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Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:35

On the evening of November 7, administration officials suspended CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s “hard pass.” A hard pass allows its holder “access to areas designated for journalists in the West Wing, on Air Force One, and in other secured areas during presidential trips, which are routinely covered by the White House press corps.”

The suspension followed a combative press conference during which US president Donald Trump repeatedly slammed reporters, referring to Acosta as “an enemy of the people,” and during which Acosta  refused to hand a White House mic back to the intern who came to collect it when his haranguing — er, questioning — time ran out and either (depending on who you ask) accidentally brushed, or intentionally struck, the intern.

On November 13, CNN sued Trump and several other White House officials, accusing them of violating Acosta’s First Amendment (freedom of the press) and Fifth Amendment (due process) rights.

Insofar as the White House has specific and supposedly objective standards for granting hard passes to reporters, Acosta might indeed have a due process claim if yanking his pass didn’t conform to those standards. The First Amendment claim, on the other hand, seems pretty sketchy.

The First Amendment protects not only a free press but freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of peaceable assembly to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Does this mean that anyone who wants to report, speak, pray or just have a non-violent political get-together must be allowed to do so at the White House, on demand?

Well, maybe so. In Thomas Jefferson’s time, Americans could stroll the White House grounds at will and even visit with the president and first lady at lunchtime or after each day. Of course, things have changed since then, but I have no problem with the principle of the thing. The White House supposedly belongs to “the public.” Why shouldn’t we drop in any time we please?

That, however, is not what CNN contends.  They’re not upset that you and I can’t plop ourselves down in White House press room chairs and start firing off questions at the president any time the spirit moves. Their lawsuit argues, rather, that because CNN is a popular cable channel and its White House correspondent is very special and important, Jim Acosta is entitled to a chair, a desk, and face time with Donald Trump.

I suspect a lawsuit on similar supposed First Amendment claims from, say,  Caitlin Johnstone, Alex Jones, Chris Hedges, or the “White House Correspondent” of a small-town Kentucky newspaper  would get laughed right out of court (and out of the “mainstream press”), even if they all agreed to hand the microphones back over when their time ran out.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Snow Day

Wed, 2018-11-14 15:11

Trip Shakespeare’s “Snow Days” isn’t a song that would usually find its way into my rock ‘n’ roll heart. There’s the bloated, almost operatic, singing. There’s the idea that “real” rock ‘n’ roll has its origins in the streets, not the highly academic origins of the band members. And there’s the academic “wit” of some of the lyrics. Chainfields? Motor Veins? But sometimes you just have to put working class chauvinism aside. “Snow Days” has a place in my heart and has had one since I first heard it on a trip to Minneapolis in the mid-‘90s, several years after its release.

It snowed yesterday in Springfield, MO. Snows aren’t unheard of in South Central Missouri or Northwest Arkansas, my primary locations since 1989. They are this early in the year. Having spent a good deal of my growing-up and adult years in New Jersey, there is a certain nostalgia attached to snow. But nostalgia is poor fodder for a good rock ‘n’ roll song.

I’ve got a story. Several, actually.

When my father was transferred to McGuire Air Force Base in 1965, snow days were an opportunity, not an escape from school. For the children of enlisted men, the opportunity was to make some money by teaming up with other kids to shovel the sidewalks. The good money was across the boulevard that separated the officer’s quarters from the lower income enlisted families. In those days, all Base Housing (except for General’s quarters which were comfortable brick houses with landscaped yards a few miles away) consisted of town houses built in courts of 18 units each. In our court there were something like 90 kids – one of the largest concentrations of juveniles in the whole complex and with a sufficient number of snow-shoveling age to form an impressive work force. We learned quickly that the best way to negotiate wages was to team up. Nowadays some people would probably refer to us as “union thugs.” As far as I can determine, Base Housing is now privatized. Probably the snow removal as well.

After my father left the Air Force my older brother and I would team up with other kids in the Holly Hills neighborhood of Mt. Holly (mostly ex-military) and then Prospect Heights, a working class neighborhood in Trenton. Old enough now to have a paper route, my parents were insistent on “saving money for college.” Record money would still be mostly dependent on the annual winter weather. From the beginning, I used the windfall of snow day cash to fuel my passion for music. First there were new singles by chart acts like Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Mamas & Papas, Aretha, Glen Campbell – mixed with 5 for a dollar cut-out singles of older tunes. I had a lot of catching up to do, having missed the soul wave in the segregated play lists of South Carolina. During the last couple of years of my snow-shoveling days it turned to albums. The last album I remember buying with snow money was the White Album. I probably wore that one out by January.

Once indoctrinated into the world of grown up labor, snow days meant something entirely different. They meant a brief respite from the ever-increasing demands of management. In the 21st century version of labor/management relations, things have declined to a point where labor is expected to brave the weather in all kinds of storms. There are no snow days. Show up for work or else. This includes all types of labor – lower level management, industrial workers, cash-register clinkers, fast-food workers, teachers… all of us. Lower pay, lower benefits, lower safety… “We are all outlaws in the eyes of (corporate) Amerika.”

The guy I most admired at my last job before I retired was the one who NEVER came to work if there was so much as 1 snowflake falling from the sky. The supervisors would make it a point of mocking and belittling him at warehouse meetings. “So-and-so made it and they live 20 miles away. How come you can’t?” It never flustered the guy. “I won’t risk my safety for this job.” He’d been employed there for about 15 years. He was a good worker, knew his job well. They threatened to fire him – never did. Everyone knew it was just his way of throwing the finger at an employer who didn’t want to pay him anything close to his value. Still… there were those who succumbed to the pettiness and labeled him a “sissy.” The fucking guy had more guts than all of them combined. As far as I know, he’s still employed there. I’m positive he didn’t go to work yesterday.

What has all this got to do with “Snow Days,” the song?

It’s this. Despite an aura of pomposity, when it comes right down to it, “Snow Days” envelops the subversive nature that is essential to a lot of great rock ‘n’ roll – this time with a beautiful arrangement and a calming piano break. It tells the tale of a dedicated and overworked teacher on a day when the snow is falling. And the respite that a day off can provide, if she’ll only take it. “There’s a blessing on the ground. Go home.” That’s rock ‘n’ roll.

Categories: News for progressives

The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways

Tue, 2018-11-13 16:00

Waiting In Line To Vote Miami

In 1898 the state of Louisiana held a constitutional convention with the declared aim of disenfranchising black people and perpetuating white rule. “Our mission was, in the first place, to establish the supremacy of the white race in this state to the extent to which it could be legally and constitutionally done,” reads the official journal of the convention. Legal means were found to scrub 130,000 registered black voters from the rolls and allow juries to come to non-unanimous verdicts in felony trials, including those involving the death penalty.

This measure might sound technical, or even be presented as a bid to make the court system more efficient, but its real purpose was thoroughly racist. It effectively side-stepped the constitutional requirement that black people should serve on juries, which gave them some leverage in resisting legal discrimination against the black population.

Since there were usually only one or two black jurors on a jury, they only had influence so long as verdicts were unanimous. Once a split verdict was allowed, then all-white juries could effectively decide the fate of defendants by a 10 to 2 verdict. This entrenched the legal bias against black people for over a century.

It was only last Tuesday that voters in Louisiana approved an amendment that abolished this toxic Jim Crow law that had survived the civil rights movement because it was not demonstrably racist written down, despite its obvious racist intent. Oregon is now the only state that does not require juries to reach unanimous verdicts.

Votes like the one in Louisiana – though little reported by the media – are often more important in their effect on people’s lives than the choice of elected representative in Congress.

Some of these votes have vast political consequences: great attention is given to the races for the governorship and senate in Florida and too little to the decision by voters to restore the voting rights of ex-felons though this will re-enfranchise nearly 1.5 million people in Florida or 9.2 per cent of the voting-age population. These are people who have completed felony sentences, but until now had lost the right to vote in a state that is often described as evenly divided between Republican and Democrat.

The purpose of denying ex-felons the right to vote was much the same as that expressed openly by those attending the Louisiana constitutional convention 120 years ago. Depriving felons of the vote was purportedly non-racist since it applied to every ex-convict, but in practice it targeted the black population. Some 418,000 out of a black working age population of 2.3 million in Florida have felony convictions. This is just under 18 per cent of the potential black voting population who, if they could have cast a ballot, would have ensured that the Democratic candidates for governor and the Senate were elected.

Only two other states – Iowa and Kentucky – bar former felons from voting, so the situation in Florida was always out of the ordinary. This should be very obvious but pundits mulling over the political divisions in Florida last Tuesday night seldom mentioned this crucial act of voter suppression.

The midterm elections confirmed the extent to which the US is racially divided, though this was scarcely a mystery to anybody who has spent any time in the country. It was easy enough for President Trump to whip up racial fears and animosities by demonising the so-called caravan of Central American migrants in Mexico.

Trump is always skilful in dominating the news agenda and he did so again in the final weeks of the campaign. His success was hugely aided by the lack of any Democratic leader able to rebut him in equally attention-grabbing terms. The media dances too easily to Trump’s tunes, but, since the Democrat leaders don’t play any memorable tunes of their own, it is difficult to know what else the journalists can do.

The absence of an effective Democrat leadership also opened the door to Trump’s partial success in claiming a great victory in the elections, though, in losing the House of Representatives, he has overall suffered a defeat. Many of these ploys are scarcely new: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invariably claims an electoral triumph before all the votes are counted and a winner declared. Populist nationalist leaders with cult-like attributes the world over all show the same need to project an aura of inevitable success.

This unrelenting focus on Trump and the struggles at the apex of American politics is often irrelevant to what is happening, both good and bad, on the ground. It does not bring anybody very close to understanding what makes America tick and how far and in what direction this is changing.

A better guide to this is often local or state-wide initiatives or the election of new district attorneys or sheriffs who actually implement the law. In Alabama, for instance, two counties have voted to ban their sheriffs from being allowed to take for themselves any money left over from that allocated to pay for food for prisoners after they have been fed. This is a significant amount of money, with one sheriff keeping $750,000 which he invested in the purchase of a beach house. Since it is in the financial interest of sheriffs to spend as little as possible on feeding their prisoners, it is not surprising that they go hungry. In one case, where the sheriff had legally pocketed $200,000, a judge found “undisputed evidence that most of the inmates had lost significant weight”.

I found when I was a correspondent in the US that visiting foreigners, who came from centralised states, usually exaggerated the role and power of the federal government and underestimated that of local officials in the states. An example of this on Tuesday was the election of progressive DAs in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio in Texas, a state that holds 218,500 people in jail or prison. Many are there because the state authorities have criminalised poverty. The choice of DA will decide to what extent people who cannot pay minor fines end up spending years in incarceration.

Resistance to such injustices is strong and growing with the return of over one million people to the electoral roll in Florida being the most important sign of this.

The shock effect of the rise of Trump is great but is exacerbated in the minds of many Americans and most foreigners because they underestimate the extent to which the US is a racially and socially divided country. Slavery left a mark on black and white people that has never been eradicated. Trump is a symptom of this rather than an aberration. That is why his type of politics will persist, but so too will the opposition.

Categories: News for progressives

Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:57

Photo Source MAXmyd | CC BY 2.0


Off Balance Sheet Shenanigans in the Irish Financial Services Centre 

Introduction

In November 2016, two of Russia’s largest banks MDM and B&N completed a merger. This new entity now ranked (by size of assets) in the top 10 of all Russian banks and the top 5 for private lenders. Following the merger CEO Mikail Shishkhanov declared, ‘We have laid the foundation for the creation of an international-class bank’.[1] Yet a mere 10 months later it required a bailout in what could be one of the mostly costly rescues in Russian banking history. [2] Mr Shiskhanov blamed these difficulties largely on MDM, whose losses ‘turned out to be much more serious than assumed in the conditions of a falling market’. [3]

How had those tasked with assessing MDM’s health prior to the merger failed to recognise such problems? Part of the answer lies 6000 kilometres away in the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC), via Ireland’s large shadow banking sector. Irish registered special purpose vehicles (SPVs), or shell companies in common parlance, have become widely used by Russian MNEs for off balance sheet financing and wider tax/regulatory avoidance. Between the years 2005-2016 around €110 billion was raised by Russian connected vehicles in the IFSC, [4] with Russian banks also using it as a location to hide losses. [5]

Concerned with the latter usage, this article examines MDM’s use of several IFSC based vehicles as part of a scheme that helped to create fictitious assets on its balance sheet, whilst simultaneously hiding losses. By providing loans to these off-balance sheet vehicles the bank was able to increase the size of its assets. These shell companies then used the proceeds to purchase some of the bank’s stock of non-performing loans (NPLs), thereby hiding some of its losses. An examination of the data contained in financial statements of MDM and its associated shell companies allows us to explore this insider dealing scheme, the techniques used to conceal what was happening and its effects on the bank’s balance sheet.

Background

The Russian Central Bank first approved the merger between the two banks in 2015, but negotiations had been on-going for several years previous. Up this point MDM had been struggling with a declining asset base and a rising level of NPLs. After reaching a highpoint of $13.3 billion in 2009, the size of its total assets went into sharp decline and had fallen to $10.6 billion by the end of 2011. So, with the bank shedding around $1 billion a year in value, a new chairman was appointed [6] coinciding with the creation of this scheme. Three IFSC based vehicles (Amaterasu Finance, Khepri Financeand Grengam Finance), and a fourth located in Malta (Juturna Limited) were used to form an extended corporate services supply chain, that could disguise the bank’s hidden hand in this insider dealing. [7] So how exactly did it all work?

The secrecy structure

Beginning on the far right we can follow this funny money flow step by step.

Chart 1: MDM’s scheme

In 2012 MDM bank appears to have lent $401 million to the Maltese company Juturna Limited. Malta was likely chosen as the first link in this chain, as disclosure requirements in company accounts are minimal with the ‘ultimate beneficial owner’ not required to be on public record. Malta thus acts as the primary secrecy barrier disguising the linkage to MDM.  Juturna’scorporate filings to the Maltese registry consisted on a single document, akin to an article of association, which contained no financial information whatsoever. It did however reveal that the international corporate service provider TMF Group were providing trustee and director services, just as they were to the three Irish vehicles. Interestingly enough on of these directors was mentioned in the ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks database.[8]

The Maltese company upon receiving the loan lent the proceeds to its subsidiary Amaterasu, which was the first IFSC based vehicle. Upon receiving the loan Amaterasu dispersed the funds in almost equal measure to the other two Irish vehicles Khepri and Grengam. Both vehicles used trust ownership structures to further obscure the relationship with MDM, and with a sufficient separation of ownership now in place, used the proceeds of the loans to purchase a significant amount of NPLs from the bank. Thus, MDM got back the money it had originally lent out but this time in the form of ‘new’ capital, which it received in return for the non-performing loans that were taken off its books.

Balance sheet implications

As we can see from the blue line in chart 2, MDM’s assets were in a state of significant decline. The $401 million loan in 2012 helped to partially arrest this decline (see linear line) allowing the bank’s assets to stabilise around $10.1 billion mark. Although such major problems could only be offset temporarily, especially considering the onset of the crisis in Russian financial system beginning in 2013.[9] Thus the three subsequent years saw this decline accelerate with the bank’s assets losing around $2.1 billion a year in value.

Chart 2: MDM’s total assets 2009-15

Similarly, if we look at the reported loan impairment losses on MDM’s balance sheet as displayed in chart 3, we see losses running at over $351 million in 2011. These losses fell to $80 million a year later after two of the Irish vehicles made their purchase of the NPLs. But again, this seemed to provide only a temporary reprieve as the losses rose to around $539 million a year later, before peculiarly falling again to around $75 billion in 2014 only to rise sharply again. The observable trend of peaks and troughs in chart 3, in addition to the numerous other OFC jurisdictions listed in the subsidiaries/affiliated entities section of MDM’s accounts [10], could be suggestive that the bank was also using other non-Irish off balance sheet for similar purchases of NPLs.

Chart 3: MDM impaired loans losses 2010-15

MDM had listed the par value of these NPLs as $1.1 billion, but after they were purchased by Grengam and Khepri for a discount they declined sharply in value until being written off in 2015/16. Amaterau’s loan had been written off the year previous. In total, these three vehicles reported losses of over $1.4 billion in the period 2012-16.  The latest accounts of the Irish vehicles (2016) state they are all in the process of being wound up. Yet interestingly in July of this year two non-resident directors were appointed. One of currently whom serves as the deputy head of the International Bank of Azerbaijan’s London office, with the other stating he recently advised on a merger/acquisition.[11] Oh and still no word from the Maltese company whom Amaterasu defaulted on. Had this really been an independent company then we could have expected them to have started legal proceedings for the recovery of this debt

Conclusion

The above scheme seems to be a clear instance of insider dealing. MDM bank, through its use of Ireland and Malta, was able to exploit informational asymmetries that allowed it to carry out the above transactions. The difference between jurisdictions tax/regulatory/disclosure requirements provides the opportunity for corporates to engage in arbitrage. One possible antidote to these types of off-balance sheet schemes is public registries of beneficial ownership. Ireland has agreed in principle to the creation of such a registry, but it has now delayed its introduction until 2019, with the possibility of further delays. Until then it’s possible that banks will continue to hide losses in the shadows of the IFSC.

Notes.

[1]https://eng.binbank.ru/news/binbank-news/44812/

[2]The estimated cost of bailing out B&N bank along with Otkritie bank, another private lender which sought Central Bank assistance one month previous, is estimated to exceed $27 billion https://www.ft.com/content/72cb0ec4-4489-11e8-803a-295c97e6fd0b

[3]Financial Times (20/09/2017) accessed https://www.ft.com/content/5ecc58bc-9df7-11e7-9a86-4d5a475ba4c5

[4]Jim Stewart and Cillian Doyle (working paper 2018) ‘Ireland, Global Finance and the Russian Connection’ TASC seminar https://www.tasc.ie/download/pdf/ireland_global_finance_and_the_russian_connection.pdf

[5]For example the collapsed lender NBT bank had used a wide network of offshore vehicles spanning many jurisdictions, including Ireland, to hide losses. https://www.wsj.com/articles/hiding-russian-money-was-easy-quitting-was-harder-1533355260

[6]Igor Kouzine was approved by the board of MDM on the 1stof June 2012, source: https://www.marketscreener.com/MDM-BANK-PFD-9625112/news/MDM-BANK-PFD-Igor-Kouzine-Appointed-CEO-of-MDM-Bank-14353702/

[7]None of these vehicles appear in the subsidiaries/associated entities section of MDM’s accounts, and their use of nominee shareholders/trust ownership structures means consolidation was unlikely.  

[8]Nadine Cacharia, ICIJ Offshore Leaks Databased.

[9]Anastasia Nesvetailova,The Offshore Nexus, Sanctions and the Russian Crisis  http://www.iai.it/sites/default/files/iaiwp1524.pdfp.11

[10]The list of non-Russian subsidiaries in MDM’s accounts is drawn solely from other OFCs like Cyprus and Luxembourg.

[11]These two individuals Lala Huseynbayova and Muzaffar Usmanov. According to Lala’a Linkedin profle she currently operates as the deputy head of office of the IBA London branch, and formerly worked for the Azerbaijani embassy. https://uk.linkedin.com/in/lala-huseynbeyova-670aba8Muzaffar states he works for Four Oaks Advisory, is a former advisor to the First Deputy Foreign Minister of Tajikistan and advised HNWI on a merger/acquisition in 2015. https://uk.linkedin.com/in/muzaffar-usmanov-185a2720

 

Categories: News for progressives

Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:57

Photo Source James Brooks | CC BY 2.0

When it comes to the ruling elite’s corporate plunder and crimes against humanity, the U.S. national memory’s short and no one, not even its political henchmen, assume blame or suffer real consequences: take Halliburton and former chief executive and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney for example.  Not only did Cheney plan and justify the invasion, occupation and pilferage of Iraq’s oil, gold bars and national museum treasures under treasonous false pretenses, but its subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR Inc.), overcharged the U.S. taxpayer to a tune of more than $2 billion due to collusion engendered by sole source contracting methods and shoddy accounting procedures. It’s even forgotten that Cheney received a $34 million payout from Halliburton when he joined the Vice President ticket in 2000, in advance of his unscrupulous maneuvers, according to news commentator, Chris Matthews; because on November 5th 2018, in celebration of its 100-year anniversary, its chief executives rang the New York Stock Exchange’s (NYSE) opening bell.

Sadly, as a nation, the U.S. doesn’t recall Cheney’s lies, or his role in planning the contemptible “Shock and Awe” saturation bombing campaign that destroyed a sovereign nation, which posed no threat to the United States, and left the world’s cradle of civilization in ruins. Conveniently, it doesn’t recall the over 500,000 deaths from war related causes, as reported by the Huffington Post in its 2017 updated article; nor does it recall that obliterating Iraq’s government created a sociopolitical vacuum that enabled the exponential growth of the CIA’s unique brand of Islamofascism and its resulting terrorism, which has culminated in war-torn Syria and Yemen.

Iraq’s only “crime” against the United States, if you want to call it that, was being hogtied by Washington’s sanctions and embargo against it – in what can only be called a Catch 22 situation.  Iraq couldn’t do business with U.S. corporations not because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to, but because the U.S. government effectively barred Iraq from doing so.  This Catch 22 situation is presently being repeated in Venezuela and Iran in advance of its planned invasion and occupation.

Then there is the cost of war itself: according to The Costs of War project at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, “The wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq (the war in Pakistan refers to U.S. counterterrorism efforts there, such as drone strikes and other efforts against al Qaeda) cost $4.4 trillion. Included in the cost are: direct Congressional war appropriations; war-related increases to the Pentagon base budget; veterans care and disability; increases in the homeland security budget; interest payments on direct war borrowing; foreign assistance spending; and estimated future obligations for veterans’ care. By 2053, interest payments on the debt alone could reach over $7 trillion.”

Keep in mind that the U.S. taxpayer directly subsidizes the profits of the military industrial complex, and oil & gas industries.  Yet, no U.S. protests against Halliburton are found in the media later than 2007.  And, there are no organized disinvestment campaigns of record.

So Wall Street celebrates Halliburton’s 100-year anniversary with a clear conscience, because no one has graffitied it’s large four column wide sign or is disinvested from its stock. The nation only recalls, according to IBTimes, in their 2013 article on Iraq war contracts, that Halliburton’s subsidiary, KBR, had the most:  KBR’s war contracts totaled $39.5 billion in just a decade.

Other than the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission, which found Cheney and President Bush et al guilty of war crimes in absentia for the illegal invasion of Iraq, there remains no lasting acknowledgement in the U.S. consciousness of Cheney’s evil doings.  Cheney had recent book deals and continues to ramble on with speaking engagements.  He was scheduled by Cornell University to issue a keynote address as recent as May 2018. In short, the ruling elite protects those engaged in their dirty work until they prove unnecessary.  In this regard, consider the fact that Saddam Hussein was a former CIA asset and a good corporate customer – as the weapons of mass destruction (WMD), he once possessed, were sold to him by the U.S. and Britain.  However, according to the former United Nations (UN) chief weapon inspector, Scott Ritter, the UN destroyed Iraq’s stockpiles after the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) – well before the 2003 invasion.  This report was ignored because it contradicted the prevailing narrative that justified the invasion, occupation and looting of Iraq.

Just as the ruling elite engineered Saddam Hussein rise to power when he was useful, they ensured Cheney’s political ascent, and the success of his campaign against Iraq.  To illustrate the persuasive power of the oil & gas industry in politics, note that according to Open Secrets.org, oil & gas lobbyists spent over $175M in 2009 (Obama’s first year in office). Of that amount, ExxonMobil spent the most at $27.4M and Chevron Corp., in second place, spent $20.8M. For the record, ExxonMobil and Chevron are successors of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company.  Prior to President Obama & Vice President Biden, the Oil & Gas Industry lobbyists spent approximately half that amount at $86.5M in 2007.  Thus, Bush & Cheney represented a 50% savings for oil & gas lobbyists.

When seeking to “out” the elite, keep in mind that the Rockefeller clan describe themselves “as ExxonMobil’s longest continuous shareholders”.  In Iraq, ExxonMobil has a 60% share of a $50 billion market contract developing the 9-billion-barrels southern West Qurna Phase I field, and ExxonMobil is expanding its oil & gas holdings into the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the country’s north.

Within this context, the enemy is not a corporate office, an oilrig, pipeline or refinery; it’s the ruling elite that own and control the means of production.  If people of conscience don’t hold them accountable for their crimes, they will continue to commit them in countries such as Venezuela and Iran, which are presently locked in their sights.  While henchmen change, the ruling elite remains.  Why should the U.S. allow its military and secret service to be pimped out as corporate stooges and glorified security guards?

Imperialism is insatiable and fascism expedient. The time to hold the ruling elite accountable is now before another invasion and occupation is executed against a fake enemy that just so happens to coincidentally have a large desirable oil reserve.  Let’s follow Iceland’s lead and seek the prosecution of white-collar criminals that hide behind a facade of corporate stock holdings now, before its too late and they strike again in Venezuela and Iran.

So for Halliburton’s 100-year anniversary wish, let’s wish its stock tanks and that its guilty are remembered, held accountable, and that justice is ultimately served.

Lauren Smith has a BA in Politics, Economics and Society from SUNY at Old Westbury and an MPA in International Development Administration from New York University.  Her historical fiction novel based on Nicaragua’s 1979 revolution is due out in 2019.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:56

Photo Source UNICEF Ecuador | CC BY 2.0


An interview with Andres Arauz

Lenin Moreno won Ecuador’s presidency in 2017 by campaigning to continue the economic policies of Rafael Correa (a leftist who was in office from 2007 until 2017) but upon taking office immediately shifted dramatically to the right. Andres Arauz, a former member of Correa’s economic team whom I interviewed for Counterpunch in May, provides an update on Moreno’s remarkably cynical Neoliberal Restoration. In addition to the troubling state of Ecuador’s economy under Moreno despite increased oil prices that help Ecuador, Aruaz discusses major assaults on the rule of law, looming corporate capture of Ecuador’s highest courts (including the role played by some environmentalists in helping it happen) and the fact that candidates in upcoming elections are forced keep alliances with Correa secret to avoid disqualification.

Joe Emersberger: Has public spending actually gone down under Moreno, after all his allegations that a legally mandated debt ceiling was surpassed under Correa and that money was lost to corruption, or has it merely taken a different form?

Andres Arauz: No, public spending has not gone down. Spending in public works has decreased dramatically, but he increased subsidies for the rich through tax rebates and interest payments. The Moreno government’s argument has been that excessive public debt was taken on in previous years and that we now struggle with a lack of liquidity. That evades a very important consideration. The Moreno government itself has been damaging its own reputation as a credit risk in international and domestic markets by claiming we were over indebted when that wasn’t the case. Imagine going to a bank and saying “please lend to me but I can’t pay you back”. The bank will tell you “then what are you doing here?”. The government itself, out of its own political mediocrity, its desire to damage the previous administration, has damaged its own credibility with financial markets and other sources of bilateral loans such as China. People who apply for loans will, if anything, be a bit overoptimistic about their finances, but this government does the opposite.

Additionally, Moreno’s accused Correa’s government of having exceeded a legal public debt limit, but then his brilliant solution to this alleged problem wasn’t to reduce the debt, like Correa famously did in 2008-9, but to remove the legal limit.  A law was approved to remove it entirely for the next 4 years. That generates concern, because now this government has no limit.

The government also now requires that any surplus revenue from high oil prices has to go into a fund. The budget was based on a price of $45 per barrel, but prices this year have averaged around $70. In spite of the fact that the law is in force, the fund hasn’t been created. Not one dollar has been deposited in any such fund, so they disregard their own self-imposed “austerity”. Why? The reason is that the government also issued two decrees.

One decree eliminated the Law of Energy Sovereignty that established that windfall oil revenues were to be shared 50/50 with the Ecuadorian government. So that law no longer exists. A second decree did the same in the mining sector. The windfall revenues are no longer available to the government because they have given them away to transnational corporations. It shows the implications of Moreno’s political about face.

Another thing is the so called “Trole” law that was approved a few months ago.  It changed a bunch of regulations and was aimed at blocking the state’s ability to finance itself internally, to get loans from within the country.  That was clearly done to be in tune with transnational capital markets. The best example of this is that instead of getting $500 million internally – something that would have been very easy for the Central Bank or the Social Security institute to provide – the government had to go to Goldman Sachs and guarantee the loan with $1.2 billion in bonds. So the sustainability of our public finances is now a concern.

JE: I assume the point you were alluding to initially was that Ecuador is still under-developed and needs a great deal of public investment? 

AA: Of course our public investment needs are still numerous. We still a need a lot of investment in electricity infrastructure, health, education, agricultural infrastructure, potable water, sanitation, and housing. All of that is part of Moreno’s presidential campaign platform that he has simply not bothered to comply with because he has dedicated himself to destroying Ecuador’s financial credibility – which ends up undermining his own campaign promises.

But I actually did not allude only to the development needs that are still huge in Ecuador, but to the fact that macroeconomic sustainability is at risk. Your readers should know that Ecuador adopted the US Dollar as its currency in 2000, so it cannot adjust its exchange rate as most countries do. Look at how the flow of dollars out of Ecuador has evolved so far in 2018. Compared with the same period in 2017, 25 percent more dollars flowed out of the country. We are talking about an outflow between January and September of $14.8 billion. That’s $3 billion more than in the corresponding period last year, around 3% of GDP. To put that in better perspective, remittances from migrants living in the United States and Europe, is around $3 billion per year. While Ecuadorians abroad struggle and sweat to transfer dollars to their families back home, Ecuadorian capitalists transfer out 5 times as much. That is the main threat to the Ecuadorian economy which depends on dollars circulating inside the economy. The outflow of dollars grew 25 percent, but the economy is not even going to grow by 2 percent. That is the impact we are seeing on the sustainability of Ecuador’s dollarization and its balance of payments.

JE:  What was the main thing Moreno did to facilitate this capital flight you mention?

AA: It was a combination of things. In the first place he didn’t renew import tariffs as he could have under WTO rules.

JE: They could have been renewed?

AA: The WTO does not have rules limiting how many times they can be used provided it is justified. Since Ecuador is “dollarized”, there is ample justification, but he has decided not to do it.

Then [on top of not renewing import tariffs] his own Minister of Commerce sided with foreign countries against his own when the Andean Community asked Ecuador to remove a fee to process imports. With that fee (for Service Against Contraband) eliminated, two things happened. First, the smuggling and the illegal exit of dollars was facilitated; second, import costs are reduced so the legal exit of the dollars was facilitated.

On top of all that, the “Trole” law, which revised more than twenty laws, eliminated a tax on the exit of dollars and provided additional exemptions so that the Ecuadorian capitalists can more easily launder money: set up companies in tax havens, put money there, then bring it back as if it were foreign investment.

All of this facilitates the outflow of dollars from Ecuador without any regard for the sustainability of our balance of payments.

The situation is so grave that neoliberal commentators have begun to construct a Panglossian fairy tale theory in which they claim that it does not matter if Ecuador runs out of dollars because dollarization survives on its own. Believe me, dollarization needs physical dollars – I worked in the Central Bank and we used to ship a planeload of dollars every week or so.

JE: Do the elites in Ecuador care about a crisis if they can use it to do more things that they want? It all depends on who you can blame it on.

AA: Indeed. Their entire economic discourse revolves around saying that everything is Correa’s fault, that Correa left the country bankrupt, and thus the environment is prepared for the adjustment that’s coming. They’ve just announced massive layoffs at the end of this year in the public sector. They’ve also said that they want to implement measures to “facilitate wage competitiveness” which is a euphemism for reducing wages. They need that the economic situation to get even worse to justify taking these measures. However, de facto, they have already been doing that through the labor ministry’s lax enforcement of labor laws. Weakening labor rights in that manner effectively brings wages down.

JE: You think Moreno feels he has enough media support to push through a drastic adjustment quickly?   

AA: Until now the tactic has been to proceed slowly by linking the issue of corruption to public finances. Figures are used without any academic rigor to depict corruption as our big macroeconomic problem. And until now Moreno has managed to have some success selling that story. However, that approach is losing effectiveness. Popular outrage is growing and it will be harder to implement a major adjustment. It remains to be seen how much this gradual adjustment can be managed as it impacts the population.

Perhaps the greatest damage to Moreno’s credibility in the last month has to do with a large scale financial fraud in which a key culprit was the Secretary of the Presidency of the Republic who owns a company that had been making charges on debit cards for alleged health care or insurance assistance services of between 2 to 5 dollars from each bank account. We have hundreds of thousands of people affected. We have documented in the Observatorio de la Dolarización. This character, this Secretary of the Presidency, shared these illicit charges with banks and he also had offshore companies in tax havens. It shows the kind of people who are now leading the country in public administration.

JE: When Moreno was elected voters passed a law at the same time that prevented public officials from having money in these offshore tax havens. How did they get around that?

AA: Some people did not declare them. Others have declared a day after taking office, or a month after. In one case it seems the person actually forgot. Sometimes they transfer ownership of the offshore company to children to evade the law. But a good thing about the law that was approved in the referendum was that it clearly prohibits the transfer to relatives as a way to evade the restriction. So part of the recent scandal is the total negligence of the control authorities who were supposed to verify the offshore holdings of this minister.

JE: With Moreno’s handpicked “transitory” CPCCS sitting over top of all these judges and control authorities doesn’t that also tell people not to investigate where it would not be welcome to Moreno and his allies?

AA: Yes.  We have had public statements by Julio Cesar Trujilio, the president of the “transitory” CPCCS, in which he made prejudiced remarks about authorities that he was about to supposed to evaluate impartially. On several occasions the body has directly interfered with the judiciary: first prohibiting the required contests for prosecutors and judges. They designated an interim prosecutor general. They designated the members of the Judicial Council without contests. Then they stripped the judicial council that they appointed of the jurisdiction over the evaluation of judges. It’s one brazen intervention in the judiciary after another that just doesn’t end.

JE: They also just fired the Constitutional Court which the National Assembly does not even the power to do, even though it was too cowardly to stand up to Moreno’s bullying.

AA: It’s terrible – a violation of the rule of law. This council cannot evaluate, and worse dismiss, the Constitutional Court and declare a constitutional vacancy. We are the laughingstock of the planet today. There is no longer a body that can protect constitutional rights. All citizens have been placed in a very vulnerable position. It was a mediocre Constitutional Court, but its judges could not be dismissed like that.

Returning to the issue of the economy, the importance of having a new Constitutional Court is revealed by the workings of the transnational power because the National Assembly – at the request of the foreign trade minister (Pablo Campana) who basically conveys the demands of the United States and its transnational corporations – has requested that the Constitutional Court change its interpretation of an article in the constitution that prohibited the signing of bilateral investment protection treaties. Those treaties have benefited Chevron, Occidental, Burlington and other North American companies that have extracted wealth from Ecuador. Those treaties were declared unconstitutional in more than twelve rulings by the previous Constitutional Court. With Moreno’s government, he has requested the yet to be designated new judges to provide a “reinterpretation” so that those infamous treaties can be signed again.

We see the clear influence of transnationals and in particular of Chevron whose officials have met both with the foreign trade minister, by his own admission, and with other Moreno government figures through the Washington lobby group called AS / COA (American Society and Council of the Americas).

JE: Do you think the new court will annul the $9 billion judgement against Chevron?

AA: Of course. Yes. The sad thing is the nefarious role of the international arbitration tribunal. It said that after the Ecuadorian Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Lago Agrio plaintiffs (Chevron’s victims) is annulled [as the tribunal declared it must be] the victims still have the right to sue Chevron but not collectively. The victims can only do so individually according to the tribunal. Each person in the indigenous communities has to initiate an individual lawsuit against a gigantic Corporation. The influence of transnational power on that decision is more than evident. The tribunal cannot dictate the constitutional rights of citizens. At most, it could have ordered compensation from the Ecuadorian state to Chevron, but it cannot dictate what the internal norms of a country’s judicial system must be.

JE: Do you think there could be a crisis soon due to the outflow of dollars?

AA: Yes. I believe that the situation is extremely sensitive with the year-end approaching. December is a month when a lot of liquidity is required for bonuses throughout the economy. The government will probably have to retreat from its opposition to financing itself internally, or it will have to rush into a deal with the IMF which will impose harsh conditions. The majority of bankers and banking-related sectors are saying that they must sign with the IMF soon to keep afloat in these coming months.

The alternative is controlling the outflow of capital, improving the situation of the external sector, using internal government financing, and promoting policies that grow the domestic economy so that government expenses and dollar outflows are smaller relative to the size of the economy. But we do not see any of that. We see them pushing us closer to the abyss so they can say “There is no other option than to go to the IMF.” They have systematically destroyed the alternatives because they want to leave us with TINA (There Is No Alternative). There is no will or desire to change course and say “Ecuador is a solvent country that has real assets, that has resources, that has productive potential”. That is not their discourse.

JE: Is privatization another way Moreno might raise money quickly?

AA: Moreno’s ministers always say that now foreign investment will be coming to Ecuador. Now they realize that the only “investment” that is going to arrive is through the privatization of public works built by Correa’s government over the past ten years. In fact, Santiago Cuesta, one of Moreno’s advisers, announced last week that they are going to privatize the national telecommunications corporation, a state-owned insurance company “Sucre”, the electric utility companies, and a gas-storage facility “Monte Verde” are all on the list. So we are talking about the privatization of strategic sectors. First, we have to oppose being taken down the path of privatizations. But, second, why do they want to sell at such low prices? If they constantly speak badly about hydroelectric power plants and other public works built under Correa, it drives prices down. If they truly wanted to sell at a good price they would say they are wonderful. Who are they working for? Is it for the Ecuadorian state or for those who want to buy up state assets dirt cheap?

JE: Privatizing, especially through giveaways, is a lot easier than building. What happened with the refinery they were supposed to be building in Manabi?

AA: They said in May the contract to build would be awarded. Then they said June, then August. As of October nothing has happened. They have no positive vision for the country.

JE: How badly has the financial relationship with China been damaged by Moreno?

AA: You’d have to ask the Chinese but there are a few clues. One is that President Moreno went to Japan to ask for money. It was a geopolitical move intended to show an alternative to the Chinese. Evidently, it wasn’t successful – not because of geopolitical issues, but because of what I said before. They are not showing that they believe in themselves. Nobody lends to a country that does not believe in itself. Moreno is supposed to visit China in December and we’ll see what happens there. Moreno’s supporters have been very critical of China. They say that the Chinese are corrupt, that public projects done with Chinese violated human rights, that they were overpriced and poorly done etc… So I don’t know if they will be very successful in China.

JE: What are environmentalists, who were so critical of Correa, saying about Moreno’s giveaways to transnationals?

AA: There were very few statements by environmental organizations against the [international investment tribunal’s] ruling in favor of Chevron, for example. The Moreno government immediately blamed Correa for the ruling! Environmentalists who dislike Correa found themselves without a narrative because they would be contradicting Moreno who also dislikes Correa. That tactic has contaminated public debate – attacking leftism or progressivism by labeling it as ‘Correismo’ has been used to delegitimize all social concerns. The indigenous organizations have reacted but from my perspective in a very timid way given that the pact that exists between Chevron and the Moreno government is so obvious.

Environmental groups and some local communities have had partial successes, short-sighted ones in my view, in obtaining local judicial rulings that for environmental reasons ordered the partial suspension of the mining operations of a couple transnationals in Ecuador.

JE: Those companies were Chinese weren’t they?

AA: Some of them are, others are Swedish or Canadian… I say they are short-sighted, because mining companies have announced that if local judges continue to favor environmental groups and local communities they will initiate international arbitration. They point to the examples of international arbitrations against Colombia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Peru as a threat, to say “this is what they are doing in other places and if you continue to bother us, we are going to do it here.” From a strategic point of view, environmental organizations and indigenous local communities have to give greater importance to bilateral investment treaties and international arbitrations. That’s huge. If they really believe in an environmental agenda they have to link it to opposing transnational arbitration. This government should not be allowed to sign the BITs (Bilateral Investment treaties) again or agree to international arbitration in the contracts that it signs with foreign companies.

JE: I was amazed during the referendum campaign (in late 2017, early 2018) the indifference of environmental groups towards question 3 that would restore the dominance of the traditional allies of the transnationals to the judiciary.

AA: Yes. That is what we are seeing. The big battle that we are seeing is not between social organizations and “Correismo” (or whatever you want to call the previous government’s movement). The true big battle – which the local environmental groups tacitly helped set up – is basically between capitalist factions, some more aligned transnational interests, others not, who are fighting among themselves over control of the judiciary. Mercantile judges who historically have placed corporate interests above human rights have been proposed as nominees to preside over the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. In the designation of the new Constitutional Court, there will not be progressive judges. There will be judges linked to the defense of the interests of capital. It’s sad because those designations last for nine years. That is where the destiny of our country will be decided.

JE: Last time we spoke we talked about the Moreno government blocking the registration of a new political party formed by Correa’s allies. It’s still being blocked isn’t it?

AA: The political blockade remains in place. Correa just announced that in spite of everything, we are going to have our own candidates in alliance with a little known political party in upcoming municipal elections in 2019, but he did not reveal who these allies would be. For now it is the only way to participate electorally. The candidates’ names or the political party are not yet made public to protect them from the political blockade.

JE: So if Correa names the allies in the 2019 elections those allies will be blocked from running.

AA: Exactly. When there were rumors the Socialist Party was having conversations for a partial alliance with Correa’s movement, the transitory electoral council started an unbelievable blockade against the Socialist Party by refusing to register the elected leaders of the Socialist Party.

JE: Ricardo Patiño (Correa’s former foreign minister) says the time has come for much more aggressive street protests. What do you think?

AA: I believe that the main weakness of our movement has been an inability to express in an organized way the support that we have. His call is precisely to try to generate the kind of organization that can have a presence in the streets, because there are fewer and fewer spaces in the institutional framework of liberal democracy. Electorally we have been virtually blocked from participation. In terms of broader political participation as well. Legally through judicial persecution (so-called lawfare) our leaders’ rights are being violated. Therefore what we have left is the social presence to which Ricardo Patiño refers.

Categories: News for progressives

Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:56

Photo Source Ninara | CC BY 2.0

Let me tell you about why I woke up crying today. It has to do with just how close we are to full-blown climate disaster. I was thinking about children who are already experiencing the horrible consequences of global warming, and I was thinking about particular children I love and what’s in store for them. Most of all, I was thinking about the unthinkable: that we are on the verge of ensuring that most, if not all, life on Earth will be snuffed out.

Everyone should be tossing and turning in their beds unable to sleep, experiencing the raw emotions that led me to tears this morning.

This is not a joke, or a drill. This is it. Decision-point for humankind. The UN says we have to turn things around within 12 years to avoid catastrophe. Others give us even less time.

We need to act.  And we need to act quickly. But we need to act rationally as well. It won’t help to run out and just “do something, anything” to fight for our future. We need to look honestly at whether the things we’ve been doing so far are effective. They aren’t.

The Sierra Club sent me a message a few minutes ago, about how we need to redouble the sorts of efforts they’ve been leading, and in particular, the effort to elect Democrats.  They want to mail me a “Make America Green Again” bumper sticker, which I’m supposed to use to persuade others to vote Democrat.

I can’t do that. We can’t do that. Because Democrats take us backwards on climate. Make America green again? It wasn’t green before! Electing Democrats and pursuing the incremental agenda they and their fawning environmental groups put forth, is literally suicidal.

Moonwalking:  The Years of Living Delusionally

Lots of people believe that prior to Trump we were on the correct course. While things weren’t perfect, we did make overall progress under Obama and the Democrats, they say. And now we need to fight to preserve and expand that climate “legacy”.

This thinking is plain wrong, and it’s dangerous. To save ourselves, we’ve got to understand that we were moonwalking all those years. We talked as if we were winning; we thought we were moving forward bit by bit, but in truth, we were losing ground dramatically. Like Michael Jackson, we faced forward, and we moved our arms and legs resolutely as if moving in that direction, while we slid rapidly backwards.

Yes, Obama eventually talked about climate change and the need to address it. Yes, he adopted fuel efficiency standards and a “Clean Power Plan”.  He signed the Paris Agreement.

But each of these measures and Obama’s other climate “actions” were very weak, as the links above attest.  More importantly they were overshadowed and completely undone by his staggering promotion of fossil fuels.  Obama wantedto massively increase oil and gas production and infrastructure.  And he did. The statistics are truly mind-boggling. For example, he:

+ Proudly oversaw the biggest increase in oil production in U.S. history.

+ Dramatically expandednatural gas production.

+ Avidly promoted fracking. Obama handed out vast numbers of drilling permits that authorized this particularly destructive method of fossil fuel extraction. His much-touted fracking regulations were explicitly designed to reduce pollution “without slowing natural gas production.”

+ Massively expanded offshore drilling. Obama bragged that he had opened up “more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore,” and “quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high.”

+ Approved the construction of tens of thousands of miles of fossil fuel pipelines. By 2015, there were 207,800 miles of fossil fuel liquids pipeline in the United States, a 13% increase over 2011.   By 2014, 16.2 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum products were delivered by pipeline annually, a 20% increase over 2010.

+ Gave initial approvals for all sorts of other pipelines which are now receiving final go-aheads from Trump.

+ Issued giant new leases to coal corporations in the Powder River Basin, ensuring that coal has by no means gone away completely, despite Obama’s rules preventing construction of new coal-fired power plants. It has been estimated that Obama’s Powder River Basin leases will add 4 billion tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere, the equivalent of 200 new coal-fired power plants.

+ Oversaw a huge expansion of coal exports.

+ Facilitated a 1000 percent increase in U.S. oil exports between 2009 and 2016, resulting in an estimated additional 12 million to 22 million metric tons of C02 emissions per year due to increased oil production. Obama’s removal of restrictions on oil exports in December of 2015, led to an all-time high of nearly 2 million barrels exported per day by October of 2017.

+ Massively expanded natural gas exports, leading to a record high in 2016. It is estimated that by 2020 60 million mt of liquid natural gas will be exported each year.   Obama’s support for numerous Liquid Natural Gas projects has been key to this expansion.

+ Directed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to pressure other countries to support fracking.

+ Authorized the Export-Import Bank to hand out almost $34 billion worth of low-interest loans and guarantees for fossil fuel projects abroad. This was about three times the amount provided under George W. Bush, and almost twice that provided under Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton combined.  The Bank backed two of the biggest coal-fired power plants in the world, for example, facilitating combined annual carbon emissions of more than 56m tons. (Average U.S. coal-fired plants emit “only” 3.5m tons, and the biggest U.S. coal plant emits “only” 19m tons per year.)

The Party’s pro-fossil fuel approach was carried out at the state level as well as the federal level. Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, former head of the Democratic National Committee, enthusiastically supported the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  The same Governor JerryBrown, who was praised for denouncing Trump’s proposed expansion of offshore drilling in federal waters, himself greatly increased offshore drilling in state waters. He eased restrictions on drilling and fracking, fired regulators who sought to make drilling safer, and ignored pleas to close the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility despite the massive leak there.

We lost eight precious years when Obama was President.  Instead of moving forward, we hurtled backwards, both in terms of flooding the world with fossil fuels that have led to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and in terms of locking ourselves into more of the same via massive infrastructure. It is even possible that Obama’s actions and inactions have already pushed the climate to the point of no return.

How We Get Fooled

People get confused about what the Democrats actually do in office because many environmentalists and other Party loyalists play up token advances as monumental gains.  At the same time, they downplay or completely ignore climate-destroying actions.

They also play games with statistics.  An Obama fan gushes in 2016 that “solar power has increased by 30 times since he [Obama] took office.”  He doesn’t mention that solar power was such a miniscule part of the U.S. energy landscape to begin with that it still represents less than 1% of the U.S. energy mix after that leap forward.  Obama enthusiasts make much of the fact that  Obama expanded renewables capacity, without noting that fossil fuels still thoroughly dominate the U.S. energy mix despite that expansion. They overlook the unpleasant fact that mass production of fossil fuels leads to lower prices that directly undermine renewables.  And fossil fuel infrastructure put in place with Obama’s enthusiastic support locks in the very fossil fuels we need to eliminate.

Emissions graphs are also used to spread confusion.  By showing only the years 2005 onward, people can emphasize seeming declines in emissions during the Obama years—declines likely associated with the economic downturn of those years.  U.S. emissions remain well above levels for 1990—the year that is supposed to be used as the baseline.

More importantly, graphs used to imply climate progress in the U.S. don’t account for the emissions associated with the huge volumes of oil, gas and coal we export, or the fossil fuel facilities we have financed abroad.   Nor do they reflect emissions associated with all those products Americans import.  If we only look at greenhouse gases generated within our nation, U.S. emissions increased by 9% between 1990 and 2014.  If we add in the emissions associated with the products we import, the increase becomes 17%.   (Approximately 22% of global CO2 emissions are associated with goods that are produced in one country but consumed in another.)

What really matters is what’s happening globally.  The overall trend for greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere has been up up up for decades.  Global temperatures have been going up up up.  All of this means that we, as a species, are going down down down.   Democrats, as well as Republicans, are to blame.

Leaving Dead-ends and Delusions Behind

It is clearly suicidal to continue the long-time dominant strategy of major environmental groups:  striving to get Democrats elected and working with them for incremental reforms.

Here’s the truth.  Carbon taxes, divestment, fuel efficiency standards, tax credits for solar panels, setting nice goals, and similar policy measures are not going to work.  Nor is begging people to drive less, eat lower on the food chain, and otherwise tread more lightly on the planet.  And doing all of these things at the same time won’t make them magically add up to salvation.

To halt global warming, we need to rapidly stop fossil fuel production, period.  At the same time, we need to develop and implement comprehensive plans that i) directly deploy renewables, mass transit and other climate solutions at the necessary grand scale,  ii) provide economic security for all workers, including in particular, those displaced by climate mitigation, and iii) ensure that every person has the capacity and resources to live healthy lives for themselves and the planet.

To be able to do these things, we need to have:

+ Direct control over fossil fuel production, and over the deployment of climate solutions.

+ Ample financial resources to implement climate solutions and to cover associated costs, such as ensuring full employment in a fossil-fuel-free economy.

This means that we need:

+ Public ownership of the major industries, starting with the energy and financial industries, so we can make the decisions ourselves, and do what needs to be done directly and immediately.

+ Vibrant systems for democratically managing those industries, and for developing and implementing plans that are just and effective.

+ Guaranteed economic rights for all including the right to a good-paying job, dignified well-paid retirement, free health care, and free education.

In other words, we need to move beyond capitalism.  We need socialism.  Instead of ceding decision-making authority and resources to a few oligarchs, we need to keep these for ourselves.

Neither the Democratic nor the Republican Parties are going to move us beyond capitalism.  They’ve made that abundantly clear.

Both parties are happy with the current inherently undemocratic capitalist system.  Under that system, major industries are privately owned, which means a few people get to make decisions that affect everyone.  (Exxon’s and Chevron’s owners get to decide whether to pull oil and gas from the ground, for example.)

We’re supposed to be able to steer those decisions through policies adopted by our elected officials and government agencies, but things don’t work that way.  Corporate profits flow to corporate owners creating giant piles of money which they use to thoroughly distort everything.  Big Money buys elections, legislation, news media outlets, public relations strategies, nonprofit groups, school curricula, lawsuits, smear campaigns against activists, violence, scientific research, control over enforcement agencies, and more.

Because profits flow to corporate owners rather than the working people who generate those profits, we find ourselves without the wealth to do what needs to be done.    Moreover, because big corporations control so many jobs, they can extort concessions out of us as individuals, communities and a nation.

Solutions to global warming are sitting right in front of us, but we can’t implement them.  We don’t hold the reins, we lack the money that our labor created, and our jobs are threatened if we challenge the corporations. This insane, unjust set-up has got to go.

But the Democrats and the Republicans are united in blocking real change.  They’re both heavily funded by oligarchs, they firmly uphold the economic system that creates oligarchs, and they do the oligarchs’ bidding.  A lot of elected officials from both parties are oligarchs themselves.

We need to organize a movement that demands system change.   And we need to help that movement birth a new political party, of, by and for working people, that is truly democratic.

We must get beyond futilely trying to get corporate owners to do the right thing.  We must get beyond a system that funnels wealth to the few, thereby creating massive inequities, and Big Money distortion of every aspect of our lives.  We must get beyond political parties that prop up capitalism and serve the wealthy few.

Is there a place for seeking incremental reforms in our struggle to save humanity?  Yes.  But strategies involving support for such reforms must be developed and carried out in the context of our larger goal:  securing and using real power through democratically managed public ownership and guaranteed economic rights.  That’s what we need to keep front and center.  Everything we do needs to feed into that goal.

The Power to Survive

Some say it’s crazy to fight for system change, leaving the Democrats and incrementalism behind.  “System change is impossible” they maintain.  “We can’t possibly achieve it in time to stave off disaster.”  But which is crazier really?  Fighting for actual control over our destiny, or continuing to fight within the very system that produced global warming, a system that thoroughly disempowers us?

We have not yet seen what can happen when we fight for real change that can make people’s lives truly better.  For a long time, all the oxygen has been sucked out of the room by Democratic Party apologists and incremental reform-focused nonprofits.  What if all the energy, time, and money poured by unions, activist organizations, and individuals into dead-ends went to the real fight instead?  What if instead of saying, “that’s impossible, we can’t change the system,” we believed we could, and we fought that way?

What if people fighting losing battles on all sorts of huge problems engendered by capitalism—global warming, the economic distress endured by most people, endless war, underfunded education, racism, other forms of oppression, and more—united to take on the common root of those problems?  What if we were honest about the abysmal record of the Democrats, not just on global warming, but on most of these other issues as well?

We–the working people of the world who are screwed by the current set-up—are many.  They—oligarchs who hoard society’s wealth and maximize corporate profits at our expense—are few.

There are abundant signs that people are disgusted with the status quo.  Everyone sees that big corporations call the shots.  Except for a very few people at the top, no one likes that arrangement.  Change is in the air.

Because we do the work of society, we really do have power.  It’s time to recognize and use that power.  If we unite and have each other’s backs, we can engage in strategic broad strikes, and in pouring into the streets in a systematic and effective way.  We can win this fight.  We can put obvious solutions to global warming swiftly in place.  The main thing holding us back is false hope in dead-end reforms and in capitalist parties that do not represent us.

One can argue about whether Democrats are better than Republicans, i.e. we can engage in the age-old “lesser evil” comparison.  But that is a diversion from the vital reality we must grasp.  Neither party deserves our support.  Both have reprehensible records and agendas.  Both are in the pockets of the oligarchs who control society and deny us our most basic rights, including even our right to ensure the survival of humankind.  We can no longer passively accept as our lot that our only choices are Democrats and Republicans, and that working for ineffective reforms within the confines they set, is the best we can do.

Finding Strength.  Finding Each Other.

I’m tired.  The oligarchs have huge power, and it’s been such a hard slog already.  Those of you who are older, who have been fighting all these years, know what I mean about how it wears you down over time.   And everyone, young and old, who’s paying the slightest bit of attention, knows how disheartening it all can be.  We are up against massive Big Money forces that manipulate information and much more.

But life and justice are simply too precious to give up on. Let’s dig deep and rise together at last.

Each of us needs to tell the truth, everywhere we can, even though that can be uncomfortable and frightening.   Stand up and explain unapologetically that incremental changes are a dead-end.  The Democratic and Republican Parties are dead-ends.  We have the power to win fundamental changes and must unite to demand them.

The other thing we need to do is find each other.  If you are lucky, there is an organization near you that understands what I’m talking about in this article.  It fights for system change and is part of building the movement and the political party we need.   If no such group exists, start something new.  Engage in the simple yet radical act of bringing people together to talk. Have them over to your home.  Or convene a meeting at your workplace or campus. Please contact me about your efforts, particularly if you are in the Pacific Northwest.

Roadmaps already exist laying out how current renewable technologies can swiftly replace fossil fuels.  There are more than enough resources to create the world we want—one in which everyone’s needs are met, and we live in harmony with our environment.  When we no longer cede the reins and our wealth to the few, we, the many, will find our way forward.

Categories: News for progressives

Germany on a Political Seesaw

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:56

Photo Source European People’s Party | CC BY 2.0

While Americans teetered, arguing as to which side gained more in the elections, Germans have been balancing on a seesaw of their own – which can also have decisive consequences.

Seated precariously on the descending side are the ruling parties of the Grand Coalition – GroKo in German journalese. When on October 14th the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria, the unique one-state subsidiary of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU),” got the worst result anyone could recall in a state election, the blow sent shock waves through the whole country. It was  still the strongest party in this biggest German state but must now share cabinet seats with an equally conservative local breakaway party. All exertions of its fading king-pin, Horst Seehofer, who tried to win points by attacking and insulting his ally Angela Merkel from the right, failed miserably. So did his attempts – he’s still Federal Interior Minister – to save the head of the Bureau to Protect the Constitution (like the FBI), who had become all too openly pro-fascist. It looks as if the amused-smiling Seehofer will soon follow his appointee into involuntary retirement and right-wing Bavarian loud-voiced pride – recalling old Texas in a way – was reduced to a rather hoarse croak.

Two weeks later came the next blow. The wealthy state of Hesse, with its center in Frankfurt/Main, was a stronghold of the Social Democrats (SPD) for decades. Then they were pushed out by the Christian Democrats, often using racist stereotyping propaganda. The state elections on October 28th shocked them both. The SPD was reduced to a pitiful relic, under 20 %, while the CDU got its worst result in 50 years.

These state-level shocks were no less staggering at the federal level. Merkel, seeing her personal aura dwindle like a fading rainbow, took a step fully unthinkable just a few years ago. She has always been both chancellor and head of the CDU, an indispensable tie she always claimed. But at its congress next month she will step down as party leader. She can remain “queen mother” of the national government until 2021, if it stays in power, but the odds against it and her are grating downward. With its current rating of 27 % the CDU-CSU is still the strongest but not by much.

Three main rivals are pushing to succeed her as party leader – and maybe even more? Jens Spahn, 38, currently Minister of Health, has always been a major right-wing opponent of Merkel. Never popular despite all his efforts, the public has spurned him in the polls.

Annegret Kamp-Karrenbauer, 56, from Saarland, is the party’s general secretary and closest to Merkel’s center-leaning position on many issues. (Her name makes her no favorite with headline writers – the end part was added with her husband – it’s his name. They often call her AKK.

She is running neck and neck with Friedrich Merz (62). Back in 2002 Merkel jockeyed him out of his leadership hopes and he switched from politics to business, where he did far better. He is chairman of the board of the German section of BlackRock, Inc., the global investment management corporation, the world’s largest asset manager with $6.29 trillion in assets in 30 countries. It’s called the world’s largest shadow bank. Its German section faces charges of covering up millions – or billions of tax frauds. But Mertz is backed by powerful men in finance, politics, the media. Criticism too: “If he wins out there needn’t be any more lobbyists – he’s Mr. Lobbyist in person.” He’s also on the board of HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, which has had more scandals than it can count – in Mexico, South Africa, South Asia, the USA. It paid a $1.9b fine for a drug scandal in 2012 (about five weeks of its annual profit) but Obama’s Attorney General Holder saved the culprits from jail cells.

Friedrich Merz as the knight in shining armor rescuing Germany’s slithering economy while strengthening its armed forces; what a frightening nightmare!

On state and federal levels the other partner in the Grand Coalition, the SPD, is sinking  so quickly it threatens to fall off my metaphor see-saw entirely. After barely reaching 20 % in last year’s election it now stands at 14 %. And though the membership of Germany’s oldest party – who haven’t yet quit – are  desperately calling for a change in policy if not in leadership, the latter, headed by Andrea  Nahles, 48, stubbornly orders them, like the captain in Pete Seeger’s song, “to push on!” But quitting the coalition, as they demand, could mean new elections – and new dangers.

If the ruling parties, CDU, CSU and SPD, are losing so rapidly, who is on the upward-swing? The bigger menace is the Alternative for Germany (AfD), now with representatives in every state legislature after its gains in Bavaria and Hesse. They were not as big as the AfD hoped and most people feared – but there were no big Hurrahs! In national polls it is surpassing the Social Democrats. While some of its leaders try to sound civilized and win points in the all too generous media, others betray again and again its fascist nature; ranting against Muslims and immigrants but promoting big business goals like lower estate taxes or more weaponry and soldiers. If people like Merz take over the CDU and the economy falters, they could form a coalition with the AfD in a frightening parody of 1931-33 events.

But the main winners in the shift of voters in Bavaria, Hesse or nationally have amazingly been the Greens. Readers in the USA or elsewhere should not see them as an almost radical group, well to the left. They started off like that, but that was decades ago, before seven years in the government with the SPD tamed them fully, with both passing some of the worst anti-working class legislation in years and taking Germany into its first post-unification war – against Serbia. It has not been in the government since 2005, but it has not changed much in those past fifteen years.

The Greens stress environment above all, but have decided that this does not require conflict with big business, which must simply be convinced that ecology and profits can be combined. One need not look over to the Koch Brothers to question this; Volkswagen-Daimler-BMW emission cheating and the merger of Monsanto and Bayer, two of the world’s worst killers of butterflies, salamanders and songbirds (and both companies once among the world’s worst murderers of human beings – from Auschwitz to Danang in Vietnam) – should give rise to a few doubts.

True, the Greens are for women’s and LGTSB rights, usually good on immigrant questions – at least until they lead governments, as in their happy bond with Daimler in Stuttgart and with the forest-axing RWE energy giant near  Aachen. They have proved quite willing to join on state level with the right-wing CDU, as in Hesse, and can no longer claim a description as leftwing.

The cause for their sudden upward swing in popularity is because millions do not feel represented by the present government, but rather betrayed by both Merkel and the SPD. Right-wing protest leads then to the AfD. Others, for better or worse, turn in protest to the Greens.

A genuine alternative should really be the LINKE, the Left. The two state elections brought an increase in voters, but only a small increase, especially in Bavaria, where they again failed to reach the 5 % minimum for membership in the legislature.

A problem in western Germany rests in decade-old prejudices against any party connected with the East German GDR, a form of anti-Communism regenerated almost every evening by the media. In eastern Germany there are two special obstacles. Millions had high hopes that unification would bring the “blossoming landscapes”  promised by Helmut Kohl. But for many the blossoms are thistles and poison ivy. If any jobs then too often insecure, low-paid, part-time, and speed-up jobs plus worries about pension levels and their children’s future. Some are led to believe that alleged “advantages” for refugees and immigrants mean losses for themselves and their monolithic white German culture. All too few see the LINKE not as a fighter for their rights and needs but, often in state governments or eager to join them, rather as just another part of the “establishment”.

The correct answer to this, it would seem, would be a tough fight by the LINKE against the powers-that-be, the gentrifiers, exploiters, giant tax-cheaters and – indeed –their whole system.

A possible move in this direction was launched by a top LINKE leader, Sahra Wagenknecht, with a collective movement, Aufstehen (Stand Up) aimed at winning angry, dissatisfied people from all parties or no party. But instead of complementing the LINKE, it is currently facing a split, partly based on personalities, which threatens to break up the LINKE, leaving the national stage to the rightists. I, too, have been worried and skeptical.

Last Friday “Sahra” made a magnificent speech to a thousand adherents next the Brandenburg Gate. It was an amazingly important date in German history. One hundred years ago German sailors, then shipyard workers, then soldiers joined and, braving all odds and weapons, launched the German revolution which ended the rule of the Kaiser and World War One, but which was soon betrayed and beaten. In the years that followed the same forces which had beaten them back, the giant industrial and financial concerns, the 1 %, built up Hitler and his Nazis. 80 years ago, on November 9th 1938, they began the violent extermination of the Jewish population; a few years later they went on to kill up to 27 million people in the Soviet Union– plus tragic numbers of Roma people, Poles, Yugoslavs, Italians… and Americans.

On that same date 29 years ago, East Germans cheered as they poured through the Berlin Wall and rejoiced at unification. Their jubilation was fully understandable. Only a minority feared that new freedoms, far more commodities and travel chances also opened the barriers for the return of those same business interests they had ejected after 1945. Now back with greater strength than ever, they began again, slicing at working people’s rights and spreading eastwards, building armies, training parachutists and drone experts. And, while looking slightly askance at their crudity, as in earlier years, they allowed murderous bands of stiff-armed, Hitler-tattooed thugs to open the path to new rounds of killing. This see-saw game can find a very terribly finale.

Categories: News for progressives

Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:50

The Republicans, worried that the party may lose two Senate seats, a Governor’s mansion, and probably a bunch more close races for the House over the counting of disputed mail-in ballots and provisional ballots, are drumming up conspiracy theories now. I just drove through Trump Country last night and listened to Fox Radio as the host (I think it was Laura Ingraham) and her call-ins denounced the recount battles as Democratic corruption.

The biggest laugh was when Ingraham noted that Floridians had passed a law that will (finally!) permit non-violent felons who have served their time to vote. She snarkily said, “We’ll see how that works out!” This, of course, after Republican voters in Southern California elected to the House two convicted felons.

At any rate, it needs to be pointed out to these people, who are either simply incapable of logic or just grabbing at straws to attack a legitimate need for a careful count of all ballots, that there are good reasons why signatures when a person votes, and when they originally registered to vote, can be different looking. My father-in-law is 91, and has palsied hands. When we tried to get him a mail ballot so he could vote at the nursing home he lives in, he enthusiastically signed the ballot application as best as he could. It was rejected by New Jersey authorities (NJ is a heavily Democratic state by the way and he happens to be a Democrat) because they said his signature didn’t match the one he signed five years ago when he and my mother-in-law moved to New Jersey from Florida and registered to vote when they got their state ID cards at the state Motor Vehicle Dept.

Of course his signatures don’t match! His hands were steady five years ago.

But no amount of phone calling about it would convince the Bergen County registrar to send out a mail ballot to his address, and as we live in Pennsylvania, and he, while of sound mind but on oxygen and bed-bound, is physically unable to take an ambulette trek to county offices just to prove he is who he is.

So he didn’t get to vote.

My mother-in-law, incidentally, did receive a mail ballot, though her signature, always illegible like her handwriting, is now perfectly neat (and perfectly different from the one she signed when she registered). This is because she has arthritic hands and at this point has to work at writing, so she does her signature carefully now, not as a fast scrawl as she used to do. Nobody noticed the difference when she applied for her ballot, but if she were still living in Broward County, Florida, irate Republicans and the party’s lawyers would probably be trying to have her consistently Democratic vote voided.

And it’s not just old people. I look at my signature today, which has over the years lost the Jr. (I stopped using that after my father died, since I never liked it anyhow, and it made no sense any longer), and which has gradually evolved from what it was when I first registered to vote at 21 in 1970 (a year before 18-year-olds got the vote) from something fairly legible to a mere approximation of letters. We all change our handwriting.

Beyond this, Republican critics of the slow counting of provisional ballots like Ingraham are deliberately not mentioning the reason there are so many in states like Arizona, and especially Georgia and Florida, that masses of provisional ballots cast. This is because they are a direct consequence of a long history of increasingly desperate Republican voter suppression efforts, designed to compensate for the inevitable decline in their numbers as aging white males become an ever-smaller percentage of the nation’s population.

A big suppression tactic in Florida and Georgia has been running registered voter list name checks against an outrageous national list of felons developed by the Darth Vader of voter disinfranchisement: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. As investigative journalist Greg Palast has proven, that list of Kobach’s includes huge numbers of John Smiths, Jim Johnsons, Tom Freemans or Freedmans, Carol Thomases etc. — all common names for African-Americans stuck with the surnames assigned to their forebears by the slaveowners who bought them.

The trick is, a corrupt Secretary of State like current embattled Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp (a man so corrupt he refused until forced yesterday by public pressure to step down from his current post as Secretary of State overseeing the count in his own election race), will alert county voter registrars that everyone on their lists who has “their” name appearing on the national felon-list should be scrubbed as a registered voter. When someone comes in to vote on Election Day with a suspect name, they are not allowed to vote but can request a provisional ballot, and then later prove they have no criminal record. In Florida, this dirty trick was applied so commonly and widely that it led to passage of the new law restoring citizenship rights to felons who have paid their “debt to society.”

Provisional ballots filled out as a consequence of such tactics should clearly be counted, not blocked from being counted by court action.

Another common Republican suppression tactic is to send postcards to registered voters at their last registered address, usually fairly close to an election, saying to return it if they live there. The cards look like junk mail, and require buying a stamp, so people receiving them may just toss them, and then later their names get wiped from the voter rolls, which they only discover when they try to vote. Or, since many low-income people, especially minorities, are renters and tend, much more than home owners, to move either to better digs if their income or family situation changes, or if they lose a job and have to downsize. That means they change addresses so the card never reaches them, and again they are wiped from the rolls. It’s a deliberate trick to deny the vote to people who have registered. Again, such people can demand a provisional ballot.

If they filled one out it should be counted.

Anyone who says otherwise is as corrupt as Kobach, who by the way managed to lose his race badly to a Democratic woman, who will now be the governor of Kansas, a state often described — but no more — as “the reddest of the red states.” (The state’s voters also elected a Democratic Native American lesbian to represent one of the state’s four Congressional districts — a huge and dramatic breakthrough in many ways.)

Voting may be over-rated as a way to effect change in this country, given our corrupted political system of two pro-corporate parties, and of unlimited money going to fund (bribe) candidates, but it is still important, and it is moreover a fundamental right of citizenship that was won for women and minorities as a result of major mass movement struggles, battles and blood. Those who deny it or who try to make it harder or impossible to exercise for certain classes or races of people are not just spitting on the Constitution, they are criminals far worse than most of the felons who are in most states being denied the right to vote.

Categories: News for progressives

Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:50

nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch

— Adorno

In the English speaking world, Adorno is famously thought to have said that poetry after Auschwitz was impossible. In point of fact though, he actually said something perhaps even more problematic that “writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”.

Not surprisingly, these thoughts sprung from a deep sense of survivor’s guilt. Adorno often had dreams/hallucinations that his life post 1944 was a dead man’s dream that he had in fact perished in the war. His anguish was very real and is essential to understanding his life’s work.

The question for us however is whether or not Adorno was correct: was writing poetry after the Shoah an impossible, barbaric task?

Certainly any artistic production after the Shoah would have to be different.

Thinking deeply about the events that led to one of the great tragedies of Western civilization would lead to the gradual realization in the works of Todorov, Amery, Wiesel, Levi, Gide, Badiou, Finkielkraut, Sartre, Bauman and, of course, Adorno that something was generally and dreadfully wrong with that very same civilization; and that the German case was but an extreme example of a general trend.

Some of the famous commentators mentioned above felt that the fault variously lay with science, bureaucracy, instrumental reason, and capitalism. Others felt that the West, particularly through its experience with colonialism, generated a culture of genocide. Yet, whatever the ultimate reason or reasons for the Western urge to discipline, degrade, and finally destroy the other in their midst, one could argue that after Auschwitz many more people in the West became aware of this terrible destructive tendency and decided to take action.

Indeed, in a profound sense, the self-criticism of the West that gradually took place after the war could be said to have directly culminated in the events of 1968. Here after many years of painful self-examination a significant part of a whole generation of Westerners were to reject the past and in an act of Dionysian purification seek out new doors of perception and ways of being in the world.

Culturally, they were in part successful in that they were able to change the field of discourse having to do with the other whether black, gay, migrant, woman, Jew, Palestinian, or any other outsider or stranger. However, on the level of revolutionary praxis, the record is not so clear as hierarchic structures of domination and power lubricated by a global capitalist exchange system continues to prosper and thrive.

So what about the poets?

After Auschwitz, poetry perhaps must face two directions simultaneously. The elegiac and the hopeful.

With its mournful lyre attuned to the past, it should be mindful of the heinous crimes and helpless victims of the past.

With its inner strength for renewal, it should offer up paeans to the possible.

Thus, in the poetry of today, a critical self-consciousness of the past entwined with a hopeful Arendtian vision of regeneration could reopen a space for the rebirth of a new and vital civilization instead of an endless traumatic repetition of the barbaric.

Categories: News for progressives

Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:50

Maiko Zulu just before arrest at British High Commission, Lusaka, 27 September 2018.

The World Social Forum’s ‘Thematic Forum on Mining and Extractivism’ convenes from November 12-15 here in Johannesburg, just after the Southern Africa People’s Tribunal on Transnational Corporations. In between, at the notorious 2012 massacre site on the platinum belt to the west, there’s a launch of a new book – Business as Usual after Marikana– critical not only of the mining house Lonmin but of its international financiers and buyers.

This is the moment for a profoundly critical standpoint to take root, unhindered by ineffectual reformism associated with Corporate Social Responsibility gimmicks and the mining sector’s civilised-society watchdogging at the mainly uncritical Alternative Mining Indaba. That NGO-dominated event occurs annually in Cape Town every February, at the same time and place where the extractive mega-corporations gather.

The Thematic Forum firmly opposes ‘extractivism.’ Unlike the Indaba, it aims to connect the dots between oppressions, defining its target as extraction of “so-called natural resources” in a way that is “devastating and degrading,” since mining exacerbates “conditions of global warming and climate injustice. It subjects local economies to a logic of accumulation that privately benefits corporations,” and represses “traditional, indigenous and peasant communities by violations of human rights, affecting in particular the lives of women and children.”

The last point is not incidental, as two of the main organisers are the Southern Africa Rural Women’s Assembly and the WoMin network: “African Women Unite Against Destructive Resource Extraction.” Inspired by Amadiba Crisis Committee activists in the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, they’ve campaigned hard for the #Right2SayNo.

Last month, such rights language proved invaluable in the Constitutional Court here in Johannesburg, when the Itireleng community won a judgement against displacement from their farm, under attack by a local platinum mining house. (This was pleasantly surprising to many of us who are Court critics, given how much corporate power is hardwired into South Africa’s founding document.)

On the Wild Coast last month, South Africa’s Mining Minister Gwede Mantashe had shown how desperately he wants investment by the likes of aggressive Australian titanium mining firm MRC. But the Amadiba Crisis Committee and its allies have consistently shown their ability to say “No!”

No means no

The Forum’s opening morning features a demonstration at the nearby world headquarters of AngloGold Ashanti, the locally-listed firm shamed in 2005 by Human Rights Watch for its alliances with warlords during the minerals-related murder of millions of people in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2011, AngloGold Ashanti won the title “world’s most irresponsible corporation” at the ‘Davos Public Eye’ ceremony organised outside the World Economic Forum by Greenpeace and the Berne Declaration.

Since then the firm has attracted even more intense community, labour, feminist and environmental protests from Chileto Colombia to Ghana to Guinea to Tanzania, as well as at home in South Africa over mass retrenchments, inadequate pay and delay of silicosis-related compensation payments. It’s a sick company, with its Johannesburg Stock Exchange price having fallen by more than half since a mid-2016 peak (and even further from its 2006-12 JSE valuations).

Criticised by investors who believe “AngloGold has not matched up to its global peers” in large part because of less profitable South African holdings, AngloGold Ashanti is rapidly exiting its home country. The firm made its fortune during the notorious 20thcentury era of extreme apartheid extractivism when it was run by the Oppenheimer family. Perhaps even worse is the new boss, Kelvin Dushnisky, who has presided over Toronto-based Barrick (the world’s largest gold producer, known in Africa as Acacia) during its recent reign of mining terrorism, including mass rape.

The mining corporations under fire at the Forum are not only the typical pinstriped, ethics-challenged cowboys from the London-Toronto-Melbourne-Joburg circuits. Next door in Mozambique, Rio-based Vale’s coal-mining operations at Moatize were disrupted last month, according to activist allies at the Associação de Apoio e Assistência Jurídica às Comunidades, due to “excessive pollution [and] acceleration of the decay of  houses due to explosion of dynamites.”

Albeit trying to “mask brutal exploitation with the language of South-South solidarity,” as documented by Canadian researcher Judith Marshall, Vale is brutal in numerous jurisdictions, judged by Berne Declaration and the Brazilian Movement of Landless Workers as worst company in the world in 2012 due to “its labour relations, community impact and environmental record.”

In Mozambique, Vale as well as the Indian firms Coal of India, Vedanta and Jindal have been criticised for displacement and destruction. Community protests against foreign companies are prolific in coal-rich Tete Province. Further east, on the Mozambican coastline, beach sands in some communities have been destroyed by the voracious Chinese firm Haiyu.

Complains a local resident who can no longer carry out fishing subsistence, Nassire Omar, “They owe us because they have taken our beautiful sand from us and left nothing. We don’t know the quantity of the sand that they took over seven years, but we know that they profited from it and we want our dues. They have taken all the riches here and left us with nothing.”

But it may be that Vedanta and its boss Anil Agarwal – who is also Anglo American Corporation’s largest single investor with more than 20% of shares – has witnessed the most sustained protest, including a mass protest in May against the ThoothukudiSterlite copper plant which his officials responded to with a massacre of 13 Indians demanding an end to pollution.

Protest against Africa’s largest copper mine, Konkola, centres on 1,826 Zambian farmers poisoned by Vedanta. Just before the London Stock Exchange delisting of Vedanta last month, popular reggae musician Maiko Zulu protested (and was arrested) at the British High Commission in Lusaka, demanding that authorities deny Agarwal his escape from London prior to justice being served. Agarwal bought that mine for $25 million in 2004 and a decade later bragged that ever since he had taken $500 million to $1 billion home from Konkola annually.

After extractivism

These sorts of Western+BRICS modes of super-exploitation exemplify the mineral, oil and gas looting underway across Africa. The uncompensated extraction of non-renewable resources amounts to an estimated $150 billion annually, far more even than the $50-80 billion Illicit Financial Flows and $50 billion in legal profit repatriation from Africa by mining and petroleum firms.

But increasingly, mining houses are pushing the people and environment too far, and resistance is rising. As Anglo American Corporation leader Mark Cutifani remarked in 2015, “There’s something like $25 billion worth of projects tied up or stopped” by mining critics across the world.

How activists can increase that figure is the topic of next week’s discussions, along with moving from these critiques to strategies for post-extractivist systems of political economy, political ecology and social reproduction.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:34

When OJ was acquitted the reactions of white Americans and black Americans illustrated how divergent our world views were. White America was appalled that someone who seemed so obviously to be guilty had gotten off, where black America saw an African-American finally beating a justice system that was rigged against them. The Kavanaugh hearings provided us with a similar experience. We saw two much different views and sets of values on display. On one side were all the women who had been victims of sexual assault and other expressions of misogyny along with the liberal men who sympathized with them. On the other side were all those white males who may or may not have abused women but who identified with someone they saw as unjustly accused, and with them were wives and mothers who sided with them. Underlying those reactions was a subtext on abortion and the Supreme Court. Those on the right who had voted for Trump did so in part to get a conservative judge appointed who would support their anti-abortion views. They saw the Democrats engaging in stealth by using Dr. Blasey Ford as a pawn to prevent Kavanaugh from being appointed because of how views on abortion.

Since abortion is such a divisive issue in America, Republican Senators shifted the focus to a defense of Kavanaugh by framing the narrative as an attack on him and his family over what they termed a questionable case of sexual assault. Republican Senators allowed Blasey Ford to tell her story, but because they controlled the event, they were able to frame her story in a way that lessoned its impact. And since the other parties who were willing to appear and who would have substantiated her accusations were not invited, Americans had to base their reactions on Blasey Ford’s account alone when, in fact, the other accusations along with Ford’s, create a compelling case against Kavanaugh’s character.In addition, Blasey Ford’s story includes sexual assault, but that is just part of the story. She was actually, for a short period of time, abducted by two older boys who pulled her into a room and locked the door. One looked on while the other, Kavanaugh, climbed on top of her and covered her mouth. The fact that Judge and Kavanaugh locked the door and in essence, gagged Ford, shows they knew that what they were doing was wrong. To a fifteen-year- old girl, this must have been terrifying. She was taken, silenced, pinned and attacked. This is sexual assault as an expression of power. Yet supporters of Kavanaugh didn’t really consider what happened to Blasey Ford. It’s as if they compartmentalized Blasey Ford’s story, dismissing the objectionable elements and reducing it to “horseplay” and “boys being boys.”

The mistake the Democrats made was in not framing Ford’s story as more than that and in not having the other victims: Swetnick and Ramirez come forward as well. If all three women, along with Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate (James Roche), had appeared on The View, The Today Show, etc., Kavanaugh would have been toast. It’s obvious that the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee did not think this through. Of course, Kavanaugh should not have been confirmed on the basis of the plethora of lies he told in the hearings. Not to mention the partisan nature of his remarks and the disrespect he showed Democratic Senators.

Whether Feinstein and company were intentionally using Blasey Ford as a proxy to attack a pro-life candidate or not, it wasn’t a great idea. The hearings clearly demonstrated the continuing sexist nature of a country where victimized women are ignored or attacked (Blasey Ford is still being threatened and is unable to return to work) and dismissed by men in power.Republicans and Trump managed to tap into a fear that American males, and some of their wives, have of women who attempt to confront their attackers.

It is true that the law is not very good at dealing with sexual assault since there is often little evidence to support a victim’s accusations. It may be necessary for a cultural shift to take place through changes in policies at work and in schools to foment the type of changes in attitude that have occurred in regard to homosexuality. That shift is happening, but our government, run by old white males, hasn’t quite caught up to it.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:31

Soft power was always a term best suited for eunuchs.  It relies on persuasion, counsel and an air of seduction.  It does not imply actual force as such (often, that side of the bargain is hidden).  At its core are the presumed virtues of the product being sold, the society being advertised to others who are supposedly in the business of being convinced.  Joseph Nye came up with it in the groves of academe as the Cold War was coming to an end, and every policy maker supposedly worth his or her brief insists upon it.  (Since 1990, Nye has done another shuffle, attempting to market another variant of power: from soft, power has become erroneously sentient – or “smart”.)

Nye himself already leaves room for the critics to point out how the concept is, essentially, part of an advertising executive’s armoury, the sort an Edward Bernays of foreign affairs might embrace. It co-opts; it suggests indirectness; it is “getting others to want what you want” by shaping “the preferences of others”; it employs popular culture and concepts of political stability.  In a vulgar sense, it inspires envy and the need to emulate, stressing desire over substance.

The Australian Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs is currently chewing over soft power, having been taskedwith reviewing it by Julie Bishop when she was foreign minister.  Australian think tanks have been all praise for its mystical properties.  All rely on fictional measurements and surveys such as The Soft Power 30 index, which sounds awfully like a heavily carbonated soft drink.

The Australian Foreign Policy White Paper from 2017 also does its bit: it reads like a designer product flogged to the appropriate customers.  “Australia’s ability to persuade and influence others is underpinned by some enduring strengths.  Among these are our democracy, multicultural society, strong economy, attractive lifestyle and world-class institutions.”

This less than modest appraisal should immediately trigger the little grey cells of any sceptic.  Australia remains plagued by a policy towards refugees that would rank highly with most despotic states; it maintains, relative to other states, a low GDP-aid percentage and remains almost dangerously cosy to Washington. Then there is that issue of seasonal bloodletting of leaders that led the BBC to call the country the “coup capital of the democratic world.”

In truth, such concepts are frustratingly inchoate, the sort of piffle best kept in obscure management manuals and textbooks chocked with political sloganeering.  “Isn’t soft power like Fight Club?” came a seemingly puzzled foreign policy official to Caitlin Byrne, writing for The Strategist of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.  “And the first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club.”

Even Byrne concedes that soft power, in terms of language, is slippery and problematic. “Many equate ‘soft’ with ‘weak’ and ‘superficial’ or, worse still, ‘subversive’.  These terms rarely sit easily with those in the business of advancing national interests.” Recipients of such power can also be resentful, co-opted by the venture. (No one genuinely wants to be considered a case for charity.)

But such commentary is convinced there is a story to tell and, in the case of Canberra’s apparatchiks, Australia affords them ample opportunities.  “[T]he aim of soft power – to help shape an environment that is positively disposed to Australian foreign policy interests and values over the long term – is not to be dismissed if Australia is to navigate its way in a more contested region.”

Most recently, Australia’s tetchy Prime Minister Scott Morrison (daggy cap and all), has been busy pushing Australian credentials in the immediate region, throwing $2 billion at a new Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.  Another billion is also sought for Australia’s export financing agency.

What is striking in this endeavour is the language of ownership, part proprietary and part imperial.  “This is our patch,” Morrison explained to those at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville on Thursday. “This is where we have special responsibilities.  We always have, we always will.  We have their back, and they have ours.”  These are the vagaries of power.  “Australia has an abiding interest in a Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically.” Diplomatic posts will be established in Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands, all newly modelled sets of eyes.

In other instances, however, Australian policy makers want to do things on the cheap, showing a characteristic stinginess that praises Australian power and its institutional heft while trimming back services that might supply a “softer” edge.  Australia’s broadcasting capacity, notably in the short-wave sense, has diminished. Soft-power, note the propagandists, has been muted.

In January 31, 2017, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ended shortwave broadcasts to the South Pacific, concluding a tradition that had lasted eight decades. “The choice is dumb,” suggested Graeme Dobbell, “because it misunderstands the central role radio still plays in the South Pacific.”  This has left the problematic question open as to what other Australian suppliers – of the commercial variety – will do to replace the content of the national broadcaster.

Most of all, and most critically, proponents of soft power in Australia fear a crowding, and crowding out threat: that of China, which operates as the putative cuckoo keen on pushing out the chicks of others.  This, aligned to the issue of creating more debt for the region, suggests potential exhaustion in the region.

Australia, ever sluggish and drugged by presumptions of allegiance from its Pacific neighbours (our backyard!), has previously ignored the increasingly important role Beijing is playing with the island states. A growing, even paranoid interest is now being shown towards the presence of Chinese aid and funded projects in the region.  There are also measures, tied to US strategic interests, of frustrating the efforts of such Chinese giants as Huawei, from achieving a greater measure of influence.

Morrison’s cavalier volunteering of taxpayer funded projects to lure Pacific neighbours away from Beijing’s “few-strings attached” load and aid program is something that will be looked at with enthusiasm if for no other reason that double dipping will be on offer.  From Papua New Guinea to Fiji, the options to milk the greed of powers have never been better, whatever nonsense soft power might entail. The problem of debt, however, will remain the lingering nuisance at the feast.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Poppy Fascism and the English Education System

Mon, 2018-11-12 16:00

‘And still they teach you in your school, about those glorious days of rule’

What Jon Snow, the Channel 4 broadcaster (on English television), wisely discerned as ‘poppy fascism’ several years ago, reached its crescendo this weekend – as it does every year now it seems, with more vitality. However, this year, 2018, being the centenary of the Armistice of World War I, the crescendo’s pitch felt louder than usual.

As, mid-week, I watched Sky News Live on YouTube from my Philadelphia apartment, a seemingly unwitting child appeared on my screen and announced the importance of passing down the ‘knowledge’ of the First World War from those who had gone before him. This segment was aired alongside report on an ‘artist’ [read, ‘lunatic’] named Rob Heard who had carved thousands of wooden figurines, over a period of five years, of British soldiers killed in the conflict and laid them out on the ground somewhere in England to commemorate this centenary of futile slaughter. No context, ever.

Lest we get ahead of ourselves and assume that the fanaticism cease there, we’re reminded intermittently throughout the week from various English news sources that 10,000 torches (remember those torches carried by Trumpite fascists in Charlottesville last year?) are lit each night at the Tower of London to remember the ‘fallen’.

But the brief interview Sky had conducted with the young boy sparked a reminder in me of a line or two from Ireland’s chief political troubadour in present times, Damien Dempsey:

And still they teach you in your school
About those glorious days of rule
And how it’s your destiny to be
Superior to me

What must the history curriculum be of these children, in the country on whose empire the sun would never set? A cursory smidgín (smidgeon; a borrowed word from Irish aka Gaeilge) of research reveals that although the master curriculum of schools in England, and by forced extension Wales and Scotland, mentioned the history of colonisation of other countries, these aspects were not ‘statutory’. Essentially, there exists an aspirational wish list of what the general child and teenage populace of the UK might learn in school, but which we know in reality is reduced in the majority of cases to the banal study of royal lineage – or, in many cases, imperial/capitalist homage.

How can the Irish state, or those who reside in it, sustain a justifiable complaint without seeming hypocritical? Did we not allow the removal of history from the Junior Cert [middle school] cycle as a core subject? Without protest, without a murmur – really.

The chief protagonists in decolonial discourse in modern times appear to emanate not from Ireland, but from elsewhere; from other formerly colonised climbs. Shashi Tharoor, an Indian parliamentarian and academic, has spoken vociferously in recent years about the violent colonialism of Britain and the Raj in his country of origin. Yet, all the crimes of Britain have seemed to ring silent in Ireland – England’s first colony ‘lest we forget’ – as each November rolls around.

Indeed, not only does the so-called Irish state see fit to erect a garishly large World War I ‘haunting soldier’ sculpture in one of the crucibles of revolutionary republican resistance in 1916 (St. Stephen’s Green), its promoters such as Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach/Prime Minister) and Frank Feighan (TD/Minister/general West-British lickspittle) insist we wear a shamrock emblazoned with a blood-stained poppy. What a sham, indeed.

Opponents will trot out the usual defence; that, we ought to remember ‘all those who died’ in the past for humanitarian reasons. This, however, clearly glosses over the actual remembrance element of the poppy, which is supposedly so central to its symbolism. Current British soldiers – who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq – give regular media interviews for British media outlets that clearly link the senseless slaughter of yesteryear with contemporary imperial exploits.

Why is it never even mooted that the alternative white poppy (which is sans the British Legion baggage), symbolising peace and an end to all war, be worn? The simple, and the truest, answer is because the red – as opposed to the white – poppy, is utilised to advance a militarist agenda in Britain. One which is eerily reminiscent of the militarism of the early twentieth century in the lead-up to World War I.

The irony of all this, of course, is that sportsmen like James McClean, the ‘Republic’ of Ireland international soccer player, who dare to reject this rank poppy militarism/fascism, face the wrath of a large swathe of the British public whose very forbears supposedly fought to quell the advance of authoritarianism and intolerance between 1939-1945. Lest we forget, indeed.

Categories: News for progressives

Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon

Mon, 2018-11-12 16:00

The decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Force Agreement (INF) appears to be part of a broader strategy aimed at unwinding over 50 years of agreements to control and limit nuclear weapons, returning to an era characterized by the unbridled development weapons of mass destruction.

Terminating the INF treaty—which bans land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of between 300 and 3400 miles— is not, in and of itself, a fatal blow to the network of treaties and agreements dating back to the 1963 treaty that ended atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. But coupled with other actions—George W. Bush’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 2002 and the Obama administration’s program to upgrade the nuclear weapons infrastructure— the tapestry of agreements that has, at least in part, limited these terrifying creations, is looking increasingly frayed.

“Leaving the INF,” says Sergey Rogov of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies, “could bring the whole structure of arms control crashing down.”

Lynn Rusten, the former senior director for arms control in the National Security Agency Council warns, “This is opening the door to an all-out arms race.”

Washington’s rationale for exiting the INF Treaty is that the Russians deployed the 9M729 cruise missile that the US claims violates the agreement, although Moscow denies it and the evidence has not been made public. Russia countercharges that the US ABM system—Aegis Ashore—deployed in Romania and planned for Poland could be used to launch similar medium range missiles.

If this were a disagreement over weapon capability, inspectionswould settle the matter. But the White House—in particular National Security Advisor John Bolton—is less concerned with inspections than extracting the US from agreements that in any way restrain the use of American power, be it military or economic. Thus, Trump dumped the Iran nuclear agreement, not because Iran is building nuclear weapons or violating the agreement, but because the administration wants to use economic sanctions to pursue regime change in Teheran.

In some ways, the INF agreement is low hanging fruit. The 1987 treaty banned only land-based medium range missiles, not those launched by sea or air —where the Americans hold a strong edge—and it only covered the U.S. and Russia. Other nuclear-armed countries, particularly China, India, North Korea, Israel and Pakistan have deployed a number of medium range nuclear-armed missiles. One of the arguments Bolton makes for exiting the INF is that it would allow the US to counter China’s medium range missiles.

But if the concern was controlling intermediate range missiles, the obvious path would be to expand the treaty to other nations and include air and sea launched weapons. Not that that would be easy. China has lots of intermediate range missiles, because most its potential antagonists, like Japan or US bases in Asia, are within the range of such missiles. The same goes for Pakistan, India, and Israel.

Intermediate range weapons—sometimes called “theater” missiles—do not threaten the US mainland the way that similar US missiles threaten China and Russia. Beijing and Moscow can be destroyed by long-range intercontinental missiles, but also by theater missiles launched from ships or aircraft. One of the reasons that Europeans are so opposed to withdrawing from the INF is that, in the advent of nuclear war, medium-range missiles on their soil will make them a target.

But supposed violations of the treaty is not why Bolton and the people around him oppose the agreement. Bolton called for withdrawing from the INF Treaty three years before the Obama administration charged the Russians with cheating. Indeed, Bolton has opposed every effort to constrain nuclear weapons and has already announced that the Trump administration will not extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) when it expires in 2021.

START caps the number of US and Russian deployed nuclear weapons at 1550, no small number.

The Bush administration’s withdrawal from the 1972 ABM treaty in 2002 was the first major blow to the treaty framework. Anti-ballistic missiles are inherently destabilizing, because the easiest way to defeat such systems is to overwhelm them by expanding the number of launchers and warheads. Bolton—a longtime foe of the ABM agreement—recently bragged that dumping the treaty had no effect on arms control.

But the treaty’s demise has shelved START talks, and it was the ABM’s deployment in Eastern Europe—along with NATO’s expansion up to the Russian borders—that led to Moscow deploying the cruise missile now in dispute.

While Bolton and Trump are more aggressive about terminating agreements, it was the Obama administration’s decision to spend $1.6 trillion to upgrade and modernize US nuclear weapons that now endangers one of the central pillars of the nuclear treaty framework, the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

That agreement ended the testing of nuclear weapons, slowing the development of new weapons, particularly miniaturization and warheads with minimal yields. The former would allow more warheads on each missile, the latter could increase the possibility of using nuclear weapons without setting off a full-scale nuclear exchange.

Nukes are tricky to design, so you don’t want to deploy one without testing it. The Americans have bypassed some of the obstacles created by the CTBT by using computers like the National Ignition Facility. The B-61 Mod 11 warhead, soon-to-be-deployed in Europe, was originally a city killer, but labs at Livermore, CA and Los Alamos and Sandia, NM turned it into a bunker buster, capable of taking out command and control centers buried deep in the ground.

Nevertheless, the military and the nuclear establishment—ranging from companies such as Lockheed Martin and Honeywell International to university research centers—have long felt hindered by the CTBT. Add the Trump administration’s hostility to anything that constrains US power and the CTBT may be next on the list.

Restarting nuclear testing will end any controls on weapons of mass destruction. And since Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires nuclear-armed powers to eventually disarm their weapons of mass destruction, that agreement may go as well. In a very short time countries like South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia will join the nuclear club, with South Africa and Brazil in the wings. The latter two countries researched producing nuclear weapons in the 1980s, and South Africa actually tested one.

The demise of the INF agreement will edge the world closer to nuclear war. Since medium range missiles shorten the warning time for a nuclear attack from 30 minutes to 10 minutes or less, countries will keep their weapons on a hair trigger. “Use them or lose them” is the philosophy that impels the tactics of nuclear war.

In the past year, Russia and NATO held very large military exercises on one another’s borders. Russian, US and Chinese fighter planes routinely play games of chicken. What happens when one of those “games” goes wrong?

The US and the Soviet Union came within minutes of an accidental war on at least two occasions, and, with so many actors and so many weapons, it will be only a matter of time before some country interprets a radar image incorrectly and goes to DEFCON 1—imminent nuclear war.

The INF Treaty came about because of strong opposition and huge demonstrations in Europe and the United States. That kind of pressure, coupled with a pledge by countries not to deploy such weapons, will be required again, lest the entire tapestry of agreements that kept the horror of nuclear war at bay vanish.

Categories: News for progressives

Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:58

When it comes to planetary carnage, Trump (Amerika’s president) is facing strong competition. Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro aka “Tropical Trump” will likely outdo Amerika’s destroy the EPA Trump. Bolsonaro declared war on the Amazon rainforest. Thus, he’ll likely outpace Trump’s arbitrary efforts at eco annihilation because he has a much bigger target!

The Amazon Rainforest, affectionately known as “the planet’s lungs,” inhales CO2 and exhales precious oxygen (“O”), which serves as a life force for every living being on the planet. As a result, everybody from New Zealand to Finland is impacted by what happens to the global rainforests, as unlike Las Vegas, what happens in the tropical rainforest does not stay in the tropical rainforest.

Significantly, a University of Leeds study found forests absorb 35% of human-made fossil fuel emissions (CO2) every year. Dr. Simon Lewis, a tropical ecologist from the University of Leeds and co-author of the study, said trees are much more important to tackling climate change than previously thought. (Source: Forests Absorb One-Third of Global Fossil Fuel Emissions, University of Leeds, Environment News, July 15, 2011)

“The large uptake of CO2 by forests implies that the world’s agricultural lands, grasslands, desert and tundra each play a more limited role as globally significant carbon dioxide sources or sinks at present. This new information can help pinpoint where actions to conserve carbon sinks are likely to have most impact,” Ibid.

Coincidentally, at approximately the same time as Bolsonaro won election (Oct. 28th) to the presidency a group of UK scientists issued a Declaration of Rebellion (October 31st ) against the UK government “for criminal inaction in the face of climate change catastrophe and ecological collapse.” Thus, proving that eco turmoil reigns supreme all across the planet, as destructionists versus protectionists factions accelerate on both ends of the biosphere spectrum.

Meanwhile and in consideration of the aforementioned, Bolsonaro’s assault on rainforests is a declaration of war against all of humanity. Informed sources claim Bolsonaro deforestation of Amazonia will exceed 3xs current levels of obliteration. That’s impending disaster for global warming and a huge threat to ecosystems and life everywhere.

Bolsonaro’s war plan is exhaustive: (1) expand agriculture into indigenous lands (2) build Amazonia highways (3) infrastructure projects and (4) major mines, as “Amazonia transforms into a commodity for export.” But, that particular export is much more than a commodity; it is the life support system for the entire planet.

As such, the presidency of Brazil presupposes a special obligation to the world to husband 2/3rds of Amazonia for the benefit of humankind.

However, with the new presidency an ugly situation may develop. A worst-case basis could go so far as the Amazon morphing into a fantasyland with highways, gas stations, fast food, motels, souvenirs, Disneyland guided tours into the dark, deep mysterious forest, photographing indigenous people of 240 known tribes, as they dart from hiding spot to hiding spot. And, that’s only lightweight fantasy stuff whereas the heavyweight climate change consequences will be utterly disastrous for all life on the planet.

To ensure protection of rural properties Bolsonsaro intends to revise the country’s “disarmament law” and allow weapons to be carried for “protection of rural properties.” Undoubtedly, this will increase violence in Amazonia where there are already thousands of murders per year.

Not only that, Brazil is the world’s deadliest country for eco activists. According to At What Costs? in 2017 fifty-seven (57) activists were murdered. Agribusiness is the most dangerous industry for people who defend forests, rivers, and homesteads. With the Bolsonaro regime in charge a sharp increase in the murder rate is guaranteed. Activists beware!

Bolsonaro is the avatar of nationalism, authoritarianism, racism, misogyny, and anti-free press. Part of Bolsonaro’s raison d’etre involves conspiratorial fear of a global plot to take charge over Amazonia, thereby stepping on Brazilian sovereignty. In point of fact, that would be a blessing for the world.

On the campaign trail he called for an end to all activists and vowed to expel international environmental organizations, like Greenpeace and WWF. To help enforce law and order, he intends to alter Brazil’s anti-terrorism laws to reclassify as “terrorists” any organization involved in social movements, for example, Brazilia’s Landless Rural Worker’s Movement.

According to WWF, 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years. With published numbers like that it’s little wonder that Bolsonaro wants to “ban the World Wildlife Fund from Brazil.”
Inspiring a group of supporters at a final campaign rally, Bolsonaro promised that “red leftist” political rivals “either go overseas or they go to jail… These red outlaws will be banished from our homeland. It will be a cleanup the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history.” (Source: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Threatens Purge of Leftwing ‘Outlaws’ The Guardian, Oct. 22, 2018)
The risks are enormous as deliberate deforestation of sizeable chunks of Amazonia enhances prospects of runaway global warming. Amazonia contains a large stock of carbon that releases greenhouse gases (GHG) with deforestation. Whereas, maintenance of carbon stocks in Amazonia helps considerably to avoid the curse of global warming.

Additionally, Amazonia recycles an enormous amount of water. Brazil’s Southeastern region, including São Paulo as well as neighboring countries, are major recipients of this transport. In fact, on a global scale, Amazonia hydrology impacts water precipitation as far away as the cornfields of Iowa and wheat fields of Canada.

Newly elected President Bolsonaro’s first foreign visits will be to Chile, Israel and the US. He describes them as countries that “share our worldview.”

Accordingly the world’s largest economy, the U.S. and the world’s 5th largest country, Brazil, share disdain for science and a nasty distaste for global efforts to confront global warming. The respective leaders are fanatical eco assassins.

Ever since 2016, the outlook for the health of the planet grows worse with every far right election victory. Strangely, citizens impulsively vote for the equivalence of seppuku or Japanese self-inflicted disembowelment.

Categories: News for progressives

Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:58

For soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, coming home is more lethal than being in combat.”

― Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston

Not all heroes wear the uniform of war.

In the United States, however, we take particular pride in recognizing as heroes those who have served in the military.

Yet while we honor our veterans with holidays, parades, discounts at retail stores and restaurants, and endless political rhetoric about their sacrifice and bravery, we do a pitiful job of respecting their freedoms and caring for their needs once out of uniform.

Despite the fact that the U.S. boasts more than 20 million veterans who have served in World War II through the present day, the plight of veterans today is America’s badge of shame, with large numbers of veterans impoverished, unemployed, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, suicide, and marital stress, homeless, subjected to sub-par treatment at clinics and hospitals, and left to molder while their paperwork piles up within Veterans Administration offices.

Still, the government’s efforts to wage war on veterans, especially those who speak out against government wrongdoing, is downright appalling.

Consider: we raise our young people on a steady diet of militarism and war, sell them on the idea that defending freedom abroad by serving in the military is their patriotic duty, then when they return home, bruised and battle-scarred and committed to defending their freedoms at home, we often treat them like criminals merely for having served in the military.

The government even has a name for its war on America’s veterans: Operation Vigilant Eagle.

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, this Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program tracks military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and characterizes them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”

Coupled with the DHS’ dual reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” which broadly define extremists as individuals, military veterans and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics bode ill for anyone seen as opposing the government.

Yet the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is taking aim at individuals trained in military warfare.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that the DHS has gone extremely quiet about Operation Vigilant Eagle.

Where there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire.

And the government’s efforts to target military veterans whose views may be perceived as “anti-government” make clear that something is afoot.

In recent years, military servicemen and women have found themselves increasingly targeted for surveillance, censorship, threatened with incarceration or involuntary commitment, labeled as extremists and/or mentally ill, and stripped of their Second Amendment rights.

An important point to consider, however, is that under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as threats to national security.

This is not the first time that psychiatry has been used to exile political prisoners.

Many times throughout history in totalitarian regimes, such governments have declared dissidents mentally ill and unfit for society as a means of rendering them disempowering them.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum observes in Gulag: A History: “The exile of prisoners to a distant place, where they can ‘pay their debt to society,’ make themselves useful, and not contaminate others with their ideas or their criminal acts, is a practice as old as civilization itself. The rulers of ancient Rome and Greece sent their dissidents off to distant colonies. Socrates chose death over the torment of exile from Athens. The poet Ovid was exiled to a fetid port on the Black Sea.”

For example, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union often used psychiatric hospitals as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners from the rest of society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally through the use of electric shocks, drugs and various medical procedures.

Insisting that “ideas about a struggle for truth and justice are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure,” the psychiatric community actually went so far as to provide the government with a diagnosis suitable for locking up such freedom-oriented activists.

In addition to declaring political dissidents mentally unsound, Russian officials also made use of an administrative process for dealing with individuals who were considered a bad influence on others or troublemakers.

Author George Kennan describes a process in which:

The obnoxious person may not be guilty of any crime . . . but if, in the opinion of the local authorities, his presence in a particular place is “prejudicial to public order” or “incompatible with public tranquility,” he may be arrested without warrant, may be held from two weeks to two years in prison, and may then be removed by force to any other place within the limits of the empire and there be put under police surveillance for a period of from one to ten years. Administrative exile–which required no trial and no sentencing procedure–was an ideal punishment not only for troublemakers as such, but also for political opponents of the regime.

Sound familiar?

This age-old practice by which despotic regimes eliminate their critics or potential adversaries by declaring them mentally ill and locking them up in psychiatric wards for extended periods of time is a common practice in present-day China.

What is particularly unnerving, however, is how this practice of eliminating or undermining potential critics, including military veterans, is happening with increasing frequency in the United States.

Remember, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) opened the door for the government to detain as a threat to national security anyone viewed as a troublemaker. According to government guidelines for identifying domestic extremists—a word used interchangeably with terrorists—technically, anyone exercising their First Amendment rights in order to criticize the government qualifies.

It doesn’t take much anymore to be flagged as potentially anti-government in a government database somewhere—Main Core, for example—that identifies and tracks individuals who aren’t inclined to march in lockstep to the government’s dictates.

In fact, as the Washington Post reports, communities are being mapped and residents assigned a color-coded threat score—green, yellow or red—so police are forewarned about a person’s potential inclination to be a troublemaker depending on whether they’ve had a career in the military, posted a comment perceived as threatening on Facebook, suffer from a particular medical condition, or know someone who knows someone who might have committed a crime.

The case of Brandon Raub is a prime example of Operation Vigilant Eagle in action.

Raub, a 26-year-old decorated Marine, actually found himself interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.

On August 16, 2012, a swarm of local police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s Virginia home, asking to speak with him about posts he had made on his Facebook page made up of song lyrics, political opinions and dialogue used in a political thriller virtual card game.

Among the posts cited as troublesome were lyrics to a song by a rap group and Raub’s views, shared increasingly by a number of Americans, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.

After a brief conversation and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, Raub was then handcuffed and transported to police headquarters, then to a medical center, where he was held against his will due to alleged concerns that his Facebook posts were “terrorist in nature.”

Outraged onlookers filmed the arrest and posted the footage to YouTube, where it quickly went viral. Meanwhile, in a kangaroo court hearing that turned a deaf ear to Raub’s explanations about the fact that his Facebook posts were being read out of context, Raub was sentenced to up to 30 days’ further confinement in a psychiatric ward.

Thankfully, The Rutherford Institute came to Raub’s assistance, which combined with heightened media attention, brought about his release and may have helped prevent Raub from being successfully “disappeared” by the government.

Even so, within days of Raub being seized and forcibly held in a VA psych ward, news reports started surfacing of other veterans having similar experiences.

“Oppositional defiance disorder” (ODD) is another diagnosis being used against veterans who challenge the status quo. As journalist Anthony Martin explains, an ODD diagnosis

“denotes that the person exhibits ‘symptoms’ such as the questioning of authority, the refusal to follow directions, stubbornness, the unwillingness to go along with the crowd, and the practice of disobeying or ignoring orders. Persons may also receive such a label if they are considered free thinkers, nonconformists, or individuals who are suspicious of large, centralized government… At one time the accepted protocol among mental health professionals was to reserve the diagnosis of oppositional defiance disorder for children or adolescents who exhibited uncontrollable defiance toward their parents and teachers.”

Frankly, based on how well my personality and my military service in the U.S. Armed Forces fit with this description of “oppositional defiance disorder,” I’m sure there’s a file somewhere with my name on it.

That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) these veterans is diabolical. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these veterans are being declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights.

If it were just being classified as “anti-government,” that would be one thing.

Unfortunately, anyone with a military background and training is also now being viewed as a heightened security threat by police who are trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

Feeding this perception of veterans as ticking time bombs in need of intervention, the Justice Department launched a pilot program in 2012 aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.

The result?

Police encounters with military veterans often escalate very quickly into an explosive and deadly situation, especially when SWAT teams are involved.

For example, Jose Guerena, a Marine who served in two tours in Iraq, was killed after an Arizona SWAT team kicked open the door of his home during a mistaken drug raid and opened fire. Thinking his home was being invaded by criminals, Guerena told his wife and child to hide in a closet, grabbed a gun and waited in the hallway to confront the intruders. He never fired his weapon. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. The SWAT officers, however, not as restrained, fired 70 rounds of ammunition at Guerena—23 of those bullets made contact. Apart from his military background, Guerena had had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

John Edward Chesney, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, was killed by a SWAT team allegedly responding to a call that the Army veteran was standing in his San Diego apartment window waving what looked like a semi-automatic rifle. SWAT officers locked down Chesney’s street, took up positions around his home, and fired 12 rounds into Chesney’s apartment window. It turned out that the gun Chesney reportedly pointed at police from three stories up was a “realistic-looking mock assault rifle.”

Ramon Hooks’ encounter with a Houston SWAT team did not end as tragically, but it very easily could have. Hooks, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, was using an air rifle gun for target practice outside when a Homeland Security Agent, allegedly house shopping in the area, reported him as an active shooter. It wasn’t long before the quiet neighborhood was transformed into a war zone, with dozens of cop cars, an armored vehicle and heavily armed police. Hooks was arrested, his air rifle pellets and toy gun confiscated, and charges filed against him for “criminal mischief.”

Given the government’s increasing view of veterans as potential domestic terrorists, it makes one think twice about government programs encouraging veterans to include a veterans designation on their drivers’ licenses and ID cards.

Hailed by politicians as a way to “make it easier for military veterans to access discounts from retailers, restaurants, hotels and vendors across the state,” it will also make it that much easier for the government to identify and target veterans who dare to challenge the status quo.

Remember: no one is spared in a police state.

Eventually, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we all suffer the same fate.

It stands to reason that if the government can’t be bothered to abide by its constitutional mandate to respect the citizenry’s rights—whether it’s the right to be free from government surveillance and censorship, the right to due process and fair hearings, the right to be free from roadside strip searches and militarized police, or the right to peacefully assemble and protest and exercise our right to free speech—then why should anyone expect the government to treat our nation’s veterans with respect and dignity?

So if you really want to do something to show your respect and appreciation for the nation’s veterans, here’s a suggestion: skip the parades and the retail sales and the flag-waving and instead go exercise your rights—the freedoms that those veterans risked their lives to protect—by pushing back against the government’s tyranny.

Freedom is not free.

It’s time the rest of the nation started to pay the price for the freedoms we too often take for granted.

Categories: News for progressives

Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:56

One cannot serve both the one percent and the 99 percent as their interests are at odds with each other. Although many join for righteous reasons, actions speak louder than intentions. Actions of the U.S. military has always been death, destruction, anguish of the working class, and entitlements for the elites. When the ruling class benefits it’s always at the expense of the poor.

I’m a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Not only that, I’m a veteran of both surges. Eight years after separating from the military I see that I did not provide a service for my country. Clearly the wars have sucked our hard-working dollars and placed them on a silver platter for the economic ruling class–war contractors (oops I mean ‘defense’ contractors), politicians, and corporations that literally profit from the death of innocent people, including little children.

Although I served in the U.S. Army as a Paratrooper working as a mechanic, the world sees me as nothing but an imperialist watchdog. The people impacted by the wars in which I participated don’t care about the difference between an infantry soldier and an administrative paper-pusher. It’s all the same to them: soldiers occupying their homelands and pointing weapons at innocent people, like women, children, and the elderly.

When I visited Palestine last year for the first time, a local Palestinian activist greeted our delegation with open arms. I traveled with the organization Veterans For Peace. In many languages, the word ‘veteran’ is not translatable. Most languages refer to veterans as ‘retired soldiers’ or a similar translation. After a while, I explained that some of us ‘veterans’ had fought in the Iraq War. Our host’s face lit up with shock and anxiety. He began to tell his friends around us and began ranting while pointing his finger at me. I only remember one thing he said: “I will never forgive you for what you have done!” I just sat there in tears. He was absolutely right.

I realized in that moment that there is no forgiveness for destroying an entire country–generations of Iraqis whose lives have been shattered. Was I to explain to him about my intention of providing a service to my country? Was I to justify the wars that are rooted in his oppression? Was I to justify the actions of the troops that deny his humanity and right to exist? We all know that answer.

The Arab world isn’t the only group impacted by U.S. imperialism. Even veterans suffer. Veteran suicides are currently an epidemic. If veterans provided a real service to their fellow countrymen and women, why would they end their own lives? Providing a service to people we love is a fulfilling duty, one I would say all human beings inherently want to do. We are social creatures. Without each other, we cease to be human. What would be a real service is helping veterans who are considering suicide, not promoting another war based on lies, racism, and the drive for corporate profits.

We often hear troops saying that they love providing a service to their country and veterans speaking about their service with pride. But how did they provide a service? After 17 years of endless war in the Middle East, we are mired in more conflicts while the majority of the population suffers from economic distress. The war contractors and corporations are richer than ever. Our local water sources are poisoned, and the United States consists of the most obese population in the world. The U.S. security apparatus is stronger than ever before and the strongest in the world. We have TSA patting us down at airports, police officers shooting innocent people, corporations working with government agencies to conduct illegal surveillance on their own people, politicians spouting off lies, and the wars just keep on going. How has the serviceof veterans helped this country?

The only service which veterans have provided has been for the ruling class, the top ten percent of this country. The rest of us are worried about rent, our children’s future, and the threat of annihilation caused by climate change (an actual threat). We, as a nation, need to come to terms with this. The troops are not providing a service but rather are watch dogs for the imperialist ruling class who continue to benefit from death and destruction around the globe. Seven countries are currently being bombed, eight hundred military bases exist in eighty countries, counter-terrorist operations continue in 76 countries, and the blowback of these actions will be worse than al-Qaeda and ISIS combined. This is not a service to anyone.

I once wore the uniform with pride. I came from a family full of people who wore the same uniform. I dutifully deployed overseas and put my life in danger to fight for a cause that I thought was real. In the end, I realized it was all a lie. I was used, then discarded like a rag not worth washing. Twenty veterans commit suicide every day. I know I am not alone. Calling our fighting in the military a service is a disservice. It’s a disservice to the Iraqis, the Afghans, our own people, and the entire world which suffers from US militarism one way or another.

Did I provide a service to the people of Iraq? I say no after learning the US and coalition forces killed half a million innocent people and the creation of ISIS was simply blowback from US atrocities. Did I provide a service to the people of Afghanistan? I say no after learning the surge completely failed and actually caused terrorism to grow. Did I provide a service to Americans? I say no after learning that our economy still hasn’t recovered to pre-2008 economic levels and that economic inequality is at its highest ever in this country’s entire existence.

Since becoming an anti-war activist and organizer, I learned how the wars in which I participated actually did more harm than good. The wars wasted tax dollars, distracted us from addressing climate change, tortured and killed innocent civilians, and none of this is helping my fellow veterans with the silent epidemic of suicide. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other nations the Pentagon is currently destroying continue their lives in a wretched existence, partly caused by my own ignorance, which led me to fight for the interest of the elite in battles they themselves would never fight. The working class of one country is fighting and killing the working class of another while the elite sit back in their leather seats with money spilling out of their pant pockets.

The best thing I have done is admit to myself that I had no idea what I participated in. It led me to ask questions and seek answers which would have never come from my chain of command. My self-confession drove me to learn more and inevitably changed the course of my life. I am now more cautious of my actions, and indeed the words I use, for I know that my actions and language have impact on the world. In doing so, I’ve flipped my world upside down. I once was an ignorant soldier who obeyed commands without thought but today I question all illegitimate authority I encounter. I understand the decisions I make today will have lifelong consequences for myself and others around me. Never again will I provide a service to the ruling elite. Never again will I fight for the rich. Never again will I sacrifice my life for a cause I do not understand. This all started with denouncement of one word, service.

Will Griffin is the director of The Peace Report with over 150,000 followers on social media. He was deployed to Iraq when President Bush announced the surge in 2007 and in Afghanistan when President Obama announced the surge in 2009. He is now a full-time anti-war activist, organizer, and speaker.

Categories: News for progressives

Harold Pinter’s America: a Giant Criminal Conspiracy…

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:53

If you’ve never read or seen Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, it’s amazing—a 46-minute piece of thunderous power—but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. Pinter’s plays, when well-acted, braid together moments of existential terror and electric comedy, but his Nobel speech is not a bundle of laughs.  It begins with an intriguing but much too long rumination on his creative process, but just when you think he’s going to call it a wrap, he suddenly pivots from the inward to the outward and begins a furious condemnation of the United States government that kicks so hard and hurts so deeply that it makes you ashamed not to be an outright leftist revolutionary.  He forces us to look at what the great William Burroughs called the “naked lunch”—calmly but viciously indicting us for our crimes in South America and all around the world.  And though he delivered the speech in 2005, it could run as an op-ed piece today, with only a few minor details changed.

Watching the speech is exponentially scarier than reading it.  Pinter couldn’t travel to Stockholm to accept the prize in person because he was hospitalized with some God-awful kind of cancer, so he sent a video which shows him sitting in a chair with a blanket on his knees, obviously ill, but methodically building his indictment as he stares at the camera, as if daring you to look away. And you want to look away.  You don’t want to be a silent partner in all the murders we commit, all the rapes we encourage, all the torture we teach and practice, all the money we steal, all the air and water and creatures we poison, all the stupidity manufactured by our media, all the—well, you get the picture. To wit: “the United States has supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths,” Pinter asks: “Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy?” Then he answers his own question: “The answer is yes, they did take place, and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.”

Pinter, ever the changeling, suddenly becomes a character in one of his plays, slipping into the speech-rhythms that make his work so seductive as he describes America’s vision of history: “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Take a bow, Barack Obama.

“I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self-love. It’s a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.

Pinter, the genius, dreamed President Donald Trump into existence thirteen years ago!  Donald fucking Trump, not only a criminal but a sloppy and incompetent criminal, a “total loser” in any meaningful sense—since the real game is compassion, generosity of spirit, and creativity, and people like Donald Trump don’t even know the game has started.

Perhaps we all joined together with Pinter and co-wrote Trump into the White House. Perhaps we needed to see the naked lunch up close, writhing on the tines of our fork.

And here’s what’s on the menu: two political parties engaged in idiotic bickering on TV, a bloated moron president who walks around with toilet paper stuck to his shoe–an extremely unhealthy guy who shows clear signs of dementia and who wasn’t that bright to begin with, a waddling nitwit who not only fails to cover up his petty crimes but is so dumb that he scatters clues wherever he goes.

But he’s a “winner!”

But, of course, he’s also an easy target.  Following Pinter’s logic, why doesn’t MSNBC, for example, provide even the merest wisp of historical context when covering all their Breaking News?  Let’s take a quick look at the big stories of the past few weeks and look for America’s role in them.

Story: the “caravan” of asylum seekers from Honduras, reported so breathlessly right up to election night and then dropped completely the next day.  Needless to say, these fellow human beings are fleeing a fascist dystopia that we created through decades of imposing hideous dictatorships, funded by Clintons and Bushes alike, and supported by top-notch death squads.  We have turned the Honduran world into such a hell that all they can do is grab their babies and walk into the distance, without food or water, refugees from the misery we created.

None of this, of course, is ever mentioned on MSNBC.  (Maybe it’s just coincidence, but Hillary Clinton is actually proud of the role we played down there.)

Story: wildfires all over my adopted state of California.  Exciting TV footage—high drama!—but it’s as if all these fires are burning in a vacuum, in a world of deafening silence, where America’s creation of a never-ending drought has brought another kind of hell into being.

Story: one more traumatized veteran enacts the ultimate American male-bonding ritual of murdering his brothers and sisters, a young man who was troubled from childhood and should never have been sent to fight in a never-ending war in Afghanistan that never should have started and will seemingly never end.  But no mention of what he saw and did in that endless war, what nightmarish images burned themselves into the fragile tissue of his brain.  Again: a scene ripped out of context, just the big action sequence with the Glock and the smoke bombs and the blood and the dead, but none of the backstory that might stimulate our thinking or give us any insight into war-trauma and its effect on troubled soldiers, who continue to kill themselves in horrifying numbers.

On and on. But, as Pinter points out so eloquently, America is never to blame.  Not for the hideous torture and murder of Khashoggi; not for the creation of violent gangs throughout South America, not for any of it—“America is great because America is good,” as Hillary Clinton so inanely claimed.

As if replying to Hillary, here’s Pinter: “It’s a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it’s very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.”

So: what to do?

Like you, I grapple with this riddle every day.  Yesterday the local LA news showed a man wearing a surgical mask to minimize his smoke inhalation, using a garden hose in a feeble and pathetic attempt to water down the embers of his house, which was completely burned down.  When the camera pulled back, you could see that his car and his SUV had also been burned into twisted gray sculptures, barely recognizable as vehicles any more. It looked like Iraq after our magical Shock and Awe attack. The TV reporter didn’t even try to hide her bewilderment: the area was under an evacuation order, little snake-like flames were flicking up out of nowhere as embers drifted on the Santa Anna wind, the man’s surgical mask was useless against the smoke, and the house was completely gone.  But still he stood there at the edge of the wreckage, aiming his slender green garden house against the leaping embers, a dribble of water against the all-powerful fire.  I became somewhat obsessed by this guy.  He was obviously, in that moment, completely insane, not to put too fine a point on it.  The fight was over.  Fire had won; human beings had lost.  And yet there was a poignant kind of courage in the man that I couldn’t help but admire. If all you have to fight with is a garden hose, then you fight with a garden hose.  Maybe you can salvage one single keepsake—one photograph of your grandfather; one set of earrings you bought for your wife twenty years ago…

It’s better than nothing. Anything is better than nothing.

So even as I watch the fires burning across America–the visible fires and the hidden fires that Pinter described with such painful clarity—I hold my garden hose aloft.  Last week I talked with a Lyft driver from El Salvador, a 60=year-old man who told me how the American-supported death squads came to his village and murdered every person and animal without mercy or passion, as if simply doing a job; he survived by hiding, but the rest of his family was killed.  And yet it meant something to him—something important—that one of his passengers actually knew about his story, and cared about his story.  In the emotion of the moment I apologized to him, as an American citizen, for my inability to stop my government from murdering his family.

I guess that apology was my garden hose.  A feeble, even laughable stream of water against all those flying embers. Tomorrow my garden hose might be a conversation with my son about some other aspect of our history and culture that he needs to question for himself.  Or to stop and talk to a homeless veteran. Or to write a piece for CounterPunch.  Harold Pinter, wracked by cancer, insisted on bearing witness to the truth about America. I can’t approach his eloquence, but as a citizen of America I can do no less.

Categories: News for progressives

Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:51

Since Donald Trump’s selection as president two years ago, a growing movement of citizens has been fighting back at what it sees as a dangerous march toward fascism US style. And, despite the election of some progressive candidates in the midterm elections, it would be a mistake to count on them alone to interrupt the erosion of an already tattered democracy in a largely corporate controlled society.

Still, the diverse community of activists, old and young—a veritable rainbow coalition—is already a force, both as potential allies to the newly elected progressives and as a check on them to follow through on their campaign promises.

Like many born after World War II and before the moon landing in 1969, my activism began in the 1960s, volunteering for Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign and as an anti-Vietnam war protestor. Ever since, I have been a part of a range of campaigns and causes, in recent years focusing on challenging men’s violence against women and working to transform masculinity. Today’s activists, from Black Lives Matter to 350.org, for example, count at their core women—many active well before the Women’s March—who have long been leading the way in a feminist wave revitalizing activism today.

In campaigning in the midterms, activists saw a simultaneous truth: in addition to the energy and enthusiasm many felt in working to help the Democrats take back the House of Representatives, they also recognized that electoral politics alone cannot fix a broken system. Those outraged by the white supremacist misogynist temporarily residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue felt that working to flip the house was a struggle worth engaging in.

For my part, I spent the final week of Texas senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke’s bid to unseat Ted Cruz, “block walking” the streets in a mix of neighborhoods across Dallas. Thousands were doing the same across the state, including those I walked with, from one of my daughters to a history professor from Kentucky, to a Mexican American X-ray technician. Our shared experience created a powerful bond which has only strengthened my conviction that activists double down to advance grassroots movements.

I talked—and listened—to voters, many of them exercising their franchise for the first time in years. I heard how marginalized they feel and how—for a moment, anyway—Beto’s candidacy interrupted their despair. Was it an illusion that the charismatic progressive 46-old Congress member from El Paso could transform conservative Christian Texas? Could he lift up the spirits of the disenfranchised, including Mexican-Americans and non-citizen Mexican and Central American residents, fearful of an administration relentlessly threatening them? He certainly tried. His message was inclusive; he recognized the diversity in the state’s 30 million citizens, and he spoke to voters’ better angels—standing up for families, for teachers, for communities of color, for gays, lesbians and transgender Texans. Beto became the embodiment of hope for progressives from coast to coast. If hope is a muscle, Beto showed Texas what it looked like when it was exercised.

Yes, Ted Cruz is still the state’s junior senator. But as a Texas native told me in a Dallas coffee shop the day after the election, that a Democrat came as close as Beto came to unseating Cruz is proof the state is changing. (And the results of many races statewide backed up his contention.)

On my last day of canvassing, I knocked on the door of a 75-year-old African American man with a trimmed white beard. He closely resembled the late actor and activist Ossie Davis. He appreciated my being there but told me he thought it was time for the younger generation to step up. “We’ve done our walking,” he said, noting my white hair and beard. “It’s their time now.” I nodded, but added, “It’s still our time, too. We can’t stop now.” As I headed down his front walk, he called to me. I turned to him standing in his doorway. “I’m not gonna say good luck,” he said. We’re gonna need more than luck.”

Categories: News for progressives

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