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Updated: 2 hours 13 min ago

Give Diplomacy a Chance in Venezuela

Thu, 2019-03-14 15:45

The United States is pushing for an overthrow of the government of Venezuela. The Trump administration has denounced Nicolas Maduro as a “dictator,” dismissing the 2018 election, which the opposition boycotted. Instead of a good neighbor policy or a policy of non-intervention, the Trump administration has set out intentionally to overthrow the regime.

Long before Trump, the United States was a bitter opponent of the Hugo Chavez regime. The fact that Chavez was wildly popular and freely elected made no difference. He represented a revolution that embraced Fidel Castro’s Cuba and implemented plans to redistribute wealth and empower the poor. In 2002, when the Venezuelan military moved to overthrow Chavez, an official in the Bush administration reportedly met with the coup leaders. The coup attempt was frustrated, however, when Venezuelans rose up in mass against the plotters.

Now with Chavez gone, the current president Nicolas Maduro unpopular, the economy a mess — in significant degree because the price of oil is near record lows — the Trump administration is apparently orchestrating another attempt.

It has continued to ratchet up pressure. It has imposed brutal sanctions on Venezuela, making a bad situation far worse, all the while blaming the government for the misery. Trump has openly threatened a “military option” for Venezuela. His bellicose national security adviser, John Bolton, boasted that “The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — has finally met its match.”

The New York Times reported that Trump administration officials met with Venezuelan military officers who were considering a coup attempt.

Then, Juan Guaido, an obscure politician from a right-wing party, declared himself interim president, claiming that he had that right as head of the National Assembly. The U.S. immediately recognized Guaido, and right-wing governments across the region did the same.

Trump then named Elliott Abrams, infamous for committing perjury before Congress over the Iran-Contra fiasco, and for championing vicious military and paramilitary repression across Central America, as special envoy for Venezuela. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) pumped up demands for intervention, growing so rabid that he tweeted a gruesome picture of the murder of Libya’s Qaddafi as a prediction of Maduro’s fate.

Bolton admitted that he was “in conversation with major American [oil] companies now,” stating that “it would make a difference if we could have American companies produce the oil in Venezuela. We both have a lot at stake here.”

Now Venezuela has been hit with a power blackout, taking out electricity, phone service and internet. In Forbes Magazine, an expert details how easily this could be done by the U.S. in a cyber first-strike.

The U.S. has a long and shameful history of intervention in this hemisphere, too often aligning itself with rapacious elites and the military against the vast majority. In the ’50s, the CIA overthrew a popularly elected government in Guatemala. After the Cuban revolution, the U.S. launched an invasion, terrorist attacks, economic sabotage and boycott, and assassination attempts to get rid of Castro. In 1973, the U.S. embraced the brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet when he led the overthrow of the popularly elected government of Salvador Allende. As recent as 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed the overthrow of the elected government of Honduras, a disaster that has resulted in bands of desperate Hondurans seeking refuge in this country.

Now Trump and his bellicose advisers seem intent on adding another chapter to this shameful history. There is another way. Instead of starving the Venezuelans into submission, we should be engaging with them. Instead of seeking to control their oil, we should recognize their national sovereignty. Instead of fanning coup attempts, we should be leading international negotiations to seek a diplomatic settlement that might lead to new elections.

Nicolas Maduro is far from blameless, but no one nominated the United States to decide who should govern Venezuela. Fomenting regime change — by a soft coup, by economic sabotage, by fostering a military revolt — is likely to lead to more violence and more suffering.

It is time for Congress to step up — to investigate exactly what the Trump administration is doing overtly and covertly, and to call for a return to diplomacy before it is too late.

Categories: News for progressives

A Reckoning is Coming for Jack Evans, But What About the Washington Post?

Thu, 2019-03-14 15:44

D.C.’s longest-serving councilman is in trouble. With the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a federal grand jury investigating his suspect dealings, Jack Evans’ days as a top DC powerbroker are over. That conclusion seems inescapable now that Evans’ strongest ally, the Washington Post, is no longer shielding him.

For years the Post willfully ignored Evans’ repeated crossing of bright ethical lines. As chairman of D.C.’s powerful finance and revenue committee, a position he has held for two decades but may soon lose, Evans has played a central role in crafting deals involving several billion taxpayer dollars, including deals in which he had undisclosed conflicts of interest.

Despite $140,000 salaries, among the nation’s highest for city councils, D.C. councilmembers are allowed to earn outside income. Evans has earned a lot of it over the years, primarily at powerhouse lobby firms. These side hustles haven’t always been isolated from his elected position. His dual hats – as legislator and hired hand – have led to conflicts of interest which are reminiscent of misconduct that led to jail time for others.

Yet over the years Evans had little to fear, as the Post averted the gaze of readers and prosecutors alike. D.C.’s paper of record even appeared to sanction Evans’ conduct, while it pursued black officials over less serious allegations.

The Post’s get-out-of-jail-free card for Evans is due in no small part to their shared love of gentrification. Nicknamed “Chocolate City,” D.C. was over 70 percent African American a few decades ago but is now less than half black. This rapid displacement has been accelerated by publicly subsidized mega-projects, like stadiums and high-end developments, which are Evans’ forte and enjoy the Post’s support.

From Big Firms to Big Trouble

For years Evans’ suspect dealmaking was partly obscured by the size and prestige of Patton Boggs, where he worked from 2001 to 2015. While Evans refused to say exactly what he did for Patton Boggs or who his clients were, the firm’s imprimatur conferred legitimacy on the arrangement.

Things went smoothly for nearly 14 years. Then Patton Boggs merged with another firm (becoming Squire Patton Boggs) and by January 2015 Evans no longer had his cushy second job and its $190,000 salary. This may be the moment things started to unravel for Evans.

While Evans joined Manatt, Phelps & Phillips within the year, it was at a reduced (second) salary of $60,000 a year. And there was another problem: Manatt presented an ethical landmine for Evans since, unlike Patton Boggs, the firm regularly lobbied the D.C. Council.

Evans arrived at Manatt shortly after a merger of two utility companies had stalled. The D.C. Public Service Commission had recently blocked utility giant Exelon’s $6.8 billion takeover of Pepco, and Evans wasted little time inserting himself into the proceedings. In October 2015, the same month he started at Manatt, Evans was the first signatory to an official letter calling on commissioners to reverse course – which they subsequently did. What Evans failed to disclose was that Exelon and Pepco were both clients of Manatt. Now this matter appears to be part of the federal investigation. (I reported on this conflict of interest three years ago at HuffPost, but it wasn’t until last week that the Washington Post finally informed its readers of it.)

In late 2017 Evans quietly left Manatt as additional conflict of interest questions surrounded him. But before departing, and possibly to compensate for his declining earnings, Evans began freelancing for outside income. In July 2016 Evans and his lobbyist friend William Jarvis created their own firm, NSE Consulting LLC, registered at Evans’ Georgetown home.

No longer shielded by big firms, Evans’ suspect dealmaking created a paper trail not even the Postcould ignore – at least not after Jeffrey Anderson of District Dig picked up on it.

Anderson’s reporting showed how in 2016 Evans went to great lengths on behalf of a digital sign company whose executives lavished him with favors, contributions, and possibly cash. Follow up reporting by the Post showed that the company, Digi Media, gave Evans, through his newly created personal firm, money and company stock, which Evans claims he promptly returned. Federal authorities are investigating the matter.

As part of his solo hustle for outside income, Evans also shamelessly pitched his services to firms, even doing so via his chief of staff’s government email address, the Post reported. “It was just a mistake, to be honest with you,” Evans told the Post. “And that’s it. In a hurry. Not thinking. You know?”

In his January 2018 pitch to the firm Nelson Mullins, which had lobbied Evans’ office, the councilman wrote:

“[D.C.’s] budget of over $14 billion is larger than 19 states… Overseeing all of this is the flattest political organization in the country. There are just 15 elected officials in the city: one mayor, 13 councilmembers, and one attorney general. A contract, bill, or regulation can go from idea to consummation in a matter of months.”

And for the right price Evans, calling himself “uniquely positioned,” was happy to help. To tout his value he cited none other than the Post: “If there were such a thing as a Vice Mayor, Jack Evans would be perfect for it.”

With the mayor and Council chairman prohibited from seeking outside income, Evans was the top D.C. official available for hire – one of the few selling points left out of his pitch.

Evans’ pitch highlighted his long tenure as chairman of the finance and revenue committee (“I oversee all legislation related to taxes, financial incentives…”), as well as his chairmanship of WMATA, or Metro, the D.C. region’s subway and bus system.

Investigations

WMATA is now initiating its own investigation of Evans, and it’s not alone. D.C.’s Board of Ethics and Accountability launched an investigation in January, but suspended it, likely due to the federal inquiry. D.C.’s inspector general may be investigating as well. And several councilmembers are calling for a special council committee to look into Evans’ dealings.

In the past days all D.C. councilmembers, as well as Mayor Muriel Bowser, received federal subpoenas for documents related to the investigation of Evans. The subpoenas request documents going back to January 2014, which may indicate Evans’ suspect dealings prior to that date will get a pass.

That would be unfortunate because Evans’ corruption goes back years and warrants a broader inquiry. A serious investigation must examine all the major deals in which he played a key public role, to see if he also had a private interest.

Investigators should examine Evans’ 2009 push for $272 million in public subsidies for Marriott to build a hotel alongside the D.C. convention center. At the one public hearing on the deal – which Evans co-chaired – he called for its speedy approval but failed to disclose that one of the major financing partners in the deal, ING, was a client of Patton Boggs, where Evans was then employed. Two days later Evans suddenly recused himself from voting on the matter, never filing an explanation for his recusal, as required by D.C. law. When the deal became ensnared in lawsuits Evans effectively un-recused himself. (The Post reported on this conflict of interest once online and never in print.)

Evans’ blurring of his private and public business can also seen in his relationship with Rusty Lindner, CEO of The Forge Co., the parent company for Colonial Parking.

The Forge Co. was a client of Squire Patton Boggs, and Evans envisioned it as a client of his prospective firm. In his pitch to Nelson Mullins, Evans listed Lindner and Colonial Parking first among those he would solicit for business if the firm hired him (which it didn’t).

This private solicitation might have been hard for Lindner to refuse, given how generous Evans had been with his public office. “For years, Evans’s Council office had served Lindner as one-stop shopping for networking and problem-solving,” District Dig reported.

Colonial Parking, ING, Digi Media, Exelon… These are likely just the tip of the iceberg. As Evans made clear in his pitch to firms, his services were for sale. So, who bought them? What companies hired Evans’ firms so they could utilize his dual roles? What understandings did they come to with the councilman?

The Washington Post

Standing in the way of a full investigation appears to be D.C.’s paper of record, which has called for inquiries of Evans to be limited to the narrow slice of his misconduct the Post has reported on. Such a circumscribed approach would not only be a disservice to District residents, it would also let the Post off the hook.

The full Evans story implicates the Post, which blessed Evans’ corruption by willfully turning a blind eye to it for years.

That the Post did this at the same time it pursued black officials over less serious allegations only heightens the need to examine the paper’s role in this scandal.

Categories: News for progressives

USA Continues Economic Sabotage of Eritrea

Thu, 2019-03-14 15:41

On February 28, 2019 the last financial wire transactions between the small socialist country of Eritrea and all the western countries were stopped with no further wire transfers in USD$ or Euros to or from Eritrea being allowed .

Unjust and illegal UN sanctions against Eritrea were lifted recently but the damage being done continues. During the 9 year-long UN sanctions period the US shut down all Eritrean government bank accounts and cut off all access to USD$ international transfers. The USA and its European lackeys even tried to prevent Eritreans in the diaspora from paying their national 2% income tax (something all US citizens outside the country must do), critical to the creation and survival of the country.

After being kicked out of the dollar market Eritrea’s next turn was to the EU to no avail. The EU would not allow Eritrea access to international euro transfers so Eritrea was forced to fall back on her only international friend, Russia, as a conduit for  international banking transactions in euros.

US sanctions against Russia enforced against the EU are now officially the cause for shutting down Eritrea’s last western foreign exchange access completely cutting off Africa’s only socialist country from western capital transfers.

While diplomatic ties between Eritrea and the USA have improved dramatically under Trump the economic sabotage of our country’s economy continues. As with all sanctions by the USA, the target is always the people of the sanctioned country, bringing untold misery in the name of “Defending Freedom and Democracy”.

Sanctions have almost never achieved the political aims of the USA with Iraq a prime example during Saddam Hussein’ rule. Half a million dead Iraq’s “was worth it” as Hillary Clinton’s mentor Lady Albright so infamously proclaimed.

In the case of us living here in Eritrea and our family and friends in the diaspora, its cash and carry, the only way to get part of the country’s hard currency  lifeline in and out of our homeland.

When this economic sabotage will end is a question that must be asked in light of the recognition Eritrea has received in being a critical player in the peace that has broken out in the Horn of Africa, never mind the peaceful revolution that took place in Ethiopia in 2018.

It goes without saying that small socialist countries have never been treated fairly, with Cuba and North Korea paying a brutal price in human suffering. Eritrea is the latest victim of Pax Americana and it failing grip on the world’s economic lifelines via the USD$. The shameful thing is how spineless the Europeans are, bowing down to the US Empire in the most craven manner. How this story will end remains unknown, but for Eritreans at home and abroad, it’s just another challenge to overcome.

Categories: News for progressives

Virginia’s Approach to Government Accountability

Thu, 2019-03-14 15:26

Despite the top three elected Virginia State Democrats generating national headlines for being accused of past racist or even criminal behavior, a movement to reform their democratic process continues to grow. These efforts can use three tools for making structural changes in government: the initiative process, court rulings and electing new public officials.

Virginia does not have the first option. Citizens can only vote on a specific institutional change when their General Assembly (their Senate and House chambers) brings a state constitutional amendment to a vote of the people. Virginia, like a number of other states, has a constitution that is very prescriptive. Consequently, what may be handled as a legislative solution becomes a constitutional amendment, which is a three-step process: it must be passed by two sessions of the General Assembly, followed by a vote of the populace. Despite an arduous journey, constitutional amendments are voted on regularly, most of which are non-controversial.

Their General Assembly completed its annual session in February. On the last day they overwhelmingly approved a a ground-breaking amendment to establish a bi-partisan Redistricting Commission to draw legislative and congressional maps. Next year’s General Assembly must vote on it again before it is placed on the ballot as a referendum during the November 2020 election.

The proposed Commission will have 16-members, eight legislators (four Senators and four Delegates, with equal representation between the parties in each chamber) and eight citizen members (selected by a committee of retired circuit court judges from lists submitted by majority and minority party leadership in each chamber).  The Commission’s redistricting plan must then be approved, without any amendment, by a majority vote of their General Assembly’s two chambers and if passed cannot be vetoed by the Governor. The new boundaries would be in place for the 2021 state district and congressional races, which could shift the control of either chamber or both from the Republicans to the Democrats.

Brian Cannon, Executive Director of OneVirginia2021, was very enthusiastic about the proposed amendment, saying that “This is the most comprehensive reform ever passed through a state legislature.” OneVirginia2021, believed that powerful computerized mapping tools and detailed demographic data in the past had turned district boundary mapmaking into a weapon to keep the party in power from being elected out, as well as giving incumbents the advantage over outside challengers.

Although OneVirginia2021 has a budget under a half-million, with donations averaging $100, they have created 10 regional chapters and garnered over 1,000 core volunteers to collect 100,000 petition signers to support an independent redistricting commission, which would use a transparent process and clear rules that protect communities. They then laid out, in Brian’s words, “a close-to-perfect kind of plan that we thought they (the General Assembly) could use. It served as a marker, though we are far from perfect in what we got.”

Another grassroots organization, the New Virginia Majority, has also played an instrumental role in pushing for redistricting reforms. Jamaa Bickley King, the board chair of NVM has been quoted as saying “While various plans have been put forward, we at New Virginia Majority believe that the only way to remedy the blatant racial discrimination that took place is to ensure a new map maximizes the voting power of minority communities.” NVM hired a national data firm, TargetSmart, to construct a map that respected communities of color and communities of interest and introduced it to the General Assembly as an alternative redistricting map.

Although appreciative of what the General Assembly proposed, Tram Nguyen, Co-Executive Director of NVM, still has concerns, which she believes should be addressed in next year’s legislature’s session. They have introduced redistricting criteria legislation to provide clearer district guidelines and make-up of the commission. Nguyen says, “We must make sure the voices of racial and language minority populations are not ignored in this process.” These clarifications of the proposal would be administrative guidelines, and hence could be passed by the General Assembly without violating the rule denying any amendments being made to what was passed this year.

While both NVM and OneVirginia2021 pushed for an independent commission to draw the districts instead of legislators, they didn’t get that since legislators compose half of the commission membership. However, they strongly approved of commission’s transparency provisions. Those elements consist of requiring the commission to have open public meetings and to hold at least three public hearings in different parts of the Commonwealth, and to have all records and documents associated with the Commission’s work be available to the public. These measures provide community organizations to mobilize residents to express their support or displeasure on the administrative rules that will guide the commission’s operations.

The Republican controlled legislature was motivated to create the commission after they lost 15 house seats in the 2017 elections, when they had said they expected to lose no more than five. They were facing a real possibility, and still do, that the Democrats could control the General Assembly and use gerrymandering to their own advantage just as the Republicans had been doing.

Those electoral victories were due in large part to the efforts of the New Virginia Majority registering 140,000 new votersthe prior year. By targeting low voter turnout communities, like people of color and young people, and lower income folks of all color, they helped overwhelming defeat the Republican backed “Right-to-Work” constitutional amendment at the polls in 2016, winning the vote in every county. NVM continues to register voters and is expecting that their “get out the vote” effort will result in several hundred thousand new voters in 2020, when the constitutional amendment creating the redistricting commission comes on the ballot.

Winning elections is more than just increasing the number of voters, it’s about reflecting the public’s wishes. The desire for more accountability is a non-partisan issue. The Brennan Center for Justice reported that a poll taken last December by Virginia’s Wason Center for Public Policy found that 78% of Virginia voters support a constitutional amendment to create a non-partisan redistricting commission. But the message must be delivered with bipartisan support because past polling has shown that the public is suspicious of political parties using democratic “reforms” to promote their own advantage. Although an all citizen independent redistricting commission would probably receive the most public support, this one’s bi-partisan structure will likely be seen by voters as moving in the right direction, particularly if there are good administrative guidelines.

It is also critical that the public’s wishes be informed of their constitutional rights, which ultimately are determined by the courts. It’s about safeguarding our liberty. The initial force that made Virginia’s elections more accountable to all citizens resulted from a Federal Court ruling in 2016, which found that their Congressional boundaries were discriminatory against black communities. New boundaries used in the 2018 election resulted in 3 of the 11 seats in Congress flipping from Republican to Democrat. A separate court decision in 2017, came to that same conclusion for state house seats and over 20 house district boundaries were redrawn.

Democracies do not sleep. They are dynamic organizations, pushed by technical innovations, demographic fluctuation, and economic cycles. These all contribute to improving or hindering citizens access to the polls. For that reason, it is necessary to continually evaluate if voter access is being maximized. After redistricting, it is the next challenge that state governments must move onto. In Virginia’s last General Assembly sessionfour automatic voter registration bills failed in committee, as did six no-excuse absentee voting – early voting bills and seven vote-by-mail ones. If the democrats have a majority in either chamber, it will be incumbent upon them to take up and pass these measures where they can.

There is no final victory in keeping our democracy alive, there is only a constant diligence to care for it, or else it will slip away.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Courtney Barnett: “Charity”

Thu, 2019-03-14 00:37

Categories: News for progressives

“Please Step Away from the Socialism”:  The Red Scare Dems at MSNBC

Wed, 2019-03-13 16:10

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

I find Donald Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this company, country, as far as the strength and well-being of the country, than Donald Trump.  I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being…I will be so distraught to the point that that could even come out of my mouth, if we have a socialist [Democratic presidential candidate or president] because that will take our country so down, and we are not Denmark.  I love Denmark, but that’s not who we are. And if you love who we are and all the great things that still have to have binders put on the side. Please step away from the socialism.

– Donny Deutsch, advertising executive, “branding and marketing expert,” and regular MSNBC commentator

One of the many amusing things one hears on the American right is the charge that MSNBC is a “far” and radical “leftist” network.

Right, and the North American Meat Institute is a vegan advocacy group.

I’ve watched more of MSNBC than any actual leftist should in recent months.  If there’s anything good to result from this bad habit it is that I am thoroughly inoculated against the notion that the network is anywhere close to my side of things.

One day last week while making dinner, I had MSNBC on in the background. The network’s egomaniacal Ted Baxter-like anchor Chris Matthews had just finished discussing the late breaking news that Donald Trump is a liar. After a long break for drug commercials and some reflections on Ivanka Trump’s security clearance, the Kennedy family super-fan Matthews (who regularly uses his cable news perch to hawk his silly books on the unmatched eminence of the Kennedys) turned to the greatness of capitalism, or “the market.”

Matthews was concerned about the popularity of socialism among Democratic voters, young ones especially. How, Matthews wanted to know, do American socialism fans think they get all the good things they enjoy in America? They get them from “the market, from capitalism,” Matthews said. When one of his panelists, Howard Fineman, interjected to note that “a lot of Millennials feel screwed over by the marketplace,” Matthews shut him down.  Mathews screwed up his face and scoffed about the childish idiocy of mere feelings.

Chris Matthews is about as leftist as the commercials MSNBC runs for BDO Global, a consulting firm that help multinational corporations and investors skirt regulations and avoid taxes. He’s aboutas leftist as morning MSNBC anchor Stephanie “Wall Street is my Favorite Place” Ruhle, a former leading global derivatives seller and hedge fund marketer who feigns concern for the working-class while inhabiting a $7.5 million townhouse on the Upper East Side.

Then there’s David Gura. The longtime business journalist and former N“P”R “Marketplace” host has a Sunday morning MSNBC roundtable show called “Up with David Gura.”  It’s a real downer if you are on the actual Left.

Last Sunday, Gura had a nicely race-and gender-balanced team of commentators on to express their belief that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is an anti-Semitic trope-monger (a ludicrous smear) and to announce their faith in the unsurpassable excellence of capitalism. Socialism is not the way to go, panel and host agreed. Gura smiled while his one white-male guest proclaimed that “we’re all capitalists” because we all bathe in the bourgeois system’s benevolent bounty even if we don’t own capital. We’ll have to share that news with the 78% of U.S. workers who live from paycheck to paycheck.

Gura’s Up with Capitalism segment was sparked by something that had taken place earlier in the week on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show. MSDNC’s weekday early AM co-host “Morning Joe” Scarborough had interviewed the Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper, a former Colorado governor and a wealthy brewery owner who raised eyebrows when he failed to answer affirmatively after Scarborough asked him if he was “a capitalist.” Scarborough subsequently used his “radical leftist” network to claim that “the Democratic Party is in crisis” because of its Bernie Sanders- and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-driven “socialism.” As Scarborough explained:

“Trump is going to devour every one of these [Democratic] candidates if they can’t say they support capitalism… Yes, capitalism has to be reformed from time to time to work for all Americans. But, my God, if you’re afraid to say you are a capitalistin America, I’m just gonna tell you, people on the left Tweeting today may not like it, but let me let you in on a little secret, that is a crisis for your party.  You’re gonna lose in 2020.  I mean just pull up the stakes on the tent and pack her up. The party’s over.”

As Moan’n Joe Scarecrow shared this urgent red distress signal, warning, MSNBC “expert” guest and “Branding & Marketing Expert” Donny Deutsch – nodded and shook his head in dire approval. A silver-spooned advertising executive with a net worth over $200 million, the MSNBC commentator Deutsch weighed in on a split screen:

“[The Democrats are] gonna lose in a landslide [unless they grant proper fealty to capitalism].  Joe, I’m gonna take it one step further, because this is how dangerous socialism is. I find Donald Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this company, country, as far as the strength and well-being of the country, than Donald Trump.  I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being…I will be so distraught to the point that that could even come out of my mouth, if we have a socialist…because that will take our country so down, and we are not Denmark.  I love Denmark, but that’s not who we are. And if you love who we are and all the great things that still have to have binders put on the side. Please step away from the socialism.”

How perfect and yet preposterous was that? As I’ve been saying for years, the dismal dollar-drenched corporate Democrats prefer losing to the right, even a creeping fascist white-nationalist right, over losing to the left, even the mildly progressive social-democratic left, in their own party!

The “liberal” Deutsch, who has likened Trump voters to Nazis, actually voiced readiness to vote for the orange fascist Trump over anyone who tries to make America more like Denmark.

Deutsch actually asked Democratic voters “step away from the socialism.”  And, for some frosting on the plutocratic cake, Donny had to correct himself from calling “our country” a “company”!

I won’t pretend to fully understand the meaning of the convoluted phrase “all the great things that still have to have binders put on the side.”  It seems mean that capitalism has some down-sides, but these are minor and therefore belong in separate files, apart from serious discussion.

How’s that for hard-core radical leftismover at MSNBC (short for “More Sneering Neoliberal Bourgeois Crap”?). Order your bourgeois moral and ideological binders – and or blinders– now. Ask for the double-D (for Donny Deutsch) model.

MSNBC is the corporate Democrats’ progressive-neoliberal network every bit as much as FOX News is the Republicans’ white-national state television station. That’s why many of us on the (and I suppose the right) often call it MSDNC Perhaps we should call the Democrats the Six D party: the dismal, dollar-drenched Donny Deutsch Dems.

One of the funny things about Scarborough’s Sanders-scare is that “reform[ing] capitalism” is pretty much what the “socialist” Bernie Sanders is trying to do. Bernie, for better or worse, is a neo-New Dealer.  He’s a very pale reflection of his purported hero Eugene Debs. Sanders wants to smooth over U.S. capitalism’s worst rough edges with progressive-populist reforms like Medicare for All, seriously progressive taxation, major financial regulation, a significantly increased minimum wage, and green jobs programs.

The Vermont senator is not calling for workers’ control, public ownership of the means of production, or the nationalization of America’s leading arch-parasitic financial institutions. He has yet to join serious radicals in calling for the dismantlement of the gigantic Pentagon System, which eats up more than half of U.S. federal discretionary spending and accounts for 40 percent of the world’s military expenditure. How he expects to pay for Scandinavian-style social democracy without joining actual leftists in calling for the end of the U.S. war machine – itself a giant public subsidy to high-tech corporations like Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin – is anybody’s guess.

“We are not Denmark,” says Donny Deutsch. Too bad for us!  Denmark is the happiest nation on the planet,thanks to the strong social safety net and the egalitarian ethos that pervades its society and politics.  The United States, by contrast, is a pervasively miserable, insecure, soulless, commercialized, victim-blaming, violent, divided, and unequal nation where:

+ The top thousandth (the 0.1 percent, not just the 1 Percent) possesses more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent and three absurdly rich U.S.-Americans – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett – possess more wealth between them than the bottom half of the country.

+ The nation’s 540 billionaires enjoy lives of unimaginable opulence while 15 million children – 21% of all U.S. children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold, a measurement that has been shown to be drastically below the minimally adequate family budgets families require to meet basic expenses.

+ “Government policy,” as two leading political scientists have demonstrated, “reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.”

+ Economic power is so concentrated you can count on one hand and one finger the multi-trillion-dollar financial institutions that control the nation’s economic and political life: Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley.

+  a third of workers make less than $12 an hour ($24,960 a year assuming full-time work) and 42% get less than $15 ($31,200 a year) and  7 million people are three months or more behind on their par payments.

+ Six corporations – Comcast, FOX, Disney, Viacom, CBS, and AT&T – together own more than half of U.S. print, film and electronic media while three Internet giants Google, Facebook, and Amazon rule online communication and shopping.

+ Black median household wealth is equal to 8 cents on the white median household wealth dollar.

+ One in every 10 Black men is in prison or jail on any given day and 1 in 3 Black adult males are saddled with the permanent crippling mark of a felony record.

+ 30,000-40,000 people die from gun violence each year.

+ life expectancy ranks 12th among the 12 wealthiest industrialized countries even though the U.S. has the most expensive health care system in the world

+ 58% of the population is obese.

+ Expensive but very unequally funded schools deliver terrible outcomes.

+ Depression, anxiety, and drug abuse rates rank in the top three among the world’s nations.

All of this is emblematic and symptomatic of the 500-year old class-rule system known as capitalism, recently and accurately called “irredeemable” by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). It comes courtesy of Joe Scarborough, Donny Deutsch, David Gura, and Chris Matthews’ beloved social order, a system based on private ownership and control of the means of production, finance and distribution.  It’s a  system that has always been and continues to be characterized by the systematic extraction of surplus value from working people and recurrent tendencies towards the concentration of wealth and hence power.

And guess what? Everything listed above isn’t even the worst outcome of holy capitalism. The profits system’s most horrific consequence, intimately related to all its other ones, is the generation of an epic environmental catastrophe that has emerged as the single biggest issue of our or any time. (Which doesn’t stop MSNBC from giving it massively less attention than the network grants to the endless Russia Gate story).

It’s not for nothing that 57% of U.S. Democrats now prefer “socialism” to “capitalism.” Millions of Americans, younger adults especially, know very well that irredeemable (thank you AOC) capitalism lay at the ugly class-ruled taproot of the existential nightmare that American and indeed planetary life has become for so many.  That’s something for MSNBC hosts and “experts” not to reflect upon as they fake-knowingly instruct young people and the Democratic base to get on board with the supposedly sacred but frankly democracy-disabling and eco-exterminist profits system. You can bet that the percentage of Americans who prefer socialism to capitalism is more like two-thirds when it comes to Millennial Democrats.  Young people would right to look at the poisoned and unjust world being handed off to them by de facto corporate spokespersons and real or wannabe oligarchs like Chris Matthews, Donny Deutsch, Joe Scarborough, and to say, “up yours, capitalist shitheads.”

Help Street keep writing here.

Categories: News for progressives

Blackface and the American Idea of Race

Wed, 2019-03-13 16:00

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The price of scandal

Periodically the American punditocracy convenes on cable TV for a “conversation about race.” But, whether sparked by a celebrity chef’s use of a racial slur, or a Black president’s comment about the shooting of a Black teen, or a white president’s remarks about “fine people on both sides” of a racist march, the conversations about race seem to fade out of the national consciousness as quickly as spring showers, with the phrase “both sides” lingering after them like a bit of precipitation on a pundit’s lip.

Still, dead conversations about race return, first as tragi-comedy, then as farce.

The latest case in point is the national blackface conversation that erupted in February, after Virginia Democratic governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page (complete with a photograph of someone in blackface next to someone in Klan garb), was publicized.

There followed the triple tragi-comedy of Northam’s refusal to resign, of Justin Fairfax, his Democratic lieutenant governor, in turn refusing to step down after two women separately accused him of sexual assault, and, finally, of Mark Herring, the Democratic attorney general and the next in line for the governorship, preemptively announcing that he himself had worn blackface in his youth. All of this and even some of the conversation it sparked would fit in a remake of the old Ingrid Bergman movie where someone asks, apropos of an old crime, “Who remembers what happened or did not happen? Who remembers the truth?”

Who remembers indeed? Amnesia may be the reason why tragi-comedies do not last in real life but tip one way or the other, into full-on farce or full-on tragedy: into Trump riding into the White House promising to fix an illusory border crisis with money from Mexico, or into refugee children suffering and in a few cases dying in the name of that same crisis.

As for the Virginia tragi-comedy, it tipped into farce on March 5, when the Republican Party of Virginia offered a $1000 reward for a  blackface picture of Herring.  The Virginia GOP knows that the viler the picture it unearths, the better its chances of seating a Republican politician in Northam’s chair. But that is not all the VGOP is seeking. It is seeking redemption, too.

After all, Northam won the governorship partly on the grounds that his Republican opponent was running a campaign of racial dog whistles. No less a speech maker than Barak Obama emphasized this when he came down to campaign for Northam in 2017. Further back, during Obama’s presidency, the VGOP had to chastise a county affiliate over racist images of Obama that the affiliate had on its Facebook page.

So, on March 5, offering the reward for Herring-in-blackface under a wanted-poster-style photograph of him, the Virginia Republicans was looking for a chance to seize the racial high ground, along with the levers of power that require the appearance of occupying that ground.

If this move pays off, the VGOP will have turned Northam’s scandal into “a morality car wash” for itself– into a cure for the ethically halt and lame, to borrow the metaphor of Martin Scorsese’s protagonist in Casino.

The Rinse Cycle

Every good American scandal is a morality carwash waiting to be switched on and filled with the most powerful water there is, the water of forgetting–the water that keeps America forever young and unsullied.

The perfect example of the workings of the waters of forgetting emerged toward the end of the tragi-comic phase of the blackface conversation when, after sending 62 journalists to scan American yearbooks for offensive images, USA Today editor Nicole Carroll had her attention called to a blackface page she herself included in a yearbook she edited 30 years ago.

The fact that Carroll had no memory of the offensive page made her, for me, an instant symbol of a country that is forever surprised by what it has chosen not to remember.

To eliminate the discomfort of contradictions between our principles and our actions, cognitive dissonance theory tells us, we sometimes edit our memories to make them consistent with innocent, unsullied version of ourselves.

Carroll, to her credit, apologized profusely and affirmed her commitment to diversity and perhaps put her cognitive dissonance to rest in that time-honored way.

But the VGOP is after something bigger than mere peace of mind. It, like the national party under President Trump’s leadership, is after the power to shape reality. So, before it comes up with that photograph of Mark Herring, and pushes the industrial forgetting into higher gear, it will be useful to trace the ties between the blackface and Klan images on Governor Northam’s medical school yearbook page to their intellectual origins in racist pseudoscience and antebellum entertainment.

The Morality Carwash in the Age of Slavery

Both the pseudoscience and the thirst for blackface entertainment were injected into American life during the period when slavery stood in need of defense and celebration.

One of those who led the conversation on race in those days was a New York actor named Thomas D. Rice. He popularized blackface in the 1830s by creating Jim Crow, a character whose behavior, according to one Louisiana editorialist, proved that emancipation of the slaves should not be considered for even a moment.  After Reconstruction,  “Jim Crow” unsurprisingly became the nickname for the system that enshrined Black inferiority in the southern law.

If Rice was the Mr. Hyde of American race relations, the Dr. Jekyll was Josiah Nott, an esteemed slave-owning physician who became a passionate racial anthropologist.  Together with an “American school” of naturalists, Nott helped spread racist ideas that continue to plague the national unconscious to this day.

Nott set forth “scientific” reasons why the northern states should not, on pain of warfare, step on slavery’s toes in 1850:

I have long been convinced, that the views I have been promulgating for the last ten years, contained the only appeal, which could be made with any possible chance of success, to our Northern brethren. They have been told again and again that the Constitution guaranteed to the South her slaves. … the same God who … permitted Slavery to exist by His Word, … stamped the Negro Race with permanent inferiority…. I now propose to pass over the intricacies of science … and lay before you a few results of investigation, which are very generally admitted amongst men of science …. [T]he naturalists every where are endorsing the opinions for which I am contending.

Much pseudoscience ensued—pseudoscience that has not entirely disappeared in 2019. Neither has the more nakedly self-interested elements of Nott’s argument:

these Negroes cannot be liberated without destroying the prosperity, happiness and political power of the Southern States; and yet we are scoffed at and insulted, as outside barbarians, for perpetuating this institution….

Strip away the podium-pounding trumpeting of Black inferiority and the defense of slavery, and one recognizes, in the claim to have been scoffed at and insulted, a speech in the key of Trump. One recognizes, more importantly, what the scholar George Lipsitz has called “the possessive investment in whiteness.”

Litpsitz uses the adjective “possessive to stress the relationship between whiteness and asset accumulation.”  He stresses research that shows that “nearly every social choice that white people make about where they live, what schools their children attend, what careers they pursue, and what policies they endorse is shaped by considerations involving race.” Nott, who served as director of the Confederate General Army Hospital during the Civil War, is a poster child for the possessive investment in whiteness and for the fact that that investment can influence “scientific” conclusions.

In a world that Nott and Thomas D. Rice helped to create, the spores floating out of the nineteenth century have scattered far and wide–into 1980s college yearbooks, into campus incidents like the one at Yale where police were summoned to investigate a sleeping Black student, and, most consequentially for the present discussion, into the arguments used by opponents of affirmative action and other policies that grew out of the Black freedom movement.

Lipsitz reports that The Possessive Investment in Whiteness grew out of his activism on behalf of affirmative action in the era when it was targeted for destruction in California. His side lost that battle, and affirmative action has had its back against one wall of another ever since, often because of the efforts of some of the same people who triumphed in California.

Blum, Zhao and the veil of forgetting

The current leader of the anti-affirmative action movement, Edward Blum, told me in 2017 that his strategic model is the NAACP Legal Defense fund, which won the case that desegregated American schools by invoking the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

In 2013, a case Blum organized led to the weakening, in the name of the 14thand 15thAmendment and racial equality, a provision of the Voting Rights Act that protected African Americans and other minorities against voter suppression laws.

Today, cases Blum has engineered against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill threaten to end affirmative action (from which people ranging from Sonya Sotomayor to female clerks hired by Brett Kavanaugh have benefited) if they succeed in the Supreme Court. The Harvard case, which alleges that Harvard discriminates against superior Asian students even as it gives a boost to Blacks and Hispanics through affirmative action, may have, as a side-effect, a raising of tensions between nonwhite competitors for American opportunity and a raising of the ghosts of Blum and Rice.

This danger is evident when one considers what the Harvard case has already wrought. In 2015, the Asian American Coalition for Education formed and filed, through the Justice Department, a civil rights complaint against Harvard that took its cues from Blum. Yukong Zhao, the leader of the group, seems to have emerged from central casting as an agent of industrial forgetting.

A graduate of China’s University of Science and Technology who earned a business degree from the University of South Carolina in 1996 and eventually became a Siemens executive, Zhao worked in the period between his degrees at the Chinese Academy of Sciences before settling in the United States in 1992. He is therefore an incarnation of the sort of person for whom H-1B visas, designed for highly-educated immigrants in specialized fields, were intended.

More importantly, he is an incarnation of the sort of person whose children are born into the upper middle-class, with access to the best American educational opportunities.

This makes his children unlike the offspring of most of the poor and working class foot soldiers of the Civil Rights movement, whose households tend to suffer from inherited poverty and unequal opportunity.  Zhao seems unaware or indifferent not only to this fact, but also to the fact that the Chinese community of which he is a proud part has benefited from the gains of the Black Civil Rights movement. (In the 1974 case of Lau v. Nichols, for instance, the Supremes found that failure to provide English language instruction for students of Chinese ancestry enrolled in San Francisco schools violated key provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

Zhao’s public statements suggest that he feels American history began when he arrived in 1992, 18 years after the Lau decision. Thus, in response to a Trump administration rollback of Obama-era guidelines on implementing affirmative action, Zhao told NPR, “I think it’s a new chapter for Asian-American children because, from today, discrimination—you know, the unlawful discrimination against our children will be significantly reduced.”

Zhao’s advocacy for kids who look like him is complemented by a call for more parents like himself: He has called (in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed) for an increase in H-1B visas while lamenting the much larger number of green cards issued to people he deems less productive. Zhao expands on the thinking behind all this in his 2013 book The Chinese Secrets for Success: Five InspiringConfucian Values, where he doles out such advice on topics such as “how to choose a desirable neighborhood that could help shape the future of your children.”

The irony here is that the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the various forms of workplace and educational affirmative action that grew out of it were designed to distribute the work and educational opportunities needed to secure that choice for people who were long denied it, and did not need to be told they needed it. Settling in America with a full compliment of educational capital, Zhao was free to be oblivious to the past and, indeed, to cheer its erasure, as he did when the Trump administration whited out the Obama guidance documents. Zhao was free, in other words, to dive into the waters of forgetting alongside Blum and other self-appointed guardians of civil rights washed clean of history.

As Lipsitz observes, the “power of whiteness depends not only on white hegemony over separate racialized groups but also on manipulating racial outsiders to fight against one another, to compete for white approval, and to seek the rewards and privileges of whiteness [which at its core always means non-Blackness] for themselves.”

Thanks to Nott, Rice and their fellow travelers, no overt racism needs to be involved in any of the current contests over who emerges cleanest from the morality carwash. Blum to all outward appearances is a man committed to an unwavering conception of justice. Zhao claims to have reached out to certain minority organizations, saying,  “We have a heart. We care about them.”

With the ghosts of Nott and Rice still among us, no one needs to make a Nott-like case for preserving the  “prosperity, happiness and political power” of whites or for beating others with the  “model minority” yardstick by which they measure themselves, as Zhao proudly does. All such bitter insistence is concealed by a vast forgetting, and by the ignorant grievances that forgetting makes possible.

Categories: News for progressives

Empire Unravelling: Will Huawei Become Washington’s Suez?

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:59

Photograph Source Brücke-Osteuropa

America’s full-spectrum campaign against Chinese tech leader Huawei is coming spectacularly undone. Curtains are imminent for Washington’s tawdriest global offensive in recent memory – featuring open extortion, kidnapping, demonization and intimidation of both friends and foes.

The signs were apparent as early as two months ago, when many governments worldwide lukewarmly greeted US calls for a boycott of Huawei’s products and services. But explicit refusals in the past week by staunch American allies Germany, Britain and New Zealand, as well as NATO member Turkey, have all but sealed the deal. After all, hardly any country outside the US-dominated Empire is signing on.

Even 61% of CNN viewers thought the crackdown was motivated by politics, against 24% who believe Washington’s line on “protecting national security.” All that apparently persuaded POTUS Trump to tweet about winning the tech race with China “through competition, not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies.”

Washington’s stunning defeat stems from US leaders’ hidebound hubris, their utter inability to conceive of a world in which their country was no longer No. 1 in everything significant. Such navel-gazing put them to sleep, oblivious that history has marched past them in the form of China’s Huawei Technologies. The simple fact is – as Huawei boss Ren Zhengfei has been saying – the Chinese firm is far ahead of everyone else in the development of 5G. Any nation that doesn’t want to be left behind rolling out the game-changing, next-generation communications technology has little choice but to do business with Huawei. Moreover, without fanfare the company has taken a leading role in shaping the very rules of 5G, on a global basis. Like China itself, Huawei simply cannot be contained.

There’s a bigger question underlying the Battle Over Huawei: Will it turn out to be the Suez Crisis of the American Empire? That 1956 watershed in the Middle East clearly signaled the end of the British Empire’s century-long domination of world affairs. America’s President Eisenhower stopped cold a UK-led invasion of Egypt by threatening to dump Washington’s huge holdings of pound-sterling bonds and cripple the British financial system. China may not have hinted at selling its hoard of US Treasurys, but such a move has long been implicit. After Suez, the world knew for certain there was a new No. 1 power: the United States. The battleground in 1956 was oil; in 2019, it is technology.

On other fronts, the signs are grim for Imperial Washington as well. Besides the revolt of the Europeans over Huawei, the German government is at odds with the Trump regime over a growing number of issues. They include Germany refusing to buy America’s F-35 jetfighter; spearheading the creation of a European Army, together with France; cementing Berlin’s (and the EU’s) ties to Russia through energy pipelines; forging a more independent European foreign policy; and, it’s whispered, eventually getting the US “army of occupation” out of Germany. If she proceeds, Chancellor Angela Merkel will have solid public backing. A recent poll found that 85% of Germans considered Berlin’s relationship with the US “negative.” Some 42% said China made a more reliable partner for Germany than the US, while only 23% said the opposite. Italy has announced its intention to participate officially in the China-led Belt & Road Initiative to develop EurAsia, becoming the first Western nation to do so.

In Asia too, Washington has been losing ground. Behind the scenes, the leaders of North and South Korea — not the grandstanding Trump — are spearheading the accelerating moves towards peace and perhaps eventual reunification. They are being discreetly supported and guided by China, especially President Xi Jinping. Trump took his country further out of the picture last week by blowing a much-anticipated summit with the DPRK’s Kim Jong Un with his hardline obstinacy. Even faithful US ally Japan has been engaging its Chinese archrivals in détente, even as it distances itself from an increasingly erratic Washington.

In the Middle East, America’s headaches are intensifying with a bedrock associate, Saudi Arabia. Last week, Riyadh’s volatile, headstrong Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited India and China in a clear bid to diversify his country’s reliance on the US for economic development as well as security.

In the American homeland, meanwhile, bitter political divisions make daily headlines, exacerbated by the pugnacious style of the Trump regime. Nativism and racism have raised their ugly heads to new highs for recent times.

Abroad, allies are talking back and breaking ranks, while rivals gain ground and influence at US expense. At home, the nation chases its own tail incessantly, even as national institutions decay.

How much longer can the American imperium hold?

Categories: News for progressives

Margaret Thatcher’s Love of Quack Remedies

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:58

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

As a leftie I’m biased of course, but I always thought the old witch Margaret Thatcher was more or less off her trolley (as we Brits say) — she had that mad glint in her eyes, and the recent release of a batch of Thatcher’s private papers, made public after the 30-year embargo was lifted, serves somewhat to confirm this impression.

Some of the papers in this set of releases show Thatcher to have been a sucker for what quacks were quick to offer her.

Thatcher’s biggest supplier of quack remedies was Dame Barbara Cartland (1901-2000), the author of 723 novels (mostly trashy bodice-rippers) that sold over 750 million copies and were translated into 38 languages.  Cartland, incidentally, was Princess Diana’s step-grandmother, and it is reported that Cartland’s novels were the only books read by the untutored Diana.

Thatcher, known to be a workaholic, received “nutrimental capsules” from the ever-solicitous Dame Barbara “in case you ever feel tired”.

Some of these capsules were made from “crushed sheep’s brain plus heart”.

Did it ever occur to the good dame that some may view capsules made from the crushed brains and hearts of donkeys to possess as much “nutrimental” value as her sheep-derived capsules?

In addition to the capsules, Thatcher also received a “magic acorn” from the novelist. According to The Guardian:

“The nut in question appears to have originated from an oak tree in the garden of Cartland’s estate near Hatfield, Hertfordshire. The tree was reputedly planted by Queen Elizabeth I on shooting her first stag, and Cartland believed it had magical powers.

In a 1994 interview with the Sunday Telegraph, the author related how she had given one of the “magic acorns” to a couple who appeared unable to have children, “and now they have a beautiful bouncing baby”. She added: ‘Of course, she [the mother] was always taking my vitamins’”.

Cartland took about 100 “all-natural” pills each day, which may or may not have contributed to her longevity (she died just short of her 99th birthday).

Thatcher had studied chemistry at Oxford, so it is perhaps surprising she fell for Cartland’s mumbo-jumbo. But then her Oxford chemistry tutor Dorothy Hodgkin (winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964) did not rate Thatcher highly as a chemist.

Another to give Thatcher advice on supplements was the millionaire industrialist Emmanuel Kaye, who visited Thatcher at home in 1989. According to The Independent, “’He [Kaye] said he could “sort out vitamins, minerals etc. and, if you like … check whether the vitamin C and the royal jelly you are having are of the best variety for you and work out the optimum dosage’”.

However, vitamins and royal jelly were small beer for the millionaire– his real specialty was something called “body tuning”.

Alas the newly released documents do not indicate whether the Iron Lady accepted this offer of “body tuning”.

The just-released papers detailing Thatcher’s predilection for quackery brought renewed attention to a 1989 Vanity Fair profile of her, titled The Blooming of Margaret Thatcher, which raised some eyebrows when it was published.

The Vanity Fair profile mentioned Thatcher’s use of “electric baths” in an effort to stay young. She visited an Indian practitioner who would run 0.3 amps of electricity through her bath water.

I thought at that time the unnamed practitioner would have saved large numbers of Brits any amount of misery if he decided to amp the electricity in Thatcher’s bath up to 30 amps!

I also recall The Guardian reporting in 2003 of Thatcher’s fondness for vitamin B12 shots, which her doctor was required to inject straight into her buttocks.

Alas the Tories aren’t the only UK party with a leader susceptible to New Age hocus pocus.  The Blairs, when Tony was Labour party leader and prime minister, had a controversial “lifestyle guru”, Carole Caplin.

Ms Caplin was personal shopper, fashion adviser, and fitness trainer to the Blairs (in addition to being a stylist and “spiritual adviser” to Cherie Blair–under Caplin’s tutelage, Mrs Blair was known to wear “magic crystals”).

Caplin gave Tony Blair “neck massages”, and chose his clothes, including his underwear.

In the 2002 “Cheriegate Affair” it was revealed that Caplin’s former lover Peter Foster, a convicted Australian conman, had helped Cherie Blair buy 2 properties at a discount.

Carole Caplin had already acquired notoriety in 1994 when the Murdoch-owned rag The Sun informed Blair’s office they had topless photographs of her which they intended to publish under the headline “Secrets of Blairs’ Girl Friday” on the day of Blair’s first Labour conference speech as leader.

Blair’s Svengali and spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who was hostile to Caplin from the beginning,  threatened to resign over this episode.

The Blairs had an American precursor in hiring a controversial “guru”, to wit, the Reagan White House’s court “astrologer” Joan Quigley. Donald Regan, the president’s chief of staff, who was no fan of Quigley’s, later wrote in his memoirs:

“Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House Chief of Staff was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco [Quigley] who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise”.

Ours is of course the time par excellence of postmodern political leadership, where leaders dealing with the pressures of office can resort to equally postmodern therapies and salves for the anxious soul.

Leaders from a previous generation had ways and means of dealing with stress more attuned with the mores of the time.

Churchill’s formidable drinking regimen comes to mind (his motto: “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me”)— hence for him a morning whisky “mouthwash”, a bottle of champagne at lunch, a glass of whisky by his side for the rest of the day, and more champers for dinner with brandy to follow. The old brute lived to be 90.

Thatcher, her partiality for “nutrimental capsules” and “magic acorns” aside, was known to drink whisky through the night when she was under pressure.

And let’s not get started on Boris Yeltsin!

When it came to over-eating, and not just boozing, the leader of them all in our times must surely be the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1930-2017), with whom Thatcher had a poor relationship, primarily because she opposed German reunification, which he accomplished.

Kohl was a big man (6’4”/1.94m and weighing over 300lbs/136kgs) with an appetite to match, especially for the typical dishes of his home province, such as stuffed pig’s stomach (saumagen), pickled pig’s head (schweinskopfsülze), strudel made of blood sausage and liverwurst, liver dumplings, and steamed yeast rolls. His wife Hannelore tried to control his weight and gargantuan appetite, so Kohl had to resort to secret eating.

All this is by and by, because it is impossible to imagine Churchill, Kohl, or Yeltsin dealing with the travails of office by resorting to lifestyle gurus, crystals, magic acorns, vitamin shots administered to the buttocks, electric baths, or astrology.

Another bottle of scotch or vodka (per day), or plate of blood sausages, was their order of the day.

Categories: News for progressives

An Open Letter to Boeing: Put Passengers First, Ground the 737 MAX 8 Now!

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:57

I called Boeing’s office in Washington, D.C. about the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, with over 300 fatalities, to give them some advice. They were too busy to call back, so I’m conveying some measures they should take fast in this open letter.

Dear Boeing Executives:

You don’t seem to see the writing on the Wall. Your Boeing 737 MAX 8 is being grounded by more and more countries and foreign airlines. Airline passengers in the U.S. are switching away their reservations on this plane and there are signs of an organized boycott of this aircraft which is used by the major U.S. airlines.

It is only a matter of time before the bereaved families organize, before members of Congress start forcefully speaking out, as Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal just did. Both Senators are on the Senate’s Aviation Subcommittee.

Soon the technical dissenters in the reported “heated discussions” with FAA, the airline industry, the pilot unions and your company will see some internal e-mails, memos, and whistleblowers go public. Technical dissent cannot be repressed indefinitely.

Your own lawyers should be counselling you that Boeing is on public notice and that, heaven forbid, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 crash in this country, the arrogance of your algorithms overpowering the pilots, can move law enforcement to investigate potential personal criminal negligence.

Clearly, you run a company used to having its way. Used to having a patsy FAA, with its “tombstone mentality,” used to delaying airworthiness directives that should be put out immediately, and not diluted and delayed, used to getting free government R&D and used to avoiding state and federal taxes.

Stop digging in your heels. Tell the airlines to stop digging in their heels. Public trust in your Boeing 737 MAX 8 is eroding fast. Get ahead of the curve that is surely heading your way.

You see the Boeing 737 MAX 8 as being a large part of your passenger aircraft business. You’ve delivered over 300 planes and reportedly have over 3000 orders. Over the years, your engineers have solved many technical problems brilliantly. The domestic safety record of the major airlines, using your equipment, has been very commendable for more than a decade. A lot of the credit goes to Boeing as well as to the airline pilots, flight attendants, traffic controllers, and mechanics.

But there is always a time when commercial dictates and a rush to get ahead of Airbus result in too many corners being cut. There is always a time when the proverbial rubber band, being stretched suddenly snaps. This aircraft is not an old DC-9 being phased out. The stakes involved in your erring on the side of safety and letting your engineers exercise their “options for revision,” affect the future of a good part of Boeing.

Tell the U.S. airlines and other recalcitrant airlines overseas to ground their 737 MAX 8 planes and then you do what is necessary to restore the engineering integrity of your company. You did this before with the Boeing 787 in 2013.

Once an aircraft starts to carry a stigma in the minds of passengers, time is of the essence. You know all about branding’s pluses and minuses. It is better to act now before being forced to act, whether by Congress, the FAA, a prosecution or another aircraft disaster that could have been avoided.

For safety,
Ralph Nader
Co-author of Collision Course: The Truth About Airline Safety

Categories: News for progressives

Nuclear Powers Need to Disarm Before It’s Too Late

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:57

Photograph Source United States Department of Energy

The recent military clash between India and Pakistan underscores the need for the major nuclear powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, and France — finally to move toward fulfilling their obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Treaty’s purpose was not simply to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, but to serve as a temporary measure until Article VI could take effect: the “cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

The 191 countries that signed the NPT — the most widely subscribed nuclear treaty on the planet — did so with the understanding that the major powers would de-nuclearize. But in the 50 years since the Treaty was negotiated, the nuclear powers have yet to seriously address eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

While over the years the Americans and the Russians have reduced the number of warheads in their arsenals, they — along with China — are currently in the midst of a major modernization of their weapon systems. Instead of a world without nuclear weapons, it is a world of nuclear apartheid, with the great powers making no move to downsize their conventional forces.

For non-nuclear armed countries, this is the worst of all worlds.

There Are No “Local” Nuclear Wars

The folly of this approach was all too clear in the recent India and Pakistan dustup. While both sides appear to be keeping the crisis under control, for the first time in a very long time, two nuclear powers that border one another exchanged air and artillery attacks.

While so far things have not gotten out of hand, both countries recently introduced military policies that make the possibility of a serious escalation very real.

On the New Delhi side is a doctrine called “Cold Start” that permits the Indian military to penetrate up to 30 kilometers deep into Pakistan if it locates, or is in pursuit of, “terrorists.” On the Islamabad side is a policy that gives front-line Pakistani commanders the authority to use tactical nuclear weapons.

The possibility of a nuclear exchange is enhanced by the disparity between India and Pakistan’s military forces. One does not have to be Carl von Clausewitz to predict the likely outcome of a conventional war between a country of 200 million people and a country of 1.3 billion people.

Pakistan reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first. India has a “no first use” policy, but with so many caveats that it is essentially meaningless. In brief, it wouldn’t take much to ignite a nuclear war between them.

If that happens, its effects will not be just regional. According to a study by the University of Colorado, Rutgers University, and UCLA, if Pakistan and India exchanged 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear warheads (15 kilotons), they would not only kill or injure 45 million people, but also generate enough smoke to plunge the world into a 25-year long nuclear winter.

Both countries have between 130 and 150 warheads apiece.

Temperatures would drop to Ice Age levels and worldwide rainfall would decline by 6 percent, triggering major droughts. The Asian Monsoon could be reduced by between 20 and 80 percent, causing widespread regional starvation.

Between the cold and the drought, global grain production could fall by 20 percent in the first half decade, and by 10 to 15 percent over the following half decade.

Besides cold and drought, the ozone loss would be between 20 and 50 percent, which would not only further damage crops, but harm sea life, in particular plankton. The reduction of the ozone layer would also increase the rate of skin cancers.

The study estimates that “two billion people who are now only marginally fed might die from starvation and disease in the aftermath of a nuclear conflict between Pakistan and India.”

In short, there is no such thing as a “local” nuclear war.

The Ultimate Equalizer

Article VI is the heart of the NPT, because it not only requires abolishing nuclear weapons but also addresses the fears that non-nuclear armed nations have about the major powers’ conventional forces.

A number of countries — China in particular — were stunned by the conventional firepower unleashed by the U.S. in its 2003 invasion of Iraq. Though the U.S. occupation of Iraq took a disastrous turn, the ease with which U.S. forces initially dispatched the Iraqi army was a sobering lesson for a lot of countries.

In part, it is the conventional power of countries like the U.S. that fuels the drive by smaller nations to acquire nuclear weapons.

Libya is a case in point. That country voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Less than seven years later Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by the U.S. and NATO. At the time, the North Koreans essentially said, “we told you so.”

The NPT has done a generally good job of halting proliferation. While Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea have obtained nuclear weapons — the first three never signed the Treaty and North Korea withdrew in 2003 — South Africa abandoned its program. Other nuclear-capable nations like Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Iran, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia also haven’t joined the nuclear club — yet.

But it is hard to make a case for non-proliferation when the major nuclear powers insist on keeping their nuclear arsenals. And one can hardly blame smaller countries for considering nuclear weapons as a counterbalance to the conventional forces of more powerful nations like the U.S. and China. If there is anything that might make Iran abandon its pledge not to build nuclear weapons, it’s all the talk in Israel, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia about regime change in Tehran.

Regional Tinderboxes

There are specific regional problems, the solutions to which would reduce the dangers of a nuclear clash.

The U.S. has taken some steps in that direction on the Korean Peninsula by downsizing its yearly war games with South Korea and Japan. Declaring an end to the almost 70-year-old Korean war and withdrawing some U.S. troops from South Korea would also reduce tensions.

Halting the eastward expansion of NATO and ending military exercises on the Russian border would reduce the chances of a nuclear war in Europe.

In South Asia, the international community must become involved in a solution to the Kashmir problem. Kashmir has already led to three wars between India and Pakistan, and the 1999 Kargil incident came distressingly close to going nuclear.

This latest crisis started over a February 14 suicide bombing in Indian-occupied Kashmir that killed more than 40 Indian paramilitaries. While a horrendous act, the current government of India’s brutal crackdown in Kashmir has stirred enormous anger among the locals. Kashmir is now one of the most militarized regions in the world, and India dominates it through a combination of force and extra-judicial colonial laws — the Public Safety Act and the Special Powers Act — that allows it to jail people without charge and bestows immunity on the actions of the Indian army, the paramilitaries, and the police.

Since 1989, the conflict has claimed more than 70,000 lives and seen tens of thousands of others “disappeared,” injured, or imprisoned.

India blames the suicide attack on Pakistan, which has a past track record of so doing. But that might not be the case here. Even though a Pakistani-based terrorist organization, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), claims credit, both sides need to investigate the incident. It is not unlikely that the attack was homegrown — the bomber was Kashmiri — although possibly aided by JeM. It is also true that Pakistan does not have total control over the myriad of militant groups that operate within its borders. The Pakistani Army, for instance, is at war with its homegrown Taliban.

The Kashmir question is a complex one, but solutions are out there. The United Nations originally pledged to sponsor a plebiscite in Kashmir to let the local people decide if they want to be part of India, Pakistan, or independent. Such a plebiscite should go forward. What cannot continue is the ongoing military occupation of 10 million people, most of whom don’t want India there.

Kashmir is no longer a regional matter. Nuclear weapons threaten not only Pakistanis and Indians, but, indeed, the whole world. The major nuclear powers must begin to move toward fulfilling Article VI of the NPT, or sooner or later our luck will run out.

Categories: News for progressives

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

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:56

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

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

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:55

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

There must be a better way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seventh: abolish the Electoral College.

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

Categories: News for progressives

I Love the Green New Deal But …

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:55

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

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

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:55

Nazareth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Jailing Chelsea Manning

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:54

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

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

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:52

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

–Bob Dylan, “With God on Our Side”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

Cops and Fascists: KKKolleagues?

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Hail Ilhan Omar, Avatar of Truth!

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Categories: News for progressives

US Must Respect Iran

Wed, 2019-03-13 15:43

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

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

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

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

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

Facing The Ugly Realities Of US History With Iran

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

The 1953 Coup

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

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

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

Installation Of The Brutal Shah

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

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

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

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

US Supports Iraq’s War Against Iran

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

The US Shoots Down A Civilian Airliner

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

Forty Years Of US Economic Sanctions

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

US Withdrawal From Nuclear Agreement And Increased Sanctions

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

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

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

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

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

Ongoing US Destabilization Iran And Threats Of War

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

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

US military bases around Iran.

Creating A Peaceful, Positive Relationship Between The US And Iran

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

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