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Good News, the Stock Market is Plunging: Thoughts on Wealth

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:55

Several people on my Twitter feed touted the drop in the stock market last month as evidence of the failure of Donald Trump’s economic policy. I responded by pointing out that he was reducing wealth inequality. I was being only half facetious.

I have always been less concerned about wealth than income both because I think wealth is less well-defined and because income is the more important determinant of living standards. In the case of the stock market plunge, the vast majority of the losses go to the richest 10 percent of the population and close to half go to the richest 1 percent, for the simple reason that this is distribution of stock ownership.

When people decry the rise in inequality in wealth over the last decade, they are basically complaining about the run-up in the stock market. The real value of the stock market has roughly tripled from its recession lows. With the richest one percent holding close to 40 percent of stock wealth and the richest 10 percent holding more than 80 percent, a tripling in the value of the stock market pretty much guarantees a big increase in wealth inequality. If we think this increase is bad, then why would we not think a drop in the stock market is good?

There is a correlation between the stock market and economic growth. The market generally rises when the economy is strong and falls in recessions, but this link is weak. Remember the recession of 1988?

I hope not, because the economy continued to grow at a healthy pace until the summer of 1990. This is in spite of stock market’s largest one-day drop ever in October of 1987. (It did recovery half of its value by the end of the year.)

In short, the recent plunge in the market tells us little about the future direction of the economy. If we are troubled by wealth inequality then we should be happy, rich people now have substantially less wealth.

This is not the only case where our thinking about wealth may be problematic. The value of a bond is inversely related to interest rates. To over-simply slightly, a very long-term bond has roughly twice the value when prevailing long-term interest rate is 2.5 percent than when it is 5.0 percent. This fact means that, other things equal, when interest rates fall, wealth inequality increases (because rich people own most of the bonds). So should we be upset about the rise in inequality when interest rates drop?

Bonds are an interesting case since the payout is fixed independent of the bond’s value. With lower rates, rich bondholders have more wealth, but no more annual income.

The situation is actually similar with stocks. Stock returns come from either dividends or capital gains. When price to earnings ratios high, dividend yields will be low. In the Golden Age following World War II, dividend yields averaged more than 4.0 percent annually, since price to earnings ratios were generally under fifteen. In recent years, with the price to earnings ratios well over twenty, dividend yields have been close to 2.0 percent annually.

As a result of lower dividend yields in recent years, stock returns were actually much higher in the Golden Age than in the last two decades. From 1947 to 1973, real returns averaged 8.4 percent. In the last two decades they have averaged just 4.7 percent.

In effect, the rise in stock prices has meant that stockholders are getting lower returns for each dollar of stock they hold. The rich do have more wealth as a result of higher stock prices, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will have more income. In any case, if we are really bothered by this wealth, then we should see a lower stock market as good news.

Wealth and Middle Income Families

For middle income families, wealth largely means owning a home. For the vast majority of middle income families their house is their main source of wealth. Median family wealth in 2016 was just under $100,000, a bit less than twice the median family, as measured by Survey of Consumer Finance.[1] There are large difference in wealth by race, with the median for whites at $171,000, for blacks $17,600, and for Hispanics $20,700.  This largely reflects the fact that the median white family is a homeowner, with homeownership rates of more than 70 percent. By contrast, the homeownership rate for blacks is just over 40 percent and for Hispanics it is a bit over 45 percent.

There has been much made of the fact that median wealth has not recovered to its 2007 levels. This is a bit misleading. The levels of 2007 were inflated by the housing bubble. Even though there was a sharp drop in the equity share of most homeowners (the share of the house’s value they had paid off), there was an increase in homeowner equity due to the run up in prices. Since this run-up was ephemeral, it was inevitable that homeowners’ equity would plunge when the bubble burst.

The more serious concern than the comparison to 2007 is the longer term trend in the wealth of middle class households. The wealth of families between the ages of 55 and 65 in the middle quintile of the distribution is essentially unchanged from where it was in 1989. For families between the ages of 45 to 54 it is actually down by almost 30 percent from its 1989 level.

This is a big deal, not only because we should expect the wealth of these households to increase more or less in step with the rate of growth of productivity in the economy (more than 80 percent since 1989), but also because we have seen traditional defined benefit pensions largely disappear over this period. While most workers nearing retirement age could count on getting a defined benefit pension in their retirement in 1989, this is much less the case today. In fact, less than 25 percent of the families who were between the ages of 45 and 54 in 2016 had a defined benefit pension. This means that middle income families will be much more dependent on the wealth they have accumulated over their working lifetimes to support themselves in retirement than had been the case in prior decades.

Making matters worse, these younger cohorts will also be seeing lower Social Security benefits relative to their earnings since the increase in the retirement age between 2002 and 2022 effectively amounted to a 12 percent reduction in scheduled benefits. Changes in the calculation of the consumer price index (CPI) also have reduced benefits by close to 5 percent. (Benefits after retirement are tied to the CPI.) Also, retirees are looking at much larger health care expenditures, as the out of pocket bills left over after Medicare are considerably larger relative to their income than was the case three decades ago.

The role of pensions, Social Security, and Medicare show the trade-off between the need for wealth and the access to social programs or a regular source of income, in the case of traditional defined benefit pensions. In a context where a combination of Social Security and a defined benefit pension provided a livable retirement income, and Medicare covered the bulk of health care costs, retirees did not have a need for large amounts of wealth. However, when few people have pensions, and Social Security benefits are not large enough to sustain a middle class living standard, retirees who have not accumulated substantial wealth can expect to face serious financial difficulties in retirement.

Wealth and Lower Income Families

If middle income families don’t have enough wealth, for practical purposes lower income families have none. The Federal Reserve Board did a survey last year that found that 40 percent of households could not come up with $400 if they needed it in an emergency. This is dire situation for these families, but one that may not be best addressed through trying to ensure that these families have some wealth. After all, if they had a small amount of wealth and then faced inevitable emergencies, the wealth will be quickly dissipated.

As a practical matter, it might make more sense to deal with the emergencies that are likely to create the unexpected need for $400. At the top of this list would be medical expenses. If we had a good national health insurance system that covered most of health costs for the public (and pretty much all the costs for low and moderate income households) a major source of unexpected expenses will be eliminated. In addition, when someone is dealing with their own illness or that of a family member, it is not good a time to impose an additional burden.

Another source of unexpected costs is a car repair. Since many people need a car for work, facing a $1,000 repair bill and being unable to pay it, is a very serious issue. This highlights our neglect of mass transit. We have starved big city transit systems for funds, causing many to provide poor services and charge high fares. This is a case where a relatively small amount of money could go a long way, especially if it goes to provide bus service, which ramped up quickly, as opposed to various types of light-rail systems which take many years to put in place and typically come at very high cost.

Bail is also an unexpected emergency for many families. The simple story here is to eliminate cash bail in most instances. People should not face the prospect of spending months or even years in jail simply because they or their family cannot afford the bail set by a judge. The point here is make sure people show up for trial, not to punish them before they have had a trial.

Housing expenses are a fourth common cause of unexpected expenses. This could be a needed repair in a home that is owned, or unexpected rent increase or other expense in a rented unit. We can’t protect people from needed repairs on their homes, but we can limit the ability of landlords to raise rents. Our housing policy has been hugely tilted towards promoting homeownership. This is unfortunate since roughly one-third of the population has been renters and that is likely to remain the case, even as we have modest fluctuations in share of homeowners over time.

Some cities do have laws that protect tenants against excessive rent increases or arbitrary evictions, but these are the exceptions. While rent control can pose serious problems if poorly implemented, limiting rent increases for incumbent tenants can provide considerable security for renters.

The Quick Summary on Wealth

First, the inequality measure is primarily a measure of the stock market. I’m more troubled by income inequality than wealth inequality, but if the latter really bothers you, then you need to be rooting for a drop in stock market.

Wealth has become more important for the middle class because of the disappearance of defined benefit pensions. These pensions allowed most middle class people to maintain a reasonable standard of living in retirement. Most middle class workers are not accumulating substantial wealth in 401(k) type accounts both because they tend to change jobs frequently and also the high fees charged by the financial industry.

One solution to this problem is the state level 401(k) plans that are being put in place by Illinois, Oregon, California, New York, and a number of other states. These plans will minimize the administrative costs and will also be portable so that workers will be able to keep the same plan as they change jobs within the state.

Ideally, these plans will also have a default annuity so that people will effectively end up with something very similar to a defined benefit pension. All the states have people participating in these plans as a default option. This means that they will contribute unless they choose not to.

It will take time for these accounts to build up any substantial amount of assets and there is a real risk that many baby boomers and Gen-Xers will retire without traditional defined benefit plans and little savings in their 401(k)s and little equity in their homes.

For lower income families, it seems more reasonable to try to shore up the safety net so that they don’t suffer great hardship by virtual of the fact that they don’t have a substantial amount of wealth they can rely upon. Efforts to build wealth among lower income families have often meant more money for the financial industry than the families. If we instead focus on ensuring that all people have access to health care, good public transportation, and secure housing, then the lack of wealth in low income households will be less of a problem.

Notes.

[1] The Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) defines “family” to include a single person household. The more common definition requires at least two related individuals living together. This is why the SCF has a somewhat lower measure of median family income than is usually reported.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

Categories: News for progressives

It’s Time to Decriminalize Sex Work

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:54

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Two New York City Democratic Socialist were overwhelmingly victorious in the November 6th elections – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the U.S. House for the 14th District (Bronx-Queens) and Julia Salazar’s for 18th District (Brooklyn) of the New York State Senate.

Going mostly unreported, Salazar called for the decriminalization of sex work. “Sex workers are workers and they deserve to be treated with dignity, including protections and decent working conditions, rather than the abuse and criminalization that they currently face,” Salazar said.  She added, “I’m dedicated to defending workers’ rights, reforming our criminal justice system and ending exploitation, and we know that criminalization puts everyone in sex work at risk rather than protecting them.”

Another Brooklyn candidate, Suraj Patel, lost to 13-term incumbent Carolyn Maloney in the recent Congressional primary, but he met with members of GLITS, an organization serving transgender sex workers.  “To me, this issue [of sex work] is wrapped up in the whole discussion of how prior generations of politicians in both parties—who need to go—really have only one tool in their tool kit when it comes to criminal justice, and that’s a hammer,” he said.  And added, “They can’t think outside the box about prevention and building healthier communities that have more economic opportunities for people. It’s always about criminalization.”

We live in an era when gun ownership is a Constitutional-guaranteed right; when more and more states decriminalized the medical use of marijuana and its recreational use; and when the Supreme Court ruled sports gambling legal.  It’s a period when the commercial sex industry – of sex toys, porn, sex-enhancement drugs and more — has been mainstreamed into a multi-billion-dollar operation, an accepted part of an American’s personal, private life.  So, why is sex work still illegal?

***

Donald Trump’s presidency may mark a new phase in how Americas come to terms with prostitution, long considered the oldest profession.  His decade-old adventures with sex workers Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels), a former porn star, and Karen McDougal, the 1998 Playmate of the Year, are a titillating media distraction.  While much is made of his alleged illegal “hush” money payment to the two women, little comment surrounds his illicit, if not immoral, affairs, especially by his strongest supports among evangelical Christians.  Trump’s affaires with sex workers symbolize American’s contemporarysexual culture.

Prostitution is legal in just 22 brothels operating in seven rural counties in Nevada yet is estimated to be a $14.6 billion enterprise.  The Fondation Scelles estimated that in 2012 there were one million prostitutes operating across the country.

Federal data reveals that over the last two decades prostitution arrests nationally declined by nearly 60 percent.  A 2012 report by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics finds that in 1994, 98,000 people were arrested for engaging in commercial sex; in 2001, those arrested dropped to 80,054; and in 2016, it further declined to 38,306. (Police arrests of sex workers in New York parallel the federal pattern; between 1993 to 2016 there was a 77 percent decline is such busts, from 9,547 in ’93 to 2,194 in 2016.)  Not surprising, neither the Justice Department nor the FBI offers an explanation as to why the decline in arrests occurred.

In addition, a prostitution arrest is increasingly shifting from a felony to a misdemeanor offense. This change in prosecution reflects a fundamental shift in legal and social perceptions of the sex worker, from an “immoral” criminal to a “disorderly” citizen.  This shift in perception lessens both the social stigma and the personal costs in terms of fines, prison time and other incumbrances associated with being punished for being caught engaging in sexual commerce.

Concurrent to these developments, a May 2016 Marist poll found that nearly half (49%) of Americans felt that commercial sex between two consenting adults should be legal whereas just over two-fifths (44%) opposed it.  This finding reflects a profound shift in American values. Six in ten respondents opposed criminal prosecution of those arrested for prostitution and more than half of respondents (53%) reported that decriminalizing prostitution would regulate the “professional,” thus minimizing risk to women sex workers.

***

All sex work is not the same. The religious right, along with many policymakers, seek to collapse the difference between a “trafficked” and a “consensual” sexual engagement.  They are fundamentally different sexual engagements and differentiating them can help address the plight experienced by many sex workers.

Trafficking is a form of sexual slavery, a crime, involving underage youths (mostly females).  Prostitution is a “consensual” commercial relation between a “seller” (often a female sex worker) and a “buyer” (most often a male customer); a business agent, be it a pimp or an escort service, often mediates the exchange.

Today’s effort to decriminalize prostitution builds on Rhode Island’s six-year (2003-2009) experiment.  While flawed in many ways, it saw a significant decline in rapes and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

In 2017, New York State’s former chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, headed a special commission, the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, that advocated for reclassifying prostitution as a civil offense rather than a criminal one. “The modern thinking on this is that the defendants in prostitution cases, whether it’s around the world or around the corner, are victims,” he wrote.

Lippman added, “They [sex workers] need help, those people, and the law enforcement have to get the real perpetrators of this, not the victims: the traffickers, whether it’s the pimp who is standing 10 blocks from here and doing this or whether it’s these big cartels who victimize somebody.”  The proposed reclassification of sex work was envisioned as contributing to the closing of Rikers Island, the city’s vast prison colony in the East River.

Last October, two D.C. Council members, David Grosso (I-At Large) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), introduced a bill, “Reducing Criminalization to Promote Public Safety and Health Amendment Act,” that would decriminalize prostitution.  “I do not think the criminalization of sex workers has worked for the District of Columbia,” Grosso stated. “Arresting our way out of the problem is not the solution. The approach should be a harm reduction and human rights approach.”

The bill seeks to reverse policies that have been in place for decades.  Among its provisions are: the repeal of a 1935 bill that made it a crime for engaging in or soliciting prostitution; to abolish the district’s Anti-Prostitution Vehicle Impoundment Proceeds program and fund; to repeal prohibitions on procuring someone for prostitution, operating a house of prostitution, or operating a “place used for the purpose of lewdness, assignation, or prostitution”; and to repeal D.C.’s prohibition on “pandering” (i.e., placing, causing, inducing, enticing, procuring, or compelling someone somewhere “with the intent that such individual shall engage in prostitution”) because its covered by other laws.

Sex-worker advocacy groups like COYOTE (Call Off Your Old, Tired Ethics) as well as the World Health Organizations have called to decriminalize non-trafficked – i.e., “consensual” – prostitution.  Earlier in 2018, San Francisco’s Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project (ESPLERP) lost a case, ESPLERP v Gascon, challenging California’s Penal Code Section 647(b) as unconstitutional; the law makes it illegal to engage in prostitution, to solicit a prostitute and/or to agree to engage in prostitution.

Adding to these calls, a 2015 Pew report notes that “states have dramatically changed laws targeting the sex trade to distinguish between voluntary prostitution and the trafficking of women and girls who are forced or coerced into selling sex.”  In addition, there is a nation-wide movement to implement “safe harbors” laws.  Under these provisions, youths arrested for sex trafficking are no longer prosecuted for a criminal offense but placed in a victim-services program and can be provided with rehabilitative and protective services.

As of 2016, 28 states have passed safe harbor legislations, including New York, Minnesota, Connecticut, Tennessee and Texas; the District of Columbia has also done so. This support is critical so that these young people can reclaim their lives.  Nevertheless, critics have raised concerns that safe-harbor laws have serious unintended consequences.

So, it’s time to decriminalize sex work.

Categories: News for progressives

US Calls for a Yemen Ceasefire is a Cynical Piece of Political Theatre

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:53

The UK appears now to be gearing up towards authoring a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Yemen, following years of blocking any resolutions on the issue. The UK has been the official ‘penholder’ on Yemen, meaning that it has been up to the UK to table resolutions, which it has steadfastly refused to do, whilst simultaneously blocking anyone else’s attempts to do so. The apparent about-turn is a response to last week’s statements from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis calling for a ceasefire in Yemen within 30 days, to be followed up with UN-facilitated peace talks. The UK dutifully followed suit shortly afterwards, expressing their support for the initiative. This was somewhat ironic given that minister Alistair Burt, obviously not privy to the seeming about-turn, had just spent the day providing MPs with excruciatingly contorted explanations of why calling for a ceasefire was not a good idea in the circumstances. “Passing a ceasefire resolution risks undercutting the UN envoy’s efforts to reach a political deal and undermining the credibility of the Council” he told the House of Commons at midday; yet within 36 hours, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was telling Newsnight that the US call for a ceasefire was “an extremely welcome announcement because we have been working towards a cessation of hostilities in Yemen for a long time.” In the parallel universe of British double-speak, it is of course natural that unrelenting support for what is fast turning into a war of national annihilation gets recast as “working towards a cessation of hostilities”.

Yet this latest call does appear to be at odds with the hitherto existing strategy; it was only in June, after all, when the US and UK torpedoed a Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the face of impending famine. Many commentaries (such as this one in the Telegraph, for example), have suggested that the US is now taking advantage of pressure on Saudi Arabia following the murder of Saudi insider-turned-dissident Khashoggi to push the kingdom towards a less belligerent position in the disastrous Yemen war. The ever-more desperate humanitarian situation is giving the war a bad name and – so the story goes – the US are now keen to end it. David Miliband, former UK foreign secretary and now president of the International Rescue Committee, even called the US announcement “the most significant breakthrough in the war in Yemen for four years”.

Unfortunately, it is likely to prove nothing of the sort. The detail of the announcement makes clear that, far from representing some kind of Damascene change of heart, the ‘call for a ceasefire’ is little more than yet another rebranding exercise, a cynical attempt to whitewash escalating carnage with the rhetoric of peace.

With every passing day, the war in Yemen becomes harder to defend. The airstrike on a bus full of schoolchildren in early August briefly caused international outrage, but it was sadly not exceptional; indeed, at least 55 civilians had been killed during the bombardment of a hospital and fish market just the week before, and the bus itself was but one of over fifty civilian vehicles targeted by Saudi airstrikes during the first half of this year. For most of the war, around a third of coalition airstrikes have hit civilian sites; but according to the Yemen Data Project, this ratio reached 48% in September.

More grim news emerged on 29th October, when a detailed research project concluded that over five times as many people have met violent deaths in the conflict than previously estimated. For years, the media have consistently claimed a death toll of 10,000, but the true figure is closer to 56,000 since the start of 2016 according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, as the earlier estimate only covered deaths reported to official medical centres. The death toll from the start of the bombing campaign until the end of this year is expected to lie between 70,000 and 80,000.

Yet even this number, horrific as it is, is dwarfed by the deaths from the starvation and disease which have been the coalition’s weapon of choice against the population of Houthi-controlled areas. The bombing of water treatment systems, fishing boats, roads and bridges, the naval blockade of the country’s imports, and the coalition regime’s decision to stop paying salaries to health and sanitation workers in Houthi areas two years ago have combined to create mass starvation and the world’s biggest cholera outbreak since the end of WW2. An average of 130 children die of disease and malnutrition every day (Although “they are not starving”, noted a tweet from the Norwegian Refugee Council, “they are being starved”), with around 150,000 people thought to have died from such causes last year alone. And this aspect of the conflict is set to deteriorate exponentially.

On 15th October, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande warned that Yemen could face the world’s worst famine for one hundred years if the airstrikes are not stopped, with 12 to 13 million at risk of starvation. Nine days later, the agency’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Mark Lowcock said that the risk was actually worse than they previously predicted with 14 million close to “pre-famine conditions” – half the country’s population. He noted that the UN was currently only able to feed 8 million of these, although these too would be at risk if the country’s main port Hodeidah – responsible for over 70% of imports – is attacked by the coalition.

Earlier this week, just as Mattis and Pompeo delivered their soothing words, 30,000 troops began massing to launch precisely that attack. The problem for the war’s backers in London, Paris and Washington is how to justify the holocaust this is almost certain to unleash on Yemen’s population in the delusional pursuit of reimposing an impotent and discredited quisling.

The ceasefire announcement, then, is about providing cover for the impending attack. Just at the moment the aid agencies have been warning against its devastating consequences, and calling for an immediate end to the bombing, the ‘ceasefire proposal’ gives the Saudis a month’s free pass to conduct their famine-inducing operation on Hodeidah. Rather than demanding the offensive be halted or delayed, the ‘30-day’ call eggs it on. Nor is the 30-day timeframe any kind of limit on the operation. Pompeo stated that “The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV strikes from Houthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  Subsequently, Coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen”. The term ‘subsequently’ is crucial, implying that the Saudis continued bombardment – including in “populated areas” – would be perfectly justified unless the Houthis had implemented a unilateral ceasefire first. This is little more than a call for unconditional surrender by the Houthis, dressed up as a peace initiative. By the same token, it sets the scene for laying all the blame for any continued fighting at the door of the Houthis

The reality is that the US and UK could end the war tomorrow, simply by threatening to cut off military supplies, intelligence, and training to the Saudis until the airstrikes stop, a point made by Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council to a UK Parliamentary Select Committee earlier this week. Yet the US are precisely NOT calling for an end to the bombing, nor threatening to use their leverage to bring it about. Instead, this so-called initiative is yet another cynical PR exercise designed to justify, rather than to reign in, this brutal war.

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye

 

Categories: News for progressives

Forced Marriage Between Argentina and the IMF Turns into a Fiasco

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:52

While the discontent of the Argentine people grows day by day, President Mauricio Macri flees to the United States. In New York, he continues negotiations with the IMFto revise the already outdated agreement signed in June, intervenes in the UN Assembly, and receives an award for his leadership. Meanwhile, the fourth big general strike of his mandate, after that of the 25thof June against the agreement of the IMF, paralyses the country. This is the summary of a historic week forArgentina at the heart of the turmoil.

Macri the liar and “zero poverty” 

On the 20thof September, during his speech at the 71stUN General Assembly, Macri reiterated the goal of moving towards “zero poverty”, an objective that is in total contradiction with his own policy and the IMF’s injunctions in a food-exporting country marked again by famine, a country where 11 million people are considered poor according to the INDEC National Institute of Statistics. Significant political choices were made in this regard, such as the purchase last August, in the midst of the financial crisis in Argentina, of five Super-Étendard fighter planes at Dassault Aviation for 12 million euros. Completely unafraid of contradictions, later in his speech, Macri says that “Argentina makes the empowerment of women a state policy.” This almost distracts us from the Senate’s vote in early August against the legalisation of abortion that results in women incurring between one and four years of imprisonment if their abortion is considered illegal; that is to say for any abortion apart from cases of rape or risks to the life or health of women. As a reminder, in Latin America only two countries, Cuba and Uruguay, allow the voluntary termination of pregnancy without conditions, to which must be added the Federal District state of Mexico.

The price of shame 

After the current Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau last year, Matteo Renzi in 2016, Ukrainian billionaire President Petro Poroshenko, or Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, it was the turn of Argentine President Mauricio Macri to receive the “Global Citizen Award”. A few months earlier, awarded by the same American think tank, The Atlantic Council, George W. Bush was honoured to receive the Distinguished International Leadership Awardalong with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

A New York Times article, published in September 2014, tells us that the Atlantic Council organisation received donations from over twenty-five governments, in addition to the United States, since 2008. According to its latest annual report, this think tank receives multiple donations, the most significant of which are those from the United States Department of State, the Lithuanian and Norwegian Defence Ministries, various companies including HSBC, Lockheed Martin and Thales, Chevron, BP, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Tüpras and ExxonMobil, the well-known international business law firm Baker McKenzie, the investment fund Blackstone, Airbus, Ford and Google.

On the 24thof September 2018, at the famous Cipriani Restaurant on 55 Wall Street, in front of an audience of over 400 world leaders handpicked to attend the ninth very selective edition of the Atlantic Council in New York, Macri received the Global Citizen Award.

The ex-banker, philanthropist and vice-president of the Atlantic Council, Adrienne Arsht heated up the tone: “Let’s start with a confession: I have a crush on President Macri. Tonight, we honour President Macri for his leadership… The Argentinian president, transformed into the star of the moment, goes up to the platform and proclaims, all smiles: “I must confess that with Christine, we have been building a great relationship over the last few months, which, I hope, will work very well, and will lead the whole country to fall in love with her.” The laughter of the upper middle class merges in the room, a few glances turn to the table where Christine Lagarde, also nominated in 2011, shares the dinner with the Argentine President, his wife Juliana Awada, and the President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Luis Alberto Moreno, among other personalities. Euphoric, Macri would even conduct a few dance steps at the time of the family photo with Adrienne Arsht, under the amused gaze of Klaus Schwab, the founder of the Davos Economic Forum.

This declaration of love within the global aristocracy would be enough to make many people hopeful if it were not surreal, unable to erase a high-conflict relationship between the Washington institution and Argentina. As if to illustrate this incompatibility, at the same time, Argentina is again paralysed by a general strike, the fourth under the mandate of Mauricio Macri. Virtually no metro, bus or taxi runs in the capital and major cities of the country; all flights departing and arriving from Argentina are cancelled; administrations, banks and many shops are closed in sign of protest against the IMF. It is a historic mobilisation in this country of 41 million inhabitants, many demonstrations take place, and a heavily supported general strike over two days, 24 and 25 September, is decreed. “No to the IMF”, “No to adjustment”, can be read on the banners at the head of procession.

The Central Bank at the service of the IMF 

On 25 September, after only three months in office, the former JP.Morgan and Deutsche Bank tradesman, Luis Caputo, resigned from his position as governor of the Central Bankto be replaced by the deputy finance minister, Guido Sandleris. Caputo would have had differences with the Washington institution. “Macri sacrificed him in New York on the altar of the IMF because he had committed the sin of operating on the foreign exchange market  without authorisation. Since then, officials have been obedient to an IMF, which has total control of economic policy, ” said Alejandro Vanoli, governor of the Argentine Central Bank during the term of President Cristina Kirchner. Following this announcement, the peso lost 3.4% during the day of 25 September, in just two days the dollar rose 6.2% pushing the peso to a new record of 41.88 pesos to the dollar.

The IMF loan is on the rise 

Two days after exchanging laughter and palaver at the Atlantic Council gala, and the day after the change of Central bank governor, the IMF was making the largest loan in its history to Argentina. On September 26th, shaken by a serious economic crisis, the country obtained from the IMF an additional 7 billion dollars and an acceleration of the payment schedule. The loan granted in June thus increased from 50 to 57.1 billion dollars over three years. “The payments scheduled for the remainder of 2018 and 2019 increased by 19 billion dollars,” said the Argentine Minister of Economy Nicolas Dujovne from New York. By the end of 2018, Argentina will receive 13.4 billion dollars instead of the 6 billion dollars initially provided for in the first agreement reached in June (in addition to the 15 billion dollars already disbursed); by 2019, Buenos Aires will be able to count on the provision of 22.8 billion dollars, instead of 11; and 5.9 billion dollars planned for 2020 – 2021. The Argentinian debtin dollars is getting dangerously high and the depreciationof the peso is continuing despite this agreement, but President Macri reassures us: “There is no risk that Argentina will be in default” of payment of its debt, as was the case during the 2001 economic crisis. In the meantime, poverty is spreading like wildfire to serve creditors’ debt and the government is asking the Church to intensify its distribution of food in poor neighbourhoods…

Article originally published on the blog Un monde sans dette from the journal Politis.

Translation: Jenny Bright.

Categories: News for progressives

Getting Past Gingrich

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:51

Photo Source Dave Maass | CC BY 2.0

With the election over and a new Congress ready to be sworn in this January, I’m ready for a new, less toxic style of politics.

Journalist McKay Coppins traces the toxic politics of today back to Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. Gingrich, he said, pioneered “strategic obstructionism.”

Here’s what that means: Let’s say a bill was very popular with voters. Once upon a time, both parties might have compromised and passed the bill through Congress. Gingrich put a stop to that.

According to Gingrich’s logic, the Democrats who controlled Congress in those days would get credit for any bills that passed. If Republicans helped Democrats pass those bills, voters would be satisfied with the Democratic-controlled Congress. Republicans who supported even a popular bill wouldn’t get credit for it.

Under Gingrich, Republicans would oppose popular legislation they previously might have supported. Then Republicans would point a finger at the Democratic leadership and accuse Congress of doing nothing.

They’d tell the voters that Democrats won’t fix your problems so you need to elect Republicans. Never mind that Republicans caused the obstruction in the first place.

This worked. It still works.

That was Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s strategy throughout the Obama presidency: Don’t pass anything, then blame the lack of action on Obama.

Here’s the thing: While this strategy is effective at winning elections, it’s not an effective way of governing. It serves none of us when our leaders can’t get anything done.

Since the 1990s, we’ve lived through political rhetoric that stokes fear and anger. Fear and anger draw you in like a magnet. Fear and anger motivate people to watch more TV, click more links, and donate and volunteer more to campaigns. That doesn’t make them healthy or constructive.

There are a few other theories why Congress doesn’t work anymore.

One worth noting is the elimination of “earmarks.” In the past, Congress could persuade members to compromise on a bill by including earmarks: provisions in the bill allocating money to one or another member’s district. In exchange for voting for a bill he or she didn’t completely love, the representative would get funding to repair a bridge in his or her district or something like that.

In 2010, Congressional Republicans initiated a ban on earmarks. In 2011, Obama promised to veto any bill containing earmarks. They were decried as a form of corruption. However, they served to grease the wheels of democracy.

As a citizen, the poisonous rhetoric is painful to listen to. Watching the news hurts. Some politicians are openly spewing hate speech. Hypocrisy is rampant and nobody cares.

I’m all for politicians taking morally principled stands on behalf of their constituents. They’re supposed to do that.

What they aren’t supposed to do is focus on what will get them elected or keep them in office at the expense of what they must do to govern.

If both sides could agree on a bill that would benefit the American people, especially one most Americans support, they shouldn’t obstruct it just to score political points.

We’ll have a new Congress taking office in a few months, and then the next presidential race will begin to heat up. As voters, we should no longer reward hate speech and obstructionism that come at the expense of good governance.

Categories: News for progressives

Not a Blue Wave, But Perhaps a Foreshock

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:51

Photo Source Fibonacci Blue | CC BY 2.0

The 2018 election looks at first glance like a wash: Republicans gained seats in the Senate and Democrats regained control of the House with enough of a margin to ensure that they can put some limits on presidential power.

But longer term impacts of 2018 are, I believe, more significant. In this election, with President Trump as party leader pushing a rabidly racist claim that immigrants fleeing from the largely US-caused poverty, chaos and violence in Honduras hoping for a better life for their kids in the US were actually an “invasion” of the US that would bring across the border everything from disease to Arab terrorists, gangs and dark-skinned rapists, and with his claiming that Democrats were behind what he labeled a “caravan” of tens of thousands (it is really just several thousand mostly young people and parents with children and babies), Republicans have hit bottom.

By having accepted Trump’s malignant campaign assistance and his anti-semitic and evidence-free hints that the Jewish immigrant investor George Soros has been funding the Honduran march, Republicans are now clearly self-identified as the party of paranoid racist and sexist white older and often evangelical Christian males (and their wives), of people with a limited education, and of rural voters with little knowledge of or interest in the larger world. Democrats by default, are the party of educated white people who oppose racism, of non-whites, and increasingly, of the young or all races, and clearly too of women, as the large number of women elected to office in this latest election dramatically attests. Since Trump’s racist campaigning obviously worked in some races — notably in Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia and several other states where the margin between candidates for Senate and Governor were narrow to begin with — this reprehensible tactic will likely be adopted by the party’s candidates in 2020 and future election cycles.

Clarifying how loathsome the already awful Republican Party has become is a good thing. But on the downside, the Nov. 6 election also showed that the percentage of Americans who will reflexively respond to racist dog-whistle campaigns is frighteningly high. President Trump’s bald-faced lie about Hondurans heading north through Mexico being “invaders” may be ludicrous to rational beings, but it was believed by millions of credulous and irrational racist, anti-semitic, anti-Latino and white supremacist Republicans and independents who flocked to the polls to “defend America” from this pathetic “invasion.”

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, the positive news for progressive Democrats is that candidates who openly professed to being “socialist” like the victorious new Congressmember from a Bronx-Queens district, Anastasia Osario-Cortez, or who advocated socialist-style reforms like a Medicare-for-all health care system similar to what people in Canada have had now since 1971, as did the marrowly defeated candidate for Senator in Texas, Beto O’Rourke, did well and in many cases won their races. Openly leftist Democratic candidates helped flip control of the House and also of six state legislatures from Republican to Democratic, including New York State. They also took away at least one of two houses in another dozen or so state legislatures. In others, they ended Republican super majorities needed to override Democratic governors’ vetos of their most pernicious legislation. All this, and the replacement of several Republican governors by Democrats, is hugely important because it is state governments that will redraw congressional and state legislative district lines after the 2020 census. Divided governments prevent gerrymandering of district lines — something Republican-only state governments did after the 2010 census with enormous impact on a decade of subsequent elections.

O’Rourke’s dramatic success in coming out of nowhere as a first-term congressman from El Paso with no money and eschewing PACs and professional campaign managers, and then almost knocking out the well-funded far-right Tea-Party Republican incumbent Senator Ted Cruz, is a harbinger of a coming tidal change in US politics. The electrifying O’Rourke-Cruz race, which caught national attention, boosted turnout in Texas beyond the 2012 presidential race total. It provides dramatic evidence that an unapologetic progressive — someone who questioned the rationale for the US’s $717-billion military budget and its myriad endless wars around the globe, and who called for Medicaid-for-all, while denouncing Trump for his Mexico border wall and his demonization of immigrants — has a shot at winning even in Texas. In the end, O’Rourke came up 2.6% short of defeating Cruz, but he clearly captured the hearts of many of that state’s voters. It should be noted that in Republican-governed Texas, all the stops were pulled out in using voter suppression methods to keep young people and especially Latinos from voting this year. Efforts were made in college towns to make student voting hard, voting places and machines were limited in Latino neighborhoods and there were even widespread reports of voting machines that were automatically switching votes. These tactics, taken together, may have been enough to let Cruz squeak into a second term this time, but it seems clear that it won’t be long before the number of Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters in the Lone Star State will overwhelm such dirty tricks.

Already the largest minority in Texas, Latinos — overwhelmingly Mexican-Americans — are projected to become the majority in Texas in 2020. That, of course, happens to be a presidential election year when Trump (unless his appetite for Big Macs does him in first), will presumably be running for a second term and will need to win Texas. The Mexican-American population in Texas is growing by about 200,000-250,000 a year in Texas, which is roughly double the 213,000 margin by which Cruz just bested O’Rourke.

Between larger numbers and a trend towards increased Latino voting (there was a record 24% Latino voter turnout this year in Texas), O’Rourke or other future Democratic candidates will likely do significantly better in coming state elections in the state — though Democratic candidates will have to get that Latino turnout rate higher still.

Republican dominance of Texas is going to end, probably sooner than later. And when the Lone Star State flips, it will, like California before it, be for good. And when the country’s second most populous state, with a population already 75% as great as California’s, goes Democratic, it will have profound impact on national politics.

Of course, the US political system is hopelessly corrupted and will for some time continue to be so. Corporate money will continue to fund both parties. Third parties will continue to be blocked from growing by an ongoing conspiracy of the two existing parties to keep them off of ballots and out of the media and publicly broadcast debates. And the national electoral system will remain rigged the way our aristocratic and slave-owning founding fathers intended, with a Senate that gives equal power to states with populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands and states with populations in the tens of millions, and an Electoral College that does the same thing in the selection of presidents.

That said, as Latinos have become major parts of state electorates, we can observe that the politics of those states inexorably shift to the left. This has already happened in California and Colorado, both now reliably Democratic and progressive. It’s happening increasingly in New Mexico and Nevada too, and it’s starting to happen in Arizona and Texas.

As younger voters become a bigger part of state electorates, such shifts are happening too in what have long been hard-right Republican states. Look at Oklahoma, a state where Latinos only represent 11% of a population that’s 72% white. Oklahoma just elected Kendra Horn, a Democrat, to Congress, the first Democrat elected to a national office in that state since the 1970s. And then there’s Kansas, long characterized as the “reddest of red” states in the US. Its voters just handed a win to Democrat Laura Kelly, who defeated that Darth Vader of voter suppression, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, for the governorship. Kobach is the racist creep who conceived of and promoted the insidious scheme — adopted by many Republican-led states — to minimize black voting by erasing from voter lists all names that even remotely resembled names on a national list of convicted felons. Since so many blacks are descended from slaves whose owners gave them common names like Jones, James, Smith, Jackson, etc., this tactic ended up depriving millions of African Americans in states like Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and the Deep South of the right to vote.

Kansans this year also elected another Democratic woman, Sharice Davids. She is a lesbian Native American and will now be one of their state’s four members of Congress. A third Democratic woman in Kansas, running against a Republican incumbent, lost her bid for a second of the state’s Congressional districts by just 2%.

There are limits to what we on the left can expect from a Democratic Party that remains as deeply corrupted by corporate cash (legal bribes) as the Republicans, but on the margins these progressive victories and near victories, and the rise of Latino and young voters as significant voting blocs, both groups being quite interested in or at least open to socialist or progressive ideas, are bound to have a profound influence on the Democrats going forward, particularly as their favored candidates start winning.

Leftists outside of the Democratic Party fret about voting for Democrats instead of honest Third Party candidates, but the reality is that progressives cannot ignore the importance of winning national and state elections, particularly as fascism’s influence grows across the country. The reality is there is no chance of a powerful labor or socialist party rising up in two years or even six, if ever, to contest with the Democrats for power. If a mass movement like the Civil Rights movement of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, or the anti-war movement of the late ‘60s and ‘70s should develop — and we should all be working towards that — it could perhaps shatter the Democratic Party and provide an opening for a genuine new left party, but until then electing progressive Democrats matters.

Meanwhile, contemplating the usual list of sorry Democratic presidential prospects (Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, or perhaps Amy Klobuchar or an aging Bernie Sanders), the idea percolating among progressive Democrats looking for someone more exciting is Beto O’Rourke as a presidential candidate in 2020. Beto would be like Bernie with a straight spine, youthful energy and a bracing willingness to condemn US militarism and to question military spending (in both fluent English and Spanish).

We’ve got an interesting next two years ahead of us.

Categories: News for progressives

Dangerous, Expensive Drugs Aggressively Pushed? You Have These Medical Conflicts of Interest to Thank

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:50

Photo Source Damian Gadal | CC BY 2.0

The year was 2011. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg proposed loosening conflict of interest rules for doctors sitting on advisory committees because non-compromised doctors were disappearing. The FDA could not find “knowledgeable experts who are free of financial conflicts of interest,” said news reports.

How bad is Pharma’s brazen financial infiltration into US medicine? The New York Times and ProPublica recently reported that Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s own CEO, Dr. Craig B. Thompson, its chief medical officer, Dr. José Baselga, and one of its immunotherapy specialists, Dr. Jedd Wolchok, were swimming in Pharma money.

Thomas sat on the boards of Merck and Charles River Laboratories and actually founded a cancer start-up. Wolchok, says the Times and ProPublica, has links to 31 Pharma companies. Baselga, who has since resigned, received undisclosed millions from Pharma.

I have personally attended medical conferences where doctors unflinchingly show slide after slide of Pharma companies who pay them as if the payments did not affect their presentations to follow.

The responses of doctors exposed for the payola/bribes are downright embarrassing. Lee Cohen, lead author of a 2006 JAMA article promoting antidepressants during pregnancy listed 76 financial relationships with Pharma that he and the other authors had not mentioned explaining that, “We did not view those associations as relevant to this study.”

Entire hospital programs have been Pharma funded. Harvard child psychiatrist Joseph “Risperdal” Biederman approached Johnson & Johnson with a money-making scheme called the Johnson & Johnson Center for the Study of Pediatric Psychopathology at Massachusetts General Hospital to “move forward the commercial goals of J. & J.” and “support the safety and effectiveness of risperidone [Risperdal] in this age group.”

Dr. Mani Pavuluri, who received GlaxoSmithKline dollars, founded the Pediatric Mood Disorders Program and the Pediatric Brain Research and InterventioN (BRAIN) Center at the University of Illinois, conflicts of interest notwithstanding. She has since left in disgrace.

The corruption also affects our tax dollars. Despite leaving Emory University under a shameful cloud for not disclosing Pharma income and having a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant terminated, Dr. Charles Nemeroff resurfaced at the University of Miami along with our tax dollars in what was widely regarded as undisguised cronyism.

Rather than stopping such conflicts of interest, mainstream medicine is moving toward legitimizing them. Dr. Timothy Wilens, chief of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital readily admits his “ties” to Pharma saying he has “an academic obligation to work with the industry.”

Duke’s Dr. Robert Califf, who became FDA Commissioner after Hamburg,said, “many of us consult with the pharmaceutical industry, which I think is a very good thing. They need ideas and then the decision about what they do is really up to the person who is funding the study.”

A disclosure statement on the website of Duke Clinical Research Institute says “Robert M. Califf, MD, reports receiving research grant support from Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson/Scios, Lilly, Merck, and Schering Plough, and consulting fees from Annenberg, Aterovax, Bayer/Ortho McNeil, BMS, Boehringer Ingelheim, GSK, WebMd/theheart.org, Johnson and Johnson/Scios, Kowa Research Institute, McKinsey & Company, Medtronic, Merck, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi Aventis, and Schering Plough, and has an equity position with NITROX, LLC.”

Since Califf, Pharma operative Scott Gottlieb now heads the FDA and former Eli Lilly lobbyist Alex Azar now heads Health and Human Services in a clear message that government officials with Pharma ties are fine.

Categories: News for progressives

Not Much of a Wave

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:50

Photo Source Peter Hosey | CC BY 2.0

What is the situation like now? Yesterday Americans voted in the most hotly contested election since.. 2016. It is remarkable how quickly cultural amnesia takes hold and electoral memory dissipates—I was left staring in a bookshop yesterday at a New Yorker article on Claire McCaskill’s run in deep-red Missouri, on how she avoids partisan politics and focuses on commonalities—and how this can be a model for Democrats. (She lost).

Americans voted in the hopes (of some) that this will stymie the Trump agenda, return a semblance of normalcy to politics and social life in this country, and halt the apparently inexorable rise of fascism. I suspect it will not. Enough political analysis has been written of the moment. Suffice it to say, I think the fair take is that the Democratic leadership will take exactly all the wrong lessons from their win in the House; evidence includes among many other data points the aforementioned New Yorker article, Nancy Pelosi’s expected reascension to Speaker of the House and immediate appeals to ‘bipartisanship,’ not to mention the Democrats apparently running exclusively Marine pilots as candidates.

Indeed the noose would seemingly tighten either way as the Overton window continues to shift, and if history is any guide, an election like this will not be anywhere near sufficient to stem the violently rising tide of white nationalism, despite pundits’ insistence otherwise. As Noam Chomsky pointed out in his appearance on Democracy Now! last week, the two most life-threatening issues at this most precarious time in human history—nuclear war and climate change—were virtually undiscussed in this election, if mentioned at all (and nuclear weapons were universally not, despite Trump’s stated intention to withdraw from the 1987 INF Treaty) relegated to a late-item bullet point under ‘issues’ on blue-dog Democrat campaign sites. And yet a serious consideration of these crises leads one to reasonably conclude it’s unlikely humanity will make it out of this predicament at all. 

Moreover electorally a number of symbolic contests ominously went the wrong way. Brian Kemp and Ron DeSantis beat Stacy Abrams and Andrew Gillum respectively (both African-American) in the most explicitly racist high-profile national races this cycle, aided in both cases by significant voter suppression. Ben Jealous lost his bid to be the first black governor of Maryland. Steve King won reelection. Steve Scalise (‘David Duke without the baggage’) was reelected. The explicit Nazi Arthur Jones received over 50,000 votes in Illinois’s Third Congressional District. Perhaps most notably, Republicans picked up potentially five seats in the Senate, tightening control over judicial and cabinet appointments for the indefinite future.

As Pelosi and Schumer ingratiate themselves to a fascistic administration, perhaps the most functional thing that can be said of this election is that it primarily serves as a pasted-on veneer to the backdrop of rising apocalypse behind it. Without exception mainstream analyses of it are embarrassingly simplistic. I did vote; many local elections matter; laws will continue to be passed that will have an immediate bearing on all of our lives before the possible collapse of civilization. But as Chomsky, again, says of voting: ‘it matters, but it’s not the main thing.’ The rising insanity waiting in the wings has seemingly limitless ways to re-express itself. Only a fool would suppose that an electoral victory will shut them up for long, or at all. So this is what must be confronted: perpetual war; the ongoing self-consumption of capitalism (remember, Pelosi said it: ‘we’re capitalists’); the present and rapidly worsening effects of climate change; militant white supremacy; not to mention the fundamental un-sustainability undergirding all our lifestyles. This is where the true threats lie.

Will Solomon lives in Vermont and blogs at decomposingnightmareparody.

Categories: News for progressives

Why Yemeni War Deaths are Five Times Higher Than You’ve Been Led to Believe

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:50

Photo Source Felton Davis | CC BY 2.0

In April, I made new estimates of the death toll in America’s post-2001 wars in a three-part Consortium News report. I estimated that these wars have now killed several million people.  I explained that widely reported but much lower estimates of the numbers of combatants and civilians killed were likely to be only one fifth to one twentieth of the true numbers of people killed in U.S. war zones. Now one of the NGOs responsible for understating war deaths in Yemen has acknowledged that it was underestimating them by at least five to one, as I suggested in my report.

One of the sources I examined formy report was a U.K.-based NGO named ACLED (Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project), which has compiled counts of war deaths in Libya, Somalia and Yemen.  At that time, ACLED estimated that about 10,000 people had been killed in the war in Yemen, about the same number as the WHO (World Health Organization), whose surveys are regularly cited as estimates of war deaths in Yemen by UN agencies and the world’s media.  Now ACLED estimates the true number of people killed in Yemen is probably between 70,000 and 80,000.

ACLED’s estimates do not include the thousands of Yemenis who have died from the indirect causes of the war, such as starvation, malnutrition and preventable diseases like diphtheria and cholera. UNICEF reported in December 2016 that a child was dying every ten minutes in Yemen, and the humanitarian crisis has only worsened since then, so the total of all deaths caused directly and indirectly by the war must by now number in the hundreds of thousands.

Another NGO, the Yemen Data Project, revealed in September 2016 that at least a third of Saudi-ledair-strikes, many of which are conducted by U.S.-built and U.S.-refueled warplanes using U.S.-made bombs, were hitting hospitals, schools, markets, mosques and other civilian targets. This has left at least half the hospitals and health facilities in Yemen damaged or destroyed, hardly able to treat the casualties of the war or serve their communities, let alone to compile meaningful figures for the WHO’s surveys.

In any case, even comprehensive surveys of fully functioning hospitals would only capture a fraction of the violent deaths in a war-torn country like Yemen, where most of those killed in the war do not die in hospitals. And yet the UN and the world’s media have continued to cite the WHO surveys as reliable estimates of the total number of people killed in Yemen.

The reason I claimed that such estimates of civilian deaths in U.S. war zones were likely to be so dramatically and tragically wrong was because that is what epidemiologists have found wheneverthey have conducted serious mortality studies based on well-establishedstatistical principles in war zones around the world.

Epidemiologists recently used some of the same techniques to estimate that about 3,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The results of studiesin war-ravaged Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been widely cited by Western political leaders and the Western media with no hint of controversy.

When some of the very same public health experts who had worked in Rwanda and the DRC used the same methods to estimate how many people had been killed as a result of the U.S. and U.K.’s invasion and occupation of Iraq in two studies published in the Lancet medical journal in 2004 and 2006, they found that about 600,000 people had been killed in the first three years of war and occupation.

Wide acceptance of these results would have been a geopolitical disaster for the U.S. and U.K. governments, and would have further discredited the Western media who had acted as cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq and were still blaming the Iraqi victims of the illegal invasion of their country for the violence and chaos of the occupation.  So, even though the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s Chief Scientific Advisor described the Lancet studies’ design as “robust” and their methods as “close to best practice,” and British officials admitted privately that they were “likely to be right,” the U.S. and U.K. governments launched a concerted campaign to “rubbish” them.

In 2005, as American and British officials and their acolytes in the corporate media “rubbished” his work, Les Roberts of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (now at Columbia), the lead author of the 2004 study,told the U.K. media watchdog Medialens, “It is odd that the logic of epidemiology embraced by the press every day regarding new drugs or health risks somehow changes when the mechanism of death is their armed forces.”

Roberts was right that this was odd, in the sense that there was no legitimate scientific basis for the objections being raised to his work and its results. But it was not so odd that embattled political leaders would use all the tools at their disposal to try to salvage their careers and reputations, and to preserve the U.S. and U.K.’s future freedom of action to destroy countries that stood in their way on the world stage.

By 2005, most Western journalists in Iraq were hunkered down in Baghdad’s fortifiedGreen Zone, reporting mainly from the CENTCOM briefing room.  If they ventured out, they were embedded with U.S. forces traveling by helicopter or armored convoy between fortified U.S. bases. Dahr Jamail was one of a few incredibly brave “unembedded” American reporters in the real Iraq, Beyond the Green Zone, as he named his book about his time there.  Dahr told me he thought the true number of Iraqis being killed might well be even higher than the Lancetstudies’ estimates, and that it was certainly not much lower as the Western propaganda machine insisted.

Unlike Western governments and the Western media over Iraq, and UN agencies and the same Western media over Afghanistan and Yemen, ACLED does not defend its previous misleadingly inadequate estimates of war deaths in Yemen. Instead, it is conducting a thorough review of its sources to come up with a more realistic estimate of how many people have been killed. Working back from the present as far as January 2016, it now estimates that 56,000 people have been killed since then.

Andrea Carboni of ACLED told Patrick Cockburn of the Independent newspaper in the U.K. that he believes ACLED’s estimate of the number killed in 3-1/2 years of war on Yemen will be between 70,000 and 80,000 once it has finished reviewing its sources back to March 2015, when Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and their allies launched this horrific war.

But the true number of peoplekilled in Yemen is inevitably even higher than ACLED’s revised estimate.  As I explained in my Consortium News report, no such effort to count the dead by reviewing media reports, records from hospitals and other “passive” sources, no matter how thoroughly, can ever fully count the dead amid the widespread violence and chaos of a country ravaged by war.

This is why epidemiologists have developed statistical techniques to produce more accurate estimates of how many people have really been killed in war zones around the world.   The world is still waiting for that kind of genuine accounting of the true human cost of the Saudi-U.S. war on Yemen and, indeed, of all America’s post-9/11 wars.

 

Categories: News for progressives

We call BS! Now, Will You Please Get Over This Partisanship?

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:50

After 8 years and 3 elections (one of those a recall) Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was defeated on November 6th in his bid for a third term by Democrat Tony Evers.

Clearly it was a close election, Evers won by about 31,000 votes, a margin of 1.2% (results were not final until Wednesday morning) and legally, much as he may have wanted to, Walker could not request a recount because of a law he signed last year.

Due to a recount requested by Green party candidate Jill Stein, after President Trump won Wisconsin by 23,000 votes in the 2016 election, the Wisconsin Legislature passed and Walker signed a law mandating that, in the future, candidates could only request a recount if they were losing by less than 1 percent, — Walker lost by 1.2 percent. Ouch, – he probably didn’t see that coming back to bite him.

Since Republicans still control the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate, having a Democratic Governor, it was hoped, might insure some semblance of checks and balance to the Wisconsin legislative process, right? Theoretically, yes, but within hours Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he would discuss ways to limit Evers’ power as Governor with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who of course was open to the idea.

I guess that’s how Democracy is supposed to work, or not work in these times—if you don’t have total partisan control of the process, you try to pass laws or throw up any possible road block to restrict any intrusion of the opposing party into the power structure you somehow seem to feel you have a right to own.

A similar situation was, of course, played out by President Trump, who obviously felt the sting of the Democratic wins in Tuesdays election that gave them control of the House. Feeling threatened by the Republicans loosing total control of the government and fearing the newly empowered Democrats could launch potential investigations of his finances, the ethics scandals within the administration, Russian collusion, even possible impeachment proceedings, Trump, preemptively fought back.

Trump threatened a “Warlike Posture” if the Democrats try to investigate him, indicating he would use the Republican controlled Senate to investigate as yet unnamed, alleged acts of misconduct committed by Democrats.“They can play that game, but we can play it better. Because we have a thing called the United States Senate.

So, this is what we have come to? In Wisconsin and I would guess other states where the balance of power has shifted, partisan politics and the need to maintain total political control totally upends any idea of bipartisanship and as they say, “working across the isle”?

In Washington, the President feels it is a game? You push me, I’ll push you? If there were legitimate reasons to investigate misconduct committed by the Democrats, of course investigate, but why wasn’t that done when the misconduct occurred? Why wait until the threat of investigation could be used as a cudgel to try and suppress investigations of his administration?

Listen, all federal, state and local politicians, pay attention and I do not care what party you claim allegiance to. Voters and perhaps more-so, those who are so disgusted with politics they feel voting is a waste of time, would really like to see some changes. Montana Senator Jon Tester noted in a speech after his re-election that “The people I talked to, the biggest issue they bring up is, Why can’t you guys work together?” And to his credit he concluded, “We can, and we will.” Thank you Senator.

That’s what we want. We are sick and tired of the unmitigated partisanship, bullying and voter suppression.

This isn’t supposed to be a power struggle by a bunch of narcissistic, self serving opportunists, this isn’t a game. Peoples lives, peoples futures are determined by your actions, so get over it— it is not about you. If the November 6th elections and the primaries before showed anything it was that, perhaps, there is a new awareness that voting does matter. You can loose your job, no matter how long you have been in office, no matter how powerful you think you are.

As Fanny Lou Hamer famously stated “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired”. So are we.

Categories: News for progressives

How Aristocracies are Born

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:50

This year’s stock market saw high returns for month after month, as retirees and stock runners alike saw their portfolios rise. Then one day this fall, the market took a turn, and all of the increases of the past several months vanished.

That’s how it goes for the market. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down.

For the three wealthiest families in the country, however, the market only ever shoots skyward. The Waltons of Wal-Mart, the Kochs of Koch Industries, and the Mars of Mars chocolate own a combined $348.7 billion. Since 1982, their wealth has skyrocketed nearly 6,000 percent.

None of the living members of these families founded the companies from which their fortunes come — all were started by earlier generations.

In fact, more than a third of the Forbes 400 inherited the businesses that generated their wealth. These modern wealth dynasties exercise significant economic power in our current gilded age of extreme inequality.

A new report I co-authored with my colleague Chuck Collins at the Institute for Policy Studies, Billionaire Bonanza 2018, looks at the rise of these wealth dynasties. The Forbes 400 combined own $2.89 trillion, we found. That’s more than the combined wealth of the bottom 64 percent of the United States.

The median family in the United States owns just over $80,000 in household wealth. The richest person in the United States (and the world), Jeff Bezos, has accumulated a fortune nearly 2 million times that amount.

These pictures paint a grim picture of wealth inequality in the United States in 2018.

Wealth is concentrating into fewer and fewer hands while the rest of the country struggles to get by. One in five families has zero or negative wealth. Two in five Americans couldn’t come up with $400 if they needed it in an emergency.

Previous generations tried to warn us about economic inequality. Former President Teddy Roosevelt said in 1913, “Of all forms of tyranny, the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of a plutocracy.”

A generation later, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned in 1941, “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

And for a time, we heeded these warnings. Wealth and income inequality peaked in the 1920s before the passage of high personal income tax rates on the rich, a federal estate tax, and other inequality-fighting public policy measures took hold. Americans enjoyed a general flattening of the economic pyramid up until the 1980s when the modern period of tax cuts for the rich and austerity for the rest of us begun.

It’s safe to say that a country in which three individuals own more wealth than half the country — as Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett do now — is not what Brandeis or Roosevelt hoped for the direction of the country.

Without action, French economist Thomas Piketty warns, the United States will devolve into a “patrimonial capitalism” where the heirs of today’s billionaires dominate our politics, culture, and economy.

The good news is we have solutions to avoid this.

A smart step forward would be instituting a federal wealth tax on assets above $20 million, which would raise an estimated $1.9 trillion over 10 years that could be invested in generating economic opportunities for low-wealth families. Another good idea is to tax large inheritances — people’s genetic lottery winnings — as ordinary income.

There’s nothing natural or inevitable about wealth dynasties. Our ancestors recognized this and took action. We can too.

Categories: News for progressives

The Weaponization of Social Media

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:50

The use of ‘bots’ present modern society with a significant dilemma; The technologies and social media platforms (such as Twitter and Facebook) that once promised to enhance democracy are now increasingly being used to undermine it. Writers Peter W Singer and Emerson Brooking believe ‘the rise of social media and the Internet has become a modern-day battlefield where information itself is weaponised’. To them ‘the online world is now just as indispensable to governments, militaries, activists, and spies at it is to advertisers and shoppers’. They argue this is a new form of warfare which they call ‘LikeWar’. The terrain of LikeWar is social media; ‘it’s platforms are not designed to reward morality or veracity but virality.’ The ‘system rewards clicks, interactions, engagement and immersion time…figure out how to make something go viral, and you can overwhelm even the truth itself.’

In its most simple form the word ‘bot’ is short for ‘robot’; beyond that, there is significant complexity. There are different types of bots. For example, there are ‘chatbots’ such as Siri and Amazon’s Alexa; they recognise human voice and speech and help us with our daily tasks and requests for information. There are search engine style ‘web bots’ and ‘spambots’. There are also ‘sockpuppets’ or ‘trolls’; these are often fake identities used to interact with ordinary users on social networks. There are ‘social bots’; these can assume a fabricated identity and can spread malicious links or advertisements. There are also ‘hybrid bots’ that combine automation with human input and are often referred to as ‘cyborgs’. Some bots are harmless; some more malicious, some can be both.

The country that is perhaps most advanced in this new form of warfare and political influence is Russia. According to Peter Singer and Emerson Brooking ‘Russian bots more than simply meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election…they used a mix of old-school information operations and new digital marketing techniques to spark real-world protests, steer multiple U.S. news cycles, and influence voters in one of the closest elections in modern history. Using solely online means, they infiltrated U.S. political communities so completely that flesh-and-blood American voters soon began to repeat scripts written in St. Petersburg and still think them their own’. Internationally, these ‘Russian information offensives have stirred anti-NATO sentiments in Germany by inventing atrocities out of thin air; laid the pretext for potential invasions of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania by fuelling the political antipathy of ethnic Russian minorities; and done the same for the very real invasion of Ukraine. And these are just the operations we know about.’

We witnessed similar influence operations here during the Brexit referendum in 2016. A study by the Financial Times reported that during the referendum campaign ‘the 20 most prolific accounts … displayed indications of high levels of automation’. The Anti-Muslim hate group TellMAMA recorded in its latest Annual report that manual bots based in St Petersburg were active in spreading Anti-Muslim hate online. Israel has also used manual ‘bots’ to promote a more positive image of itself online.

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) has studied online political discussions relating to several countries on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. It claims that in all the elections, political crises and national security-related discussions it examined, there was not one instance where social media opinion had not been manipulated by what they call ‘computational propaganda’. For them, while it remains difficult to quantify the impact bots have ‘computational propaganda’ is now one of the most ‘powerful tools against democracy’.

Donald Trump perhaps more than any other US President to date understands the power of social media. The OII found, for example, that although he alienated Latino voters on the campaign trail, he had some fake Latino twitter bots tweeting support for him. Emerson T Brooker informed me that social media bots can be highly-effective; for him ‘If a bot-driven conversation successfully enters the “Trending” charts of a service like Twitter, it can break into mainstream discussion and receive a great deal of attention from real flesh-and-blood users’. He continues ‘The first unequivocal use of political bots was in the 2010 Special Senate Election in Massachusetts, which ended in the election of Senator Scott Brown. The bots helped draw journalist (and donor) interest from across the country. The Islamic State was also a very effective user of botnets to spread its propaganda over Arabic-speaking Twitter. In 2014, it repeatedly drove hashtags related to its latest execution or battlefield victory (e.g. #AllEyesOnISIS) to international attention.’

So, what can be done to better regulate bots? The OII has called for social media platforms to act against bots and has suggested some steps. These include; making the posts they select for news feeds more ‘random’, so users don’t only see likeminded opinions. News feeds could be provided with a trustworthiness score; audits could be carried out of the algorithms they use to decide which posts to promote. However, the OII also cautions not to over-regulate the platforms to suppress political conversation altogether.  Marc Owen Jones of Exeter University who has researched bots feels that in the case of twitter better ‘verification procedures could tackle the bots’. According to Emerson Brooking ‘a simple non-invasive proposal bouncing around Congress now would mandate the labelling of bot accounts. This would allow bots positive automation functions to continue while keeping them from fooling everyday media users.’

Categories: News for progressives

The Left Has Better Things to Do Than Watch Liberals Scratch Their Heads

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:50

I’m painting my house. First, I had to strip it.  I started months ago, hit some snags -not really part of this story, except now they have me scurrying to beat the rain. And I’ve been reading David Harvey essays in my down-time.  So, excavating layers of siding, caulk, and worn shingles (held aloft by five shades of lead paint) has been a field-study in creative-destruction.

The house is a product of WWII.  War grew Portland, mostly drawing workers to the Kaiser Shipyards.  The house came right after, as America briefly pulled its focus off war-industries.  It passed to us six years ago from a Realtor.  I suspect it passed to him the same way my prior home in Philadelphia passed to the Realtor in 2008: as the product of another war.  Fascists won that round.  (I digress.)

Initially it was covered in cedar from Oregon’s booming timber industry, then routinely coated with lead paint.  Until the 70s, when they stopped adding it (there are no non-lead layers).  It was then sided-over.  Before now, it’s toxic under-layers were hid below an also-toxic vinyl shell -aptly- since the Reagan Administration.

True to their capitalist roots, each layer was progress going on, and poison coming off.  I wish this was an account of how I neutralized the (house’, if not capitalism’s) toxic cycle.  But the opposite is true.  There’s a lot of debris, and I don’t trust Waste Managementwith anything, but that’s likely where its destined.  (Portland ranks as one of America’s most-progressive cities, yet we have corporate -rather than municipal- waste out of Las Vegas.)

Sherman-Williams has this remarkably-poignant sign over it.  The invisible hand is water-boarding planet Earth with a pale of what looks like blood, next to the caption: ‘Cover Your World™’. The picture tells me we’re drowning already, and pouring more means certain death.  But scratching my head for options and pressed for time, I bought some, aware that, even if I don’t kill us outright, I’m just covering Reagan up with Trump.

The Ways of the World assembles clips of Harvey’s broader works to illustrate how the relative aims of production, distribution, and consumption butt heads (highway through the yard, etc.) to produce their own grave-diggers, plus a lot of confusion on the grave-diggers’ parts.  That’s still far too broad in scope to summarize here.  So, against the book’s overall thrust, I’ll isolate one point.

Much of the book glosses his early findings on (what we now call) neoliberalism.  Harvey underscores how mid-70s shifts in how capital operated were (then) considered emancipatory by many on the Left(!), even though the shifts were deployed against the working-class.  And these were gathering -loosely- as Post-modernism.  Chapter 5 (Time-Space Compression and the Postmodern Conditiondeals with Jean Baudrilliard’s highly-influential claim that since the nucleus of capitalism had shifted from the production of goods to the production of ‘signs’, Marxism can’t sufficiently explain it.  Harvey counters, noting that, even if signs don’t require the same man-hours as fixed objects, how they circulate, where they accumulate, and who they serve, at least conforms to the patterns of capital, itself.  -Hence, they’re still clearest through a Marxist lens.

Harvey does admit the shift has addled the Left.  But due to its speed, not intangency.  More than anything, signs belie capitalism’s need for expansion.  New modes arise as former ones hit limits of production, distribution, and consumption.  For instance, selling more-and-more cans of paint requires building more-and-more detached homes, and both demand more-and-more traffic lanes.  Hence, inevitably, shortening the distance also makes it longer.  Eventually further increments don’t pay out, and the whole base shifts.  This affects what capitalism produces as much as how it does it.  This can turn whole cities into ghettos, like Detroit when Fordist, vertical-integration surrendered to the vertical-disintegration driving neoliberalism. And sometimes it makes ghettos of whole ideas.

Question is, is that what’s happening now?  Is neoliberalism capitulating to neo-fascism?  Is, as a matter of creative-destruction, democracy going by the way side?  Or are we just pouring a new color over the old one?  Leaving aside that Trump adds something far worse than lead to his red, white, and blue concoction.

Like with Detroit, liberal-democracy’s not gone.  Just, instead of a regenerative community, it’s been parted-out to slum-lords.  Feels like that’s what’s happening. The democrats have sailed on, and the slum-lords are mining the wreckage.  Literally a slum-lord in Trump’s case.

But as I paint, the news is (still) all about him.  And Bolsonaro, and Brexit, and half the leaders of Europe.  Modi, in India, just built the world’s tallest homage to self-rule by way of forced relocation. Here, somehow praying for a ‘blue wave’ didn’t exactly fix things.  In all, Liberals are scratching their heads over why democracy has turned against itself.

They shouldn’t be. After all, liberal-democracy -according to their own matrix, rests on capitalism, and capitalism is a particularly-modular system.  Over which democracy is the thinnest of veneers.  And of which, like my house, time paints in so many different colors that you probably can’t say which it really is, nor trust its variations. (I mean, from slavery on through the current fire sale we’ve been a ‘democracy’.) In other words, it’s not simply vulnerable to the creative/destructive process, but–like all capitalist production–relies on it, if it’s to remain at all part of capitalism.  Of course, it has a life-force outside of capitalism. But that’s not what they’re mourning.

The ‘democracy’ liberals pine for is a Baudrillardian strain; a near-seamless image, but with an exchange-value quite void of the labor-value of democracy.  No wonder, panicking about it hasn’t exactly rattled Trump’s walls. On the contrary, it’s made room for Trump and his like to call their own equally-vacuous signage, ‘democracy’.  Of course, both are in a race to funnel power to the very top, the liberals to get a corporate pat on the head, and Trump, I assume, just to be a dick.

That part, Trump seems to be winning.  But it’s important to remind ourselves, killing a simulation of democracy isn’t really killing democracy.  Recognizing that isn’t much.  But it’s the first step.  Ergo, I sense in Ways…an important attempt to refocus us, now, as capitalism may again be changing clothes.

Both Harvey and Baudrillard saw how break-neck speed would make resistance increasingly difficult.  (Openly-paradoxical calls to protect democracy from ‘fake news’ by policing the web, for example, attest to our confusion.)  And both predicted capitalism’s virtually-instant domination of time and space would engender a retreat (then, on the Left) toward local identity, as a matter of resistance.  No surprise, this helped capitalism instead, since differentiation meant more it could feed on.  (Capitalism is not particular about its diet.)  If there’s an upside, as it did an exemplary job consuming everything from punk rock to backyard chickens, likely it will gnaw through MAGA the same way.

There’s a community hard at work re-purposing discarded parts of Detroit, sans capitalism.  It won’t be great again, but with enough effort, it could be for the first time.  Democracy is a little farther off, but we can learn from them and expand.

Categories: News for progressives

The Political Is Personal

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:49

Republicans Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, of New York and California respectively, both facing federal indictments, were re-elected to congress this week. Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hoff thwarted his democratic challenger and was elected to the Nevada state legislature. Hoff’s profession wasn’t enough to turn republican voters away, nor was the fact that he has been dead for several weeks.

Here in Buffalo local democrats responded to the Chris Collins re-election with moral indignation and invectives hurled at the rural people of Western New York, the “ignorant inbred hicks” and “racists.” Overwhelmed by the apparent stupidity many ask “How could this happen?” and this sentiment is echoed nationally. But we should suspect that many of the well over 100,000 people who voted for Collins were not making a calculated preference based on policy that somehow went awry due to some mental deficiency. They, like many republicans who continue to support what is essentially a doomsday cult, are only acting in their personal best interest given their sense of self and immediate social environment. Note this is not what WE perceive to be their best interest, be WE don’t matter, and neither does Chris Collins, in a traditional sense that is. Republican voters care less about Chris Collins, his policies or transgressions, they care much more about the tears and outrage of “libtards” who continue to dismiss and denigrate rural people. This is the wave Trump rode to power and the strategy has diffused through the party. Collins had the gall to get back in the race after his arrest, he had the guts to fight on. The liberal “PC” crowd was really going to hate that, and that’s exactly what makes he and the legion of lying white men in power today so irresistible. It is not about policy or truth, it is about defiance. Their defiance has been adopted as a mascot to represent those who feel disregarded and devalued in a society where culture is generated in cities and reluctantly absorbed in the hinterlands, and where technology makes old ways of understanding obsolete. But I don’t mean this to be an excuse.

The personal is political but the political is likewise personal. Trump raises the social status of his adherents. No one joins a club to lose status. The answer to combating this poor citizenship is to focus on just this point. John voted for Chris Collins. John has family, friends, and coworkers. Some in each category don’t agree with John, and they could make this known, but most choose not to. They try to make the political impersonal. They tolerate John, or maybe they think he’s generally a nice guy. Or maybe they see his MAGA hat and assume he’s too far gone to engage with. But this is an error. John can be shunned, denied affection, abandoned, challenged to defend his position, ridiculed, and otherwise tirelessly engaged. This can happen in front of the children, over Thanksgiving dinner, at the park or the grocery store, right before bed, or just before the alarm clock rings. The political is personal. And John should be held accountable for his actions. We shouldn’t expect to win John over with logic or a better argument, but we don’t have to. John will change course when he realizes that he has lost respect among those who matter to him and he feels that by changing course that respect can be regained.

Will this work for every Trump supporter? No. In fact it may accelerate polarization and political tribalism in some cases, but that’s what we have regardless. Furthermore, the oft repeated pattern of moral outrage and name calling has proven ineffective at best and at worst will play into the hands of republican strategists now planning Trump’s run for a second term.

Categories: News for progressives

Fracking in the UK

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:49

Burning fossil fuels is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions (GGE), and, greenhouse gas emissions (water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O)) are the principle cause of man-made climate change. Given this fact, governments throughout the world should be moving away from fossil fuels and investing in, and designing policies that encourage development of, renewable sources of energy. But the British Conservative government, despite public opinion to the contrary, has all but banned the construction of onshore wind turbines and is encouraging fracking in England. The Tories are the only UK political party to offer support for this regressive form of energy production, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens having all promised fracking bans should they gain political office at the next general election.

Hydraulic fracking is the process of releasing gas and oil from shale rock: huge quantities of water, proppant (usually sand) and chemicals are injected at high-pressure into hydrocarbon-bearing rocks, rocks that can be up to a mile down and were once thought to be impermeable. This process of fracturing (or cracking) forces the rocks to crack open, and gas held inside is released and allowed to flow to the surface.

Shale gas is a fossil fuel, and when combusted produces GGE, albeit at around 50% less than coal or oil, but GGE nevertheless. The leading fracking company in Britain is the energy firm Cuadrilla. An organization that according to its website, aims “to be a model company for exploring and developing shale gas in the UK,” they state that they are “acutely aware of the responsibilities this brings, particularly with regard to safety, environmental protection and working with local communities.” Really?

After protests by the local community and various court cases (Lancashire County Council had refused drilling rights, but the Secretary of State ignored community voices and approved the company’s request on appeal), Cuadrilla recently commenced fracking at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire. However, as in 2011 when the company was forced to abandon drilling, work was suspended for two days out of four because of earthquakes. Tremors measured 0.5 on the Richter scale, which breached the seismic threshold established following the 2011 earth tremors. Instead of abandoning the project as the local community and environmental groups are demanding, the firm’s chief executive, Francis Egan, wants the Government to raise the threshold.

Another Regressive Step

America is home to hydraulic fracturing, where it’s been taking place for decades. Greenpeace state that as of 2012 the “fracking industry [in USA] has drilled around 1.2 million wells and is slated to add at least 35,000 new wells every year.” Fracking has led to US oil production increasing faster than anytime in its history, resulting in lower domestic gas prices. The US Energy Information Administration record that around two thirds of gas is now produced by fracking and almost half the countries crude oil.

Shale gas is spoken of as a positive alternative to coal, but it’s just another filthy fossil fuel that is adding to GGE, which in turn are driving climate change. Fracking has a substantive impact on the natural environment and the health of those living within the surrounding area. Earthquakes, air pollution, soil pollution, carcinogenic chemical leakage and contaminated groundwater are the primary risks.

An enormous amount of water, which needs to be transported to the site incurring significant environmental costs, is required in the fracking process. The amount of water used varies per well: between 1.5 and 10 million gallons is required every time a well is fractured. Greenpeace relate that, “in 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 70 to 140 billion gallons of water were used to fracture just 35,000 wells in the United States.” The water is mixed with various chemicals to make fracking fluid, a toxic cocktail that can be further contaminated by “heavy metals and radioactive elements that exist naturally in the shale.” A significant portion of the frack fluid returns to the surface, “where it can spill or be dumped into rivers and streams…fracking fluids and waste have made their way into our drinking water and aquifers. Groundwater can be contaminated through fracking fluid and methane leakage and the energy companies have “no idea what to do with the massive amount of contaminated water it’s creating,”

In addition to water and soil pollution, fracking adds to existing levels of air pollution as methane gas is released into the atmosphere through leaks and venting, a study conducted by Cornell University found that “over a wells lifetime, 3.6 to 7.9 percent of methane gas escapes” in this way. Unlike CO2, which sits in the atmosphere for centuries or millennia, methane only lasts for decades, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asserts that it warms the planet by 86 times as much as CO2 before then degrading to become CO2.

Many countries recognize the retrogressive nature of fracking and have rejected it; France, Cantabria in Spain, Germany and Bulgaria have banned it, England is the only country in the UK where it is allowed. More than 100 fracking licenses have been awarded by the government, but in order to start fracking they need permission from the local council. Fracking is universally unpopular amongst the communities where sites are located or proposed; on 13th October the Gasdown-Frackdown action saw thousands of people from six continents take to the streets demanding an end to fracking and calling for long-term investment in renewable sources of energy. Fracking is not an environmentally sane way to meet the energy needs of a country, it is part of the problem not the solution and it should be rejected totally. What is required is a global energy strategy rooted in environmental sustainability. As Friends of the Earth rightly say, “a 21st Century energy revolution based on efficiency and renewables, not more fossil fuels that will add to climate change.”

Categories: News for progressives

The Colonial Logic of Geoengineering’s “Last Resort”

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:49

As panic starts to set in about what little time we have to avert catastrophic climate change, elites have begun in earnest to drum up support for geoengineering fixes – including the fix of injecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere.

The basic idea behind this relatively cheap, “cost effective” technique is that we could replicate the cooling effect of volcanic disruptions. Like the sulfur emitted by volcanos, the aerosols would reflect sunlight back into space, and thus briefly spare us from the disastrous effects of rising temperatures caused by our fossil fuel emissions. This “last resort,” advocates say, could ultimately “save the planet” and thus “save humanity” while we figure out how to effectively and cheaply remove carbon from the atmosphere.

One could take great comfort in this aspiration to “save humanity.” After all, it seems we will not, in the time required, rise to the occasion of shutting down petrocapitalists.

However, advocates’ unspoken presumption that all humans would (of course!) want to pursue this “last resort” indicates that a more cynical aspiration is at work, for it is precisely the kind of presumption one makes when one is steeped in the colonial logic that produced our climate crisis.

Indeed, we should pay attention to how freely the champions of sulfur injections (and other equally radical geoengineering fixes) speak the language of the Universal Subject, that creature of colonialism whose benevolent claims about what was best for “humanity” – often framed in the discourse of economic as well as scientific objectivity and rationality – masked His exercise of brute power over nonwestern people and over Earth herself.

He is speaking to us again now, promising to save “us all” while intending primarily to safeguard western civilization, because western civilization is what He really means when He speaks about “humanity.”

In fact, He believes that saving western civilization is the same as saving Earth, and that Earth is not, in and of itself, worth saving if we are forced to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

That’s the implication, anyway, of His insisting that we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels up to the point where “we” will eventually have to turn to the last resort for “our” survival.

It goes without saying that Others will need to be sacrificed to this greater good.

Indeed, it almost always goes without saying.

The men and women who are trying to sell us the solution of sulfur injections tend to be strangely silent on the fact that these injections would “disrupt the Asian and African summer monsoons, reducing precipitation to the food supply for billions of people,” as Alan Robock and other scientists reported in a 2008 paper published the Journal of Geophysical Research (the authors of a more recent study published  in Nature Geoscience indicate that while sulfur injections would likely cool the earth, they would also reduce global rainfall).[1]

The effort to resolve our climate crisis in this manner is itself an extension of colonial logic. After all, as Heather Davis and Zoe Todd explain, “colonialism, especially settler colonialism – which in the Americas simultaneously employed the twinned processes of dispossession and chattel slavery – was always about changing the land, transforming the earth itself, including the creatures, the plants, the soil composition and the atmosphere. It was about moving and unearthing rocks and minerals. All of these acts were intimately tied to the project of erasure that is the imperative of settler colonialism.”If history is any indication, the last resort might very well be western civilization’s final act of colonial violence, exclusion and erasure – first, of the peoples and sentient beings it has always exploited and disregarded; then – and no doubt unintentionally – of western civilization itself.

Earth will survive this madness. It will rend and swallow and churn into fossils bridges and buildings and books and bunkers. It will heal and balance and produce new life forms. Hardly a trace of western civilization will remain, and what will remain, won’t matter at all.

To save ourselves, we cannot resort to technologies that are steeped in the logic of coloniality. Instead, decolonization – along with attendant Earth-healing technologies – must be both our first and last resort. We must be determined to live for one another, not at one another’s expense. We mustlet go of “humanity” altogether, and refuse to accept as well as live by the premise that western civilization must survive at all costs.

Notes.

[1] See Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2014): p. 270.

Categories: News for progressives

How Veterans Changed the Military and Rebuilt the Middle Class

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:48

We thank labor unions for the eight-hour work day, pensions, the weekend, and many other employment benefits Americans enjoy. Organized workers staged direct actions — strikes, sit-ins, boycotts, etc. — forcing bosses to the bargaining table. It’s a history most of us learn in high school.

More overlooked is the history of how the modern military was shaped by veteran-led direct actions.

For one thing, our military is famously all-volunteer. Civilians no longer fear being drafted.

To get those volunteers, recruiters and guidance counselors tout the free college education, sign-on bonuses, food and housing allowances, and VA benefits that come with military service. I was continually reminded of these things when I joined the Army in 2003.

Look into the history of these developments and you’ll find sit-ins, marches, and many other forms of direct action.

The G.I. Bill, passed in 1944, helped build the American middle class. It guaranteed millions of vets a college education, home loans, and more after World War II. It still does today.

Veterans of World War I, however, received no such benefit. So throughout the 1920s and early ’30s, they marched and demonstrated, demanding back-pay compensation (referred to as a “bonus”) to reasonably match what their civilian counterparts had earned on the home front.

The largest demonstration happened in 1932, when a 25,000-strong “Bonus Army” occupied Washington, D.C. for two months. The veterans vowed not to leave until Congress approved the bonus. Instead, General Douglas MacArthur removed them by force using cavalry troops and tear gas.

But the veterans’ efforts eventually paid off. The bonus was paid in 1936. This incredible history is documented in The Bonus Army (2004), by Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen, and The War Against the Vets (2018) by Jerome Tuccille.

These years of protests by World War I veterans gave veterans organizations, like the American Legion, significant leverage in advocating for the G.I. Bill. President Roosevelt and Congress understood that not passing such a bill could mean veteran-led civil unrest, or worse.

Michael J. Bennett, historian of the G.I. Bill, writes, “After World War I, virtually every [fighting] nation other than Britain and the United States had their government overthrown by their veterans.” It’s no stretch to say the G.I. Bill was passed, in part, to prevent revolution.

Two decades later, in the late 1960s, a movement within the U.S. armed forces emerged in opposition to the Vietnam War. Soldiers refused orders, sabotaged equipment, and spoke out at protests.

In Soldiers in Revolt: G.I. Resistance During the Vietnam War (2005), David Cortright concludes that Nixon ended the draft in 1973 in response to this alarming resistance. “The internal problems that gave rise to changes in tactical deployment” to Vietnam, he wrote, “were also responsible for… the shift to an all-volunteer force.”

Of course, an all-volunteer force would need to offer better incentives to recruit people. This is where the improved living conditions, sign-on bonuses, and increased starting wages mentioned in every recruiter’s sales pitch came from.

In the 1970s and ’80s (and beyond), the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War made it a part of their mission to improve VA healthcare. They occupied VA offices, demonstrated, and even locked themselves inside the Statue of Liberty to amplify their message. They were key in getting the VA to recognize PTSD, Agent Orange exposure, and other illnesses afflicting veterans.

But as these benefits were won, they can also be lost.

Today, as more service members and veterans qualify for food stamps, the VA system remains on the verge of getting dismantled. Meanwhile, soldiers are receiving orders sending them into morally and legally questionable territory (such as Trump’s “Operation Faithful Patriot,” deploying thousands of troops to the border of Mexico to stop unarmed migrants).

Against this, the history of veteran-led activism can provide inspiration and guidance. Direct action gets results.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Election 2018: The More Things Don’t Change, the More They Stay the Same

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:48

In 1992, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton ran on a platform of “change.” He used the word a lot. His first campaign slogan was “for people for change.” “Change” here, “change” there, “change” everywhere and all the time.

I found the “change” theme kind of odd coming from Clinton. At the time he ran, his party had controlled both houses of Congress for nearly 30 years straight. It had controlled the White House for 22 of the previous 50 years. And when his party hadn’t been in control, only one other party ever had been. For 132 years.

How would electing yet another Democratic president — and one who held himself out as a “moderate,” not too terribly unlike his Republican opponent, to boot — constitute “change?” Independent candidate Ross Perot or Libertarian candidate Andre Marrou, maybe. Bill Clinton? No.

But he won. And, hopefully surprising no one, eight more years — wait, make that 26 more years — of business as usual followed.

This year, a lot of Americans seemed to agree that, again, “change” was needed.

The result: A few Senate seats, a few House Seats, a few governorships, etc. switched hands … between the two parties that have dominated politics since just before the Civil War.

America’s voters had choices. Libertarian Gary Johnson for US Senate from New Mexico. Reform Party candidate Darcy Richardson for governor of Florida. Green Howie Hopkins and Libertarian Larry Sharpe for governor in New York. There were alternatives all up and down the ballots, from local to state to federal office, across the country.

The voters chose, with few and mostly local exceptions, the same old thing. Again.

Many of those voters will likely spend the next two years complaining that they got what they voted for. The same old thing. Again.

Two years from now, many of those voters will likely meditate on the need for change. Again.

And vote for the same old thing. Again.

And get the same old thing. Again.

And wonder why. Again.

Remember the old saw, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity?

People: You’re not going to GET something different until you DO something different.

So, a challenge: Spend the next two years watching what happens in American politics. Think about whether or not you like it. If you voted, unless you voted third party or independent, understand that you voted for it.

Then, in 2020, don’t.

Categories: News for progressives

Europe and Secondary Iran Sanctions: Where Do We Go Now?

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:45

Any country can of course withdraw from the Paris Accord, the INF treaty, UNESCO, UNWRA, the community of nations that recognize that Jerusalem is in part an illegally occupied city, etc. But the U.S. withdrawal from the UNSC-approved JCPOA (or Iran Deal), followed by its imposition of secondary sanctions on countries that without specific U.S. approval trade with Iran is another matter. The U.S. is placing its law over international law. It is placing the judgment of Trump, Bolton and Pompeo over that of Putin, Xi, Merkel, Marcon, May, Mogherini, Obama, etc…. the pillars of the existing if crumbling world order.

In that world, in order of GDP, Iran ranks around 25th, above Austria, Norway, UAE, Nigeria. With its vast natural resources and educated population, it has boundless development potential and is eager for foreign investment. It’s a country much of the world (China, Russia, India, Pakistan) engages with routinely, while much of the world engages it only to the extent the world’s policeman permits. (Italy and Greece have managed to maintain Iranian oil imports, having received permission from Washington to do so for an extra 180 days. They’re the only European, NATO-member countries exempted. Other countries granted “waivers” by the world cop are China, India, Iraq, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. )

Europe once traded freely and profitably with Iran. For the U.S. to now say to Daimler-Mercedes and Peugeot, you can’t assemble cars in Iran, or Airbus you can’t supply passenger aircraft to Iran as you’d planned—because we insist that Iran stop supporting Hizbollah and withdraw its forces fighting ISIL in Iraq and Syria and open up its nuclear sites even more than it has so far—-is to say, follow us towards war. You’re our allies, for god’s sake. We pay for your security. Obey!

Europe Rebels

But on June 8 at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, EU High Representative Frederica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of the E3 (Jean-Yves Le Drian of France, Heiko Maas of Germany, and Jeremy Hunt of the United Kingdom) made this terse statement on the U.S. withdrawal from the deal, and its threat to impose secondary sanctions on nations continuing to trade with Iran over its objection:

“The lifting of nuclear-related sanctions is an essential part of the deal – it aims at having a positive impact not only on trade and economic relations with Iran, but most importantly on the lives of the Iranian people. We are determined to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran, in accordance with EU law and with UN Security Council resolution 2231. This is why the European Union’s updated Blocking Statute enters into force on 7 August to protect EU companies doing legitimate business with Iran from the impact of US extra-territorial sanctions.

“The remaining parties to the JCPOA have committed to work on, inter alia, the preservation and maintenance of effective financial channels with Iran, and the continuation of Iran’s export of oil and gas. On these, as on other topics, our work continues, including with third countries interested in supporting the JCPOA and maintaining economic relations with Iran. These efforts will be intensified and reviewed at Ministerial level in the coming weeks.”

Translation: “Having withdrawn support for a resolution voted on unanimously by the UNSC in 2015, the U.S. itself is in violation of international law. Your attempt to prevent free trade between the world’s countries and Iran, for the benefit of the Iranian people, the attainment of which was one of the agreement’s chief objectives, is illegal. We the nations of the EU will try to use our resources to help our corporations circumvent the hurdles you attempt to illegally place in our paths using your control over the world banking system. We will work with third countries (read: Russia, China, India, Japan, South Korea) to to sustain European business with Iran despite your arrogant efforts to twist our arms.”

John Bolton’s Drive Towards War

It may be that John Bolton is unhinged enough to think that the U.S. retains the capacity to forge an alliance against Iran comparable to the alliance George W. Bush (and Paul Wolfowitz) forged prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. (Recall that that alliance lacked support from France, Belgium and Germany.) This time even Britain might balk at further aggressive U.S. moves towards Iran. The U.S. has been busily forging an axis including itself, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE versus Iran. But this axis is not in the best shape, post-Khoshoggi.

Many unknowns will factor in as Bolton plans regime change. Key figures in the anti-Iran cabal may fall. Will Jared Kushner be damaged by the Mueller findings? Will Crown prince Muhammad bin Salman get sidelined? Will a Democrat-led House stymie the Trump-Bolton drive towards conflict? Don’t count on it. The Clinton Democrats include lots of neocons who are no better on Iran than the Lindsay Graham Republicans. And among “progressive” Democrats, the level of ignorance about foreign affairs is astonishing. (Elizabeth Warren in particular is horrible on the Israel issue.) Liberal Democrats quickly become savage imperialists.

I can certainly imagine the Democratic victory Tuesday night followed soon by an assault on Iran, justified as they always are by a temporarily persuasive pretext and launched with bipartisan support. Because anti-imperialism and actual analysis of capitalism is never a part of Democratic politician’s message. You can’t get elected that way.

The fact that Alexandria Cortez-Ocasio, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America viewed by Fox News as the most “radical left” of current Democratic politicians, could tweet upon John McCain’s death that the notorious warmonger was”an unparalleled example of human decency and American service” indicates the self-imposed limits on progressive speech. Meanwhile pundits predict that the Democratic victory in the House bodes a harder U.S. line on Russia and North Korea, some contending that that will be a good thing.

What does it mean for Iran? The rebounding Democratic Party, deeply influenced by the Israel and Saudi lobbies, has hardly been a consistent or unified voice for peaceful coexistence with the Islamic Republic. All kinds of people the right calls “liberals” (Hillary Clinton?) are comfortable with coups d’etat (Honduras?), invasions (Iraq), illegal covert subversion operations (Syria), targeted murders via drone strikes. Hence the inevitably bipartisan support for all the current U.S. military operations. The culture of military-worship, incessant statements of reverence to the military (any ex-military person interviewed on cable news is told, as if my editorial director’s instruction: “and thank you for your service”), facilitate unthinking support for war, especially if it appears the war pits the U.S. and its allies against an obvious enemy.

Does the U.S. Have Allies in Its Iran Regime-Change Drive?

But the U.S. has declined under Trump as a respected international actor. It’s obviously a country ruled by a cruel, unpredictable buffoon, next to whom the Iranian leaders seem wise and mature. After Trump made his stupid pronouncement May 8, European foreign ministers rushed to contact Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Jafad Zarif, expressing regrets at the U.S. decision and pledging their determination to overcome the U.S. punitive secondary sanctions. Trump has succeeded in solidifying Euro-Iranian solidarity against a naked attack on free market principles and the principle of sovereignty of nations.

The question is, having so polarized the world, could Trump get away with the “Bomb bomb bomb Arab” campaign advocated by John McCain (for some reason pronounced a national hero after his death) and
neocons then and now? Have people been adequately educated to realize that an attack on Iran would be morally wrong, logically unjustifiable, horrific and the grounds for more rage at greatest purveyor of violence in world history? Or might they once again buy the bull, realizing again six months down the road that, dammit, they lied about this war!?

I suspect what Trump hopes for is an Iranian closure of the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s oil passes, to prevent the shipping of Saudi oil in response to the U.S. attempt to prevent Iranian trade (which by the way constitutes an act of war). The U.S. could blame Iran for provoking war by such action, and idiots in this country will immediately be convinced, indignant, outraged. Republicans, Democrats, Independents alike. And bombs away!

What was the popularity rating of George W. Bush—a pre-Trump moron—just prior to the criminal attack on Iraq in 2003, based on lies, which has produced nothing but misery for the region and world? It was 70%. Trump in contrast wages war on the world—verbal war, economic war, the occasional dramatic if pointless gesture like the deployment of a MOAB in Afghanistan last year—without (yet) slaughtering thousands, maintaining popularity at around 40%. He’s in a weaker position than was the smirking chimp at the outset of his great still-unpunished crime. Is Trump in a position to deploy this hideous morass of accumulated cable news-approved propaganda about Iran (including its imagined threat to “wipe Israel off the map” with nukes) to unite the nation against the Persian Empire?

I don’t think so. The U.S. expended a great deal of geopolitical capital when it led “from behind” the criminal assault on Libya, destroying the modern state, in 2011. The U.S. in the form of Hillary Clinton pronounced the mission “humanitarian” while it was in fact a bid for regime change ending successfully in the disposition of Gaddafy’s body in a manner comparable to that of Khashoggi’s. Hillary famously found the murder hilarious, laughing for all to see on TV. Russia and China were furious and are unlikely ever again to approve a U.S.-led “humanitarian” mission. They know Hillary was pressing for the U.S. to announce a “no-fly zone” over Syria—a zone in which the Syrian state forces would be excluded due to U.S. diktat. With Russian war planes in the area. bombing the ISIL forces that had been generated by U.S. imperialism itself, violating Syrian territorial integrity and committing atrocities, the U.S. would provoke confrontation, possibly World War III.

Of course Putin opposed Clinton as the next U.S. president. Of course he preferred Trump, although he knew little about him; he knew he spoke in favor of friendship with Russia and was non-ideological, having no special opinion about the fate of Crimea. Now Trump is coordinating action in Syria against Islamist forces although Moscow supports the government in Damascus and the U.S. still officially wants it toppled. Trump seems to understand that Russia with very few overseas naval or air bases needs its presence in Syria dating back to the 1970s. He will surely have heard from Putin that in the Russian view the current Bashar al-Assad government in power, being secular, supported by the religious minorities such as Christians as well as by the bazaar merchants and others, as the best bet to support for Syrian stability. Trump probably has no firm view on the matter, and so is content to one day announce withdrawal of all troops from Syria, then the next day say, no, his generals tell him that’s not possible yet, sadly…

Foreign leaders’ spokespeople note politely that sometimes they don’t know what the U.S. position on something is, because the president’s words directly contradict those of the defense secretary or secretary of state. This is not a normal situation. Trump himself is seen as a barking dog whose yelps need processing through aides to indicate real U.S. policy to puzzled allies. But whatever aggressive tactics it adopts, it is clear that the U.S. plans for regime change in Iran, and Bolton has publicly boasted of this explicitly.

The Stupidity of the Trump Regime-Change Plot

It doesn’t make much sense though, actually, even from an imperialist’s point of view. The U.S. exercised hegemony over Iran from at least 1953, when the CIA famously re-installed the Shah, to 1979 when he was overthrown in the most genuine, massive revolution in modern Islamic history. The U.S. worked with the British to execute a coup against the elected prime minister Mossadegh. There was no effective international opposition although the Soviets and Chinese complained. In that instance, the U.S. oil companies benefited endlessly until civil society exploded in 1978-9. This episode caused someone in the CIA to invent the term “blowback.”

The U.S. oil companies would love to get back into Iran. The world knows this. But most countries’ leaders are indicating to one another that a U.S.-Israeli strike on Iran would be unacceptable—even, perhaps, in the wake of Iranian actions to close the narrow Strait of Hormuz. This is not 2003. The U.S. has shrunk in the world. It cannot get the world behind an Iran attack as it got the UN to approve the Afghan War in 2001, or as it got some of its closest allies behind the criminal Iraq War in 2003, or got the UNSC behind the savage destruction of Libya in 2011, or got French and British forces to help the U.S. help the al-Qaeda-aligned opposition forces in Syria since 2011. Trump cannot assume European allies’ assistance in a war with Iran.

The Iranian leadership understands U.S. weakness. Haven’t the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan been there for 17 years? And haven’t the Taliban acquired control of nearly half the country, despite billions of U.S. investments in the—demoralized, corrupt, desertion-prone—Afghan army? Hasn’t Afghanistan become a morass, a quagmire like Vietnam if much less bloody?

The U.S. has been unable to pacify this country neighboring Iran, sharing a 570 mile border with the country Iran is over twice as large and populous, with three times the urban population of Afghanistan. While Iranians are generally literate, 93% adults liable to read and write, only 31% of Afghans are literate. The Afghan Army is a joke; its desertion rate is scandalous; the frequency of “green-on-blue” killings is embarrassing. Blowback!

The Iranian military including Revolutionary Guards in contrast is formidable, well-trained and experienced. If the U.S. cannot successfully occupy and transform Afghanistan, how much less likelihood there is that it could at this point in history remold Iran through force!

Does Pompeo really believe that Iran will cave in the face of his ridiculous, insulting demands? Or that its refusal to do so will be perceived by the world as anything other than reasonable even if and when the U.S. and its odious friends launch their attack? Does he really think people in this country will support a war on behalf of the Saudis and Israelis?

There was a time when revulsion against South African apartheid spurred a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in this country. This helped bring down the racist regime. May a similar movement help end the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The mid-term campaign brought forward large numbers of young people with strong feelings about the world situation based on awareness of facts. One must hope that as the U.S. secondary sanctions settle in, producing more misery from the Iranian people, a mass movement against the Iran sanctions takes shape. And that it link up with the truly progressive, anti-imperialist legislators in Congress, if there actually are any.

Categories: News for progressives

An Honest Look at Poverty in the Heartland

Fri, 2018-11-09 15:44

A few weeks before the election, a roomful of Wisconsinites gathered to share some of the stories that are often left out of political campaigns. At a Racine gathering of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, visitors shared real-life stories about poverty in the state.

Solo Little John of Kenosha, Wisconsin was one of those who testified. He’s a fast food worker at Wendy’s and a leader of the Fight for $15 living wage campaign. “My voice represents the voices of the voiceless,” he said, “those who live in poverty and are directly impacted by low wages because we can’t form unions.”

“I only make $8.75 an hour,” he added. “You can probably imagine that day in day out, this is very hard for me, that it makes it a very difficult time for me to pay my bills, my light bills, my gas, the necessities.”

Some 1.2 million Wisconsin workers make under $15 an hour — that’s 44 percent of Wisconsin’s workforce.

In a story familiar across the country, many folks in Wisconsin struggle a lot harder than official poverty figures would have you believe. About 40 percent of people in Wisconsin are either poor or low-income — a total of about 2.3 million residents. This includes 51 percent of children, 41 percent of women, over a third of white people, and nearly two thirds of people of color in the state.

For immigrant Wisconsinites, the challenges can be even starker.

“Some are killed at the border, but we don’t see this,” said Maria Morales, a second generation Mexican immigrant. “It’s happening here in our own neighborhoods. Our own community members are being whisked away by the immigration department, by ICE, an agency that we do not need.”

She added, “We should abolish ICE. We don’t have to have an agency that’s out to destroy families… We’re tired of them tearing our families apart.”

Migrants aren’t the only Wisconsin residents feeling the impact of systemic racism.

Wisconsin has passed several voter suppression measures in recent years, including a photo ID law, that disproportionately affect voters of color. And of the 23,377 people imprisoned in the state, about 55 percent are people of color. Black residents are incarcerated at nearly 12 times the rate of white residents, the second highest disparity in the country.

The federal money spent in Wisconsin shows these skewed priorities.

Some $2.3 billion was spent on defense in the state in 2015, even while over a quarter of Wisconsin’s veteran population lives on under $35,000 a year. Around 415,000 people are uninsured, and nearly a quarter of the state’s census tracts are at-risk for water affordability.

The Trump tax overhaul will make these inequities worse. The richest 1 percent of Wisconsin residents are expected to receive 28 percent of the benefits of the new federal tax law. Their average tax cut in 2027 is expected to be $7,740, while the poorest 20 percent are expected to have to pay $180 more.

It’s not like we don’t have the money to do better for working people in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s contribution to the country’s endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond totals $73 billion since 2001. That same money could have created around 58,000 jobs a year in clean energy — every year for the last 17 years. It could have also placed every Wisconsin child in Head Start early childhood education programs, or covered health care for 1.6 million low-income adults each year since 2001.

After these elections, it’s time to chart a better future for the Badger State and others like it. Wisconsin’s lawmakers — and all of those in Congress — need to invest in good jobs and a green economy, not tax cuts for rich people and war.

Categories: News for progressives

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