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Updated: 1 hour 31 min ago

Brett Kavanaugh is the Swamp

Wed, 2018-10-03 15:45

On September 28, Brett Kavanaugh squeaked through the US Senate Judiciary Committee’s vetting process on an 11-10 vote to recommend his confirmation as an associate justice of the US Supreme Court. The committee’s deciding voter, US Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), conditioned his final confirmation vote on the findings of a one-week FBI investigation into allegations that Kavanaugh committed one or more acts of sexual battery in his high school and college years.

I don’t want to minimize the relevance of those allegations. Obviously no one wants a rapist sitting in one of the country’s nine most powerful judicial seats. Nor do I believe that the allegations, if false, should weigh against a non-rapist’s aspiration to one of those seats.

But, as the TV pitch-men like to say, “wait — there’s more!” More to Brett Kavanaugh. More to his life. More to his career. More to his qualifications. More to his demeanor. Setting the sexual battery accusations completely aside, the other stuff makes him an unattractive candidate for the job.

In the hearings, Kavanaugh tried to pass himself off as a regular guy who worked his way up the ladder on merit, not connections: “I got into Yale Law School,” he pointed out. “That’s the number one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.”

Nope, no connections. It’s just coincidence that he’s a Yale “legacy” (his grandfather graduated Yale in 1928), that he attended high school at the exclusive Georgetown Prep (his father graduated Georgetown University), and that his father headed a large DC lobbying group representing more than 600 companies (the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association, now known as the Personal Care Products Council). Surely Brett Kavanaugh would have risen to the top of his field even if he’d been born in a public housing project and attended public schools, right?

President Donald Trump was elected at least in part on a promise to “drain the swamp.” As a populist pledge, that would amount to smashing DC’s system of rule by entrenched, “connected” bureaucrats like Brett Kavanaugh.

With the exception of a couple of years as partner in a large law firm (doing political work even there), Kavanaugh’s spent his entire career in government and politics. Law clerk. Working on Kenneth Starr’s investigations of Bill Clinton. Bush campaign lawyer during the 2000 Florida fiasco. Associate White House counsel. Assistant to the President. White House Staff Secretary. Federal appeals court judge.

Kavanaugh is “in the club” and has been from birth. His arrogant and even angry demeanor in the Senate hearings seems less about the sexual battery allegations than about the gall and temerity of anyone to question his entitlement to a Supreme Court throne.

Brett Kavanaugh is the swamp. If Trump and the Republicans were serious about shaking up the federal government and breaking the grip of politically connected careerists on power, he’d never have made the presidential “short list” for SCOTUS, let alone have been nominated.

But they aren’t — and never were — serious.

Categories: News for progressives

The Conservative Fear of Norming

Wed, 2018-10-03 15:34

“Throughout history, government has proven to be the chief instrument for thwarting man’s liberty.  Government represents power in the hands of some men to control the and regulate the lives of other men.”

– Barry Goldwater, Conscience of a Conservative

Conservatives exhibit a strange obsession with a “timeless” Constitution.  1787 is that only context that matters.  Original intent of the framers is the only interpretation.  To them, the words of the Constitution came from God.

In particular, they praise the founding fathers’ establishment of a limited government with a specific set of individual rights.  This is why they fear “norms,” or “norming.”  The conservative outrage towards the accusations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh’s stem from this fear.  Not only do these accusations threaten the Right’s sanctity of the confirmation process, they threaten a class of men with the power to evade the consequences.  This elite political class is frightened by the prospect that the consequences for sexual assault and harassment with prevent them from public office.  Their right to an unrestrained private life, which includes sexually assaulting women and owning dozens of firearms, is a crucial part of the conservative maintenance of hierarchy.

John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Advisor, exemplifies this class of men that believes in the fairy tale of meritocracy. Like Kavanaugh, Bolton attended private schools in Maryland and Yale School of Law.  In his autobiography, Surrender is Not an Option, Bolton writes:

This was the way leftist groups such as Greenpeace and Human Rights Watch had successfully worked to isolate the United States on the Kyoto Protocol, the Rome Statute, and the Ottawa Landmines Convention, and they used it with increasing frequency on domestic policy issues like “right of the child,” the death penalty, and now gun control.  This approach, often called “norming,” meaning, in a neutral sense, creating international norms of behavior, could be helpful, especially if it meant raising standards in intolerable regimes.  What it increasingly came to mean, however, was whipping the United States into line with leftist views of the way the world should look.

Bolton admits that the overarching vision of conservative politics bridges foreign policy and domestic policy.  Maintaining dominance over foreign countries abroad and over women at home is one in the same.

The preservation of hierarchy on every front is the driving force of the right.  Leftists are right to use Kavanaugh’s confirmation process as a way to normalize accountability for sexual assault.  These are heinous acts, often connected to the exercise a certain class power, should prevent anyone from serving in office.  While his positions on abortion, birth control, unions, and the expansion of executive powers are equally horrifying, fighting for this norm is a chance to strike a blow against the “meritocratic” class that preys on women with impunity.

John Forte is a high school social studies teacher, a union activist, and a member of DSA in New Jersey.  He can be reached at joforte9@gmail.com.

Categories: News for progressives

Historic Precedent or Footnote? Laura Wells Debates Barbara Lee

Wed, 2018-10-03 15:17

On October 5, for the first time, a Democratic Party congressional candidate will debate a Green Party candidate one-on-one. California’s Thirteenth District incumbent, Barbara Lee, who is widely perceived as the most progressive member of the House, has agreed to debate Green Party candidate Laura Wells in a League of Women Voters (LVW) forum at Oakland City Hall on Friday evening, right after the Oakland mayoral forum.

Attendance in City Hall chambers is already oversubscribed, but the event will be livestreamed in City Hall Hearing Room 1 and on KTOP, Oakland’s government cable TV station. The Oakland LWV will then make it available on demand on their website and YouTube channel.

Wells is one of three Green California congressional candidates going head-to-head against incumbent Democrats, with neither Republicans nor anyone else in sight. Their names will appear alongside the Democrats’ on the November ballot, thanks to the state’s top-two primary, which I explained in When Democrats Aren’t the Least Worst. Kenneth Mejia is challenging incumbent Democrat Jimmy Gomez in Los Angeles’s District 34, and Rodolfo Cortes Barragon is challenging incumbent Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard in Los Angeles’s District 40.

Gomez and Roybal-Allard both disdain their Green challengers. According to Mejia, “Here in my district election, we can’t even get Jimmy Gomez to respond at all to our request that he join in a candidate forum or debate.” Barragon says, “To date my incumbent opponent has refused to even acknowledge that our challenge to her seat exists, let alone to join us in a forum. To my knowledge, my opponent has never debated anyone while running for her seat, in all of the decades that she has held it.” Since Trump’s election, Roybal-Allard has voted for the $700 billion for Pentagon funding, for reauthorizing the Department of Homeland Security, and for the Blue Lives Matter bill that made police a special, federally protected class.

Ignoring the existence of Green candidates in federal elections has been the Democratic Party’s modus operandi ever since the US Green Party was founded in the mid-1990s. San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, failed to acknowledge Green challenger Krissy Keefer in 2004, and in 2008 she told Charlie Rose that she couldn’t make time to debate Cindy Sheehan because “I have a day job.” Cindy ran as an independent and won over 16% of the vote with a platform very much in line with Green Party values: ending US wars, single-payer health care, FCC reform, overturning all free trade agreements, repealing the Patriot Act, renewable energy, nationalizing oil and electricity, ending the “War on Drugs,” legalizing cannabis, ending torture, closing Guantanamo Bay detention camp, cleaning up Superfund sites at home and abroad, ending deregulation, ending the privatization of education, and legalizing same-sex marriage. Why would Nancy want to talk about any of that besides same-sex marriage?

Barbara Lee’s record is of course far more defensible and is often glorified by progressives. “Barbara Lee speaks for me” became a popular slogan both in and outside California’s District 13 after she voted against the Patriot Act and the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the “War on Terror,” right after 9/11. We can count on her to demand a new AUMF every time the US starts a new war, and she votes against military budgets year after year, as her constituents demand.

Her voice, like that of Laura Wells, is often heard on Pacifica Radio’s KPFA-Berkeley. After she became the hero of the post-9/11 antiwar movement, KPFA listeners often heard her recorded shout out: “This is Congresswoman Barbara Lee. When I’m not throwin’ down in the halls of Congress, I’m kickin’ it with Davey D on Hard Knock Radio KPFA.”

And now Barbara Lee has done what no other Democratic congressional candidate has ever done—agreed to a one-on-one debate with a Green. “This is a much more democratic process than eight years ago when I was running for Governor of California,” said Laura Wells. “I was arrested and put in handcuffs for just trying to be in the audience of a debate in which I rightly should have been one of the candidates on the stage. So this is an important change.”

The debate will be only a half an hour long, but even that seems better than handcuffs. Question is, will it be a historic precedent or a historic footnote?

How do Barbara and Laura differ?

The Oakland League of Women Voters will choose from questions submitted live at Friday’s forum. These are the four questions I’d most like to hear asked:

1) Shouldn’t our D13 rep have voted against the 2009 “too big to fail” bank bailout (unlike Barbara Lee)? How will either candidate respond to the inevitable crash caused by the next round of reckless, casino-style financialization and speculation?

2) Shouldn’t our D13 rep demand that the US comply with international law, which criminalizes military intervention unless one sovereign nation has invaded another, and then only as approved and organized by the UN Security Council, (unlike Barbara Lee)?

3) Shouldn’t our D13 rep stand for Palestinian rights and refuse to vote for billions of dollars in military aid to Israel (unlike Barbara Lee)?

4) Shouldn’t our D13 rep refuse to participate in the Russia baiting, scaremongering, and military escalation that risks World War IIIand maybe even a nuclear exchange, (unlike Barbara Lee)?

Categories: News for progressives

Nostalgia and Sunshine: Bruce Beresford’s “Ladies in Black”

Wed, 2018-10-03 14:37

This effort seems to be a bit of camping out on the part of director Bruce Beresford, whose list of cinematic achievements include Driving Miss Daisy and Breaker Morant.  There are many smiles, a few distributed tears and occasional sighs of regret, but generally speaking, little by way of controversial stings.  Ladies in Black, in other words, is all entertainment punctuated by the enthusiastic retelling of sun-drenched stories that afflict the lives of women working in a Sydney department store.

The film, based upon the 1993 novel Women in Black by Beresford’s University of Sydney contemporary Madeleine St John, takes its audience to the Sydney of 1959, distant from the world and on the cusp of change.  An insular Anglo-Celtic civilisation has become the home to various “reffos” (refugees, as they are locally termed), which becomes the shorthanded reference to all those of “Continental” background.

The scenes are charmingly executed, and beneath the shimmering and the handsome shine are those tensions that lay bare minor prejudices and major faults.  This does not impress some of the critics, with Rebecca Harkins-Cross less charitable than most.  “Beresford,” she writes stingingly in The  Monthly, “is flogging a delusion of the egalitarian land o’plenty, where masculine cruelty is unconsciously writ by bumbling blokes, and xenophobia can be fixed by the discovery that salami is, of course, delicious.”  But the film’s purpose is not to chide or reproach, nor plough the depths of sociological insight.  It shows both the efforts on the part of those who found love and safe living away from conflict and the pains of post-war Europe and the response of careful, cautious accommodation on the part of Australians.

The reverse is only lightly touched upon: Australians yearning for cultural nourishment away from stifling wowserism, the tyranny of the dull and the pro-British apologetics of Prime Minister Robert Menzies.  The latter particularly irritated historian Manning Clark, who described Menzies as “a tragedy writ large” in the service of “alien gods”.

This did not, as Gerard Henderson defensively wrote in 2011, trouble those immigrants who saw the Australia of the 1950s as far from boring.  This, he suggested, was a confection of “the middle-class left-wing intelligentsia” and those irritating stone throwing academics tenured at tax payer’s expense.

Central to the cast is Angourie Rice’s Lesley (who prefers to go by the name of the unambiguously feminine Lisa), a voracious reader who takes time during the school holidays to be an temp at the fashion store Goode’s.  Her encounter with Julia Ormond’s Magda leads to tender enlightenment.  Being Slovenian, Magda wears her knowledge of fashion heavily on the subject of high end gowns, ultimately hoping to establish her own shop.

There are a few barbs directed at relations between the sexes.  The Hungarian Rudi (Ryan Corr) is seeking an Australian flame to build his life with (she must be “strong and healthy”) and is happy to do his bit as a European Henry Higgins, educating any ignorant partner he might meet.  Australian men are seen as gormless and bound to dash down to the pub after work for a brew while European men – the continental ones, that is – cook and have more than a passing acquaintance with music. Magda, for her part, is not impressed by Australian women, whom she regards as essentially untutored, the good ones having done the sensible thing in fleeing to London or Paris.

The cultural depictions are also delightfully striking.  How an Australian Christmas is celebrated varies among the groups: such sweets as the lamington feature for the Anglo-Australians who spend time in the scorching outdoors; the Hungarian feast, held indoors, is replete with dishes of the old country paired with matching wines.

There are moments of incongruity wrapped inside a certain, sympathetic nostalgia.  Lisa’s father (Shane Jacobsen), who labours in the printing presses of the Sydney Morning Herald, is congratulated by a crowd of fellow male workers about having a gifted daughter.  (Her grades, being exemplary, do not quite sink into his conservative head.)  One fellow worker professes to having two of his girls going to the University of Sydney and loving it.  Lisa’s father, for his part, remains conventional, seeing tertiary education as fairly needless to a member of the fairer sex.

The general sentiment on refugees is a salutary reminder in the film that echoes Australia’s dramatically violent approach to certain new arrivals since the late 1990s.  The policy of the Australian government during the 1950s, still governed by White Australia strictures, was to permit refugees from Europe, notably from southern and central Europe, from entering en masse. These, in time, formed a resilient backbone of industrial development. The modern approach stresses the penal over the constructive, the discriminatory over the progressive. While the film stresses the merits of those “reffos”, an alert audience will note the jarring contrast.

Categories: News for progressives

Ken Kesey on LSD

Wed, 2018-10-03 00:36

Categories: News for progressives

Everyone Washes Their Hands as Gaza’s Economy Goes into Freefall

Tue, 2018-10-02 16:10

Photo Source Social Justice – Bruce Emmerling | CC BY 2.0

The moment long feared is fast approaching in Gaza, according to a new report by the World Bank. After a decade-long Israeli blockade and a series of large-scale military assaults, the economy of the tiny coastal enclave is in “freefall”.

At a meeting of international donors in New York on Thursday, coinciding with the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the World Bank painted an alarming picture of Gaza’s crisis. Unemployment now stands at close to 70 per cent and the economy is contracting at an ever faster rate.

While the West Bank’s plight is not yet as severe, it is not far behind, countries attending the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee were told. Gaza’s collapse could bring down the entire Palestinian banking sector.

In response, Europe hurriedly put together a €40 million aid package, but that will chiefly address Gaza’s separate humanitarian crisis – not the economic one – by improving supplies of electricity and potable water.

No one doubts the inevitable fallout from the economic and humanitarian crises gripping Gaza. The four parties to the Quartet charged with overseeing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN – issued a statement warning that it was vital to prevent what they termed “further escalation” in Gaza.

The Israeli military shares these concerns. It has reported growing unrest among the enclave’s two million inhabitants and believes Hamas will be forced into a confrontation to break out of the straightjacket imposed by the blockade.

In recent weeks, mass protests along Gaza’s perimeter fence have been revived and expanded after a summer lull. On Friday, seven Palestinian demonstrators, including two children, were killed by Israeli sniper fire. Hundreds more were wounded.

Nonetheless, the political will to remedy the situation looks as atrophied as ever. No one is prepared to take meaningful responsibility for the time-bomb that is Gaza.

In fact, the main parties that could make a difference appear intent on allowing the deterioration to continue.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored repeated warnings of a threatened explosion in Gaza from his own military.

Instead, Israel is upholding the blockade as tightly as ever, preventing the flow of goods in and out of the enclave. Fishing is limited to three miles off the coast rather than the 20-mile zone agreed in the Oslo accords. Hundreds of companies are reported to have folded over the summer.

Intensifying the enclave’s troubles is the Trump administration’s recent decision to cut aid to the Palestinians, including to the United Nation’s refugee agency, UNRWA. It plays a critical role in Gaza, providing food, education and health services to nearly two-thirds of the population.

The food budget is due to run out in December, and the schools budget by the end of this month. Hundreds of thousands of hungry children with nowhere to spend their days can only fuel the protests – and the deaths.

The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, headquartered in the West Bank, has no incentive to help. Gaza’s slowly unfolding catastrophe is his leverage to make Hamas submit to his rule. That is why the Palestinian Authority has cut transfers to Gaza by $30 million a month.

But even if Abbas wished to help, he largely lacks the means. The US cuts were imposed primarily to punish him for refusing to play ball with US President Donald Trump’s supposed “deal of the century” peace plan.

Israel, the World Bank notes, has added to Abbas’s difficulties by refusing to transfer taxes and customs duties it collects on the PA’s behalf.

And the final implicated party, Egypt, is reticent to loosen its own chokehold on its short border with Gaza. President Abdel Fattah El Sisi opposes giving any succour either to his domestic Islamist opponents or to Hamas.

The impasse is possible only because none of the parties is prepared to make a priority of Gaza’s welfare.

That was starkly illustrated earlier in the summer when Cairo, supported by the UN, opened a back channel between Israel and Hamas in the hope of ending their mounting friction.

Hamas wanted the blockade lifted to reverse Gaza’s economic decline, while Israel wanted an end to the weekly protests and the damaging images of snipers killing unarmed demonstrators.

In addition, Netanyahu has an interest in keeping Hamas in power in Gaza, if barely, as a way to cement the geographic split with the West Bank and an ideological one with Abbas.

The talks, however, collapsed quietly in early September after Abbas objected to the Egyptians. He insisted that the Palestinian Authority be the only address for discussions of Gaza’s future. So, Cairo is yet again channelling its energies into a futile attempt at reconciling Abbas and Hamas.

At the UN General Assembly, Trump promised his peace plan would be unveiled in the next two to three months, and made explicit for the first time his support for a two-state solution, saying it would “work best”.

Netanyahu vaguely concurred, while pointing out: “Everyone defines the term ‘state’ differently.” His definition, he added, required that not one of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank be removed and that any future Palestinian state be under complete Israeli security control.

Abbas is widely reported to have conceded over the summer that a Palestinian state – should it ever come into being – would be demilitarised. In other words, it would not be recognisable as a sovereign state.

Hamas has made notable compromises to its original doctrine of military resistance to secure all of historic Palestine. But it is hard to imagine it agreeing to peace on those terms. This makes a reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas currently inconceivable – and respite for the people of Gaza as far off as ever.

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

Categories: News for progressives

Regime Change 2.0: Is Venezuela Next?

Tue, 2018-10-02 16:06

Photo Source Joka Madruga | CC BY 2.0


On September 8, The New York Times carried a story with a provocative headline: “Trump Administration Discussed Coup Plans With Rebel Venezuelan Officers”. The journalists Ernesto Londoño and Nicholas Casey spoke to 11 current and former United States officials and Venezuelan commanders. These people told the journalists that they had been involved in conversations with the Donald Trump administration about regime change in Venezuela. In August 2017, Trump had bragged that the U.S. had a “military option” for Venezuela. This statement, these men told the reporters, “encouraged rebellious Venezuelan military officers to reach out to Washington”.

In February this year, then U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people.” This was an invitation for a military coup in Venezuela.

The language Tillerson used has a long history inside the U.S. State Department. It is the logic used since 1954, when the U.S. government overthrew the democratically elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz. The theory was known as “military modernisation”, the idea being that in a former colonial country the only modern and efficient institution is the military. The U.S. government used this theory of military modernisation to defend its support of countries littered with military rulers—Ayub Khan in Pakistan (1958), Castelo Branco in Brazil (1964) and René Barrientos in Bolivia (1964).

The ideas that germinated from the conversations between the U.S. officials and the Venezuelans were for a small group of Venezuelan officers to overthrow the government of Nicolas Maduro. The Venezuelans had no clear plot. They wanted encrypted radios and hoped that “the Americans would offer guidance or ideas”.

On August 4 this year, during the 81st anniversary celebrations of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, an attack took place against Maduro. Two drones—with C4 explosives on them—were driven over the parade and were being directed to strike Maduro. The clumsy, but dangerous, attempt failed. The Venezuelan government arrested 40 people, including a retired colonel (Oswaldo Garcia) and a parliamentarian (Julio Borges). On September 8, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza, noted that the coup plotters had met with U.S. officials. That the attack on Maduro failed is cold comfort. That there are plots afoot is what is worrisome.

Everything about Hugo Chávez bothered the U.S. government. That he was a socialist who won an election to govern a country with one of the largest oil reserves irked Washington. It also bothered the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump that the policy of Chávez was to demonstrate in practical terms the importance of regional cooperation rather than surrender to the policies of mostly U.S.-based multinational corporations. Chávez had to go. There were no two ways about it.

Means to undermine Chávez were tried from his accession to the presidency in 1999; not one day went by without plots being hatched and tried out. The most spectacular attempt to unseat Chávez came in 2002, when Venezuelan military officials seized power. Chávez surrendered to them in an act of political courage. But he did not have to wait long in their custody. Mass protests engulfed the country and the military had to back off. Their allies in the U.S. could not have their way.

Not long after this coup attempt, the U.S. State Department set up the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), linked to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) bureaucracy. Four years later, after the agenda of the OTI had been solidified, U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield wrote to Washington about its five-point plan:

1. Strengthening Democratic Institutions.

2. Penetrating Chávez’s Political Base.

3. Dividing Chavismo.

4. Protecting Vital U.S. Business.

5. Isolating Chávez Internationally.

In the decade since Brownfield wrote this note, each of them has been developed by the U.S. government and its Venezuelan allies methodically. To protect U.S. business interests is the key issue here. John Caulfield, the leading U.S. diplomat in Venezuela in 2009, noted that Chávez had used petrodollars to make Venezuela “an active and intractable U.S. competitor in the region”.

This was unforgivable—neither could Venezuela be allowed to lead an independent bloc of oil-producing countries (including to revitalise the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC) nor could it be allowed to create a bloc of Latin American states that opposed U.S. interference (by the creation of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas, or ALBA). The 2009 coup in Honduras against the government of Manuel Zelaya, an ally of Chávez, was a direct shot across the bow. But it was not enough. Chávez and his revolution had to be taken down at home.

Aiding the fractious right wing

The U.S. government and the Venezuelan oligarchy carefully funded institutions inside Venezuela that gave off the appearance of democracy. These are groups that are controlled fully by the oligarchy, but nonetheless are clothed in the style of democratic institutions. The U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy and the International Republican Institute have worked closely to train leaders to run both political parties and civil society organisations. One of the key tasks of the U.S. officials involved in this aspect of “strengthening democratic institutions” was to unify the fractious Venezuelan right wing. Conversations with U.S. State Department officials over the past decade reveal that they have been frustrated by the bickering and petty ambition inside the oligarchy, whose factions are eager to ingratiate themselves to the U.S. rather than to build popular support amongst the Venezuelan people.

Through the Pan-American Development Foundation, the U.S. government has allocated funds to work inside Venezuela to cultivate very specific non-governmental organisations (NGOs). These NGOs concentrate their work on the problems of crime, press freedom, judicial independence, and women’s and human rights. Their work has been to document the rise of crime to the harassment of journalists with pointillist focus—exaggerate each individual incident rather than provide the context for their occurrence.

The point of this work is not to appeal to the West, where there is already a disposition to hate the Bolivarian experiment, but to sow dissension amongst the key classes that continue to support Chávez. Brownfield wrote that the U.S. support of these groups was intended to “shine a flashlight into the dark corners of the revolution, to collect and document information and make it public”. But the point was not to merely distribute information. It was to package it in such a way as to erase the legitimacy of the Venezuelan experiment. Nothing was out of bounds. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the OTI would enter the drains of Venezuela, flashlights ablaze, and report every detail of what they found—and then, if there was not enough dirt down there, would exaggerate and manufacture evidence.

Regime Change 2.0

On September 11, The New York Times published an editorial with a perplexing title, “Stay Out of Venezuela, Mr. Trump”. Did this mean that the U.S. liberal elite no longer had the appetite for regime change? The subtitle of the article quickly disabuses the reader of any such illusions: “President Maduro has to Go, but an American Backed Coup is not the Answer”. Regime change by a military coup is disdained, but other means are to be encouraged. What are these other means? More sanctions on Venezuela, more pain for the Venezuelan people. This pressure is expected to release emotions against the Maduro government and drive the people to take to the streets.

One avenue to go after Maduro is to draw in the United Nations into the U.S. strategy. The Trump administration has asked the U.N. Security Council to isolate Venezuela’s elected leadership by setting in motion money-laundering investigations and by preventing it from accessing international financial networks. It is clear that these investigations are part of an old road map, that is, to bring the U.N. into the conversation about Venezuela, to establish U.N. sanctions against Venezuela, to put more and more pressure on the government and then to call for some kind of U.N.-sanctioned operations to overthrow the government. This is an old series of developments, already experienced by Iraq, then Iran, North Korea and Syria. Venezuela was always in the queue for such treatment.

Long March of the Campesinos (Farmers)

Conditions inside Venezuela are not easy, with the economy in various stages of crisis. Venezuela has not been able to exit the trap of rent-dependent capitalism—the rents being what it was able to collect for the export of oil. What the Bolivarian revolution has been able to do is to increase social welfare for the public and to generate new kinds of institutions to deliver resources to the hardest hit among the people. But it has not been able to shift the organisation of the economy and of society.

The working class and peasantry inside Venezuela have reacted with maturity to the deepening crisis. Over the past year, there have been strikes by electrical workers and nurses, protests by retired people who live in declining government pensions, and a march of the peasants. Each of these protests against the government has been on the premise that it opposes regime change and it defends the Bolivarian revolution, but it has demands to make on the government and on society that cannot be muffled.

On July 12 this year, a hundred farmers set off from the city of Guanare (Portuguesa State) for Venezuela’s capital, Caracas. They marched for over a month across the country and then met Maduro in an emotional meeting (broadcast live on television). “During the past three years, the crisis has become critical because of the lack of food,” said Usmary Enrique of the Platform of the Struggling Farmers (Plataforma de Luchas Campesinas). “It is ridiculous that we import food when we could produce it,” he said.

Maduro promised to take their complaints seriously. A month later, the farmers went on hunger strike until Maduro focussed attention on their revised agrarian policy. Maduro passed an order against land evictions and warned against the use of violence against farmers. Tensions between small farmers and the Venezuelan government are genuine and serious. But there is no expectation that farmers would join a platform set up by the U.S. government for regime change. They do not see the U.S. government or the Venezuelan oligarchy as allies.

Categories: News for progressives

The Constitution and Homelessness

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:59

Photo Source Devin Smith | CC BY 2.0


Introduction

When the police violate the US Constitution, are they criminal? In what court can their conduct be judged illegal? For recourse against crimes against the people for violation of the Constitution, to whom can we turn?

We finally found out that it was illegal all along for the Berkeley PD to raid and disperse homeless encampments. It is a violation of the Constitution. So said the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 4, 2018. But it has been going on for years. All those former raids were illegal, and those former arrests and confiscations of property were also illegal. Now, the Court has made it official. Can this be turned into anything but a civil suit. Can past victimization be turned into anything but money?

We suspect that Berkeley city government doesn’t care. On Sept. 5, 2018, the very next day after the Ninth Circuit Court decision, the Berkeley PD raided another homeless encampment. It was the one in front of old city hall, on a street named after Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who transformed an entire social ethic through civil disobedience. Berkeley City Council had passed an ordinance a couple of years back that said it was illegal to sleep on public property. That ordinance does not supersede the Constitution. The reverse is the case – has always been the case, but is now officially the case. The Ninth Circuit Court said that a city could not prevent homeless people from sleeping on public land if the city could not provide shelter for them. To do so is a violation of the 8thAmendment.

But what does the 8thAmendment have to do with homelessness?

The 8thAmendment

The 8thAmendment says that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.” That’s all it says. It doesn’t say “congress shall …” or “shall not…” It doesn’t point to courts or police departments. It doesn’t speak about “infringements” as do other statements of rights. It addresses government in general and says that in the US these things are outside the purview of government. Period. It is not about “rights.” It is about “justice.”

The case that came before the court was originally called Bell vs. City of Boise – a later Martin vs. City of Boise, which is the case the Court decided. Some long-term homeless people sued the city of Boise back in 2015for violating the 8thAmendment. The federal government (under Obama) wrote an “amicus” brief agreeing with the plaintiffs (the homeless who sued the city).

Here in a nutshell is their argument. The fundamental principle involved in punishing a person for wrong-doing is necessarily to grant the person existence and choice in order to hold them responsible for their choice. To cancel recognition of their existence also cancels recognition of their choises. There can be nothing for which to hold them responsible. Therefore, what pertains to a person’s existence, or to their social status with respect to which they have no choice, cannot be prohibited, because it cannot be punished. If a person lives with or in some “condition” that is unchosen, then that condition belongs to that person’s status rather than to their “conduct.” To hold a person responsible for their conduct, their status has to be first granted as such. A prohibition against that status cannot be legislated. Breathing, for instance, is part of being a live human being, and therefore cannot be prohibited or punished. One has no choice but to breath. Sleeping similarly is an essential part of being alive. Sleeping cannot be prohibited or punished. And if a city cannot provide shelter in which a homeless person can sleep, then that person cannot be prohibited from sleeping on public land. That also holds for sitting and lying down. In short, there are things government is constitutionally barred from outlawing.

In short, if a government wishes to prohibit certain conduct, that conduct must be choose-able by a person first. Since sleeping is not choose-able (a person cannot exist without sleep), sleeping belongs to “status” rather than “conduct,” and thus cannot be prohibited.

Aspects of a person’s life that are conditioned by the economy are also included in their “status.” Poverty, for instance, can not be punished. Those who end up impoverished because the society in which we live prevents itself from curtailing landlords’ ability to push rent beyond what some people can pay, those people cannot be punished for living on the street. Homelessness is a condition established by economic and political structures. People suffer from it. They do not choose it. The city cannot prohibit people from living on the street (public property) unless it can provide suitable space and shelter, viz. a place to live. That includes a place to sleep, to sit, to lie down and rest or eat and engage in social affairs such as holding a job and visiting with friends. If one has no other place to sleep or sit than public land because the economy has rendered one homeless, and the city fails to provide what is lacking, then one’s sleeping and sitting in public space cannot be prohibited or punished.

When the police raided the encampment at old city hall on Sept. 5, at 5 am, they had no shelter to send those people to. There are over 900 homeless people in Berkeley, and only around 130 places in shelters offered, and only at night. During the day, those shelters are closed and thus not available to legitimize a police raid.

Interestingly, the court, in its decision, applied this principle to alcoholics. If a person gets seriously ill without alcohol, then their comportment (conduct) in a public place when inebriated cannot be criminalized. That’s why there are rehab centers.

This would also apply to those who walk around with serious cases of PTSD, and who go through emotional crises in public for arcane reasons. Those reasons could be anything, like having thrown a grenade into a Vietnames hut full of women and children and trying to live with that (which is what pushed Ron Kovic over the edge and made him a resistor), or like having dropped incendiary bombs on a wedding in Afghanistan and having looked back at what one had done, or like being forced to live on the street for years exposed to the elements. The police have ways of torturing PTSD people. They give them commands which the person in crisis simply refuses to recognize, and then throw him to the ground in order to wrap him in a body bag for disobedience. There is a video of the Berkeley PD performing this “procedure” in the streets of this fair city. The cops want tasers so they can tase a disobedient person until he is crawling abjectly on the ground begging for forgiveness. Kayla Moore died under the weight of the police as they tormented her for disobedience when she was going through an emotional crisis in her own home.

To torture a person for going through an emotional crisis, which pertains to their status as living a traumatized life, would be to punish them for what that trauma had done to them. It would thus be a violation of the Constitution under Amendment 8.

When the police raid an encampment without being able to provide shelter for the people in it, they are committing a crime. They call it “legitimate” because there is an ordinance that says sleeping on public proerty is illegal. That ordinance is no longer valid. But the principle it expresses is that property has priority over people. The city says that people complain that the homeless reduce real estate values, that they steal and make life uncomfortable, that panhandling is bad for business. The dehumanization of this “property-priority” doesn’t become clear until one is fired from a job or evicted from an apartment or imprisoned for having smoked a joint or for being the wrong color. It is the illogic of that “property-priority” that is the real reason there are homeless people. “Housing is a Human Right” has no standing next to a landlord’s right to raise the rent. And at present, as long as Costa-Hawkins remains unrepealed, no city has the ability to defend renters against those landlords.

We have to be able to talk about what it means that the police violate the Constitution. They are not committing a crime against property. They are not committing feloneous assault when they torture people with tasers or pepper spray. But they are violating a lot more than the 8thAmendment. They are committing a crime against “law” itself.

Throwing the book at the police

But let us be more specific. When the Berkeley PD broke up the homeless encampment in front of Old City Hall on Sept. 5, 2018, they violated several terms of the Constitution – Amendments 1, 4, 5, and 8.

Amendment 1 guarantees people (not only citizens) the right to petition government for redress of grievances. The two associations of homeless people in Berkeley called “First They Came for the Homeless” and “Consider the Homeless” have set up encampments in central public places in order to say to the government, what are you going to do about the injustice to which our existence testifies? The city’s police raids are the city’s answer. It is to commit a crime against the people by suppressing that statement.

Amendment 4 says that a person (not only a citizen) is inviolable in his/her residence. Yet the police come and throw people out of their tents, and conficate those tents. For a homeless person, their place of “residence” is that tent, or their sleeping bag, or their cardboard pallet or yoga mat, etc. The city shrugs and criminally confiscates their entire place of residence.

Amendment 5 guarantees due process, which means that those who will be deprived of anything, life, liberty, or property, must have a hearing in which the depriving power must prove that the deprivation is just, and legal, and moral, and in which the one to be deprived has equal standing to argue against that. Due process must come first, before deprivation, not afterwards. Afterwards, it is not due process any more but “appeal.” That’s different. When the cops swoop down on a homeless encampment, they do it without there having been any hearings or democratic process. Due process is the essential social equalizer of individuals and institutions. Ignoring due process, more than anything, signifies that the police are the primary anti-democratic force in this society.

And finally, there is Amendment 8, which we have reviewed, and which outlaws the ability of the police to punish people by removing and destroying their ability to sleep and reside and exist in the togetherness provided by the community of their encampment. It is their existence which is threatened by such raids insofar as confiscation of their property leaves them vulnerable to the elements and the possibility of sickness or death. Since they can’t depend on the city for anything but violence, their reliance on each other is all they have for survival.

The priority of property rights

But aren’t property rights also guaranteed by the Constitution? Yes, they are, very ironically so. The “real” law of the land is that property rights have priority over human rights – even when the defenders of property rights have to violate the Constitution, and have to commit crimes against the people.

But where does the Constitution guarantee property rights? In only one place. In Article 1, section 10, clause 1, where it states, “No state … shall pass any … law impairing the obligation of contracts.” That’s it!

This clause, providing for the inviolability of contracts, was expanded and extended under Chief Justice Marshall at the beginning of the 19thcentury into the foundation of all property rights and the sanctities of property.

Consider the contrast! All property rights find their guarantee in that one single phrase. The entire rest of the Constitution is about the rights of people, the relations between people and government, and the standards upon which civic responsibility, justice, security, and participation are based. In actual practice, throughout US history, that one small phrase has dominated all other aspects of social life in the US.

On the name of that phrase, cities find it feasible to commit endless unconstitutional acts in the interest of property. They will violate due process, the sanctity of the home, free speech, and even human status in the interests of property. Yet we have no real or juridical language in which to speak about this travesty.

Endnote: For those who have an interest in the legal arguments referred to here, the DoJ’s amicus brief for Bell vs. Boise is here. And the Circuit Court’s decision can be found here

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Spinoza: a Man for Our Troubled Time

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:58

Photo Source Britannica | CC BY 2.0

In these interesting times, we all need someone to admire. I have found such a one in Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677), the 17th-century rationalist liberal philosopher who advocated freedom of thought and expression, toleration, and simple kindness.

Spinoza lived in what at the time was the most liberal place on earth, the Dutch Republic, his Jewish Portuguese family having moved there after Portugal expelled its Jewish population in 1497. He seems to have been a free thinker at an early age, and it apparently got him into trouble with the Jewish community of Amsterdam. In 1656, at the tender age 23, his synagogue banned him for life from the community for “abominable heresies … and … monstrous deeds.” The excommunication decree — the charem — left no doubt about how the Jews of Amsterdam were to regard the young man:

By decree of the angels and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of the entire holy congregation, and in front of these holy scrolls with the 613 precepts which are written therein; cursing him with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho and with the curse which Elisha cursed the boys and with all the castigations which are written in the Book of the Law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down and cursed be he when he rises up. Cursed be he when he goes out and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. And the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law. But you that cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day.

It ordered “that no one should communicate with him neither in writing nor accord him any favor nor stay with him under the same roof nor within four cubits [six feet] in his vicinity; nor shall he read any treatise composed or written by him.”

Spinoza was not upset with this development; he apparently thought his excommunication merely saved him the trouble of leaving the community on his own initiative. So he changed his name from the Hebrew word for blessed, Baruch,  to the Latin equivalent, Benedictus. However, he lived in a time and place in which being unaffiliated with any community had its disadvantages.

What had he done to deserve this treatment? No one is really sure because he had not yet written a word, and he would not publish a book for several years. But he must have been talking to friends about the philosophy he was formulating. If so, we should have no problem understanding why Spinoza would have outraged the Jewish authorities, who feared anything that might jeopardize the community’s relatively free status in the Protestant republic. His writings, published between those of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, would reject the immortality of the soul and the divine origin of the Bible, while arguing that God was nothing more than nature, or existence, itself without a consciousness or will with which to command, reward, punish, or listen to human beings. His famous phrase was Deus sive Natura, God or/as Nature. For Spinoza, nothing could be beyond nature and logic; thus, no supernatural being or realm existed.

When I (along with others) nominate Spinoza for hero status, I am thinking specifically of his political philosophy, which he expressed in his anonymously published A Theological-Political Treatise (1670), condemned as “a book forged in hell.” The authorship of the book soon became an open secret, and all but his book on Descartes were banned in the Dutch Republic and elsewhere. Spinoza also lived in interesting times, which were no doubt on his mind as he formulated his political philosophy: the Thirty Years’ War ended in 1648 and the English Civil War raged from 1642 to 1651.

As the libertarian philosopher Douglas Den Uyl notes in God, Man, and Well-Being: Spinoza’s Modern Humanism, Spinoza was very much in the tradition of Greek philosophy, but he went the Greek thinkers one better by rejecting the state as a shaper of souls and promoter of virtue. What Spinoza called “blessedness” cannot be achieved through external forces but only through an internal process that individuals undertake. (Den Uyl’s earlier book on Spinoza, a doctoral dissertation, is Power, State, and Freedom: An Interpretation of Spinoza’s Political Philosophy.)

For Spinoza (alas, no anarchist, but see Daniel Garber’s lecture at 44:00), the socially contracted democratic-republican state had one task: to produce security — full stop. Security enables individuals to 1) live in safety, 2) pursue understanding, which is the key to activeness, power in the sense of efficacy, virtue, and excellence, and 3) enjoy the benefits of cooperation with others through the division of labor. But, properly, number two is neither the state’s direct nor indirect goal. Against the claim that Spinoza looked to the state to promote virtue if only indirectly, Den Uyl refers to Spinoza’s unfinished Political Treatise, where he writes, “The best way to organize a state is easily discovered by considering the purpose of civil order, which is nothing other than peace and security of life.” Virtue is not even an indirect goal? No, because, Den Uyl points out, the failure of people to become more virtuous would not indicate a deficiency in the state. Virtue is a private internal matter.

As an aside, I note that for Spinoza, living actively according to reason (understanding), rather than passively according to appetites and (other) “external” forces, enables one to accomplish more than one’s own flourishing directly; it also encourages others to live according to reason, which in turn further promotes one’s own flourishing.

Another Spinoza scholar who finds this political philosophy especially worth studying today is Steven Nadler. In his 2016 Aeon article “Why Spinoza Still Matters” (from which many of the Spinoza quotes below are taken), Nadler writes:

At a time when Americans seem willing to bargain away their freedoms for security, when politicians talk of banning people of a certain faith from our shores, and when religious zealotry exercises greater influence on matters of law and public policy, Spinoza’s philosophy – especially his defence of democracy, liberty, secularity and toleration – has never been more timely. In his distress over the deteriorating political situation in the Dutch Republic, and despite the personal danger he faced, Spinoza did not hesitate to boldly defend the radical Enlightenment values that he, along with many of his compatriots, held dear. In Spinoza we can find inspiration for resistance to oppressive authority and a role model for intellectual opposition to those who, through the encouragement of irrational beliefs and the maintenance of ignorance, try to get citizens to act contrary to their own best interests….

The political ideal that Spinoza promotes in the Theological-Political Treatise is a secular, democratic commonwealth, one that is free from meddling by ecclesiastics. Spinoza is one of history’s most eloquent advocates for freedom and toleration.

In his treatise, Spinoza was quite clear: “The state can pursue no safer course than to regard piety and religion as consisting solely in the exercise of charity and just dealing, and that the right of the sovereign, both in religious and secular spheres, should be restricted to men’s actions, with everyone being allowed to think what he will and to say what he thinks.”

And: “Freedom to philosophise [on all things –SR] may not only be allowed without danger to piety and the stability of the republic, but that it cannot be refused without destroying the peace of the republic and piety itself.”

Further: “A government that attempts to control men’s minds is regarded as tyrannical, and a sovereign is thought to wrong his subjects and infringe their right when he seeks to prescribe for every man what he should accept as true and reject as false, and what are the beliefs that will inspire him with devotion to God. All these are matters belonging to individual right, which no man can surrender even if he should so wish.”

Nadler elaborates: “No matter what laws are enacted against speech and other means of expression, citizens will continue to say what they believe, only now they will do so in secret. Any attempt to suppress freedom of expression will, once again, only weaken the bonds of loyalty that unite subjects to sovereign. In Spinoza’s view, intolerant laws lead ultimately to anger, revenge and sedition.”

For Spinoza, it was not enough to have the freedom to think any thoughts. “The more difficult case,” Nadler writes, “concerns the liberty of citizens to express those beliefs, either in speech or in writing. And here Spinoza goes further than anyone else in the 17th century”:

Utter failure will attend any attempt in a commonwealth to force men to speak only as prescribed by the sovereign despite their different and opposing opinions.… The most tyrannical government will be one where the individual is denied the freedom to express and to communicate to others what he thinks, and a moderate government is one where this freedom is granted to every man.

Alas, Spinoza was not what we would call a modern libertarian, although (as Nadler emphasizes) he was a far better liberal than John Locke, whose Letter Concerning Toleration did not extend the courtesy to the beliefs, not to mention the public activities, of atheists and Catholics.

Spinoza thought one can be free “in any kind of state.” How so? The free person is guided by reason, he wrote, and reason favors peace; therefore, the reasonable person obeys the state’s laws because “peace … cannot be attained unless the general laws of the state be respected. Therefore the more he is free, the more constantly will he respect the laws of his country, and obey the commands of the sovereign power to which he is subject.” Now Spinoza might have been thinking of a commonwealth in which the laws are perfectly appropriate to rational persons — except that he says we can be free in any kind of state. Does it follow that ignoring unjust statutes really risks general civil strife? I think Spinoza would reply, in a Hobbesian way, that “justice is dependent on the laws of the authorities.” However, while civil strife is not conducive to the good life, neither are unjust statutes that prohibit or regulate peaceful conduct.

Spinoza drew a line between the expression of thoughts and actions. As Nadler points out (in this video), Spinoza thought the secular authority had a right to dictate how religion was publicly practiced in order to safeguard the peace. Practitioners of alternative religions should be free to think and say what they please, but their public rites were to be permitted only within prescribed limits. As one can see, Spinoza is in some respects a Hobbesian though he was more liberal because Hobbes, unlike Spinoza, had the sovereign serving as the arbiter of right opinion in religious and other matters — for the sake of civil peace, of course. The one time that Spinoza mentions Hobbes is in a note in his treatise: “Now reason (though Hobbes thinks otherwise) is always on the side of peace, which cannot be attained unless the general laws of the state be respected.”

Spinoza wrote:

The rites of religion and the outward observances of piety should be in accordance with the public peace and well-being, and should therefore be determined by the sovereign power alone. I speak here only of the outward observances of piety and the external rites of religion, not of piety, itself, nor of the inward worship of God, nor the means by which the mind is inwardly led to do homage to God in singleness of heart.

Moreover, Nadler says, “Spinoza does not support the absolute freedom of speech. He explicitly states that the expression of seditious ideas is not to be tolerated by the sovereign. There’s to be no protection for speech that advocates the overthrow of the government, disobedience to its laws, or harm to fellow citizens.”

Citizens should be free to argue for repeal of laws, but that’s about it; they may not rebel or even express ideas that implicitly call for rebellion because it would undermine the social contract and the peace. Nadler acknowledges that, despite Spinoza’s definition of seditious beliefs, the vagueness of that phrase and his notion of implicitly inciting rebellion properly trouble civil libertarians.

Nevertheless, Spinoza ends his treatise on a high note: “The safest way for a state is to lay down the rule that religion is comprised solely in the exercise of charity and justice, and that the rights of rulers in sacred, no less than in secular matters, should merely have to do with actions, but that every man should think what he likes and say what he thinks.” Not bad for 1670.

Spinoza knew he was not entirely politically safe in the world’s freest state. (Friends had been persecuted by the state for their ideas.) Besides not putting his name on the book, which was written in Latin rather than the vernacular, he wrote in his final paragraph:

It remains only to call attention to the fact that I have written nothing which I do not most willingly submit to the examination and approval of my country’s rulers; and that I am willing to retract anything which they shall decide to be repugnant to the laws, or prejudicial to the public good. I know that I am a man, and as a man liable to error, but against error I have taken scrupulous care, and have striven to keep in entire accordance with the laws of my country, with loyalty, and with morality.

Whatever his limits, we have much to learn from and admire about Spinoza, especially these days.

Categories: News for progressives

Whose Moral Stain? Hold Democrats Accountable on Immigration Too

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:58

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Of course, we need to hold Donald Trump and his Party accountable for the deep moralstain of his awful immigration policies.  But it doesn’t follow that we must, therefore, rally around the Democrats and work for a “blue wave” in the next election.  What Barack Obama and other Democrats did to immigrants is so reprehensible that ignoring it or acting like it wasn’t important is not an option.  Democrats must also be held accountable for their morally repugnant actions.

Yes, it really was that bad. My new report, Whose Moral Stain?  Obama’s Immigration Atrocities Led to Trump’sprovides a comprehensive review of Obama’s immigration record and how Democrats set the stage for Trump.  This article shares highlights from the report.

Obama’s Immigration Record

Rampant family separations. Over 152,000 children lost a parent to deportation in 2012 alone.  Each year similar numbers lost parents that way.

At the border, fathers were routinely separated from their children and spouses.  Mothers were generally allowed to keep their small children with them but older children, e.g. 11-year-olds, were often detained separately.  Small children traveling with aunts or other beloved guardians were taken away from them.

In 2011, an estimated 5100 children pulled from their parents by immigration officials were in foster care.  The numbers in other Obama years were likely similar.  It was extremely difficult for parents to comply with the reunification plans Child Protective Services (CPS) devises for children in foster care.  Distance and incarceration stymied participation in required programs and hearings.   Some parents faced the threat of permanent termination of parental rights.

Huge numbers of deportations. 

Obama deported over 3 million people.  That’s more than all presidents before him since 1890 combined.

He claimed to be ridding the country of dangerous criminals, thereby feeding a false racist narrative about immigrants.  In reality, the overwhelming majority of Obama’s “criminal” deportees were guilty of minor crimes like traffic violations, drug possession, and the like.  Immigration “crimes” were particularly dominant.  In other words, in a classic Catch 22, people denied legal options for immigrating were labeled as “criminals” for coming here the only way they could (illegally), and then that label was used to justify their expulsion.

Between 41% and 69% of Obama’s deportees each year had not been convicted of any crime.  Obama set a goal of deporting 400,000 people a year, and immigration agents were pressured to sweep up as many people as they could in order to meet that goal.

Obama expanded the tiny Secure Communities Program established by President Bush in October of 2008 to virtually every local law enforcement jurisdiction in the United States.  As a result, local officials everywhere provided ICE with fingerprints—including those of victims, witnesses and others not charged with offenses themselves—and then held undocumented people until ICE picked them up.

Under Obama, ICE also carried out traumatizing raids.  Armed agents pounded on doors in the wee hours of the morning, searched houses and whisked undocumented family members off to undisclosed locations.

Harsh treatment of refugees, including sending children and adults to their deaths. 

Obama labeled “recent arrivals” a top priority for deportation.  That put tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families who had fled extreme violence and poverty in Central America and Mexico in his crosshairs.

The conditions people fled were directly fueled byU.S. foreign policies implemented by both Democrats and Republicans.  Many survived rapes, other assaults, severe deprivation, and other trauma on their way to the U.S.

Obama used expedited procedures to rapidly expel recent arrivals, denying them lawyers and other basic due process rights.  “We have already added resources to expedite removal, without a hearing before an immigration judge, of adults who come…without children,” bragged Obama’s Homeland Security chief.  “Then there are adults who brought their children with them.  Again, our message to this group is simple:  We will send you back.”  Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that unaccompanied children who made it to the U.S. had to be sent back. “It may be safer [for them to stay in the U.S.] but that’s not the answer”, she said.   “We have to send a clear message,” Clinton explained.   “Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay.”

Obama’s deportations sent people to their deaths.  At least 83 people deported between January 2014 and September 2015 were subsequently reported murdered.  Ten children deported from a New Mexico detention center on the same day as a visit there from the head of ICE, soon showed up dead in El Salvadoran morgues.

Inhumane incarcerations. 

Obama established a system of over 200 detention centers across the U.S., more than half of which are privately owned.  Many facilities are in remote locations far from legal services and detainees’ communities.

Each year hundreds of thousands of people were detained.  As of late 2016, 40,000 people were detained per day.

Substantial numbers of immigrants were incarcerated for very long periods of time.  None of 67 detainees interviewed during the Obama years at an Alabama detention facility had been detained for less than 2 months.  Three had been detained for 2 to 6 months, and five for 6 months to a year.  Twenty-five people had spent 1 to 2 years in detention; fifteen had spent 2 to 3 years; and twelve had spent 3 to 4 years.  Seven people had been detained for 4 years or more.

Numerous investigations have documented widespread abuse and neglect in Obama’s detention facilities. (See, for example,  this, thisthisthis, and this.)    For many, detention began with time in extremely cold cells they called “hieleras” (ice boxes) and/or in cages they called “perreras “(dog kennels).  At longer-term facilities excessive cold and heat were ongoing problems as were physical violence, sexual assault, verbal abuse, unhygienic conditions, lack of access to medical care (which was implicated in many detainee deaths), overcrowding, lack of privacy, lack of access to the outdoors, extended periods of solitary confinement, not being able to see loved ones, having lights shined into one’s room every 15 minutes all night, and being paid little or nothing for labor.

An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report details abuse of unaccompanied children in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody between 2009 and 2014.   “These records document a pattern of intimidation, harassment, physical abuse, refusal of medical services and improper deportation,” the report notes.  The federal government’s failure to protect the children and hold abusive officers accountable  “allowed a culture of impunity to flourish within CBP, subjecting immigrant children to conditions that are too often neglectful at best and sadistic at worst.”  (Emphasis added.)

Those who visited Obama’s family detention centers decried their “utter inhumanity” and compared them to Japanese-American internment camps during World War II.

Thousands of deaths at the border. 

As the result of support and leadership from Democrats and Republicans, there is a 650-mile wall along our southern border.  It funnels migrants into the most treacherous areas for entering the U.S.

Obama declared “securing our Southwest border” to be “a top priority”.  He poured billions of dollars into adding agents, deploying drones, and otherwise militarizing and beefing up border security.  In fiscal year 2012 alone, the Obama Administration spent about $18 billion on immigration enforcement programs, more than what was spent on the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and various other U.S. law enforcement agencies combined.

In the 2010s, the immigrant death toll skyrocketed even as the numbers of undocumented people heading north to the U.S. declined. According to Border Patrol statistics, 2975 people died trying to cross the border, during the Obama years.   This official number greatly understates the actual death toll.   La Coalición de Derechos Humanos opened over 1200 cases of people who were unaccounted for in 2015 alone.

“You just feel for them, they are young, in their 20s and 30s, even teenagers,” said Fire Chief Rene Lopez, Jr. referring to dead individuals he helped recover from the Rio Grande. “It used to be one a month. Now it’s one a week.”

Threats posed by nature were exacerbated by the military-like response of border patrol agents under Obama.  Practices like “chase and scatter” separated migrants from each other and led some to fall off cliffs.   Would-be immigrants were frequently shot to death.  Border personnel were also strongly implicated in destruction of water left for immigrants by charitable organizations and individuals.

There was strong evidence of widespread abuse of migrants by border patrol agents throughout the Obama years.   It ranged from deriding and verbally abusing immigrants to physically assaulting and even killing them.  Nonetheless meaningful reviews were not conducted, and effective reforms were not implemented.

Impoverishment and exploitation of those in the shadows.

Obama conducted “silent raids”on more than 2900 companies, forcing them to fire undocumented workers.  While long-time community members with families to feed lost their livelihoods, employers often brought in “guest workers”—immigrants with even fewer rights than those fired—to replace them.

Donald Trump wanted to deny undocumented immigrants access to social services.  But Bill Clinton beat him to it years earlier.

Obama approved highly toxic pesticides despite acute poisonings of immigrant farm workers and ongoing chronic exposures for them and their families.

Broken promises

As a candidate Barack Obama pledged to introduce legislation in his first year in office creating a pathway to citizenship.  The time to pass immigration reform was during Obama’s first two years when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.  But Obama went back on his word.  He squandered the opportunity he had to introduce and pass legislation.  He focused on border security and deportations instead.

Measures like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) singled out subgroups of immigrants for temporary deportation reprieves, without creating a pathway to citizenship for them.  To enjoy these reprieves people had to come out of the shadows, thereby making themselves vulnerable to future deportation under Obama or his successor, Donald Trump.

Supporting Democrats is Not A Good Way to Resist Trump

The conclusion we must draw is clear.   The righteous words of those condemning Republicans for the moral stain of Donald Trump’s immigration policies must be leveled against Democrats as well.  We cannot vote for or otherwise support Democrats. Doing so ignores violations of human rights that simply must not be ignored.  It rewards a Party that must instead be held accountable for its actions.

But there’s more.

We must reject Democrats because they enable Trump and other demagogues to ascend.

The disconnect between Obama’s compassionate-sounding words about immigrants and the abject cruelty of his immigration policies is typical of what goes on when Democrats are in power. On issues ranging from economics to war to environmental protection, what Democrats say is one thing, and what they do is another.

This politics of illusion fosters widespread disillusionment.   It leaves people feeling powerless and confused and without a roadmap forward to a just world.   This creates fertile ground for demagogues like Donald Trump, enabling them to foment bigotry and rise to power.

But it’s even worse than that.  Not only did Democrats help Trump get into office.  They also ensured that he has everything he needs to maximize the harm he does to immigrants.  Democrats gave Donald Trump.

Massive Infrastructures for doing harm:

+ Over 200 detention facilities across the U.S.

+ 650 miles of heavily militarized barricades along our southern border.

+ Invasive surveillance systems that can provide ICE with the fingerprints of literally millions of people each year.

Draconian laws and precedents:

+ Bill Clinton signed legislation in 1996, which provided for expedited deportations, criminalized immigration offenses, authorized agreements giving local officials the power to enforce federal immigration law, and otherwise stacked the deck against immigrants.

+ Barack Obama fought a U.S. District Court ruling regarding detention of children and their parents. He successfully overturned a presumption that parents should be released when children are, thereby making it easier for Donald Trump to separate families.

+ Obama aggressively used the tools available to him against immigrants, flagrantly violated their rights, established huge budgets for immigration enforcement, and otherwise set the stage for Trump to continue violating human rights with impunity.

A well-established racist narrative about immigrants:

+ Immigrants commit less crime than native-born people, but Obama’s repeated statements about going after dangerous criminals combined with his huge deportation numbers implied otherwise.

+ Many describe Donald Trump as “decoding” the racist messages about immigrants that already prevailed because of the rhetoric and policies of Barack Obama and other Democrats.

+ Research shows that narratives portraying immigrants as lawbreakers make people less supportive of immigration legalization and more supportive of deportations.

Supporting Obama and the Democrats has consequences beyond those experienced during their time in office.    The precedents they set, the infrastructure they put in place, and the racist rhetoric they normalize are there for whoever comes into office next.  Trump can do so much harm, precisely because Obama and the Democrats served before him.

Is it worse for immigrants under Donald Trump than the Democrats?  Arguments can be made both ways on this question.  But let’s not waste time on comparisons.  The immigration records of both Democrats and Republicans are clearly unacceptable, and we must hold both accountable.  With injustice and abuse this reprehensible, we must demand more of ourselves than rallying around a political party because it’s the lesser evil.

What We Must Do

It is time to stand up for immigration justice, rejecting the policies of both Republicans and Democrats.   We must call for a swift pathway to citizenship for those currently living in the shadows in the U.S., and for those who long to come here.   We must insist upon foreign policies that don’t undermine sovereignty, freedom and economic security in other lands.

Concurrently, we must fight for universal free health care, universal free higher education, true environmental protection, an end to U.S. wars and their drain on public funds, and more.

In other words, we must demand what neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will give us.  We must move beyond those parties and their servitude to the wealthy few.

Some seek to divide working people, pitting citizens against non-citizens.  If we allow them to keep us apart, we lose our power.  The real problem we face is an economic system that lets decisions about human needs, including jobs, be made by the few based on what profits them most.  Those few—the owners of our major industries—make decisions that shape the destiny of humanity—a set-up that is inherently undemocratic.  They receive all the profits generated by our labor.

We can and must insist upon guaranteed good-paying jobs for all, including those new to our country. There is plenty of work to go around, and there are ample resources to make this happen.  We can and should hire more teachers to reduce class sizes, more caregivers to help the elderly, more engineers to produce solar panels, more biologists and laborers to restore degraded environments, more construction workers to repair bridges, more artists to beautify our communities, and so on and so forth.

The problem is one of distribution.  It is one of democracy.

Both Democrats and Republicans prop up an economic system based on profit-driven private control of our destiny.  But we can and must demand democracy instead.  To win, we must fight together for the rights of all working people, including the rights of immigrants.

The moral stain left by the oppressive policies of both Democrats and Republicans is deep—and it spreads far beyond the issue of immigration.  We must hold accountable all who implement morally repugnant policies.  It is time to build the movement we need, leaving the deadly diversion of the Democratic and Republican Parties behind.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Chemical Deceit

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:58

Photo Source CGP Grey | CC BY 2.0 www.CGPGrey.com 

A friend recently put me in touch with Janet Brown (not her real name). This is a woman from Chicago who had the misfortune of renting an apartment that had been sprayed with the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. Dow/DuPont produces this deleterious substance.

In late August 2018, Janet Brown visited me and we spent several hours talking. Her real education started in the poisoned apartment in Chicago.

She had read my book, Poison Spring. She wanted to talk.

A poisoned apartment

Our discussion was mostly about pesticides and the Environmental Protection Agency, which “regulates” toxic pesticides like chlorpyrifos. I told Janet Brown a few of my EPA stories. And she told me her astonishing story.

Janet Brown grew up in Illinois. She got married to a doctor. She had hopes of becoming a doctor herself. However, the poisoned apartment blew up in her face, causing a tsunami of psychological and health adversities and pain.

The tragedy took place in the 1990s. Janet Brown gave birth to two children. The apartment landlord informed her he was spraying the apartment. He did that for a decade.

The effects of chlorpyrifos poisoning were devastating to her and her children. She had trouble staying awake. She was confused, ill, and endured chronic and savage headaches. The children screamed for days and months. They could barely crawl, walk and talk. Experts said autism explained their hyperactivity, inability to pay attention,  low self-esteem, and aggressive behavior.

This tyranny of disease, the perpetual anguish of the mother, and the ceaseless pain of the children: their constant humiliations in school, the incomprehensible anger and hidden violence boiling over at home and everywhere else, teenagers unable to sign their name or find their shoes – all but annihilated their future.

In 2000, Janet Brown started suspecting the chemical sprayings of her apartment was probably responsible for the maladies of her children.

She saw a headline in a newspaper linking indoor use of chlorpyrifos and children’s health. The article said that a crevice treatment with chlorpyrifos put so much poison in the air that exposed children inhaled hundreds of times more chlorpyrifos than the amount EPA considered “safe.”

She called the Poison Control Center, only to be told there was nothing to worry about. Chlorpyrifos was “safe.”

At that moment, Janet Brown panicked. She rushed her children to the emergency room of a hospital. She was lucky. The doctor on duty had just taken training in chemical warfare. He told her to stop immediately the spaying of chlorpyrifos in her home. Chlorpyrifos, he told her, was a chemical warfare agent.

The light of truth

This sudden confrontation with the truth, rather than the façade of pesticide safety, started Janet Brown to healing herself. She decided she was going to get a formal education in public health and devote her life to teaching and informing people of the dangers of pesticides.

She stopped the chlorpyrifos spraying of her home. But chlorpyrifos remained, its deadly molecules locked into the teeth of her children.

I listened carefully to this extraordinary story. Unfortunately, there are probably millions of people with similar tales of deceit and personal pain. They trust advertisements and the government, only to discover an abyss of a difference between the promise and the real thing.

We concluded America’s “environmental protection” had degenerated to immoral policies satisfying the rich and powerful. I explained to her that the heavy layers of scientists, administrators, Congressional and White House officials form an almost impenetrable cover for the lobbyists and owners of toxins like chlorpyrifos. The more dangerous the chemical, the more formidable the phalanx of lobbyists.

Why were countless Americans, including this mother, being deceived and poisoned? Why did the EPA register this nerve gas, especially, for indoor use?

In 2011, scientists at Columbia University published a study of hundreds of infants that had been exposed to chlorpyrifos before birth. The study concluded that the higher the exposure of the pregnant mothers to chlorpyrifos, the larger the decrease in “cognitive functioning” of the baby. In other words, this chemical, like all organophosphates, affects the brain and intelligence of human beings.

No doubt, EPA and DowDuPont knew of this Columbia study and more important than that: they were certain chlorpyrifos was an organophosphate chemical, which, by definition, is a dangerous nerve poison. They are equally responsible for harming victims like Janet Brown and her two children. So, why did American scientists fail to raise their voice against this chemical weapon?

The companies spraying such deleterious stuff should be put out of business.

Self-reliance and the common good

However, with president Trump, don’t expect any relief from the top. On the contrary, things will get worse. That’s the nature of oligarchies. The business oligarchs (of America and the world) are under the delusion that money will even buy them health, even in an unhealthy environment and polluted world.

Any relief we experience will, ultimately, be relief from us.

Stop buying conventional food contaminated by pesticides. Support organic farmers. They don’t use toxic synthetic petrochemicals and nerve poisons. Be alert and decode the secret danger hiding in the  advertisements for chemicals.

We need to educate ourselves about farming and what farmers spray the crops we eat. In fact, ask: do we need sprays in the raising of our food? Industrialized farming depends on chlorpyrifos-like substances and massive machinery. It’s no longer family farming. Is that good for America?

In the 1860s, President Lincoln founded the US Department of Agriculture as the people’s department. Now USDA is the department of agribusiness. Is that good for America?

Chlorpyrifos is on its way to extinction because a panel of federal judges agreed with scientific evidence the chemical is causing “neurodevelopmental damage” to children. In August 9, 2018, they ordered EPA to ban Chlorpyrifos. Yet the Trump Justice Department wants to reinstate the nerve poison. It demanded the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of 22 judges reconsider the banning of chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos, the tragedy of Janet Brown, and the insistence of the Trump administration to keep the neurotoxin in its deadly path of poisoning children ought to become lessons of why we must be better informed about almost everything, especially things affecting our health. Americans, especially young women, should be outraged by this act of callousness by the Trump administration.

Read the label carefully. Ask questions. Be active in the politics of your hometown and state, including the politics of the country. That’s good for your health — and democracy.

Under no circumstances should we negotiate the integrity of our health and the health of the natural world.

Categories: News for progressives

With ISIS Defeated, Trump Targets Iran

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:57

The shadowy figures of Kurdish fighters can be just made out on film as they ambush and kill three pro-Turkish fighters in a night time attack in Afrin in northern Syria. The Kurdish enclave was invaded and occupied by the Turkish army and their Syrian armed opposition allies earlier in the year. Sporadic guerrilla warfare has been going on ever since.

This skirmish took place a few days after an attack on a military parade by gunmen a thousand miles away from Afrin in Ahvaz in southwest Iran that killed 25 people. Film shows soldiers and civilians running in panic as they are sprayed with bullets, leaving 25 dead, including 11 conscripts and a four-year-old child. The killings were claimed by both Isis and Arab separatists from the province of Khuzestan whom the Iranians accused of acting as catspaws for the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

These incidents matter because they may be the harbinger of the next round of confrontations, crises and wars engulfing the Middle East. The most recent phase of conflict in the region saw the rise and fall of Isis and failed campaigns to overthrow the governments of Syria and Iraq. But Isis, which three years ago ruled a de facto state with a population of five or six million, has been largely crushed and confined to desert hideouts. President Bashar al-Assad – whose fall was confidently predicted after the uprising in 2011 – is firmly in power, as is the Iraqi government that suffered calamitous defeats at the time of the Isis capture of Mosul in 2014.

But the round of conflicts just ending may soon be replaced by another with different players and different issues. The guerrilla action in Afrin is a single episode in the escalating confrontation between Turkey and the Kurds in northern Syria which will involve the US and Russia. The Middle East is always dangerous because, like the Balkans before 1914, it is full of complex but ferocious conflicts that draw in the great powers. The risk is always there but is more dangerous under President Trump because he and his administration view the Middle East through a paranoid prism in which they everywhere see the hidden hand of Iran. President George W Bush and Tony Blair had similar tunnel vision during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when they blamed everything that went wrong on a remnant of Saddam Hussein supporters. 

The exaggeration of “the Iranian threat” by the Trump administration this week at the UN General Assembly in New York was very like what was being said about Iraq fifteen years earlier. The National Security Advisor John Bolton threatened that “the murderous regime and its supporters will face significant consequences if they do not change their behaviour. We are watching, and we will come after you.” The US military intervention in Syria, previously targeting Isis, will in future be directed against Iranian influence.

US policy in Syria and Iraq has been likened to playing chess while mistaking the knight for the bishop and thinking that castles move diagonally. The US has decided to retain a military force in northeast Syria in order to thwart Iranian ambitions, but the country most affected by this is not Iran but Turkey. The US can only stay in this part of Syria in alliance with the Syrian Kurds, whose de facto state, which they call Rojava, Turkey is pledged to eliminate.

Turkey has been nibbling its way into northern Syria over the past two years and is now deploying troops in Idlib province in cooperation with the Russians. A shaky alliance with Turkey as a leading Nato military power is one of the biggest Russian gains of its military intervention in Syria which it will go a long way to preserve. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now threatening to extend the Turkey advance east of the Euphrates river in order to slice up the Kurdish statelet.

This would mean the extinction of the last remaining gain of the Syrian uprising of 2011. Rojava was the unexpected creation of the Syrian Kurds and their YPG militia that allied themselves with the US against Isis during the siege of Kurdish city of Kobani in 2014. They provide the ground troops and the US the airpower.

The US-backed Kurds are greatly overextended, holding a swathe of northeast Syria, half of whose population are Arabs hostile to Kurdish rule. It is not a place where American troops can stay forever without becoming somebody’s target. Prolonged US presence invites disaster as with the American ground operations in Lebanon in 1982-84, Somalia in 1992-95 and in Iraq in 2003-11. “There will always be people in the Middle East who think that the best way to get rid of the Americans is to kill some of them,” noted one observer with long experience of region.

Denunciations of Iran as the root of all evil by Trump, Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and UN ambassador Nikki Haley are simple minded to the point of idiocy. Haley responded to the Ahvaz massacre by telling the government to “look in the mirror”. Bolton last year promised the exiled Iranian opposition group, the very weird cult-like Mojahedin-e Khalq, that by 2019 they would be ruling Iran. This week he was saying that there would be “hell to pay” if Iran stood in the way of the US.

The blood-curdling rhetoric may be arrogant and puerile but should be taken seriously because it reflects the same attitude of mind that preceded past US interventions in the Middle East: the enemy is demonised and underestimated at the same time. There is credulity towards self-interested exiled groups who claimed that US intervention would be easy (Iraqi opposition groups were privately cynical in 2003 about how far they were misleading the Americans on this score). Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE have an interest in luring the US into fighting Iran, though they are not intending to do much fighting themselves. 

The twists and turns of US policy in the Middle East has in the past mystified knowledgeable observers who attribute bizarre actions by the White House to stupidity and ignorance of local conditions. But US policy was often more rational than it looked – so long as one understood that it was determined by American domestic politics and the main purpose was to persuade the US voter, particularly in the run up to important elections, that their president had not mired them in a bloody and unsuccessful war.

The reputation of every US President since the 1970s, with the exception of President George Bush senior, has been damaged to a greater or lesser degree by conflict in the Middle East or North Africa. There is Jimmy Carter (Iran), Ronald Reagan (Lebanon, Irangate), Bill Clinton (Somalia), George W Bush (Iraq, Afghanistan), Barack Obama (Syria, Libya). It would be surprising if Trump turns out to be an exception to the rule.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Is China-led Belt and Road Initiative Afraid of Competition?

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:55

Hardly a day goes by without some lies about Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) being concocted and disseminated by the empire’s propaganda arm, also known as corporate media. In the first 2 or 3 years after BRI was launched, western press and politicians fabricated the narrative that Beijing sought to export its excess production capacity and establish/widen its spheres of influence with the BRI. Since last year, accusations of China springing debt traps and neo-colonizing unsuspecting Third World nations have become the mantra of western corporate media. Lately, they are spinning tales of BRI unravelling and coming unglued.

As the lies and propaganda are exposed for what they are and gaining little traction, the empire and its vassals from Japan and India to EU are ganging up to counter BRI with their own versions of New Silk Road.

The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor or AAGC proposed by Japan and India was unveiled with great fanfare by BRI-sceptic Modi last year. To date, there has not been any tangible sign of AAGC getting off the ground. It looks like AAGC is merely a publicity stunt to stroke the ego of India’s Modi and Japan’s Abe.

Last week, the US announced talks on a tie up between its Overseas Private Investment Corporation or OPIC and India’s counterpart. This came after the US Congress passed a bill to revamp and expand the funding cap of OPIC to $60 billion. The US had earlier entered into agreements with Japan and Australia on a partnership to take on China-led BRI. Japan International Cooperation Agency or JICA has a war chest of $110 billion and an annual budget of $12 billion. Australia has no equivalent development finance agency; AusAid administers some of the overseas assistance under $1 billion a year. India operates bilateral aid focused on South Asia through the Development Partnership Cooperation with a yearly budget below $2 billion. In fact, India receives much more foreign aid and international project financing than it gives to its South Asian neighbours. All told, the four countries or QUAD have way shallower pockets (under $200 billion, with JICA’s interest in infrastructures being peripheral) than China’s commitment of at least $1 trillion to BRI.

After years of griping about BRI not being a level playing field for EU businesses, Brussels recently rolled out “Connectivity Strategy” linking Europe and Asia. The document is long on motherhood statements such as sustainability, environmental friendliness and labour rights – straight out of the empire’s lexicon – but woefully short on funding details. EU’s complaint about Chinese-funded projects not being open to public bidding is disingenuous and fatuous . Which country would lend tens of billions of dollars at concessionary rates and bear the risk of default, and then put the projects funded by it up for public tender? (The terms of such contracts are actually quite unfavorable compared with privatized build-operate-transfer concessions.) No one has stopped or prevented EU from doing the same!

All the concerns about sustainability and environmental friendliness are unfounded. First of all, Beijing is sincere and serious about building a Green Silk Road. For the record, China is the global leader in Green Finance. To date, the Chinese market has issued more than $30 billion in Green Bonds, the most in the world. Second, the use of gas in lieu of coal for power generation can’t be done in all cases, especially when there’s no gas supply at reasonable prices and there is an acute shortage of power. That’s the case in Mindanao Island in the Philippines and in Pakistan. To insist on gas-powered plants in such circumstances is like asking a person trapped in a famine to have a balanced diet and not to eat high-carbs food that’s available, but go hungry (and die!) until meat and vegetables arrive. Third, to put its money where its mouth is, China is building and funding the world’s largest solar farm in a desert in Pakistan that can generate 1,000 Megawatts of power enough for 320,000 households. The project forms part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC for short.

The zero-sum mentality of the empire and its vassals is in full display. Instead of joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or AIIB and participating in BRI to help develop trade and the economy in Eurasia – the US, Japan and India have opted to stay out, and now start their own schemes to counteract BRI.

China isn’t concerned or afraid of the competition. On the contrary, China welcomes it if that doesn’t morph into or turn out to be disruption or outright sabotage. The fact of the matter is Asia’s need for infrastructures and their financing are HUGE! The Japan-controlled Asian Development Bank or ADB published a report in February last year on the subject.

According to the ADB report, Developing Asia (developing countries in Asia ) excluding China has infrastructure needs of $13 trillion in the 15 years to 2030, or $870 BILLION PER YEAR. The infrastructure financing shortfall excluding China is more than half a trillion dollars EACH YEAR! In other words, AIIB’s $100 billion dollars in capital is no more than a drop in a big bucket. Even with China’s multi-year commitment of $1 trillion, the gaping hole is far from filled. Multilateral Development Assistance accounts for a paltry 2.5% of total infrastructure needs! The ADB counts on fiscal reforms in Developing Asia and private investors to bridge the yawning gulf . That’s akin to a new government or administration banking on the elusive or self-deceiving “savings through increased efficiency and waste elimination” to balance the budget!

In summary, the infrastructure needs in Asia are so massive that even the Chinese commitment of $1 trillion to BRI can scarcely meet. The zero-sum mentality of the Imperium to counter the BRI is therefore plain stupid and diabolical.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Between Socialism and Barbarism

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:53

On September 20, 2013, Vladimir Putin gave a speech at a Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in the Novgorod region that announced his new orientation to the far-right internationally:

Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

I discovered this hair-raising speech in Anton Shekhovtsov’s “Russia and the Western Far-right: Tango Noir”, a carefully researched book that was published in August 2017 and that is must-reading for anybody trying to make sense of the deep divisions on the left about Russia’s role in world politics. Information about the book can be found on Shekhovtsov’s website alongside a blog that keeps up with the same kind of research. For example, a June 2018 post reveals that ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky hosted a conference in Moscow intended to connect like-minded Russians with groups like the National-Democratic Party (NDP) in Germany that is regarded as the country’s most significant neo-Nazi party since 1945.

Like every far-right party discussed in the book, the NDP is “pro-Palestinian”. For example, during the 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza, they organized a “holocaust vigil” for the Palestinians. As an indication of the tortured state of such politics, some German Jews, who are mostly Russian emigres, have joined the neo-Nazi AfD because of its opposition to “Islamic terrorism”. When you keep in mind that Putin is best friends with Benjamin Netanyahu at the same time he is the most important ally of Bashar al-Assad, who has the reputation of being the Palestinian’s most reliable defender, you can see how tangled things can become.

Shekhovtsov begins his analysis with an examination of some obscure figures on the far-right in the USA and France who championed Russia during the Cold War as outliers anticipating more recent overtures. While they never became leaders of a mass movement, their ideas have undoubtedly been studied by men like David Duke and Richard Spencer who are avid supporters of Russia today.

Francis Parker Yockey was the first ideologue to propose an alliance between the far-right and Russia during the Cold War, going against the grain of the John Birch Society and other traditionally reactionary groups. Yockey defined his ideas in “Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics” that was published in 1948. Essentially, Yockey advocated a Eurasianism that has gained currency once again in the writings of Alexander Dugin and other far-right ideologues in Russia. Like the Birchers, Yockey was hostile to Bolshevism but saw it as a political philosophy at odds with the Russian soul. His dream was a new Europe extending from London to Moscow that broke with the new American hegemon and that would be based on neo-fascism. To begin spreading his gospel, he met with Oswald Mosley who was thinking along the same lines. No longer a “British Firster”, Mosley had developed a pan-Europeanist program in a book titled “The Alternative”.

Yockey created a group called the European Liberation Front (ELF) that considered the possibility of forming guerrilla groups in West Germany that would collaborate with the Soviet military against the American occupation. One scholar believed that the ELF was being financed in part by the USSR. In the ELF Manifesto, Yockey blamed the “Asiatic elements” and Jews in Russia that were an obstacle to it being the leader of a reborn fascist Europe. When the show trial dramatized by Costa-Gravas in “The Confession” was held in Czechoslovakia in 1952 against mostly Jewish CP members, including Rudolf Slansky, Yockey was ecstatic since he saw this as proof that Russia was finally purging its Jewish-Bolshevik elements. Like many of Putin’s supporters on the left, Yockey became an ardent advocate of Third World liberation struggles. Shortly before his death in 1960, he went to Cuba to try to set up a meeting with Castro.

His pro-Soviet positions were embraced by other fascists. The National Renaissance Party (NRP) was sympathetic to Russia as well. Like Yockey, they argued that since the Kremlin was against the Jews, it couldn’t be all bad. James Madole, the founder of the NRP and a figure just as obscure as Yockey, developed close ties to the Soviet consulate in New York and even tried to convince the press officer about how such a neo-Nazi group could be a solid ally in a war against the Jews.

More concerned about Yockey’s overtures to the Kremlin and Fidel Castro than to someone like Mosley, the FBI arrested him in 1960. While in custody, he ended his life by taking a cyanide pill.

Clearly, men like Yockey and Madole were insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Despite the brief periods during the Weimar Republic when a misbegotten CP flirted with the Freikorps, and later when the USSR and Nazi Germany were bound to another by a non-aggression pact, the Kremlin saw the far-right as its enemy.

It was only in the post-Yeltsin era that such bridges began being built between Russia and the far-right. It is important to understand, however, that Shekhovtsov does not see Putin as orchestrating their construction from above. Largely, it has been the result of nominally independent economic and political players in Russia taking their own initiatives—but inspired by the Kremlin’s foreign policy—that is at work. This gives Putin a certain degree of plausible deniability in the way that some analysts described Reagan’s role in Iran-Contra.

Russia understood that parties such as the National Front in France, Jobbik in Hungary, the Lega Nord in Italy, UKIP in England, and others less well-known could be brought around. They saw Putin first and foremost as a supporter of “traditional family values” as indicated in the speech above as well as an adversary of the European Union, whose liberal immigration norms were hated as much as they are by Donald Trump. It was not just the open borders of the EU that enabled Polish workers to work for lower wages in England that had to go. It was also the willingness of countries such as Germany and Sweden to take in refugees. A hatred of Muslims was already gestating in Europe when the arrival of tens of thousands fleeing the war in Syria fueled the growth of AfD and the mistitled Sweden Democrats.

In addition, the far-right was eager to take Russia’s side in its periodic wars with upstart former Soviet republics such as Georgia, Ukraine and Chechnya. If “colored revolutions” were a plot orchestrated by the Jew George Soros, why wouldn’t you support Russia?

A large part of Russia’s campaign to win friends and influence people on the far-right entails its ambitious media outreach that is practically synonymous with Russia Today. The network was renamed RT in order to disassociate it from the kind of vertical organization extending down from the Kremlin alluded to above. In chapter five of Shekhovtsov’s “Russia and the Western Far-right: Tango Noir”, there are some startling revelations on RT’s unbridled rightwing politics despite the good reputation it enjoys among some leftists.

Early on, RT executives figured out that “Russia is good” programming would not work in the West but if you mixed “Russia is good” with “The West is Bad”, you might have a winning formula. This is commonly known as “whataboutism” and has a certain viability since it is based on the obvious reality that the West is pretty damned bad. If Assad is blowing up Syrian hospitals, then you can always feature news about Saudi Arabia doing the same thing in Yemen. (Not that you can get any news about Russian jets bombing hospitals in Idlib.)

RT has a large following in the West because its programming is laced with conspiracy theories that went viral with the advent of the Internet. You can find a plethora of reports on 9/11 being an inside job. For example, Aymeric Chauprade, a leader of the National Front in France, appeared on an RT show titled “9/11: Challenging the Official Version”. He was identified as a “dissident voice in the French academic world” as if he were the French Noam Chomsky.

Another frequent RT guest was Lyndon LaRouche who became a diehard supporter of Vladimir Putin after being released from prison in 1994. In every single act of defiance by a former Soviet Republic, LaRouche could be counted upon to reduce it to a CIA plot. Another reliable booster of Russia’s need to defend its borders was Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the Freedom Party in Austria that is nativist to the core and emphatically opposed to sanctions against Russia. The fascist party works closely with the Lega Nord in Italy and has helped to form a coalition of the far-right in 2014 named the Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom. Without overstating the case, it might be described as the kernel of a fascist international.

Despite the presence of many well-known leftists as hosts or interviewees on RT, its coverage of certain litmus test events place it firmly in Fox TV territory. When an immigrant was killed by the cops in May 2013, riots broke out in Stockholm, Sweden. They were seen by RT as a symptom of the EU’s failure. Out of 7 people interviewed on a show titled “They Don’t Want to Integrate”, four belonged to racist and far-right circles, including a Sweden Democrats member of parliament.

For his expertise on Libya and Syria, RT turned to Richard Spencer, the fascist who became an instant celebrity after a YouTube video showed him being punched in the face by an anti-fascist. Another expert is Marine Le Pen, who is on RT almost as much as Michael Moore is on MSNBC. One of the more appalling revelations in this chapter is this:

The introductions of far-right commentators in the Russian media were sometimes overtly impudent. This was the case, for example, of Jobbik’s Marton Gyongyosi who, in 2012. urged the Hungarian government to draw up lists of Jews who posed a “national security risk”. In an introduction to the interview with him in Komsomol’skaya Pravda, the female journalist described Gyongyosi as an “elegant, handsome 37-year old man” a “way-up and sophisticated … ardent patriot of Hungary” who “could not care less” that “he had been called an anti-Semite and a neo-Nazi”. The journalist of Komsomol’skaya Pravda, which earlier reported on anti-Semitic activities of Jobbik, apparently needed this whitewashing and distracting introduction to play down Gyongyosi’s anti-Semitism and lend credibility to his words that the EU was a colony of the United States and that the CIA, the US State Department, George Soros and European politicians had allegedly orchestrated the Ukrainian protests.

Despite my admiration for Shekhovtsov’s “Russia and the Western Far-right: Tango Noir” being unbounded, I must state that I have different ideas on the origins of the Russia/Far-right alliance and how it can be opposed. I doubt that he would object to me describing him as coming at these questions in the same way as Ann Applebaum and Timothy Snyder, who regard Putin, Le Pen, Orban, Salvini, et al as enemies of democracy and Western values. I have a different take.

In my view, unless you factor in the economic consequences of the Western System, for the lack of a better term, you will fail to understand why people are turning to the right. While it is true that reporters are not being murdered in London or New York for writing articles critical of the government, the freedom they enjoy is joined at the hip to the freedom of the marketplace. Nativism is growing apace because unemployment is also growing apace. Runaway shops leave people destitute and hungry. Last week the NY Times reported that schoolchildren are going hungry because of cutbacks). One teacher was shocked to see one of her students sifting through trash cans for discarded fruit. When you turn back the clock to the days of Charles Dickens, people do desperate things—including voting for Brexit, a rightwing move that is motivated to a large extent by resentment toward immigrants.

While it is true that we need political democracy, it is just as true that we need economic democracy. Without a decent job that pays enough to pay for housing, food and medical care, people resort to desperate measures, including following a rightwing demagogue who promises the world while practically stealing the bread from their table. That is what we are dealing with now in the Trump regime. To put an end to Trumpism, Putinism, Modism, and Erdoganism, we need a movement that moves on all fronts, from human rights to democratic rights. As Rosa Luxemburg once put it, the choice is between socialism and barbarism.

Categories: News for progressives

Kavanaugh is the Wong Nominee

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:48

The Kavanaugh confirmation process has been a missed opportunity for the United States to face up to many urgent issues on which the bi-partisans in Washington, DC are united and wrong.

Kavanaugh’s career as a Republican legal operative and judge supporting the power of corporations, the security state and abusive foreign policy should have been put on trial. The hearings could have provided an opportunity to confront the security state, use of torture, mass spying and the domination of money in politics and oligarchy as he has had an important role in each of these.

Kavanaugh’s behavior as a teenager who likely drank too much and was inappropriately aggressive and abusive with women, perhaps even attempting rape, must also be confronted. In an era where patriarchy and mistreatment of women are being challenged, Kavanaugh is the wrong nominee for this important time. However, sexual assault  should not be a distraction that keeps the public’s focus off other issues raised by his career as a conservative political activist.

The Security State, Mass Spying and Torture

A central issue of our era is the US security state — mass spying on emails, Internet activity, texts and phone calls. Judge Kavanough enabled invasive spying on everyone in the United States. He described mass surveillance as “entirely consistent” with the US Constitution. This manipulation of the law turns the Constitution upside down a it clearly requires probable cause and a search warrant for the government to conduct searches.

Kavanaugh explained in a decision, “national security . . . outweighs the impact on privacy occasioned by this [NSA] program.” This low regard for protecting individual privacy should have been enough for a majority of the Senate to say this nominee is inappropriate for the court.

Kavanaugh ruled multiple times that police have the power to search people, emphasizing “reasonableness” as the standard for searching people. He ruled broadly for the police in searches conducted on the street without a warrant and for broader use of drug testing of federal employees. Kavanaugh applauded Justice Rehnquist’s views on the Fourth Amendment, which favored police searches by defining probable cause in a flexible way and creating a broad exception for when the government has “special needs” to search without a warrant or probable cause. In this era of police abuse through stop and frisk, jump out squads and searches when driving (or walking or running) while black, Kavanaugh is the wrong nominee and should be disqualified.

Kavanaugh also played a role in the Bush torture policy. Torture is against US and international law, certainly facilitating torture should be disqualifying not only as a justice but should result in disbarment as a lawyer. Kavanaugh was appointed by President Trump, who once vowed he would “bring back waterboarding and … a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Minimizing torture is demonstrated in his rulings, e.g. not protecting prisoners at risk of torture and not allowing people to sue the government on allegations of torture.

Torture is a landmine in the Senate, so Kavanaugh misled the Senate likely committing perjury on torture. In his 2006 confirmation, he said he was “not involved” in “questions about the rules governing detention of combatants.” Tens of thousands of documents have been kept secret by the White House about Kavanaugh from the Bush era. Even so, during these confirmation hearings documents related to the nomination of a lawyer involved in the torture program showed Kavanaugh’s role in torture policies leading Senator Dick Durbin to write: “It is clear now that not only did Judge Kavanaugh mislead me when it came to his involvement in the Bush Administration’s detention and interrogation policies, but also regarding his role in the controversial Haynes nomination.” 

Durbin spoke more broadly about perjury writing: “This is a theme that we see emerge with Judge Kavanaugh time and time again – he says one thing under oath, and then the documents tell a different story.  It is no wonder the White House and Senate Republicans are rushing through this nomination and hiding much of Judge Kavanaugh’s record—the questions about this nominee’s credibility are growing every day.” The long list of perjury allegations should be investigated and if proven should result in him not being confirmed.

This should have been enough to stop the process until documents were released to reveal Kavanaugh’s role as Associate White House Counsel under George Bush from 2001 to 2003 and as his White House Staff Secretary from 2003 to 2006. Unfortunately, Democrats have been complicit in allowing torture as well, e.g. the Obama administration never prosecuted anyone accused of torture and advanced the careers of people involved in torture.

Shouldn’t  the risk of having a torture facilitator on the Supreme Court be enough to stop this nomination?

Corporate Power vs Protecting People and the Planet

In this era of corporate power, Kavanaugh sides with the corporations. Ralph Nader describes him as a corporation masquerading as a judge.  He narrowly limited the powers of federal agencies to curtail corporate power and to protect the interests of the people and planet.

This is evident in cases where Kavanaugh has favored reducing restrictions on polluting corporations. He dissented in cases where the majority ruled in favor of environmental protection but has never dissented where the majority ruled against protecting the environment. He ruled against agencies seeking to protect clean air and water. If Kavanaugh is on the court, it will be much harder to hold corporations responsible for the damage they have done to the climate, the environment or health.

Kavanaugh takes the side of businesses over their workers with a consistent history of anti-union and anti-labor rulings. A few examples of many, he ruled in favor of the Trump Organization throwing out the results of a union election, sided with the management of Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian CasinoResort upholding the casino’s First Amendment right to summon police against workers engaged in a peaceful demonstration — for which they had a permit, affirmed the Department of Defense’s discretion to negate the collective bargaining rights of employees, and overturned an NLRB ruling that allowed Verizon workers to display pro-union signs on company property despite having given up the right to picket in their collective bargaining agreement. In this time of labor unrest and mistreatment of workers, Kavanaugh will be a detriment to workers rights.

Kavanough opposed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling in favor of net neutrality, which forbids telecom companies from discrimination on the Internet. He argued net neutrality violated the First Amendment rights of Internet Service Providers (ISP) and was beyond the power granted to the FCC. He put the rights of big corporations ahead of the people having a free and open Internet. The idea that an ISP has a right to control what it allows on the Internet could give corporations great control over what people see on the Internet. It is a very dangerous line of reasoning in this era of corporations curtailing news that challenges the mainstream narrative.

In 2016, Kavanaugh was asked if he believed that money spent during campaigns represents speech, and is protected by the First Amendment and answered: “Absolutely.”  Kavanaugh joined in decisions and wrote opinions consistent with efforts to oppose  any attempt by Congress or the Federal Elections Commission to restrict campaign contributions or expenditures. His view that free speech allows unrestricted money in elections will add to the avalanche of big money politics. Wealthy elites and big corporations will have even greater influence with Kavanaugh on the court.

Kavanaugh will be friendly to powerful business and the interests of the wealthy on the Supreme Court, and will tend to stand in the way of efforts by administrative agencies to regulate them and by people seeking greater rights.

Women’s Rights, Abortion and Sexual Assault

Judge Kavanaugh has not ruled on Roe v. Wade and whether the constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion. In 2017, Kavanaugh gave a Constitution Day lecture to the conservative American Enterprise Institute where he praised Justice Rehnquist and one of the cases he focused on was his dissent in Roe. Rehnquist opposed making abortion constitutionally protected, writing, it was not “rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people.”  Shortly after that speech, Kavanaugh wrote a dissent that argued an immigrant minor in government detention did not have a right to obtain an abortion.

On the third day of his confirmation hearings, Judge Brett Kavanaugh seemed to refer to the use of contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs.” It was a discussion of a case where Kavanaugh dissented from the majority involving the Priests for Life’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Kavanaugh opposed the requirement that all health plans cover birth control, claiming that IUDs and emergency contraception were an infringement of their free exercise of religion.

Kavanaugh clerked for Judge Kosinski who he describes as a mentor. Kosinski was forced to resign after being accused of harassing at least 12 women in the sanctity of his judicial chambers. Kavanaugh swears he never saw any signs that the judge was sexually harassing women, but the Democrats did not ask a single question about it.

Multiple accusers have come forward to allege Kavanaugh’s involvement in sexual assault and abuse. While Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is viewed as credible – she was the only witness allowed to testify – it is not clear these allegations will be thoroughly reviewed. After being approved by the committee, the Republican leadership and President Trump agreed on a limited FBI investigation. It is unclear whether the FBI will be allowed to follow all the evidence and question all the witnesses. As we write this newsletter, the outcome has yet to unfold but Jeffrey St. Clair at Countpunch points out, “the FBI investigation will be overseen by director Christopher Wray, who was two years behind Brett-boy at both Yale and Yale Law. After graduation, they entered the same rightwing political orbit and both took jobs in the Bush Administration. How do you think it’s going to turn out?”

Why don’t Democrats, as Ralph Nader suggests, hold their own hearing and question all the witnesses? If there is corroborating evidence for the accusers, Kavanaugh should not be approved.

A Republican Political Operative As A Justice?

Kavanaugh has been a legal operative for the Republican Party involved in many high profile partisan legal battles. He spent three years working for Ken Starr on the impeachment of Bill Clinton where he pressed Starr to ask Clinton sexually graphic details about his relationship with Monica Lewinisky. He tried to expand the Starr investigation into the death of Vince Foster, whose death had been ruled a suicide. He was a lead author of the infamous Starr Report—widely criticized as “strain[ing] credulity” and being based on “shaky allegations.”

Kavanaugh was one of George W. Bush’s lawyers in the litigation after the election in 2000, which sought to block a recount of ballots in Florida, resulting in a decision that handed the presidential election to Bush. In the Bush administration, he was involved in pushing for conservative judges as well as controversial policies like torture.

During his confirmation process, in response to the accusations of assault, he claimed they were “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” and “revenge on behalf of the Clinton’s.” He demonstrated partisan anger and displayed a lack of judicial temperament, making him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh exposes the true partisan nature of the highest court, which is not a neutral arbiter but another battleground for partisan politics. The lack of debate on issues of spying, torture and more shows both parties support a court that protects the security state and corporate interests over people and planet. Accusations of sexual assault must be confronted, but there are many reasons Kavanaugh should not be on the court. The confirmation process undermines the court’s legitimacy and highlights bi-partisan corruption.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Stronger Drug Patents in New NAFTA To Cost U.S. Manufacturing Workers Jobs

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:46

The new trade agreement with Canada that the Trump administration announced yesterday has rules on drugs patents and related protections which are likely to cost the jobs of U.S. manufacturing workers. The deal includes a number of provisions that are explicitly designed to raise drug prices in Canada.

These provisions include a requirement of a period of ten years of marketing exclusivity for biotech drugs before a biosimilar is allowed to enter the market. The deal also requires Canada to grant a period of exclusivity for existing drugs when new uses are developed. In addition, it requires that the period of patent monopoly be extended beyond 20 years when there have been “unreasonable” delays in the granting of the patent.

The intended purpose of these provisions is clearly to make Canada pay more money to U.S. drug companies. Insofar as it acheives this result, it will mean that the United States has a larger surplus on intellectual products. That would imply a larger trade deficit in manufactured goods, and therefore less employment in U.S. manufacturing.

A basic accounting identity in economics is that the overall U.S. trade deficit is equal to the gap between domestic savings and domestic investment. This identity means that if this domestic balance is not changed, the overall trade deficit is not changed.

When the U.S. economy is below its potential level of output, a lower trade deficit can lead to more employment and income, which typically also leads to more domestic savings. However, economists typically analyze trade as though the economy is always at or near its potential level of output. If this is the case, the trade deficit is fixed by the balance of domestic investment and savings. In that case, if the trade surplus rises in one area, like intellectual products, then the trade deficit must rise to offset this increase in other areas, like manufactured goods.

The mechanism through which this would occur is, other things equal, more licensing payments to Pfizer, Merck, and other U.S. companies for their drugs will mean a rise in the value of the U.S. dollar against the Canadian dollar. If the U.S. dollar increases in price relative to Canada’s dollar, it makes goods and services produced in the United States relatively less competitive, leading to a larger trade deficit in areas other than prescription drugs.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

Categories: News for progressives

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is a Conlapayara Woman

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:43

Only a heartless person could not be moved by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate judiciary committee. And only a biased one could not see that the testimony of Judge Brett Kavanaugh was trying to replace fire for truth. His refusal to unequivocally say that he would welcome an FBI investigation of the incident involving him and Dr. Ford was a weak point in his own defense.

Dr. Ford’s testimony was poised, pained, and ringing of civic responsibility, while Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony was loud and vigorous, just what the audience of Republican senators wanted to hear. On Saturday, Judge Kavanaugh received the “blessing” of President Donald Trump, who said that Brett Kavanaugh would be a “truly great” justice.

The hearing evolved in a different way than expected, and the FBI investigation may clear matters definitely. It is Senator Jeff Flake’s merit who, unlike his colleagues in the Senate, had the minimum amount of decency to ask for an investigation of the incident.

Impressive as it was, Dr. Ford’s behavior has an unusual precedent. In his book entitled Genesis, the late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano narrates how in 1542 Francisco the Orellana, a close friend and possibly even a relative of Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador of Peru, fought the inhabitants of Conlapayara.

Going down the Amazon with his men, de Orellana reached the village of Conlapayara. On St. John’s Day, with bursts of arquebus and crossbow from their brigantines, de Orellana’s men killed the villagers coming from shore. Things were going well for the Spaniards.

They hadn’t considered, however, the possibility that the women from the village were going to join the battle. The women appeared suddenly, and placing themselves in front of the men, fought fiercely. Women of great attractiveness and charm, they fought courageously, never getting tired.

The Spaniards had heard of such women, but only now, in the heat of battle, they realized that they existed. They lived to the south, in dominions without men. They fought the Spaniards laughing and dancing and singing, their breast quivering in the breeze. They chased them away until the Spaniards got lost beyond the mouth of the Tapajós River. They were exhausted and astonished by what they had experienced.

The invaders kept sailing the river until they reached the sea without pilot or compass or chart. “They just let themselves drift down the Amazon River, through the jungle, without the energy to row, and mumbling prayers: They pray to God to make the next enemies male, however many they may be,” wrote Galeano.

While giving her testimony in front of the judiciary committee of the Senate, Dr. Ford met the distrustful look of all senators, with the unique exception of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who seemed genuinely troubled by her words. After both testimonies were presented, and Senator Flake asked for a one-week investigation by the FBI before casting his vote, all senators rushed back to their chambers, in disbelief of the day’s proceedings.

Even President Donald Trump, a man who is not known to be sympathetic to victims of any kind, least of all of sexual violence, called Dr. Ford’s testimony “compelling”. Dr. Ford showed tremendous courage, decency and a rare sense of civic duty. She proved to be a true woman of Conlapayara.

 

Categories: News for progressives

17 Years of Getting Afghanistan Completely Wrong

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:32

We expect 17-year-olds to have learned a great deal starting from infancy, and yet full-grown adults have proven incapable of knowing anything about Afghanistan during the course of 17 years of U.S.-NATO war. Despite war famously being the means of Americans learning geography, few can even identify Afghanistan on a map. What else have we failed to learn?

The war has not ended.

There are, as far as I know, no polls on the percentage of people in the United States who know that the war is still going on, but it seems to be pretty low. Polling Report lists no polls at all on Afghanistan in the past three years. For longer than most wars have lasted in total, this one has gone on with no public discussion of whether or not it should, just annual testimony before Congress that this next year is going to really be the charm. Things people don’t know are happening are not polled about, which contributes to nobody knowing they are happening.

Possible reasons for such ignorance include: there have been too many wars spawned by this one to keep track of them all; President Obama claimed to have “ended” the war while explicitly and actually not ending it, and pointing this out could be impolite; a war embraced by multiple presidents and both big political parties is not a useful topic for partisan politics; very few of the people suffering and dying are from the United States; very similar stories bore journalists and editors after 17 years of regurgitating them; when the war on Iraq became too unpopular in the United States, the war on Afghanistan was fashioned into a “good war” so that people could oppose one war while making clear their support for war in general, and it would be inconvenient to raise too many questions about the good war; it’s hard to tell the story of permanent imperial occupation without it sounding a little bit like permanent imperial occupation; and the only other story that could be developed would be the ending of the war — which nobody in power is proposing and which could raise the embarrassing question of why it wasn’t done 5, 10, or 17 years ago.

The war is not the longest U.S. war ever.

Among those who know the war exists, a group I take to include disproportionately those involved in fighting it and those trying to end it, a popular claim is that it is the longest U.S. war ever. But the United States has not formally declared a war since 1941. How one picks where a war starts and stops is controversial. There is certainly a strong case to be made that the never-ending war-sanctions/bombings-war assault on Iraq has been longer than the war on Afghanistan. There’s a stronger case that the U.S. war on Vietnam was also longer, depending on when you decide it began. The war on North (and South) Korea has yet to be ended, and ending it is the top demand of a united Korean people to their Western occupiers. The centuries-long war on the indigenous peoples of North America is generally ignored, I believe, principally because those people are not legally or politically thought of as actual real people but more as something resembling rodents. And yet it is important for us to recognize that none of the wars taught in U.S. school texts took even a tiny fraction of this length of time, and that even applying the same name (“war”) to (1) things that happened for limited and scheduled durations in empty fields between soldiers with primitive weapons *and* to (2) endless aerial and high-tech assaults on people’s towns and cities is questionable.

Military glory is to glory as military justice and military music are to justice and music.

For most of the duration of this war, participation in which is supposed to be called glorious, the top cause of death in the U.S. military has been suicide. What more powerful statement can someone make against glorifying what they have been engaged in than killing themselves? And sending more people off to kill and die in order not to disrespect the people who have already killed themselves, so that they not have killed themselves “in vain,” is the definition of insanity squared — it’s insanity gone insane. That it may be common sense doesn’t change that; it just gives us the task of causing our society to go sane.

Benjamin Franklin is still right: There has never been a good war.

When it became convenient for politicians and others to present Afghanistan as “the good war,” many began to imagine that whatever had been done wrong in Iraq had been done right in Afghanistan: the war had been U.N. authorized, civilians had not been targeted, nobody had been tortured, the occupation had been wisely planned; the war had been and was just and necessary and unavoidable and humanitarian; in fact all the good war needed was more of what it was, while the bad war in Iraq needed less. None of these fantasies was true. Each was and is blatantly false.

“They started it” is always a lie, because it’s always used to start something.

Most everyone supposes that the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and has stayed there ever since as a series of “last resorts,” even though the Taliban repeatedly offered to turn bin Laden over to a third country to stand trial, al Qaeda has had no significant presence in Afghanistan for most of the duration of the war, and withdrawal has been an option at any time. The United States, for three years prior to September 11, 2001, had been asking the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden. The Taliban had asked for evidence of his guilt of any crimes and a commitment to try him in a neutral third country without the death penalty. Those don’t seem like unreasonable demands. At the very least they don’t seem irrational or crazy. They seem like the demands of someone with whom negotiations might be continued. The Taliban also warned the United States that bin Laden was planning an attack on U.S. soil (this according to the BBC). Former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik told the BBC that senior U.S. officials told him at a U.N.-sponsored summit in Berlin in July 2001 that the United States would take action against the Taliban in mid-October. He said it was doubtful that surrendering bin Laden would change those plans. When the United States attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the Taliban asked to negotiate handing over bin Laden to a third country to be tried, dropping the demand to see any evidence of guilt. The United States rejected the offer and continued a war in Afghanistan for many years, not halting it when bin Laden was believed to have left that country, and not even halting it after announcing bin Laden’s death. Perhaps there were other reasons to keep the war going for a dozen years, but clearly the reason to begin it was not that no other means of resolving the dispute were available. Punishing a government that was willing to turn over an accused criminal, by spending 17 years bombing and killing that nation’s people (most of whom had never heard of the attacks of September 11, 2001, much less supported them, and most of whom hated the Taliban) doesn’t appear to be a significantly more civilized action than shooting a neighbor because his great-uncle stole your grandfather’s pig.

Tony Blair has a lot to answer for.

Blame is, contrary to popular opinion, not a finite quantity. I don’t deny an ounce of it to Bush or Cheney or every single member of the U.S. Congress except Barbara Lee, or just about every employee and owner of U.S. corporate media, or numerous profiteers and weapons dealers and death marketers of all variety. I blame history teachers, military recruiters, NATO, every member of NATO, the UN Security Council, the people who designed the UN Security Council, priests and preachers, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Hillary Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Thomas Jefferson, Wolf Blitzer, flag manufacturers, any neighbor of Paul Wolfowitz who didn’t give him a talking to, and — I’m confident in saying — a lot more people than you blame. I don’t exclude them and I am not right now ranking them. But I would like permission to point out that Tony Blair belongs in this list and not on some panel discussing the principles of liberal humanitarian slaughter. Blair was willing to go along with Bush’s attack on Iraq if Bush attacked Afghanistan first. Attacking a country because it would make marketing an attack on another country easier is a particularly slimy thing to do.

Afghanistan is Obama’s war.

Barack Obama campaigned on escalating the war on Afghanistan. His supporters either agreed with that, avoided knowing it, or told themselves that in their hero’s heart of hearts he secretly opposed it — which was apparently sufficient compensation for many when he went ahead and did it. He tripled the U.S. forces and escalated the bombings and creating a campaign of drone murder. By every measure — death, destruction, financial expense, troop deployment — the war on Afghanistan is more Obama’s war than anyone else’s.

Trump lied.

Candidate Trump said: “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghans we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.”

President Trump escalated and continued the war, albeit at a much smaller scale than Obama had. And he had lied about the amount of money being spent. The notion that it could all be spent on useful things in the United States either underestimates the amount of money or overestimates U.S. greed and powers of imagination. This amount of money is so vast that one would almost certainly have to spend it on more than one country if spending it on useful human and environmental needs.

The people in charge of the war don’t believe in it any more than the troops they order around.

The view that further war, in particular with drones, is counterproductive on its own terms is shared by:

U.S. Lt. General Michael Flynn, who quit as head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in August 2014: “The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict.”
Former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief Michael Scheuer, who says the more the United States fights terrorism the more it creates terrorism.
The CIA, which finds its own drone program “counterproductive.”
Admiral Dennis Blair, the former director of National Intelligence: While “drone attacks did help reduce the Qaeda leadership in Pakistan,” he wrote, “they also increased hatred of America.”
Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “We’re seeing that blowback. If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”
Sherard Cowper-Coles, Former U.K. Special Representative To Afghanistan: “For every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be 10 pledged to revenge.”
Matthew Hoh, Former Marine Officer (Iraq), Former US Embassy Officer (Iraq and Afghanistan): “I believe it’s [the escalation of the war/military action] only going to fuel the insurgency. It’s only going to reinforce claims by our enemies that we are an occupying power, because we are an occupying power. And that will only fuel the insurgency. And that will only cause more people to fight us or those fighting us already to continue to fight us.” — Interview with PBS on Oct 29, 2009
General Stanley McChrystal: “For every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.”
— Lt. Col. John W. Nicholson Jr.: This commander of the war who left that position last month, like most of the people above, pulled “an Eisenhower” and blurted out his opposition to what he’d been doing on his last day of doing it. The war should be ended, he said.

The Afghans have not benefitted

It’s much desired in the United States to imagine that wars benefit the people bombed, and then to lament and point to their ignorant inability to feel grateful as a sign that they are in need of more bombing. In reality, this war has taken a deeply troubled and impoverished country and made it 100 times worse, killing hundreds of thousands of people in the process, creating a refugee crisis being addressed courageously by Pakistan, and helping to destabilize half the globe.

The purposes have not been admirable.

Invading Afghanistan had little or nothing to do with bin Laden or 9-11. The motivations in 2001 were in fact related to fossil fuel pipelines, the positioning of weaponry, political posturing, geo-political posturing, maneuvering toward an invasion of Iraq, patriotic cover for power grabs and unpopular policies at home, and profiteering from war and its expected spoils. These are all either indefensible arguments or points that might have been negotiated or accomplished without bombs. During the course of the war its proponents have often been quite open about its actual purpose.

Permanent bases make war permanent and do not bring peace.

They just cut the ribbon for new construction at Camp Resolute Support. Can a ground breaking at Fort Over My Dead Body be far behind. It’s important that we understand that permanent peace-bringing bases are neither.

The U.S. has no responsibility to do something before it gets the hell out.

After the United States gets out, Afghanistan will continue to be one of the worst places on earth. It will be even worse, the longer the departure is delayed. Getting out is the principle responsibility. The United States has no responsibility to do anything else first, such as negotiating the future of the Afghan people with some of their war lords. If I break into your house and kill your family and smash your furniture, I don’t have a moral duty to spend the night and meet with a local gang to decide your fate. I have a moral and legal responsibility to get out of your house and turn myself in at the nearest police station.

The ICC is teasing, but what if it starts to enjoy the teasing?

The international criminal court has never prosecuted a non-African, but has claimed for years to be investigating U.S. crimes in Afghanistan. What if people began encouraging it to do its job. Not that I would suggest such a thing.

International Criminal Court
Post Office Box 19519
2500 CM The Hague
The Netherlands
otp.informationdesk@icc-cpi.int
Fax +31 70 515 8555

Too many wars is a reason to end them.

That there are too many wars to keep track of them all is a reason to end each one and to end the entire institution of war before it ends us, as it has spiraled far out of control.

The damage is unlimited.

The damage to Afghanistan is immeasurable. The natural environment has suffered severely. Cultures have been damaged. Children have been traumatized. U.S. culture has been poisoned and militarized and made more bigoted and paranoid. We’ve lost freedoms in the name of freedom. The financial tradeoff has been unfathomable. The complete case is overwhelming.

Peace is possible. Here’s one effort to “intervene.”

A letter you can sign.

Events you can attend.

Please support David Swanson’s work by donating at http://davidswanson.org/donate or by check to David Swanson, PO Box 1484, Charlottesville, VA 22902.

Categories: News for progressives

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is a Conlapayara Woman

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:24

Only a heartless person could not be moved by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate judiciary committee. And only a biased one could not see that the testimony of Judge Brett Kavanaugh was trying to replace fire for truth. His refusal to unequivocally say that he would welcome an FBI investigation of the incident involving him and Dr. Ford was a weak point in his own defense.

Dr. Ford’s testimony was poised, pained, and ringing of civic responsibility, while Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony was loud and vigorous, just what the audience of Republican senators wanted to hear. On Saturday, Judge Kavanaugh received the “blessing” of President Donald Trump, who said that Brett Kavanaugh would be a “truly great” justice.

The hearing evolved in a different way than expected, and the FBI investigation may clear matters definitely. It is Senator Jeff Flake’s merit who, unlike his colleagues in the Senate, had the minimum amount of decency to ask for an investigation of the incident.

Impressive as it was, Dr. Ford’s behavior has an unusual precedent. In his book entitled “Genesis”, the late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano narrates how in 1542 Francisco the Orellana, a close friend and possibly even a relative of Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador of Peru, fought the inhabitants of Conlapayara.

Going down the Amazon with his men, de Orellana reached the village of Conlapayara. On St. John’s Day, with bursts of arquebus and crossbow from their brigantines, de Orellana’s men killed the villagers coming from shore. Things were going well for the Spaniards.

They hadn’t considered, however, the possibility that the women from the village were going to join the battle. The women appeared suddenly, and placing themselves in front of the men, fought fiercely. Women of great attractiveness and charm, they fought courageously, never getting tired.

The Spaniards had heard of such women, but only now, in the heat of battle, they realized that they existed. They lived to the south, in dominions without men. They fought the Spaniards laughing and dancing and singing, their breast quivering in the breeze. They chased them away until the Spaniards got lost beyond the mouth of the Tapajós River. They were exhausted and astonished by what they had experienced.

The invaders kept sailing the river until they reached the sea without pilot or compass or chart. “They just let themselves drift down the Amazon River, through the jungle, without the energy to row, and mumbling prayers: They pray to God to make the next enemies male, however many they may be,” wrote Galeano.

While giving her testimony in front of the judiciary committee of the Senate, Dr. Ford met the distrustful look of all senators, with the unique exception of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who seemed genuinely troubled by her words. After both testimonies were presented, and Senator Flake asked for a one-week investigation by the FBI before casting his vote, all senators rushed back to their chambers, in disbelief of the day’s proceedings.

Even President Donald Trump, a man who is not known to be sympathetic to victims of any kind, least of all of sexual violence, called Dr. Ford’s testimony “compelling”. Dr. Ford showed tremendous courage, decency and a rare sense of civic duty. She proved to be a true woman of Conlapayara.

Categories: News for progressives

Mad Scramble in DC

Tue, 2018-10-02 15:24

Senate panic in DC! How far will the FBI go, if they start interviewing enough individuals peripheral to the Kavanaugh posse?  It could be hard to say where exactly the net ends.  FBI not Trump ‘Friend’.  Will the beans spill, revealing the inbred historic extent and contours of upper-class immunity? Hope for it!  Just don’t count on it.

Despite Trump controlling the findings, will word get out how these scions of empire chronically cavorted with abandon and moved on to be shakers and movers?  How privilege begat (and begets) excess, and the pressure to conform to expectations laid upon them in return for privilege blows away limits to any sense of proportion or morality?  Not to mention having the ways and means to do so.

How many senators have mouldering schoolboy skeletons awakening, feel acts they thought dissipated by the abrasive winds of time, animating in zombie reincarnation?  Too many in positions of absolute power are long past their pull dates.

How many are wrangling the calculus of political expediency, dry cleaning their moral rectitude mantles, dusting off the finer points of class solidarity, and weighing that against the looming prospect of an avalanche of furious harpies sweeping them from power?  With a frosting of #MeToo lawsuits on top?  Set the spin doctors on high: hide, deny, minimize and obfuscate these sordid tales! “They are only women, and they always lie!”  It’s like a men’s group in tribal New Guinea, without the nose piercings.

Knowing some truth could come, the mad scramble must be on to negotiate safety net payoffs for their terminal acts of betrayal to the 99%, those ne’er-do-wells who missed the ivy league blessing.  Do you hear the chitinous skittering of roaches in the echoing marble halls of solemn aristocracy?  Whose lifetime salaries you pay!  Halls you paid for!  And who will be the fall guys (or gals), because you know, some sacrificial blood will be offered up in lieu of real change?

When Kavanaugh is sworn in, you will truly know your enemies by their names.  The ship of state will have keel-hauled you, (again) while they lounge on the flying bridge, sipping fine liquors, planning their next move.

Most ironic is the fact that Kavanaugh’s record already speaks for itself.  Not about sideline garden variety misogyny.  Torture, capitalistic fever dreams of hegemony, honesty vs. lies, women’s rights and equal human rights are what’s really on the line.

Vote them out?  Big deal.  There are more trained sociopathic minions waiting in the wings.

Be careful what you ask for. We are already experiencing a B-team in action.  See what happens if you call in more D-leaguers.

Your time would be better spent tuning up your pitchforks, folks.

 

Categories: News for progressives

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