991. Over two thirds of the government’s recommendations emphasized the need to: 1. Improve handling of livestock and big game carcasses, 2. Carry bear spray, and 3. Ensure that big game hunters were prepared to hunt in grizzly country.

What progress has been made? Precious little, which helps explain why conflicts keep reoccurring in the same landscapes at the same times. None are more glaring and chronic than conflicts densely clustered in the Upper Green River area near Pinedale, Wyoming, where roughly 30% of last year’s grizzly bear captures occurred. Here, wealthy politically connected cattlemen have successfully resisted even modest precautionary measures such as requiring range riders to carry bear spray, even though they are grazing on public land to the current detriment of a national treasure—the grizzly.

Kill That Bear

The fight over grizzly bears might as well be about Muslims or Hispanic immigrants. All are convenient scapegoats. You could replace “build that wall” with “kill that bear.” Such slogans divide us and distract from developing insight into real problems and, from that, coming up with practical and humane solutions.  Political cant and inflammatory rhetoric are fundamentally destructive to people, animals, and a civil discourse.

The old “frontier” west may be dying, but the will to kill and dominate is very much alive among power elites who are threatened by change. A “New West” based on reverence and respect for nature is still being born, although the involved labor is prolonged and often painful.

I thought Governor Gordon was part of the New West when I met him decades ago during our fight to protect Wyoming’s wilderness. But his recent quips about disrespectful bears harken to the state’s brutal past.

Restraint, honesty and a dose of reality would help right now. Grizzlies are not going to be delisted anytime soon, so let’s roll up our sleeves and do something constructive for not only grizzly bears, but also for all of us who are affected by and care for these animals.

Categories: News for progressives

The Capitalist Adults Are in the Room

Fri, 2019-02-01 16:01

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Commercials are the State of the Union

Two Sunday mornings ago, sitting in an apartment equipped with cable television, I happened upon a CNN broadcast called “State of the Union,” hosted by the perpetual scowler Jake Tapper.

I figured I’d better look at a show with such a solemn and important title.

The federal government had only been open for less than 48 hours after its record-setting five-week shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were waiting for back pay after weeks of scrambling to meet basic expenses.

The FBI had just engaged in a high-profile military-style raid on the home of a top Donald Trump associate and adviser, Roger Stone.

Washington was leading an international effort to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela.

Meteorologists were predicting a record deep-freeze across the upper Midwest.

There was a lot going on in “the Union.” I decided to watch.

I caught a glance of Tapper’s frowning face as CNN moved into a long line of commercials, almost all of which were for pharmaceutical products catering to Baby Boomers. Drugs with strange-sounding three-syllable names and daunting side-effects including death.

I put the volume up and left the room to attend to wash some dishes.

“State of the Union” returned.  I could hear U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) telling Tapper that government shut-downs don’t provide Republicans “good leverage.”

Reflecting that Rubio was leading the charge for the imperialist shutdown of Venezuela’s democratic government, I worked my way back to the television.  Too late. CNN was already back to commercials: cars, drugs, and retirement planning. One advertisement blared a perverse, up-tempo version of one part (repeating the lyric section “what’s my name”?) of the Rolling Stones’ song “Sympathy for the Devil” while a vehicle careened around the screen.

I had some laundry to put away. The show came back.  I could make out Democratic presidential hopeful Julian Castro telling Tapper that a completed Trump-style wall on the US-Mexico border would “change the notion of America from the Statue of Liberty that stands for freedom and welcomes immigrant to a country that literally walls itself off from the rest of the world.”

I was intrigued when Tapper pointed out that more than 650 miles of the 900 mile plus-border was already covered with a physical barrier and so adding 300 or so more miles might not make that much difference.  But by the time I got back to hear Castro’s response, it was too late. CNN was into another long commercial break: a dating service for “educated people,” a vacation cruise company, a foreign language app, car insurance, life insurance, a drug for migraines.

“So much for that, guess I’m going to miss the ‘State of the Union,’ I muttered to myself.  I flipped the clicker to obscure cable channel showing a live soccer match from somewhere in Germany. (One of the many beautiful things about soccer – the real football – is that goes twice for a full 45 minutes straight without commercial interruption, with a halftime in-between.

It’s a big deal and all part of the story of, well, “the state of the union.”

Then it hit me. It struck me – with no particular claim to originality – that the endless and nauseating commercials weren’t just getting in the way of my appreciation of “the state of the union.” They were and arethe state of the union.  Hyper-commercialization isthe state of the union.

The ultra-capitalist United States is all about the commercialization and commodification – the extraction, manipulation, distortion, packaging, and sale – of anything and everything capital can get its hands on and turn to its advantage. Pick a critical social, natural. and cultural resource and phenomenon. Take one, any one – education, water, forests, transportation, art, music, communications, health care, old age, insurance, pensions, the land, the food supply, food preparation, home materials, clothing, body care, civil authority, the maintenance of facilities, energy, housing, the public roads, spirituality, zoning, romantic relationships, sex, friendship, traffic control, recreation, entertainment, public debate, language, and science.  All this and more is for sale, subject to relentless, totalitarian commodification and commercialization under the command of concentrated capital. There are corporate-marketed products and services powerfully and pervasively connected to all these things and more.

Still an Age of Capital: The Limits of Commoner Participation

To keep “life” and society this way, the nation’s co-joined corporate media and political systems both function to service the bankrollers who sponsor their broadcasts, cultural productions, parties, elections, and candidates and the “public” office-holders, who make their real money in the private sector after doing capital’s bidding while in government.

Actual public opinion on numerous key issues is largely irrelevant under this hegemonic formula.  Most U.S.-Americans want and have long wanted the basic progressive and social-democratic agenda advanced by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:  guaranteed free and quality and health care for all; a drastically increased minimum wage; a significant reduction of the nation’s extreme economic inequalities; free college tuition; the removal of private money from public elections; large-scale green jobs programs to simultaneously provide decent employment and help avert environmental catastrophe; massive investment in public schools and housing, and more.  Most U.S.-Americans would go beyond Sanders and agree to drastic reductions in the U.S. Pentagon budget to help (along with increased taxes on the preposterously wealthy and under-taxed Few) pay for these and other good things. Most U.S.-Americans think public opinion ought to influence policy every day, not just on those occasional and brief, savagely time-staggered moments when “we the people” supposedly get meaningful popular and democratic “input” by marking ballots filled with the names of major party candidates who have generally been pre-approved by the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money.

But so what? The commoners don’t call the shots under capitalism.  They never have and they never will. Not under the bourgeois system of class rule. As the great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote in the introduction to his magisterial volume, The Age of Capital, “the global triumph of capitalism” meant “the triumph of a society” based on “buying everything including labor) in the cheapest market and selling the dearest.” It was (and remains) a society where “participation in politics [on the part] of the common people” takes place only “within such limits as would guarantee the bourgeois social order and avoid the risk of its overthrow.”

Election Fairy Fever

And so it goes that cable news networks run a regular parade of capital-controlled politicos, “experts,” and talking heads who come on the corporate-managed “public” airwaves to obsessively focus us on those holy little voting moments once every two or four years. It’s two years out from the next scheduled presidential Inauguration and CNN and MSNBC are already running with the 2020 presidential candidate circus, making sure to keep the commoners fixated on that future grand spectacle even as a present-day monster – Donald Trump – edges the nation and world closer to cultural and climatological closure with every single minute he stains the world’s most powerful office with his putrid and pathological presence.  No rational, engaged, empowered, and democratic citizenry would tolerate this eco-cidal, racist, and sexist ogre’s holding of that penultimate position for a single day.  Such a citizenry would be in a state of massive rebellion until not just the orange brute himself but indeed the broader political class and corporate state that birthed and sustained it was replaced by something consistent with the principle of popular sovereignty.

The corporate communications and ideological system is dedicated to keeping ordinary folks dreaming of an electoral savior from on high – a more properly corporate- and empire-vetted ruler, a good wizard or fairy to magically slay the tangerine mobster and make everything seem good and “normal” and safe again. Someone who will sound progressive and even a little populist to get elected but will then govern in accord with the big corporate and financial interests who will fund his or her campaign and then make him or her privately rich after he or she provides the masters of capital – those who George Carlin rightly called our “owners” – with one or two years of “public service.”

“How Flawed Must the System be to Allow Something Like This to Happen?”

This system loves Trump for reasons both commercial, political, and ideological. Besides granting the upper-echelon welcome tax-cuts and regulatory roll-backs, he is the perfect foil for the ruling class’s project of keeping what they see as the real threat – radical-democratic structural and institutional change – off the table. Here is an exchange I recently had with the left historian and journalist Terry Thomas, with whom I have been conversing across 90 miles of absurdly frozen Illinois soil:

Street:  I’m not the biggest Bill Maher fan but this segment Maher did on Trump’s narcissist insanity last September was brilliant and dead-on.  Screaming textbook Narcissistic Personality Disorder has been on wild display.  Trump was perhaps the nation’s leading textbook example of malignant narcissism well before he became a serious presidential contender. It is just mind-boggling that someone as incredibly mentally and emotionally incompetent and ill could hold the most powerful position in the world for two years and running. Think about that. It is unreal.

I liked this line in the Maher bit: “Now, I know everyone by now knows Trump is a narcissist. But we have to stop treating that like it’s an unfortunate personality tic and start treating it like what it is: a serious and dangerous mental illness.” I’ve thought this from the very start. I mean, it has just blown me away that people think his narcissism is funny, authentic, and even “cute.” Only in a nation that is shockingly illiterate when it comes to basic matters of mental health (and the U.S. is pretty much a nuthouse) could ever tolerate such a person in the White House. If the 25th Amendment wasn’t written for this guy, then who the Hell (other than a formerly competent president hit by a stroke or a bullet or whatever debilitating condition or injury) was it written for? It’s NOT funny.  It’s NOT cute.  This guy is NOT amusing. He’s sick and dangerous.

Thomas: You got that right. But I still have difficulty intellectually digesting the fact that this is the way educated and presumably sane humans talk about the most powerful guy on the planet. And 35 to 40 percent of the electorate supports this lunatic. I sit and watch this shit every night and find myself just shaking my head in disbelief and often horrified. This fiasco also allows the inauthentic opposition to sit around and smugly refer to themselves as “the adults in the room,” as if that’s now all that’s required. No need for Bernie or whatever or radical change, just need someone who is not mentally ill, an “adult in the room.” Truly perilous times.

Street: Yeah. I think its “Pied Piper II” now…they want to keep this guy around to run again like they wanted to run against him in 2016….only just in the next election this orange monstrosity, this epic ignoramus, this classic malignant narcissist will have been the president for damn near 4 years.  Unreal.

Thomas: And here’s the kicker: the Dems now sit around and act like we’ve got this covered because we’re sane and Dumpster’s not, our point has been proven, so now just give us power again, and we’ll put everything back together, nothing more needed. But the truth is glaringly obvious: how flawed and fundamentally dysfunctional must the system be to allow something like this to happen? No need for radical change, just put the adults back in? Please don’t insult our intelligence. The adults were in the room — by their estimation Obama was the epitome of adulthood — and it produced this.

Street: Yeah. And guess what, as time goes on. we might well find that we dodged a bullet with the Trumpsterfire. He’s a showman, not a real strongman. He’s a strongman wannabe, know what I’m say’n?. See what Rock Right Wing is Cooking after one or two terms of a “progressive neoliberal” (Nancy Fraser) Kamala Harris or Beto or Biden (really? no) presidency.

And so it goes – the endlessly recycled absurdity of a hopelessly commercialized media-politics culture dedicated to constant buying and selling and the containment of popular sentiments and behavior “within such limits as guarantee the bourgeois social order and avoid the risk of its overthrow.”

Postscript: The Not-So Super Bowl

The bad call that probably cost the New Orleans Saints a trip to the Super Bowl? Yeah, it was bad, but that’s the breaks. Worse in my opinion was the Kansas City Chiefs not even having a chance to answer a New England Patriots opening touchdown drive with a touchdown drive of their own under the overtime rules in the AFC championship game. That’s ridiculous.. A coin flip should not mean that much for an overtime period. (I say this despite hating the racism of the KC Chiefs team name, logo, and chant).

But far worse than both of those things are (1) the pathetic lack of Black head coaches (there’s 3) in a league whose players are 77% Black; (2) the racist NFL crackdown on the anti-police-brutality protests undertaken by Black players in earlier years; (3) the NFL owners’ racist blacklisting of protest leader Colin Kaepernick; (4) the sick nationalist-imperial militarism on display during NFL contests including of course the Super Bowl; (5) the vast stadium corporate welfare (tax breaks and subsidies)NFL owners receive from local and state governments and taxpayers; (6) the extreme damage done by the barbarian sport of football to its players brains– horrible damage that has been documented in numerous scientific studies that the NFL has long downplayed and suppressed;; (7) the tragic ascendancy (dating from at least the 1970s) of sick-ass US football over the beautiful game of baseball as the nation’s favorite sport; (8) savage football’s greater popularity than the beautiful and glorious game of basketball; Oh, and (9) the orgy of ruling-class conspicuous consumption that is the rolling, week-long Super Bowl party in the city where it is held….the sick influx of private corporate jets and the millionaires and billionaires who strut around while billions of their fellow human being live on less than $2 a day; (10) the orgy of environmentally and spiritually deadly mass- consumerism that is encouraged by a sporting event that has become as well known for its television commercials as for the game itself.

“Don’t forget,” Schatze Mayer: wrote me, “the spike in sex trafficking during the Super Bowl week.”

Another one: Super Bowl Sunday leads the nation for domestic violence calls most years.

Categories: News for progressives

Democrats Killed the Green New Deal

Fri, 2019-02-01 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Environmental activists received a reality check when newly empowered Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives pushed aside demands for an environmental economic transition program— a Green New Deal, in favor of reviving a toothless committee to ‘study’ the problem. A transition program is needed to mitigate the economic dislocations that will result from resolving the multiple environmental crises currently underway.

The move by Democrats virtually guarantees that the political support needed to move such a transition forward will be undermined by the day-to-day needs of the economically precarious majority. Recent evidence in this direction comes from the French gilets jaunes (yellow vests) whose rebellion allegedly began in response to an environmental gasoline tax. The rebellion was opportunistically framed as against environmental resolution rather than who pays for it.

Four decades of neoliberal economic policies have exacerbated class tensions as well as environmental destruction leaving a large ‘precariat’ that neither can, nor should, pay for environmental resolution. Given the distribution of the spoils, it is more than reasonable to force the cleanup costs on those who (1) caused the problem and (2) benefited from its creation. In this sense, a government funded program of resolution is the best the rich could hope for.

Framed as economic stimulus (a ‘New Deal’) that funds a transition to less immediately destructive economic production, any such program could be shifted toward mitigating economic calamity for hundreds of millions of people as the scale of the retrenchment needed to avoid full-on environmental crisis becomes evident. ‘Green growth’ is either cover for planned degrowth or evidence that environmental resolution has been subverted.

By creating Federal resources to fund the program, both the oligarchs and the broad precariat could in theory benefit from environmental resolution without having to bear the costs. But the oligarchs and their servants in government understand that real environmental resolution will mean the end of industrialism and with it, the source of their power. This, rather than short and intermediate term costs, explains establishment resistance to effective environmental programs.

Existing economic relations are based on producing goods that are indissociable from their environmental harms. ‘Internalizing’ these harms as costs, either through mitigation or foregoing production, would bring the struggle over who bears them to the fore. Because Federal expenditures would relieve oligarchs of the cost of doing so, the real battle is over the future of Western political economy. From the inside, environmental consequences are an afterthought.

Given recent history, the most likely outcome of such a program would be Obamacare for the environment, an amalgam of giveaways to corporate interests that produces a modest-to-ambiguous result for its intended beneficiaries while further empowering corporations to control future outcomes. The rush by establishment powers to kill it supports the thesis that oligarchs and corporate interests are willing to forego milking the polity in the present to perpetuate predatory and exploitative economic relations (capitalism) going forward.

However, favoring the long game in this case means either

(1) leaving impending environmental calamity unaddressed,

(2) having oligarchs and corporations determine the goals of a Green New Deal as well as the means of achieving them in which case: see (1) above, or

(3) social upheaval that overturns existing political relationships, but with unknown outcomes going forward. Given the evidence to date, it appears that only (3) holds promise for achieving needed environmental outcomes.

The success of environmental resolution will depend on its breadth. When global warming is considered in association with the sixth mass extinction, oceanic dead zones, depleted fisheries and increasingly toxic air and water, it is the process of industrialization that produces a unity through causation. Together they illustrate a fundamental flaw in industrial logic: its full consequences are only known in retrospect— after its harms have aggregated.

Addressing the preponderance of environmental destruction at once is needed to preclude sequential solutions that leave broad causal mechanisms in place. Industrialism has a demonstrated record of producing unexpected environmental calamities, e.g. global warming and mass extinction. Known toxic products and processes have been serially replaced with unknown toxic products and processes until their toxicity becomes known.

Since the 1970s ad hoc reforms have reduced individual toxicities, e.g. auto emissions, while perpetuating their overall growth. In contrast, in focused analyses like the recent IPCC report on climate change, reduction in the absolute, rather than relative, levels of greenhouse gas emissions is needed to prevent catastrophic consequences. Ad hoc solutions proceed from relative logic. The window for tweaks was closed several decades ago.

Given the rapid spread of industrialism in recent decades, net retrenchment means a radical reorientation of seemingly unstoppable forces. However, regularly recurring crises of capitalism like 2006 – 2017 offer an insertion point where (1) well-conceived and (2) already existing programs could replace guarantees and bailouts for the rich and powerful to decisively reorient the trajectory of Western political economy.

Environmental ‘solutions’ designed by economists like cap-and-trade and carbon taxes are both inadequate and easily gamed. Cap-and-trade has existed in Europe for decades as an insider game for financial traders. Carbon taxes require knowledge of environmental costs that will only be known decades from now to be adequately priced. And perennial assurances of robust enforcement are undermined by corporate control over enforcement mechanisms.

The move by House Democrats to kill the Green New Deal, while thoroughly predictable, illustrates this political conundrum at work. The rich control the American political system and they are rich in large measure because they have been able to force the environmental consequences of industrial production onto everyone but themselves. Environmental resolution is about rebalancing social power. Environmental destruction is in this sense an aspect of class warfare.

A program of environmental resolution threatens this system in two ways. In the first, were the rich forced to bear the costs of production including pollution, they would no longer be rich. In the second, if industrial products can’t be cleanly produced (most can’t), then their production should be ended. Either way, any effective program of environmental resolution will produce a redistribution of economic power. Lest this read like class warfare, ‘we,’ the breadth of humanity, neither asked for these relations nor are we their intended beneficiaries.

This explains in part why the Green New Deal as it was originally proposed (2ndlink from top) was cleverly conceived and why political functionaries of both Parties will oppose it with all their might. Dumping environmental harms onto those who lack the social power to resist them is both the source of concentrated economic power and its expression. Ending this power, as well as the wealth that accrues from it, is to redistribute it downward.

Not useful here is the myth that capitalism is necessary to filling basic human needs. The neoliberal push to open new markets has been driven by capitalists and their agents, not by those on whom these markets are being imposed. For instance, it was the Chinese political leadership that decided to build an export driven economy in recent decades, not the citizenry. Development of an ‘internal’ consumer economy in China will likewise be imposed from above.

Of relevance is that the instantiated logic that ‘we,’ the breadth of humanity, need capitalism is more accurately stated as: capitalists need us. Understanding of the social direction here, that capitalists create demand for their products— they don’t respond to it, was relatively mainstream in the 1960s. The Keynesian practice of demand management was subsequently used to conflate manufactured dependencies with the neoliberal fantasy of self-organized economies.

The ‘Green Growth’ crowd proceeds from this same logic. Unemployment is socially destructive because of manufactured dependencies that produced a cascade of negative economic consequences when interrupted. These dependencies are functionally arbitrary outside of the role they play in capitalist social relations. The means to provide for the human needs of the dispossessed has for centuries now been nestled in the pockets of the rich.

Green Growth naturalizes these dependencies to pose them as the only road to economic salvation for most people. Again, consumer societies are the result of state planning in the service of the rich and powerful, not economic self-organization as capitalist fantasy poses it. The resources needed to manage a transition away from them can come either from the rich or the state. The New Deal saw the state pay. A Green New Deal could as well.

The insight that the imposition of market relations around the globe hasn’t resulted in an upsurge in democracy illustrates this contorted logic at work. How democratic is it to impose market relations on people? Trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) were conceived by oligarchs, negotiated by corporate agents and they are imposed using state power. They are antithetical to any meaningful concept of democracy.

So, most citizens want environmental resolution, economic justice and the basic services of civil society like education, health care and retirement security. The state is an available vehicle for providing these through the power of the Federal purse. Federal expenditures would mean that resources would not have to be taken from those who have them— the rich. And yet the rich and the ‘leadership’ of the American political establishment are shouting: No! to a Green New Deal. This refusal illustrates the stakes.

Back in the realm of establishment politics, the ability to collect political ‘donations’ determines standing. Structurally, this politics mirrors the distribution of economic power. The hierarchy in both Parties is determined through the quantum of legal bribes accumulated. This ties success in politics to the existing economic order. If political ‘investment’ were upended by forcing the cost of environmental resolution back onto producers, the political hierarchy that mirrors it would be upended.

Hence, the first order of business for the Democratic Party leadership upon its return from years in the political wilderness was to lay the Green New Deal to rest. The time-tested strategy for doing so was to provide lip service in support of environmental resolution while using procedural means such as ‘PAYGO’ to subvert programs that do so. Through PAYGO, ‘insurgent’ Democrats would be forced to cut spending (inflict economic pain on the powerless) elsewhere to fund environmental resolution.

(Here Matt Stoller tries to put a benign face on PAYGO before reluctantly concluding that the Democratic leadership is more likely than not acting in bad faith with the measure.)

The fiscal mechanisms that would allow the Federal government to pay for a Green New Deal are explained here. With MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) becoming the received wisdom in commenting circles, if not yet the more poorly lit crevasses and highway rest stops of official power, claims that there are no funds for environmental resolution are losing their plausibility. This is the likely rationale for recent assertions that raising marginal tax rates on the rich could pay for the program.

The larger issue remains that corporate profits and the wealth held by oligarchs are the wages of environmental destruction. Depending on how these are calculated, the net benefit of three centuries of capitalist production might easily have a giant minus sign in front of it. In this light, the insurgent Democrats’ offer to have the Federal government fund environmental resolution seems incredibly generous. It is the potential for upending existing power relations that makes it contentious.

The American political establishment has no intention of moving a real program of environmental resolution forward. Doing so would end its hold on power. My suggestion is to organize citizen-experts to craft a program outside of official channels in anticipation of another capitalist crisis. A combination of political insistence and official incapacitation could yield the political moment needed to insert the program into the frame of the state ahead of the capitalist response.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Sanctions of Mass Destruction: America’s War on Venezuela

Fri, 2019-02-01 15:59

Illustration by Nathaniel St. Clair

American economic sanctions have been the worst crime against humanity since World War Two. America’s economic sanctions have killed more innocent people than all of the nuclear, biological and chemical weapons ever used in the history of mankind.

The fact that for America the issue in Venezuela is oil, not democracy, will surprise only those who watch the news and ignore history. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves on the planet.

America seeks control of Venezuela because it sits atop the strategic intersection of the Caribbean, South and Central American worlds. Control of the nation, has always been a remarkably effective way to project power into these three regions and beyond.

From the first moment Hugo Chavez took office, the United States has been trying to overthrow Venezuela’s socialist movement by using sanctions, coup attempts, and funding the opposition parties. After all, there is nothing more undemocratic than a coup d’état.

United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas, recommended, just a few days ago, that the International Criminal Court investigate economic sanctions against Venezuela as a possible crime against humanity perpetrated by America.

Over the past five years, American sanctions have cut Venezuela off from most financial markets, which have caused local oil production to plummet. Consequently, Venezuela has experienced the largest decline in living standards of any country in recorded Latin American history.

Prior to American sanctions, socialism in Venezuela had reduced inequality and poverty whilst pensions expanded. During the same time period in America, it has been the absolute reverse. President Chavez funnelled Venezuela’s oil revenues into social spending such as free+6 healthcare, education, subsidized food networks, and housing construction.

In order to fully understand why America is waging economic war on the people of Venezuela one must analyse the historical relationship between the petrodollar system and Sanctions of Mass Destruction: Prior to the 20th century, the value of money was tied to gold. When banks lent money they were constrained by the size of their gold reserves. But in 1971, U.S. President Richard Nixon took the country off the gold standard. Nixon and Saudi Arabia came to an Oil For Dollars agreement that would change the course of history and become the root cause of countless wars for oil. Under this petrodollar agreement the only currency that Saudi Arabia could sell its oil in was the US dollar. The Saudi Kingdom would in turn ensure that its oil profits flow back into U.S. government treasuries and American banks.

In exchange, America pledged to provide the Saudi Royal family’s regime with military protection and military hardware.

It was the start of something truly great for America. Access to oil defined 20th-century empires and the petrodollar agreement was the key to the ascendancy of the United States as the world’s sole superpower. America’s war machine runs on, is funded by, and exists in protection of oil.

Threats by any nation to undermine the petrodollar system are viewed by Washington as tantamount to a declaration of war against the United States of America.

Within the last two decades Iraq, Iran, Libya and Venezuela have all threatened to sell their oil in other currencies. Consequently, they have all been subject to crippling U.S. sanctions.

Over time the petrodollar system spread beyond oil and the U.S. dollar slowly but surely became the reserve currency for global trades in most commodities and goods. This system allows America to maintain its position of dominance as the world’s only superpower, despite being a staggering $23 trillion in debt.

With billions of dollars worth of minerals in the ground and with the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela should not only be wealthy, but her people the envy of the developing world. But the nation is essentially broke because American sanctions have cut them off from the international financial system and cost the economy $6 billion over the last five years. Without sanctions, Venezuela could recover easily by collateralizing some of its abundant resources or its $8 billion of gold reserves, in order to get the loans necessary to kick-start their economy.

In order to fully understand the insidious nature of the Venezuelan crisis, it is necessary to understand the genesis of economic sanctions. At the height of World War Two, President Truman issued an order for American bombers to drop “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 140,000 people instantly. The gruesome images that emerged from the rubble were broadcast through television sets across the world and caused unprecedented outrage. The political backlash forced U.S. policy makers to devise a more subtle weapon of mass destruction: economic sanctions.

The term “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) was first defined by the United Nations in 1948 as “atomic explosive weapons, radioactive material weapons, lethal chemical and biological weapons, and any weapons developed in the future which have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb or other weapons mentioned above”.

Sanctions are clearly the 21st century’s deadliest weapon of mass destruction.

In 2001, the U.S. administration told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; Iraq was a terrorist state; Iraq was tied to Al Qaeda. It all amounted to nothing. In fact, America already knew that the only weapons of mass destruction that Saddam had were not nuclear in nature, but rather chemical and biological. The only reason they knew this in advance was because America sold the weapons to Saddam to use on Iran in 1991.

What the U.S. administration did not tell us was that Saddam Hussein used to be a strong ally of the United States.  The main reason for toppling Saddam and putting sanctions on the people of Iraq was the fact that Iraq had ditched the Dollar-for-Oil sales.

The United Nations estimates that 1.7 million Iraqis died due to Bill Clinton’s sanctions; 500,000 of whom were children. In 1996, a journalist asked former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, about these UN reports, specifically about the children. America’s top foreign policy official, Albright, replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.” Clearly, U.S. sanctions policies are nothing short of state-sanctioned genocide.

Over the last five years, sanctions have caused Venezuelan per capita incomes to drop by 40 percent, which is a decline similar to that of war torn Iraq and Syria at the height of their armed conflicts. Millions of Venezuelans have had to flee the country. If America is so concerned about refugees, Trump should stop furthering disastrous foreign policies that actually createthem. Under Chavez, Venezuela had a policy of welcoming refugees. President Chavez turned Venezuela into the wealthiest society in Latin America with the best income equality.

Another much vilified leader who used oil wealth to enrich his people, only to be put under severe sanctions, is Muammar Gaddafi. In 1967 Colonel Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa; however, by the time he was assassinated, Gaddafi had turned Libya into Africa’s wealthiest nation. Perhaps, Gaddafi’s greatest crime, in the eyes of NATO, was his quest to quit selling Libyan oil in U.S. Dollars and denominate crude sales in a new gold backed common African currency. In fact, in August 2011, President Obama confiscated $30 billion from Libya’s Central Bank, which Gaddafi had earmarked for the establishment of an African Central Bank and the African gold-backed Dinar currency.

Africa has the fastest growing oil industry in the world and oil sales in a common African currency would have been especially devastating for the American dollar, the U.S. economy, and particularly the elite in charge of the petrodollar system.

It is for this reason that President Clinton signed the now infamous Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which the United Nations Children’s Fund said caused widespread suffering among civilians by “severely limiting supplies of fuel, access to cash, and the means of replenishing stocks of food and essential medications.” Clearly, U.S. sanctions are weapons of mass destruction.

Not so long ago, Iraq and Libya were the two most modern and secular states in the Middle East and North Africa, with the highest regional standards of living. Nowadays, U.S. Military intervention and economic sanctions have turned Libya and Iraq into two of the world’s most failed nations.

“They want to seize Libya’s oil and they care nothing about the lives of the Libyan people,” remarked Chavez during the Western intervention in Libya in 2011.

In September 2017, President Maduro made good on Chavez’s promise to list oil sales in Yuan rather than the US dollar. Weeks later Trump signed a round of crippling sanctions on the people of Venezuela.

On Monday, U.S. National Security adviser John Bolton announced new sanctions that essentially steal $7 billion from Venezuela’s state owned oil company. At that press conference Bolton brazenly flashed a note pad that ominously said “5,000 troops to Colombia”. When confronted about it by the media, Bolton simply said, “President Trump stated that all options are on the table”.

America’s media is unquestionably the most corrupt institution in America. The nation’s media may quibble about Trump’s domestic policies but when it comes to starting wars for oil abroad they sing in remarkable unison. Fox News, CNN and the New York Times all cheered the nation into war in Iraq over fictitious weapons of mass destruction, whilst America was actually using sanctions of mass destruction on the Iraqi people. They did it in Libya and now they are doing it again in Venezuela. Democracy and freedom have always been the smoke screen in front of capitalist expansion for oil, and the Western Media owns the smoke machine. Economic warfare has long since been under way against Venezuela but military warfare is now imminent.

Trump just hired Elliot Abrams as U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela, who has a long and torrid history in Latin America. Abrams pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Iran Contra affair, which involved America funding deadly communist rebels, and was the worst scandal in the Reagan Era. Abrams was later pardoned by George Bush Senior. America’s new point man on Venezuela also lied about the largest mass killing in recent Latin American history by U.S. trained forces in El Salvador.

There is nothing more undemocratic than a coup d’état. A UN Human Rights Council Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas, pointed out that America’s aim in Venezuela is to “crush this government and bring in a neoliberal government that is going to privatise everything and is going to sell out, a lot of transitional corporations stand to gain enormous profits and the United States is driven by the transnational corporations.”

Ever since 1980, the United States has steadily devolved from the status of the world’s top creditor country to the world’s most indebted country. But thanks to the petrodollar system’s huge global artificial demand for U.S. dollars, America can continue exponential military expansion, record breaking deficits and unrestrained spending.

America’s largest export used to be manufactured goods made proudly in America. Today, America’s largest export is the U.S. dollar. Any nation like Venezuela that threatens that export is met with America’s second largest export: weapons, chief amongst which are sanctions of mass destruction.

Garikai Chengu is an Ancient African historian. He has been a scholar at Harvard, Stanford and Columbia University. Contact him on garikai.chengu@gmail.com

Categories: News for progressives

Russia’s Proposal for North Korean Denuclearization: Will It Survive John Bolton?

Fri, 2019-02-01 15:59

The Trump administration is looking askance at what may be a legitimate Russian effort to break the current disarmament deadlock between the United States and North Korea.  According to The Washington Post, Russia made a secret proposal to North Korea last fall to advance negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  Moscow offered North Korea a nuclear power plant in return for the dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Russia would operate the nuclear plant and transfer all byproducts and waste back to Russia so that North Korea could not exploit the plant to build nuclear weapons.

The idea of trading off a nuclear power plant for a dismantling of nuclear weaponry is not a new one. President Bill Clinton negotiated an arms control agreement with North Korea in 1994, promising Pyongyang two light-water reactors in return for a nuclear freeze.  Construction on the site for the reactors began in the 1990s, but the Pentagon and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission blocked delivery of the reactors.  As a result, North Korea eventually walked away from the agreement in the first years of the Bush administration.

In any event, U.S. officials are already dismissing the Russian idea as mere opportunism.  The United States blocked previous Russian efforts to play a role in the denuclearization process, particularly during the George W. Bush administration when John Bolton was undersecretary of state for arms control.  As the current national security adviser, Bolton can be expected to block any role for Russia in the disarmament scheme.  This is counterproductive!

Unfortunately, the authors of the Post article, John Hudson and Ellen Nakashima, are similarly dismissive of the Russian proposal, linking themselves to the opposition of Bolton and Pompeo.  They describe the initiative as a part of Moscow’s efforts to reassert itself in “geopolitical flash points from the Middle East to South Asia to Latin America.  They make no attempt to explain the long history of the Kremlin’s arms control initiatives from the 1950s to the present.

For the past sixty years, Moscow has been a leading proponent of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology.  The seeds of the Sino-Soviet dispute were planted in the 1950s when Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet Politburo refused to share nuclear technology with Beijing for its budding nuclear weapons program.  A decade later, Leonid Brezhnev took an initiative to President Lyndon B. Johnson to begin negotiations for the Nonproliferation Treaty that was signed in 1968.  Brezhnev was particularly concerned with the designs of some U.S. policy makers to create a multilateral nuclear force in Europe that would place West Germany’s finger on the nuclear button of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

For the past two decades, the Soviet Union/Russia has tried to engage the United States in a serious dialogue to pledge no first use of nuclear weapons and no militarization of outer space, and to help create nuclear-free zones.  Moscow broached the subject of no first use as early as the 1960s, hoping to place such  pledges in either the Nonproliferation Treaty or the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty of 1972.  Moscow made its first unilateral pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons in 1982.  China also renounced the first use of nuclear weapons, but the Pentagon has blocked U.S. administrations from given serious consideration to the idea.  The Pentagon has tried to block or weaken virtually every arms control proposal for the past fifty years.

More recently, Russia was a signatory to the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to limit Tehran’s nuclear weapons industry.  In May 2018, Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the accord, although the U.S. intelligence community asserts that Iran is in full compliance.

There is every reason to believe that Trump’s “war cabinet,” led by Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will dismiss any Russian effort to be part of a denuclearization proposal for the Korean peninsula.  In view of Trump’s interest in a nuclear accord with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as well as his interest in improving relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it is possible that Trump will overrule his “war cabinet” and see the advantage of making Russia a stakeholder in disarmament in East Asia.

 

Categories: News for progressives

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