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Criticizing Israel isn’t Anti-Semitic, Here’s What Is

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:54

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Weeks ago, when the first accusations of anti-semitism were being leveled against Representative Ilhan Omar, I was deeply agitated.

Not long ago I saw her address these accusations at a local town hall. She reminded the world that, as a Black Muslim woman in America, she knows what hate looks like — and spends her life laboring against it. Her words were clear, bold, and unflinching.

When members of Congress not only continued to gang up and falsely smear Omar as anti-semitic, but even created a House Resolution painting her words as hateful, I wasn’t just agitated. I was absolutely disgusted.

Omar has criticized the U.S. government’s support for Israeli actions that break international law. And she’s spoken out against the role money in politics plays in shoring up that support.

Neither is anti-semitic.

What is anti-semitic is the cacophony of mainstream media and politicians saying that criticizing U.S. policy toward the state of Israel is the same as attacking Jewish people.

Like most American Jewish youth, I grew up knowing Israel. During holidays, I sang prayers about Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. In Hebrew school, I learned about the country’s culture, its cities, its past prime ministers. At my Jewish summer camp, we started every day with the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah.

My image of Israel was a rosy one. When I finally visited it in college, I was spellbound by the lush landscapes and sparkling cities, certain I would one day move to this golden ancestral home myself.

All this emotional buildup made it all the more sickening when, in the years that followed, I learned the realities of the Israeli occupation.

The modern state of Israel was established by Zionists — a nationalist movement started by European Jews with the aim of creating a “Jewish state” as a refuge for persecuted Jews.

It’s true that Jews have faced centuries of brutal persecution in Europe. But the Zionists’ project shared unmistakably European colonialist roots.

In 1948, Israel’s war of independence led to the Nakba, an invasion driving 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. These Palestinians were never allowed to return, creating a massive refugee population that today numbers over 7 million.

While I was able to travel freely up and down Israel, the Palestinians who once lived there are legally barred from returning. While I wandered the marketplaces trying stews and shawarmas, Palestinians in Gaza can’t afford even the gas to cook their food because of the Israeli blockade.

Zionism didn’t create an inclusive Jewish refuge either. In fact, the diverse Mizrahi — or Arab — Jewish population that was already thriving in Palestine was pushed out of Israeli society as Ashkenazi — or European — Jews became the elite class.

What it did create is an imperialist stronghold that continues to break international law by building settlements deeper and deeper into Palestinian territory, giving Jewish Israelis superior legal status to Arab Israelis and Palestinians, and attacking all who protest.

Since Israel’s origin, the U.S. has supplied tens of billions of dollars of military aid and ardent political support. Congress consistently ignores dozens of UN resolutions condemning Israeli abuses, and year after year gives it more resources to violently oppress impoverished Palestinians.

Pro-Israel lobbying groups’ considerable political influence has even pushed Congress to consider bills punishing Americans who support Palestinian rights. (Around half of all statesalready have such laws.)

More broadly, they rely on villainizing critics with false claims of antisemitism — especially when the criticism comes from a person of color, as we’ve seen with Angela Davis, Marc Lamont Hill, and Michelle Alexander before Rep. Omar.

I, along with an increasing number of young American Jews, want to discuss U.S. support of Israel. Talking foreign policy is not anti-semitism.

What is anti-semitic — always — is saying that all Jews support violence and imperialism.

Sarah Gertler is the Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Categories: News for progressives

The Trump/Kim Bromance: It’s Gross, But Let’s Hope It Leads to a Third Date

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:54

Of all the bizarre things that Donald Trump utters — the lies, the garbled words, the fanciful stories — his comments on his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are in a category by themselves.

“I was really tough and so was he, and we went back and forth,” Trump told a crowd of supporters in West Virginia in September. “And then we fell in love, OK? No, really, he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”

Trump has bragged about these letters, has shown them to foreign visitors. The two leaders seem to enjoy a mutual personality cult that goes beyond even the friendships that Trump has cultivated with other authoritarian leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman.

So, expectations were high that Trump and Kim would consummate their relationship at a second summit in Vietnam and produce something of lasting importance: denuclearization, removal of economic sanctions, a peace declaration, an exchange of liaison offices.

But the two leaders didn’t even stay for the full meeting. They passed up a final lunch together and skipped the statement signing. The food left uneaten was statement enough. What was supposed to be the crowning achievement of Trump’s foreign policy, the one-and-only rationale for his receiving a Nobel Peace Prize, has turned into a high-profile embarrassment.

Trump reportedly went big and failed, and Kim reportedly went small and failed. Trump’s offer: scrap the nukes and the United States will scrap the sanctions. Kim’s bargain: North Korea would close one key part of the nuclear program, the complex at Yongbyon, in exchange for the removal of the latest and most onerous sanctions.

It was, in many ways, just a rehash of previous offers. The United States has been offering North Korea an all-or-nothing choice for many years now, and North Korea has countered with its preference for a step-by-step process. But Pyongyang’s counter-offer was nothing new either, since it had already closed down Yongbyon twice before as part of the Agreed Framework of 1994 and the Six Party Talks of the George W. Bush era.

Could the two leaders have really expected that these gambits would work in Hanoi?

Can love be so blind?

The Real Story

Trump wants a deal. Everyone else on his foreign policy team, however, thinks that a deal with North Korea is a lousy idea.

Prior to joining the administration, National Security Advisor John Bolton never concealed his preference for regime change in North Korea. He has become more circumspect in his rhetoric now that he’s within whispering distance of the president. But he is still doing what he can behind the scenes to ensure the failure of negotiations.

In Hanoi, for instance, Bolton reportedly inserted a demand that North Korea itemize not only on its nuclear facilities but also its biological and chemical weapons. Bolton made the same demand last May in the lead-up to the Singapore summit:

On the denuclearization side of the program, that means all aspects of their nuclear program. Clearly, the ballistic missiles program, as with Iran, with the intention of being a delivery system for nuclear weapons — that’s gotta go. I think we need to look at their chemical and biological weapons programs as well. The president’s going to raise other issues, the Japanese abductees, South Korean citizens who were kidnapped.

This kind of agenda-loading — plus an ominous reference to the “Libyan model” that Bolton knew would rub the North Koreans the wrong way — is exactly how Bolton likes to operate: he appears to be going with the program only to undermine it from within.

After the Hanoi summit self-destructed, Bolton declared it a “success” — because Trump rejected “a bad deal.” What Bolton really meant was: the summit was successful because it didn’t produce anydeal.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, has been just as consistently hawkish as Bolton about North Korea. Heading into the Vietnam summit, he was careful to contradict his president by asserting that North Korea remained a nuclear threat. And then he also made clear that North Korea would get no sanctions reduction until that threat was “substantially reduced.” Pompeo’s own skepticism that anything could be accomplished in Hanoi shaped his pre-summit predictions that “we may not get everything done this week.”

As for the North Korean side, Kim Jong Un obviously doesn’t feel backed up against a wall. He wasn’t going to accept what the Americans had repeatedly offered in the past (even Pompeo understood this). He might have also thought that Trump was the desperate one — attacked on all sides at home, eager to get a deal to prove his negotiating skills, blinded by his desire for a Nobel prize. In the end, Kim has time on his side. He’s in his thirties and doesn’t have to run for reelection. Trump is in his seventies and his reelection chances are not robust.

As with any lovers’ spat, there are disagreements after the fact about who said what. Trump blamed the North Koreans for insisting on the removal of all sanctions. Then the North Koreans held their own press conference to counter that they had asked only for a partial lifting of sanctions. An unnamed senior State Department official ultimately confirmed the North Korean version.

It’s one thing for the administration to attempt to spin the summit for its own purposes to suggest that the collapse wasn’t the U.S. fault, or that the result was actually a success not a failure. But the spin coming from other quarters has been equally disturbing.

Summit Aftermath

The summit didn’t achieve anything new. But let’s be clear: U.S.-North Korean relations are in a much better place today than 18 months ago.

Pyongyang remains committed to a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests. And the United States is scaling back on its war games with South Korea.

Right after the summit ended, the United States announced that it was effectively canceling its large-scale Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, replacing them with much smaller drills. Trump tweeted:

The reason I do not want military drills with South Korea is to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S. for which we are not reimbursed. That was my position long before I became President. Also, reducing tensions with North Korea at this time is a good thing!

The Democratic Party, so afraid before the summit that the president would make unacceptable concessions to North Korea, has reacted venomously to even the paltry olive branch that Trump has extended to Pyongyang.

“Of course the president did give up a great deal by going to that summit, by enhancing Kim Jong Un’s prestige on the world stage, by giving up those military exercises in the last summit and getting nothing for it.,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on Face the Nation. Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum added, “Nobody can be quite so certain, in the future, of our absolute willingness to defend South Korean allies who have received so much less attention from this president than their enemies in the North.”

But wait — South Korea is practically begging the Trump administration to move forward with reconciliation with the North. It agreed to the suspension of the military exercises. This was not the United States abandoning its ally. Only conservative opponents of the Moon Jae-in government are putting up a fuss about the decision on the war games.

Then there is the demand that human rights be part of the negotiations with North Korea. Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl writes:

Trump’s diplomacy with North Korea has been revealed as a fantasy. Real progress would require a restart based on patient diplomacy, ramped-up pressure, and a recognition that the problem entails not just nuclear reactors and missile factories, but torture chambers and concentration camps.

I’m sorry, Jackson, but you’re the one stuck in a fantasy. Sure, patient diplomacy is a key element. Pressure, too, plays a part in geopolitics. But bringing human rights to negotiations about a nuclear program is a sure recipe for failure. Delinking security negotiations from human rights concerns has been the sine qua non of arms-control talks since the 1960s. It’s the only way the United States could negotiate with the Soviets in the 1980s and the only way it could achieve a nuclear agreement with Iran in 2015.

Of course, the human rights situation in North Korea is appalling. Of course, the world community must address the labor camps in the country. But linking human rights to the country’s nuclear program is a sure-fire way of ensuring failure on both fronts.

Finally, columnists have gone to town on Trump for his acceptance of Kim Jong Un’s assertion that he knew nothing about Otto Warmbier, the U.S. college student who was detained in the country, spent many months in a coma in a North Korean prison, and was returned home only to die a week later. Kathleen Parker, in the Post, compares Trump’s credulity in this matter to his acquiescence to Vladimir Putin (on Russian involvement in the U.S. elections) and Mohammed bin Salman (on the crown prince’s involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi).

It’s unquestionably stupid for Trump to accept the word of any world leader, particularly an autocrat — just as no world leader should accept Trump’s word.

But these situations are not parallel. There is considerable proof Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. It would be inconceivable that Mohammed bin Salman did not issue the order to get rid of one of his chief critics.

But there is actually very little information about what caused Otto Warmbier to fall into a coma. A medical examination revealed that there was no obvious signs of trauma, much less torture. It would have been highly unusual for North Korea to torture an American college student. He was not a critic of the North Korean regime. No American detainees had previously been killed. Most had been treated rather respectfully, though often subjected to psychological stresses. Americans are useful bargaining chips. Dead or seriously harmed Americans are not.

In other words, there was no motive for Kim Jong Un to order the torture of an American just for the hell of it. He was no doubt aware of the detention. And he has certainly been ruthless in his actions — like killing his uncle and his half-brother. But those killings were politically motivated. In contrast, the North Koreans seemed eager to release Warmbier to the Trump administration so that they wouldn’t have a dead American on their hands.

The death of Otto Warmbier was indeed a tragedy. And North Korea should provide an account of what really happened to the young man. But his death should not prevent rapprochement between North Korean and the United States.

So, in the end, the bromance between Trump and Kim is icky and deserving of ridicule. But hey, to negotiate with a dictator, sometimes it takes a dictator (or a dictator wannabe). There’s still hope that the United States and North Korea can come to some partial agreement that freezes North Korea’s nuclear capability as is (with the hope of reduction later on) and removes some sanctions from the country so that the North Korean economy can grow (and improve people’s lives). Even the current pause in hostilities is beneficial because it allows Seoul and Pyongyang to move incrementally toward reconciliation.

Let’s hope for a third summit. Let’s hope that the love letters continue. Let’s even follow Moon Jae-in’s lead and praise Donald Trump for his political savviness.

Meanwhile, I’ll hold my nose, keep my eyes averted, and hope for peace.

Categories: News for progressives

Washington’s Escalation for Venezuela’s Oil

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:54

If we listen to Washington’s threats to Venezuela there is always a military component to everything they do to undermine the legitimate Maduro government.  “All options are on the table”, is the repeated slogan that is now also heard from the self-appointed “president”, Juan Guaidó, as if he were referring to another country and not his own.

A realistic successful military intervention can only take place if the Venezuelan high-ranking officers of the armed forces deserted in mass. This is not likely to happen. However, Venezuela cannot ignore those threats. The US has carried them out irresponsibly in other countries.

The provocation with “humanitarian aid” on February 23 was a pathetic attempt to break the loyalty of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) as well as to test the reaction of the Venezuelan people, particularly on the Venezuelan border with Colombia. In fact, the main stage was Colombia and not Brazil. That’s where Guaidó, Ivan Duque and Elliot Abrams congregated for the “aid” show and the photo op of the trio holding hands as if they were rooting for a baseball team.

Marco Rubio, in the meantime, kept tweeting about how many army people were deserting to the Guaidó “team”. Not too many did. The official number identified publicly as deserters by the Venezuelan government has been 116. So, at this point Guaidó’s army is very thin. But as a former “guarimbero” (rioter) he is more comfortable among his fellow “guarimberos”. In fact, there were a few at hand at the border in Colombia doing their favorite thing, preparing and throwing Molotov cocktails. Eventually they managed to burn down the trucks of “aid”.

When the hope of a mutiny of the armed forces ended, plan B was to use the so-called “humanitarian aid” as a grandstand stunt against “the brutal regime of Nicolas Maduro”. And they turned it into the false flag of burned trucks of “aid” in Colombian territory falsely attributed to the Venezuelan forces.

In fact, video evidence shows guarimberos, reportedly Venezuelans, setting the “aid” trucks on fire when it became obvious that they would not be allowed into Venezuela. But more interestingly, videos of the burned trucks showed a different cargo: material such as metal cables, gas masks, nails and other tools that could be used in violent actions. No food and no medical supplies.

The alleged aid was never intended to be delivered to the general population.

Overall this has to be seen as another failure of the escalating attempt of regime change in Venezuela. What was supposed to be the High Noon stand off on February 23 had amounted to nothing much.

So what’s the next step in this escalation ladder by the US?

The immediate reaction we have seen so far, has been one more declaration from the so-called Lima Group – whose number went from 14 to 10 countries – where the most outrageous feature is that they included what I call a fabricated entity called “Venezuela” that has nothing to do with the legitimate Venezuela recognized at the United Nations. US Vice President Mike Pence’s call on all “Lima Group” members to freeze the assets of Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA and restrict visas for Venezuelan officials did not happen.

Washington, on the other hand, has issued sanctions on the governors of four Venezuelan States: Ramon Carrizalez, the governor of the Venezuelan state of Apure, who had previously served as vice president of Venezuela; Jorge Garcia Carneiro, the governor of the state of Vargas, who previously served as the head of the Venezuelan Army and minister of defense; Rafael Lacava, governor of the state of Carabobo; and Omar Prieto, the governor of the state of Zulia. Additional sanctions on six Venezuelan military personnel were announced later.

In terms of escalation ladder it is important to keep in mind what is at the end of that ladder for the US: There is the world’s largest estimated oil reserves located in the Orinoco Belt, which runs along the Orinoco River from the Central State of Guárico all the way into the Atlantic. That is a huge prize!

I am reminded of a brilliant explanation that Hugo Chavez gave in 2008 when he warned of a possible attempt to split Venezuela if the opposition seized five crucial Western States: Zulia, Táchira, Mérida, Barinas and Apure.

When Chavez highlighted these states on a map they took the shape of Media Luna, as he named it – that is Half Moon in Spanish. He warned that Venezuela had to be watchful of those states. At the time Brazil was not a concern; Lula was president.

I believe Chavez’s warning is still valid today. Three of the five states border with Colombia: Zulia, Táchira and Apure. And I don’t think that the latest US sanctions on the governors of two of those states, Zulia and Apure, is a coincidence.

Zulia is the historical oil producing state, and Apure is the strategic gateway to the Orinoco Oil Belt. The Governor of Táchira was spared maybe because she happens to be an opposition party governor.

At this point logic suggests to rule out a US military option assuming that Washington is listening to most of the Latin American countries that have warned against any military intervention. That would be the biggest mistake the US could make. But they have made similar mistakes before. On the other hand, the president of the Constituent National Assembly of Venezuela, Diosdado Cabello, has warned not to believe the exclusion of “use of force” in the “Lima Group” declaration, and asked “to be alert.”

Caracas is quite prepared to fight back if necessary and so far it is outsmarting Washington’s attempts to create bogus information for public consumption. What could have been another stand off between the two countries with the announced return of Juan Guaidó to Venezuela, fizzled out when he was not arrested at the port of entry. Guaidó had grandiosely announced that he gave instructions to mobilize nationally and internationally in case of his arrest. Only a few foreign diplomats “mobilized” to receive him at the airport.

For the time being the US will continue climbing the escalation ladder towards Venezuela’s oil through more Hybrid War tricks, like infowar and false flags. The immediate goal is to convince more governments to see Washington’s point of view.

Categories: News for progressives

Trump Moves the World Closer to Wars

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:53

President Trump has recently flown out of Hanoi, having failed to reach any agreement in negotiations with President Kim of North Korea, who went back home by train, with his tail up and wagging — having laid a wreath at the mausoleum commemorating Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese leader who led his country’s fight for independence for so many years.

Trump’s aerial departure from Hanoi wasn’t on the same lines as America’s well-publicized flight from Vietnam in April 1975, when the last frantic evacuees were helicoptered out to sea from the US Embassy roof and President Gerald Ford told the American people and the world that after twenty years of hideous conflict, the Vietnam War was “finished as far as America is concerned.”

The exit from Vietnam was a departure of defeat, to be sure, but at least it signaled the end of US wars for a while, at least until Washington’s muscles flexed in 1983 and it invaded the Island of Grenada (population 90,000) because it didn’t like its government and wanted, in the words of President Reagan, “to restore order and democracy.” The UN called the attack “a flagrant violation of international law” and the Security Council tried to stop it, but Washington used its veto to get out of that and then invaded Panama (population 2.3 million) in 1989, with President GHW Bush saying the main reason was “The Panamanian people want democracy, peace, and the chance for a better life in dignity and freedom.”

America’s invasive commitment to democracy and freedom has been reiterated over the years, most notably before and during the catastrophes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and has been eerily echoed by President Trump’s declaration that he “stands with the people of Venezuela as they demand democracy, human rights, and prosperity denied to them by Maduro” the president who is likely to die like other leaders in the unfortunate countries invaded by the freedom-loving military-industrial state in Washington.

We can’t tell for sure if Donald Trump likes wars quite as much as his predecessors, because as with every other important policy matter he flicks from side to side, leaps backwards and forwards, and thoroughly confuses his country and the rest of the world about his intentions.

As a presidential candidate in 2016, Trump was asked in a TV interview “Have we wasted too much money over the past decade fighting wars? Has that been one of the biggest . . .”  whereupon he interrupted and replied “I don’t mind fighting, but you have got to win and number one, we don’t win wars, we just fight, we just fight. It’s like a big — like you’re vomiting, just fight, fight, fight [laughter from audience].  We don’t win anything. I mean, if you’re going to fight, you win and you get back to rebuilding the country. We don’t win. It’s really a terrible thing. I mean, our country used to win all the time. We don’t win at all anymore.”

The fact that he was voted into power after that piece of aggressive vulgarity is astonishing, but unfortunately it has to be taken seriously, because his statement seems to mean he would like to show that under his presidency the Washington-Pentagon nexus will have his full backing to “win all the time.”

At the 55th Munich Security Conference, on 16-18 February, the Trump message to the world was not delivered directly, because he was at that time declaring a national emergency back home, stating “We fight wars that are 6,000 miles away, wars that we should have never been in in many cases, but we don’t control our own border. So we are going to confront the national-security crisis on our southern border.”  His speech then descended into rambling baloney, but the message was that he couldn’t build a wall along the Mexican border because Congress would not allocate money, so he sent 6,000 troops to the border and announced that the situation merited declaration of a National Emergency. Little wonder that when his vice president told his Munich audience that Trump was a great man, there was a degree of shock.  As the Washington Post reported, German Chancellor Merkel “was followed to the podium by Vice President Pence, who was met with only tepid applause — and some incredulous looks — when he proclaimed Trump “the leader of the free world.”

Governments rolled their collective eyes at Pence’s Cold War reference to “free world”, but the declaration was even more bizarre than being an old-fashioned malevolent jab at Russia, because many of Washington’s closest allies could not possibly be referred to as “free”.  At the time of the Trump and Pence performances a UK Parliamentary panel was reported as stating that “Female activists in Saudi Arabia are being detained in cruel and inhumane conditions that could be classified as torture under both international and Saudi law”, a few days after Human Rights Watch observed that “Saudi Arabia stands out for its extraordinarily high levels of repression.”

But President Trump will not invade Saudi Arabia over human rights or anything else. Unfortunately he might decide to commit troops elsewhere, like Iran or Venezuela, if only to deflect attention from his failure at the Hanoi talks, the announcement on March 6 that last year “America’s trade deficit in goods with the rest of the world rose to its highest level in history” and his puerile tomfoolery concerning the State of Emergency.  Like all narcissists he craves approval and, above all, admiration. It is essential for him that his malevolence and arrogance are recognised as superiority, and there are few better means for a political leader to do this than by demonstrating military virility.

Trump’s pronouncement that “We fight wars that are 6,000 miles away, wars that we should have never been in in many cases . . .” is compelling in some ways, not the least being the mention of distance, as Venezuela is only 1300 miles from Miami .  But his reasons for withdrawing from these conflicts are not based on international law or concern for human rights — he’s doing it because he thinks it proves him to be a better leader than his presidential predecessors.

The only reason Trump would not engage in yet another catastrophic war is that such action might reflect badly on him.  If he imagines there would be instant acclamation, gales of approving publicity, and an opportunity to strut the world stage as a knight in shining armor, then there will be a war somewhere.

On March 2, he gave a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, and was reported as having basked in adulation when he said “You know I’m totally off script right now and this is how I got elected, by being off script. And if we don’t go off script, our country’s in big trouble, folks, because we have to get it back.”

The President of the United States likes being “off script” which means he prefers to make up speeches as he goes along (as was painfully obvious during his ludicrous “national emergency” harangue) but his public avowal to continue being off-script goes further than that, because it means his actions and not just his words will continue to be unplanned.

Trump is not only narcissistic, blustering and foul-mouthed, he is a malevolent, poisonous posturer with a sense of neither decency nor moderation.  War, to him, is merely another international venture whose success is gauged by his approval ratings.

The whole word, and not just Iran and Venezuela, should be prepared for the next erratic foray, because there is little doubt that the world is closer to war with Trump in the White House.

A version of this piece appeared on Strategic Culture Foundation on March 4.

Categories: News for progressives

Biblically-Legitimized Imperialism

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:53

The way many Christians quote The Bible you would think it is the Word of God.  And that is the imperialistic rub.  Such Christians believe The Bible contains the infallible revelation of Divine truth.   They then seek to impose that truth – which is assumed to be a projection of their aspirations and authority needs — on everyone else.  Here is biblically inspired and legitimized imperialism, which leads people to become evangelistic, not equalitarian; predatory, not participatory; dominating, not liberating; paternalistic, not democratic; incompatible, not reconcilable.  The aim is to gain power over people, not to empower them.  What is actually authoritarian is professed to be authoritative, as “it’s in The Bible,” which believers have been taught is absolutely true and beyond question.  It is about power and obedience, not authenticity and empathy.

Biblically-bound evangelistic Christians justify the imperialistic nature of their faith by pointing to Jesus’ supposed “Great Commission” in Matthew 28: 16-20: a reportedly resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples and declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  Never mind that the Trinity was not formulated until some three centuries after Jesus’ crucifixion. (See “Trinity,”www.religiousfacts.com)  The inerrancy of 20/20 theological hindsight.

Never mind also that, after Christians suffered severe persecution by Rome, Christianity became recognized as the religion of the Roman Empire. And in the wake of Rome’s imperialistic military conquests, Christians converted and baptized those conquered “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  They also used their political power as a weapon to outlaw and purge all “competing religions.” (See ‘THE CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION OF PAGANISM, ’www.worldfuturefund.org)  .

The Jews suffered a similar fate as the pagans.  As James Everett Seaver writes in “The Persecution of the Jews in the Roman Empire (300-428),  ” To the student of the fourth century, the whole of the Bible was written under the compulsion of divine inspiration.  This idea,” he continued, “was very harmful to the Jews when all the promises in the Bible were applied to the Christians, and all the curses and threats therein were leveled at the Jews.  A terrible falsification took place.” (University of Kansas Publications, Copyright 1952, vlib.ieu.it/carrie/texts)   

The worst falsification is the author of Matthew’s Gospel blaming the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus.  When Jesus was arrested by Roman soldiers, the Jews were reported to clamor, “Crucify him!”  So Pilate, the Roman ruler of the oppressed Jews, who controlled whether Jesus lived or died, supposedly washed his hands of the matter, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s Blood.  It is your responsibility.”  The Gospel writer then puts these words in the mouths of the politically powerless Jews, setting them up for their own persecution as “Christ killers” down through the ages: “All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children.’” (Matthew 27: 24-26)

Why would any subject people pronounce such a death sentence on themselves?  And on their own children?  Unless the Gospel writer wanted to take Rome off the hook for Jesus’ crucifixion, blame the Jews to justify their oppression, and glorify and advance Christianity in the Roman world.  Anti-Semitism legitimized by the belief that The Bible is the literally true Word of God.

Biblically legitimized imperialism is not just about victims in the past.  A glaring current example is “Christ changed my heart”- professing President George W. Bush’s falsely based, criminal invasion of Iraq.  His administration’s horribly destructive illegal war was aided and abetted by a reported “87% of all white evangelical Christians in the United States,” whose leaders “claim that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims.” (“Wayward Christian Soldiers,” By Charles Marsh, The New York Times, Jan. 20. 2006)  It is about baptizing victims of American imperialism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and not really about “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5: 9)

Biblically legitimized imperialism is a globalized authoritarian dynamic that extends beyond rejecting Muslims and Jews.  Other Christians, evenin the same denomination, who don’t toe The Bible’s literalistic line are also to be punished and marginalized.  A striking example is The United Methodist Church’s recently ended special General Conference, billed as dealing with “human sexuality,” but actually was about the denomination’s decades-long hang-ups about homosexuality.

Some 864 United Methodist delegates of the global 12 million-member denomination gathered at a special General Conference last month to consider removing the following decades-long anti-homosexual positions from their Book of Discipline: that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be . . . ordained . . . in the United Methodist Church,” and that ministers are prohibited from performing, and their churches hosting, same-sex marriages. Not only were these discriminatory positions against LGBTQIA persons not removed, a small majority of the delegates, 438 to 384, approved a “Traditional Plan” that calls for stricter enforcement of and stiffer penalties for violating The Discipline’s anti-homosexual declarations.

The Traditional Plan stresses “enhanced accountability.”  A chief architect, Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, writes that the Traditional Plan broadens the “definition of ‘self-avowed homosexual’ to include persons living in a same-sex marriage or union or who publicly proclaim themselves to be practicing homosexuals.”  Other examples of the Traditional Plan’s “enhanced accountability”: it “explicitly prohibits bishops from consecrating bishops,  ]and] ordaining or commissioning clergy who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”  It contains a loyalty oath that “requires all persons nominated to serve on the annual conference board of ordained ministry to certify that they will uphold and enforce the Book of Discipline’s standards for ordained clergy.”  And it “establishes a minimum penalty for clergy convicted of performing a same-sex wedding [which is] a one year suspension (first offense) and loss of credentials (second offense).”  (“What General Conference Accomplished,” Good News Magazine, Feb. 26, 2019)

Speaking from personal experience, I assume that many United Methodist ministers and their families have debts and live from paycheck to paycheck, which reveals just how punitive the so-called “Traditionalists” are.  In 1973, at age 46, when I was forcibly retired, officially for one year, after performing a gay marriage at Boston’s Old West Church, I was soon forced to file for bankruptcy.  I walked!  I then brought a lawsuit that created a new case law which protects all clergy’s right of privacy against any maliciously prying “superiors in office.” (See William E. Alberts vs. Donald T., Devine & Others, 395 Mass, 59)

Such cruel punishment of ministers who perform same-sex marriages and the blatant rejection of LGBTQIA persons are imperialistic.  And United Methodists who support such hatefulness use The Bibleas their authority — just like the Christians in their persecution of the Jews and the white evangelicals’ in jumping on President Bush’s Iraq war wagon to convert Muslims to their Christ.  Here the“Good Book” serves to justify the imperialistic need of many United Methodists to not only gain power, but to also punish and reject non-biblically-conforming LGBTQIA persons, along with those Methodists who unconditionally affirm and welcome them.  The United Methodist Church’s motto is “Open Hearts.  Open minds.  Open doors.” But imperialistically-inclined Methodists find in The Bible justification for closing their hearts and minds and doors to those branded as “incompatible”– and to those who fully embrace and enable them.

At the General Conference, spokespersons for the Traditional Plan rooted their appeals in “scriptural authority,” “biblical truth,” “biblical Christianity,” “The Bible is the final word.”  They were reported as saying that “loosening the faith’s ban on same-sex marriage and ordination of gay and lesbian clergy defied the word of God.”  Rev. Keith Boyette, a key leader of the evangelistically-oriented Wesley Covenant Association, is quoted as saying that “LGBT members are welcome into the church – up to a point.”  Not really, as Boyette added,  “ ‘I believe that those who engage in the practice of homosexuality are not living a life that pleases God.’”  (“Methodist Church votes to ban gay clergy and same sex marriage, evoking debate among members,” By Dean Reynolds, CBS News,Feb. 27, 2019) Boyette knows what “pleases God” because The Bible tells him so.

The Bible also tells Pastor emeritus Rev. Randy Mickler so.  He is reported to have “wanted a traditional plan ‘with teeth.’”  After the Traditional Plan was approved, he said, “‘I’m not surprised that the majority of United Methodists believe in the authority of Scripture, and that’s what this victory is about.’“ (“United Methodist in Georgia try to figure out what’s next,” By Shelia M. Poole, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Feb. 26,2019)

The hypocritical rationalizations of biblically-bound United Methodists are exemplified by Texan Conference Bishop Scott Jones.  He issued a statement declaring that the victorious vote for the Traditional Plan “resolves a long-standing debate about how the church ‘can best accomplish our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.’ ”   He said, “This decision is consistent with our denomination’s historic stance on human sexuality, outlined in the Book of Discipline since 1972.”  He then said, with a “straight” face, “We will continue to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer persons into our churches and affirm their sacred worth.” (“2019 General Conference passes Traditional Plan,” By Kathy L. Gilbert, Heather Hahn and Joey Butler, United Methodist News Service, Feb. 26, 2018)

Bishop Jones unconsciously reveals the imperialism inherent in United Methodism’s mission statement of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Such a globalized mission statement, with its appeal to the absolute authority of The Bible — and thus to the authority of its Christian missionaries — helped to guide the colonization of Africa.  At the General Conference, the imperialism in such a mission statement came back to bite The United Methodist Church. Almost 43% of the delegates are from overseas, the vast majority from Africa. (See “Good News from United Methodist General Conference,” By Mark Tooley, luicyecumenism,com, Feb. 24, 2019)  Most of these delegates joined the conservative United States delegates, and together they formed a small majority, and defeated the efforts of progressive American delegates, a reported “nearly two-thirds of” whom “say homosexuality should be accepted.” (“ ‘We Are Not Going Anywhere’: Progressive Methodists Vow to Fight Ban on Gay Clergy,” By Elizabeth Dias, The New York Times, Mar. 1, 2019)

The traditional United Methodists repeatedly quote The Bible to justify their rejection of same-sex marriage and homosexuals and those progressive Methodist ministers who perform such weddings. A favorite passage of the traditionalists is Jesus’ recorded statement in Mark’s Gospel: “At the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (10: 6-8)

These conservative Christians are quite selective in the verses of Scripture they cite to litigate so-called “human sexuality,” which is actually a cover for rejecting LGBTQIA Methodists.  They rarely cite the next words of Jesus, which would get too close to home for a significant number of those who are divorced.  Jesus went on: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.  And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10: 11-12)

Selective indeed!  The General Conference delegates also steered far clear of Jesus’s teaching about heterosexual adultery, namely, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body,” he continued, “than to have your whole body thrown into hell.”(Matthew 5: 27-29)  And how many United Methodists titillate themselves with pornographic films and magazines – and with sexually tinged jokes?  If the delegates had taken to heart Jesus’ saying about “look[ing] at a woman lustfully,” there obviously would have been far fewer male delegates at that General Conference – and fewer females delegates as well.

One could go on citing words attributed to Jesus that would be dismissed as out of touch with reality if uttered by another human being.  Like his statement, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21: 22)  As a hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, I witnessed a sister of a just deceased woman go to her bedside and pray, “Almighty God make her well. That will be a great testimony to you for all patients and doctors and nurses to see.”  (Alberts, A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity,  “Hug her,” pages 18-20)  The sister’s unanswered prayer made her pain greater, possibility intensified by blaming herself for not having enough faith.  How often have the prayers of sincere Christian believers gone unanswered, leaving them even more depressed, with feelings of guilt that their faith has not measured up?

It is not just Jesus.  Paul the Apostle, Christianity’s first great missionary, taught, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as you are to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.” (Ephesians 5: 22, 23)  And Paul applied his patriarchal conditioning to women, who “are to remain silent in the churches.  They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” (1 Corinthians 24: 34)

A “grieving” Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, head of Methodism’s division of Church and Society, exposes the traditionalists’ selective avoidance of Bible verses that embrace inclusivity.  In an email, she writes, “The General Conference chose to further deepen the divide in The United Methodist Church . . . in clear violation of the mandate given to us in 1 Corinthians 12.  “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you!’” And yet, that’s exactly what happened.’” (“Church and Society Committed to Inclusion and Justice,” The United Methodist Church, Feb. 26, 2019)

Dr. Crowe then made this prophetic statement:

We will seek justice for LGBTQIA migrants.  We will seek to end conversion therapy, the dangerous and discredited idea that you can change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  We will work to ensure that no one is fired from their job or prevented from access to housing because they are LGBTQ.  We will work to end hate crimes against LGBTQIA people, especially LGBTQIA people of color.  We will seek a climate in which LGBTQIA children are protected and enabled to live full and flourishing lives. (Ibid)

This reality check is not to minimize the power of prayer and the inspiration countless people find in The Bible– and in Jesus’ teachings and example – and in Paul’s insightful and inspiring expression of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  The intent is to ground them in reality and in the humanness and worth everyone shares.  Such a reality check was needed at Methodism’s recent General Conference.

Another reality is that most anti-homosexual moralizing Christian traditionalists had no say in their own heterosexual development and orientation.  While the American Psychological Association states that “there is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation . . . most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.” (“Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality: What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?” American Psychological Association)   Sadly, biblically-bound Christian traditionalists are required to dumb down their god, which demands that they be anti-introspective.

Christian missionary-inspired imperialism came home to roost at the General Conference.  A delegate from Mozambique, Horatio Vilanculo was quoted as saying “that the Traditional Plan ‘keeps the church in the way of God’ and ‘is what God wants in the church in this world.’” (“United Methodists Vote to Keep Traditional Marriage Stance,” By Jeremy Steele, Christianity Today, Feb. 26, 2019)  In fact, as reported, “Several members from African nations had stood on Tuesday to support the ‘Traditional’ plan, saying it accords with scripture teaching on sexuality.”  Rev. Jerry Kulah, from Liberia, is quoted: “Today,’ he said, “the church in Africa is growing in leaps and bounds because we are committed to biblical Christianity.” He then added, “You cannot be performing Christianity differently in America and Africa and suggest that we are one church.” (“Methodists strengthen stance against gay marriage and openly LGBT clergy,” By Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor, CNN, Feb. 26, 2019) Here, sadly, biblical authority transcends the varieties of human authenticity.

Never mind “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  United Methodists needs to transform themselves by fully embracing the diversity in their own midst.  They will then be better prepared to live in peace with Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and Hindus and atheists, and other Christians, and those their government leaders brand as “incompatible” — rather than try to violate their authenticity by seeking  to “baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not make your neighbor like yourself.  For people of faith, it should be about the diversity of divinity, and the divinity of diversity – and the commonality of humanity.

Categories: News for progressives

Hijack the Starship, Major Tom

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:52

One of my favorite rock albums of the early 1970s is Paul Kantner and Grace Slick’s science fiction story titled Blows Against the Empire. Although the album was released under the auspices of Kantner and Slick’s ensemble Jefferson Starship, the truth is that the collection of musicians in this work are quite different than those who would make up the Jefferson Starship a few years later. Along with members of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service, David Crosby and Graham Nash also appear on some of the tracks. Blows Against the Empire is a science fiction story put to music. In the tale, a starship traveling the galaxies and presumably part of some earth-based space force is taken over by anarchist-leaning passengers and crew. Their intention, one assumes, is to create a new world on the starship based on mutual aid and freedom. Overtly political, as Kantner and Slick tended to be in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the album also represented a frustration with the established order of war and poverty felt by many mostly young residents of the western nations. The previous years of protest seemed to be making very little difference and the forces of reaction were growing stronger. Maybe it was time to leave the planet and start anew.

David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” was inspired by the science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey. This tune would ultimately become one of Bowie’s signatures. The story of a space mission gone wrong, “Space Oddity” lent a cautionary warning to the exuberance many earthlings felt after watching the Apollo astronauts walk on the moon in July 1969. Bowie acknowledged his debt to Kubrick’s film. A year or two later, Bowie launched his most recognizable alias when his band of aliens known forever as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars hit the road. Bowie paid his debt to science fiction novels and stories. So did Kantner and numerous other rock musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, whose hit tune “Purple Haze” was inspired by Philip Jose Farmer’s short story “Night of Light”—a story which was later expanded into a novel.

Then, almost alone in the universe, was the British band Hawkwind. This outfit was all about science fiction and space travel. They were also about LSD and hard rock. Radical politics informed their work, too. Indeed, one of their hits was titled “Urban Guerrilla.” Their concerts were Dionysian festivals of sound, dance, serious bass lines, a nude female singer and songs of space travel and worlds undiscovered. Lemmy Kilmeister, who would leave the band and form Motorhead, played bass and sang for the band from 1972-1975. Author Michael Moorcock, best known for his science fiction and fantasy novels and also a member of the band The Deep Fix, also appeared with them. His Elric series of novels were the basis of an entire album by Hawkwind titled Chronicle of the Black Sword. On occasion, Moorcock played with the band in public.

This musical multiverse is the part of the context for novelist and journalist Jason Heller’s 2018 book Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded. Employing the premise implicit in his title, Heller discusses the interaction, inspiration and influence of science fiction in the world of popular music of the 1970s. In his explication, he weaves a thread through the decade that splices together the rock music of Bowie, Hawkwind and the like with the funk of George Clinton and the Mothership of Parliament/Funkadelic and its clones. He also brings what would become known as the Afrofuturism of the jazz artist Sun Ra and the music of the electronics wizard Brian Eno into the fold. Then, like a unusual and unexpected topping on a dessert, Heller includes the various Top 40 offerings of disco Star Wars themes and other such novelty records of the time. In other words, Heller’s definition of sci fi ranges from the silly to the sublime, from the utopian to the dystopian and from the hard rock of Hawkwind to disco remakes of the Star Wars theme. Naturally, always looming in the shadows are Star Trek and 2001:A Space Odyssey; both of these being perhaps the most important catalysts to the surge in the popularity of science fiction in the 1970s.

Heller’s first chapter opens with David Bowie and his friend and future producer Tony Visconti in a movie theater. It is 1969. They are both high on a marijuana-based tincture and watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. From there he launches into a discussion of young musicians and their affinity for science fiction; not just the novels and the fan magazines, but also Star Trek and Dr. Who. The dystopian vision of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece film A Clockwork Orange lurks menacingly in the background, along with the influence of John Brunner’s masterpiece Stand on Zanzibar. Once that chapter is concluded, Heller takes each year of the 1970s and turns it into a chapter. Each chapter combines his take on the politics and culture of that year with its music. In his telling, what began as a decade infused with music inspired by serious science fiction ultimately ends up with a somewhat silly Star Wars infused pablum that all too often is what popular culture in capitalist society ends up as. Nonetheless, Strange Stars takes these phenomena seriously. With David Bowie as a constant reference, from Ziggy Stardust to the Nicholas Roeg film The Man Who Fell to Earth, Strange Stars reveals just how much of an influence the fantasies, hopes and fears of the sci-fi world played in the popular music of the 1970s. As the fiction of sci-fi has turned into the reality of the twenty-first century, its role seems to have vanished. Yet, Heller neatly resurrects it in his closing paragraphs, remembering the 2016 death of David Bowie and his last album Blackstar, whose title tune includes images of long dead space travelers inside its strange state of spacetime and compressed matter.

Categories: News for progressives

Ilhan Omar’s Choice

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:52

As a virtual lynch mob moves to chastise Rep. Ilhan Omar over her recent remarks around Israel, the new congresswoman basically has three options before her: (1) Fold; (2) Continue the back and forth of the last several weeks or (3) Get more specific and expand the public critique.

Fold: Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Omar herself can go largely silent on Israel. She can perhaps even offer a bigger apology than she did before or she can find some other way to draw closer to the establishment. This is a convenient path.

Continue the Current Pattern: Thus far, Rep. Omar has made statements about the Israel lobby and support for Israel that at one level are obviously true:

* “It’s all about the benjamins”: The pro-Israel lobby uses money to further its interests in Congress, just as virtually any other well-funded lobby does;

* “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is ok for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. And I want to ask, why is it ok for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby.” There are some in the U.S. establishment that have loyalty to Israel rivaling if not exceeding what they have for the United States.

The issue with these statement is that in addition to being true, is that they are being read by some to play to ugly anti-Jewish refrains if limited to Jews: They use money to control, they love Israel, not the U.S. The problem with the second readings of them is that they require — at best — a remarkably a high level of sensitivity regarding Rep. Omar’s actual words. This may well be the reason the draft text of the resolution effectively targeting Rep. Omar reportedly doesn’t actually mention her — because they’re not actually referencing her words. As Abba Solomon noted to me: “AIPAC allies should stop hiding behind Jews, and Democratic politicians should stop feigning such sensitivity to Jewish feelings when Zionist lobbying is the subject.” Indeed, some of the readings are akin to being offended by someone saying the word “gypped” — it really is an offensive word to Roma, but it is widely used with hardly anyone blinking an eye.

The sensitivity regarding “dual loyalty” is somewhat ironic considering rather high levels of xenophobia in U.S. discourse, especially regarding things Muslim or now sometimes even Russian. Some of the former has been displayed in how Rep. Omar’s herself has been treated, but it’s far broder. While the draft resolution targeting — but, again, not actually mentioning her — reported mentions “conditions” Muslims have faced after 9/11, it confines it to that. It ignores for example, the incredible scapegoating of Muslims that occurred from the highest public officials and biggest media outlets in the U.S. after the Orlando shooting in 2016 that should have caused a tremendous amount of public scrutiny of politicos, the FBI, the media and how they all work together but which has gone largely down the memory hole.

Still, the current back and forth may be alluring for Rep. Omar. It keeps her the center of much attention, but I fear it will likely presage little positive change in U.S. policy or increase the prospects for a just peace in the Mideast. It feels to me rather like how Yasser Arafat acted on occasion, a sort of longterm game of crit and retreat that might make for a thrilling, star-studded career, but ends up amounting to surprisingly little.

Get Specific, Expand the Critique: It pays to recall this is hardly the first go around with someone trying to stand up to AIPAC. The Israel lobby has targeted numerous representatives before, most obviously Reps. Pete McCloskey, Cynthia McKinney and Earl Hilliard. Also, as even the New York Times recently recalled in a piece about AIPAC now targeting Rep. Omar and other freshmen, it went after Republican Sen. Charles Percy and Rep. Paul FIndley, who literally wrote the book They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby.

Former Senator James Abourezk, possibly the most radical senator of the post-World War II era wrote in 2011: “Years ago, when Wolf Blitzer was an AIPAC employee and we appeared together on a panel discussion, he literally shouted at me that, as Americans, AIPAC members had the right to lobby Congress. My response then was the same as it is now: when lobbying is being done for a foreign government, as AIPAC does, it’s wrong.” Grant Smith, author of BIg Israel, has tracked the history of how AIPAC avoided the law. He writes that In 1962, AIPAC, which actually began as a project of the American Zionist Council, “was ordered to register as an Israeli foreign agent. The Justice Department kept this fact secret until 2010. It has never tried to enforce the order.” Imagine how much more quickly the U.S. Jewish community could have found its own voice rather than be pigeonholed regarding Israel if the law was enforced.

Much of Rep. Omar’s comments to date have been about herself, about her relationship to Jews and Jewish constituents. What they have been insufficiently about is actual Israeli and U.S. government policy towards the Palestinians and others.

For example talking about U.S. policy being literally “all about the benjamins” is highly dubious. Money is certainly a needed ingredient, but the U.S. government’s backing of Israel more than anything has to do with geopolitics, most obviously Israel effectively crushing Arab nationalism in 1967, preventing the development of the region along lines remotely responsive to the people of the region.

Rep. Omar can highlight such critical aspects. Some are timely: The recent UN report on Israeli atrocities against Palestinians.

Some are long crying out for public discussion: The U.S. government refuses to acknowledge — as a matter of policy — that Israel has nuclear weapons. I know, I’ve asked numerous politicos about this. In 2011, when Mike Pence was on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — the same committee Rep. Omar is on now (and what AIPAC is quite clearly aiming to get her off of) — his response was nearly comical. If you haven’t, see for yourself: video. But of course Pence wasn’t laughed out of Washington, D.C. or widely derided — he attained the vice presidency.

With Rep. Omar being the center of much attention just now, her highlighting Israeli criminality and nuclear threats to humanity itself could have an immeasurable positive effect. Recall that when George Galloway was at the center of enormous attacks over the alleged “oil for food” scandal in 2005, he turned the tables and derided Sen. Norm Coleman and the entire political class over the Iraq invasion being based on a “pack of lies” to great effect; Coleman would go on to lose his senate seat. See video.

Some, including Rep. Omar, ask why people can freely talk about the influence of the NRA and not AIPAC — and it’s a good question, but also ironic: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, has argued focusing just on the roll of the NRA distracts from the settler colonial origins of the Second Amendment.

Indeed, perhaps the most potentially profound of Omar’s recent tweets are ones like this: “I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks.”

This all depends on how you define the U.S. and how you define Israel. I increasingly don’t see countries. I see forces. And what many mean when they talk about a “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel — whether they acknowledged it or not — is the settler colonial pattern they have both followed.

This origins of this connection is examined by Rev. Michael Prior, in an essay titled “The Right to Expel: The Bible and Ethnic Cleansing” for the book Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return: “The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ itself, I suggest, is related to a conflation of the biblical notions of ‘unclean’/profane’ with the command to ‘drive out’ the inhabitants of Canaan (Exodus 23-24; Numbers 33; Deuteronomy 33 and Joshua), because, according to the biblical legend, they had defiled themselves by their evil practices (Leviticus 18:24). Uniquely in ancient literature, the biblical legend projects the extermination of the defiled indigenes as a divine mandate. With the authority of its religious provenance that value system has been incorporated into European imperialist ideologies, ‘legitimizing’ the destruction or displacement of indigenous peoples.”

That is, the most gruesome part of the Old Testament was used as justification for settlers in what would become the U.S., killing and robbing the native inhabitants. And the same mentality is now used once again in the land of Canaan. At a very high standard, Rep. Omar cannot claim that she is free from anti-Israel bias if she singles out Israel’s settler colonialism but engages in mythology regarding the U.S.’s settle colonialism and continued imperial politics. This includes a worldwide system of bases, divide-and-rule practices in the Mideast and elsewhere, a renewed explicit commitment to the Monroe Doctrine now targeting Venezuela to mention a few.

She did confront some of this when recently questioning U.S. envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams, a criminal abettor of genocide. She questioned Abrams far more strongly than any of the other congressional representatives, but when he claimed the U.S. government wanted democracy, she extraordinarily agreed.

The criminal rot of imperial polices that is highlighted by the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship” rests on lies and ridiculous absurdities and is therefore vulnerable, but it runs deep and it will take a very determined critique to dislodge. Many are now saying #StandWithIlhan, but a huge question is how firmly she will stand.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Militarised Conservation: Paramilitary Rangers and the WWF

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:52

Think charity, think vulnerability and its endless well of opportunistic exploitation.  Over the years, international charity organisations have been found with employees keen to take advantage of their station.  That advantage has been sexual, financial and, in the case of allegations being made about the World Wild Life Fund for Nature, in the nature of inflicting torture on those accused of poaching.

BuzzFeed, via reporters Tom Warren and Katie J.M. Baker, began the fuss with an investigative report claiming instances of torture and gross violence on the part of rangers assisted by the charity to combat poaching.  It starts with a description of a dying man’s last days, one Shikharam Chaudhary, a farmer who was brutally beaten and tortured by forest rangers patrolling Chitwan National Park in Nepal.  Shikharam, it seems, had been singled out for burying a rhinoceros horn in his backyard. The horn proved elusive, but not the unfortunate farmer, who was detained in prison.  After nine days, he was dead.

Three park officials including the chief warden were subsequently charged with murder.  WWF found itself in a spot, given its long standing role in sponsoring operations by the Chitwan forest rangers.  As the BuzzFeed report goes on to note, “WWF’s staff on the ground in Nepal leaped into action – not to demand justice, but to lobby for the charges to disappear. When the Nepalese government dropped the case months later, the charity declared its victory in the fight against poaching.  Then WWF Nepal continued to work closely with the rangers and fund the park as if nothing had happened.”

The report does not hold back, insisting that the alleged murder of the unfortunate Shikharam in 2006 was no aberration.  “It was part of a pattern that persists to this day.  In national parks across Asia and Africa, the beloved non-profit with the cuddly panda logo funds, equips, and works directly with paramilitary forces that have been accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people.”

The poach wars are a savage business, throwing up confected images of heroes and villains.  They do not merely involve the actions of protecting animals, but military-styled engagements where fatalities are not uncommon.  Anti-poaching has become a mission heralded by the romantically inclined as indispensable, its agents to be celebrated.  Desperate local conditions are conveniently scrubbed out in any descriptions: there are only the noble rangers battling animal murderers.

The Akashinga, for instance, are an anti-poaching enterprise of 39 women operating in Zimbabwe who featured with high praise in a report from the ABC in October last year.  Who are the victims, apart from the animals they protect?  There is little doubt in the minds of the reporters: the women themselves, victims of assault, many single mothers from Nyamakate.  Laud them, respect their mission.

It is clear is that these women are feted warriors, armed and given appropriate training.  They “undergo military-style training in unarmed combat, camouflage and concealment, search and arrest, as well as leadership and conservation ethics.” Their source of encouragement and support is Damien Mander, formerly a military sniper and founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.

Mander’s own laundry list for being a “good anti-poaching ranger”, as featured in an interview to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in 2015, is unvarnished: “A passion for nature, strong paramilitary base, and ability and willingness to work in hostile environments for extended periods of time as part of a team.”

The line between the mission of charity and its mutation into one of abuse is tooth fine.  In February 2018, The Times, assisted by information supplied by whistleblowers, sprung the lid off Oxfam GB workers in Haiti, suggesting that charity workers had received sexual favours for payment in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. (Nothing like a crisis that breeds opportunity.)  It was duly revealed that the organisation had done its level best to conceal the fact. The UK International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt’s statement to Parliament in February took most issue with the latter.  “In such circumstances we must be able to trust organisations not only to do all they can to prevent harm, but to report and follow up incidents of wrongdoing when they do occur.”

In the course of its conduct, Oxfam did not, according to Mordaunt, furnish the Charity Commission with a report on the incidents.  Nor did the donors receive one.  The prosecting authorities were also left in the dark on the subject.

Defences have been mounted by those working in the aid sector.  Mike Aaronson, writing in August last year, pleaded the case that aid organisations were being unduly singled out, the scape goats of moral outrage and privileged ethics.  “Aid organisations carry a lot of risk, operating in chaotic and stressful environments where in trying to do good they can end up doing harm.”  In condemning them, it was easy to ignore the fact that they had “done most to address the issue”.

The WWF situation, which has moved the matter into the dimension of animal protection and conservation, has hallmarks that are similarly problematic with the humanitarian sector in general.  And the reaction of the organisation has also been fairly typical, laden with weasel-worded aspirations.  “At the heart of WWF’s work are places and people who live with them,” an organisation spokesman for WWF UK asserted in response to the allegations.  “Respect for human rights is at the core of our mission.” There were “stringent policies” in place to safeguard “the rights and wellbeing of indigenous people and local communities in the places we work.”

Students of the broad field of humanitarian ventures suggest four instances where militarisation takes place.  Charities and relief organisations have become proxy extensions in armed conflict (consider Nicaragua and Afghanistan during the 1980s); creatures of embedment (the Red Cross in the World Wars); agents of “self-defence” – consider the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in the twelfth century; and engaged in direct conflict (the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War).

The WWF case suggests a direct connection between the mission of a charitable organisation and its captivation by a dangerous militancy.  It has become a sponsor, and concealer, of vigilante action, obviously unabashed in cracking a few skulls in the name of shielding protected species.  Along came the networks of informants, surveillance and exploiting local issues.  No longer can this be regarded a matter of altruistic engagement in the name of animal conservation; it is a full-fledged sponsorship of a paramilitary operation with all the incidental nastiness such an effort entails.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Forced Blood Draws & Implied Consent Laws Make a Mockery of the Fourth Amendment

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:52

“The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official.”

—Herman Schwartz, The Nation

You think you’ve got rights? Think again.

All of those freedoms we cherish—the ones enshrined in the Constitution, the ones that affirm our right to free speech and assembly, due process, privacy, bodily integrity, the right to not have police seize our property without a warrant, or search and detain us without probable cause—amount to nothing when the government and its agents are allowed to disregard those prohibitions on government overreach at will.

This is the grim reality of life in the American police state.

Our so-called rights have been reduced to technicalities in the face of the government’s ongoing power grabs.

Consider a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (Mitchell vs. Wisconsin) in which Wisconsin police officers read an unconscious man his rights and then proceeded to forcibly and warrantlessly draw his blood while he was still unconscious in order to determine if he could be charged with a DUI.

To sanction this forced blood draw, the cops and the courts have hitched their wagon to state “implied consent” laws (all of the states have them), which suggest that merely driving on a state-owned road implies that a person has consented to police sobriety tests, breathalyzers and blood draws.

More than half of the states (29 states) allow police to do warrantless, forced blood draws on unconscious individuals whom they suspect of driving while intoxicated.

Seven state appeals courts have declared these warrantless blood draws when carried out on unconscious suspects are unconstitutional. Courts in seven other states have found that implied consent laws run afoul of the Fourth Amendment. And yet seven other states (including Wisconsin) have ruled that implied consent laws provide police with a free pass when it comes to the Fourth Amendment and forced blood draws.

With this much division among the state courts, a lot is riding on which way the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Mitchell and whether it allows state legislatures to use implied consent laws as a means of allowing police to bypass the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in relation to forced blood draws and unconscious suspects.

Mind you, this is the third time in as many years that the Supreme Court has taken up the issue of warrantless blood draws.

In 2016, the Court ruled 7-1 in Birchfield v. North Dakota that states may not prosecute suspected drunken drivers for refusing warrantless blood draws when they are arrested. However, the Court also tossed the cops a bone by giving them a green light to require a warrantless breath test incident to arrest. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito rightly recognized the danger of allowing the government to warrantlessly take possession of—and preserve indefinitely—one’s biological and genetic material.

In 2013, a divided Supreme Court held in Missouri v. McNeely that people suspected of drunken driving can’t automatically be subjected to blood tests without a warrant and without their consent.

The differences between McNeely, Birchfeld and Mitchell are nuanced, but it is in these nuances that the struggle to preserve the Fourth Amendment can best be seen.

The Fourth Amendment has been on life support for a long time.

Our freedoms—especially the Fourth Amendment—continue to be strangulated by a prevailing view among government bureaucrats that they have the right to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation.

Forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies, forced blood draws, forced breath-alcohol tests, forced DNA extractions, forced eye scans, forced inclusion in biometric databases: these are just a few ways in which Americans are being forced to accept that we have no control over our bodies, our lives and our property, especially when it comes to interactions with the government.

Worse, on a daily basis, Americans are being made to relinquish the most intimate details of who we are—our biological makeup, our genetic blueprints, and our biometrics (facial characteristics and structure, fingerprints, iris scans, etc.)—in order to clear the nearly insurmountable hurdle that increasingly defines life in the United States: we are now guilty until proven innocent.

Such is life in America today that individuals are being threatened with arrest and carted off to jail for the least hint of noncompliance, homes are being raided by police under the slightest pretext, property is being seized on the slightest hint of suspicious activity, and roadside police stops have devolved into government-sanctioned exercises in humiliation and degradation with a complete disregard for privacy and human dignity.

Remember what happened to Utah nurse Alex Wubbels after a police detective demanded to take blood from a badly injured, unconscious patient without a warrant?

Wubbels refused to go along with the cop’s order, citing hospital policy that requires police to either have a warrant or permission from the patient in order to draw blood.

The detective had neither.

Irate, the detective threatened to have Wubbels arrested if she didn’t comply. Backed up by her supervisors, Wubbels respectfully stood her ground only to be roughly grabbed, shoved out of the hospital, handcuffed and forced into an unmarked car while hospital police looked on and failed to intervene (take a look at the police body camera footage, which went viral, and see for yourself).

Michael Chorosky didn’t have an advocate like Wubbels to stand guard over his Fourth Amendment rights. Chorosky was surrounded by police, strapped to a gurney and then had his blood forcibly drawn after refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test. “What country is this? What country is this?” cried Chorosky during the forced blood draw.

What country is this indeed?

Unfortunately, forced blood draws are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the indignities and abuses being heaped on Americans in the so-called name of “national security.”

For example, 21-year-old Charnesia Corley was allegedly being pulled over by Texas police for “rolling” through a stop sign. Claiming they smelled marijuana, police handcuffed Corley, placed her in the back of the police cruiser, and then searched her car for almost an hour. No drugs were found in the car.

As the Houston Chronicle reported:

Returning to his car where Corley was held, the deputy again said he smelled marijuana and called in a female deputy to conduct a cavity search. When the female deputy arrived, she told Corley to pull her pants down, but Corley protested because she was cuffed and had no underwear on. The deputy ordered Corley to bend over, pulled down her pants and began to search her. Then…Corley stood up and protested, so the deputy threw her to the ground and restrained her while another female was called in to assist. When backup arrived, each deputy held one of Corley’s legs apart to conduct the probe.

The cavity search lasted 11 minutes. This practice is referred to as “rape by cop.”

Corley was eventually charged with resisting arrest and with possession of 0.2 grams of marijuana. Those charges were subsequently dropped.

David Eckert was forced to undergo an anal cavity search, three enemas, and a colonoscopy after allegedly failing to yield to a stop sign at a Wal-Mart parking lot. Cops justified the searches on the grounds that they suspected Eckert was carrying drugs because his “posture [was] erect” and “he kept his legs together.” No drugs were found.

During a routine traffic stop, Leila Tarantino was subjected to two roadside strip searches in plain view of passing traffic, while her two children—ages 1 and 4—waited inside her car. During the second strip search, presumably in an effort to ferret out drugs, a female officer “forcibly removed” a tampon from Tarantino. No contraband or anything illegal was found.

Thirty-eight-year-old Angel Dobbs and her 24-year-old niece, Ashley, were pulled over by a Texas state trooper on July 13, 2012, allegedly for flicking cigarette butts out of the car window. Insisting that he smelled marijuana, the trooper proceeded to interrogate them and search the car. Despite the fact that both women denied smoking or possessing any marijuana, the police officer then called in a female trooper, who carried out a roadside cavity search, sticking her fingers into the older woman’s anus and vagina, then performing the same procedure on the younger woman, wearing the same pair of gloves. No marijuana was found.

Sixty-nine-year-old Gerald Dickson was handcuffed and taken into custody (although not arrested or charged with any crime) after giving a ride to a neighbor’s son, whom police suspected of being a drug dealer. Despite Dickson’s insistence that the bulge under his shirt was the result of a botched hernia surgery, police ordered Dickson to “strip off his clothes, bend over and expose all of his private parts. No drugs or contraband were found.”

Meanwhile, four Milwaukee police officers were charged with carrying out rectal searches of suspects on the street and in police district stations over the course of several years. One of the officers was accused of conducting searches of men’s anal and scrotal areas, often inserting his fingers into their rectums and leaving some of his victims with bleeding rectums.

It’s gotten so bad that you don’t even have to be suspected of possessing drugs to be subjected to a strip search.

A North Carolina public school allegedly strip-searched a 10-year-old boy in search of a $20 bill lost by another student, despite the fact that the boy, J.C., twice told school officials he did not have the missing money. The assistant principal reportedly ordered the fifth grader to disrobe down to his underwear and subjected him to an aggressive strip-search that included rimming the edge of his underwear. The missing money was later found in the school cafeteria.

Suspecting that Georgia Tech alum Mary Clayton might have been attempting to smuggle a Chik-Fil-A sandwich into the football stadium, a Georgia Tech police officer allegedly subjected the season ticket-holder to a strip search that included a close examination of her underwear and bra. No contraband chicken was found.

What these incidents show is that while forced searches may span a broad spectrum of methods and scenarios, the common denominator remains the same: a complete disregard for the dignity and rights of the citizenry.

In fact, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Florence v. Burlison, any person who is arrested and processed at a jail house, regardless of the severity of his or her offense (i.e., they can be guilty of nothing more than a minor traffic offense), can be subjected to a strip search by police or jail officials without reasonable suspicion that the arrestee is carrying a weapon or contraband.

Examples of minor infractions which have resulted in strip searches include: individuals arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, driving with an inoperable headlight, failing to use a turn signal, riding a bicycle without an audible bell, making an improper left turn, engaging in an antiwar demonstration (the individual searched was a nun, a Sister of Divine Providence for 50 years).

Police have also carried out strip searches for passing a bad check, dog leash violations, filing a false police report, failing to produce a driver’s license after making an illegal left turn, having outstanding parking tickets, and public intoxication. A failure to pay child support can also result in a strip search.

As technology advances, these searches are becoming more invasive on a cellular level, as well.

For instance, close to 600 motorists leaving Penn State University one Friday night were stopped by police and, without their knowledge or consent, subjected to a breathalyzer test using flashlights that can detect the presence of alcohol on a person’s breath.

These passive alcohol sensors are being hailed as a new weapon in the fight against DUIs. (Those who refuse to knowingly submit to a breathalyzer test are being subjected to forced blood draws. Thirty states presently allow police to do forced blood draws on drivers as part of a nationwide “No Refusal” initiative funded by the federal government.

Not even court rulings declaring such practices to be unconstitutional in the absence of a warrant have slowed down the process. Now police simply keep a magistrate on call to rubber stamp the procedure over the phone.)

The National Highway Safety Administration, the same government agency that funds the “No Refusal” DUI checkpoints and forcible blood draws, is also funding nationwide roadblocks aimed at getting drivers to “voluntarily” provide police with DNA derived from saliva and blood samples, reportedly to study inebriation patterns.

In at least 28 states, there’s nothing voluntary about having one’s DNA collected by police in instances where you’ve been arrested, whether or not you’re actually convicted of a crime.

All of this DNA data is being fed to the federal government.

Airline passengers, already subjected to virtual strip searches, are now being scrutinized even more closely, with the Customs and Border Protection agency tasking airport officials with monitoring the bowel movements of passengers suspected of ingesting drugs. They even have a special hi-tech toilet designed to filter through a person’s fecal waste.

Iris scans, an essential part of the U.S. military’s boots-on-the-ground approach to keeping track of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, are becoming a de facto method of building the government’s already mammoth biometrics database. Funded by the Dept. of Justice, along with other federal agencies, the iris scan technology is being incorporated into police precincts, jails, immigration checkpoints, airports and even schools. School officials—from elementary to college—have begun using iris scans in place of traditional ID cards. As for parents wanting to pick their kids up from school, they have to first submit to an iris scan.

As for those endless pictures everyone so cheerfully uploads to Facebook (which has the largest facial recognition database in the world) or anywhere else on the internet, they’re all being accessed by the police, filtered with facial recognition software, uploaded into the government’s mammoth biometrics database and cross-checked against its criminal files. With good reason, civil libertarians fear these databases could “someday be used for monitoring political rallies, sporting events or even busy downtown areas.”

While the Fourth Amendment was created to prevent government officials from searching an individual’s person or property without a warrant and probable cause—evidence that some kind of criminal activity was afoot—the founders could scarcely have imagined a world in which we needed protection against widespread government breaches of our privacy, including on a cellular level.

Yet that’s exactly what we are lacking and what we so desperately need.

Unfortunately, the indignities being heaped upon us by the architects and agents of the American police state—whether or not we’ve done anything wrong—are just a foretaste of what is to come.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government doesn’t need to tie you to a gurney and forcibly take your blood or strip you naked by the side of the road in order to render you helpless. It has other methods—less subtle perhaps but equally humiliating, devastating and mind-altering—of stripping you of your independence, robbing you of your dignity, and undermining your rights.

With every court ruling that allows the government to operate above the rule of law, every piece of legislation that limits our freedoms, and every act of government wrongdoing that goes unpunished, we’re slowly being conditioned to a society in which we have little real control over our bodies or our lives.

Categories: News for progressives

Venezuela Wins Round One Against the Empire

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:51

Havana.

The clash between Venezuela and the Empire last weekend ended with a humiliating defeat for Elliott Abrams, the alleged designer of the operation.

What the neocons initially planned may never be known, but what is known is that they could not culminate in an invasion or another false flag operation.

The most notable facet of the confrontation, according to the most objective international experts and observers, has been the scant effect that Anglo-Zionist propaganda had inside Venezuela.

Although certainly a few senior officers and Venezuelan soldiers betrayed their country by uniting with the enemy, the overwhelming majority of the Venezuelan military remained faithful to the Constitution and their homeland.

President Maduro and his government successfully carried out a strategy that combined roadblocks, a musical concert on the Venezuelan side, and the minimal – but effective – use of riot police to keep the border closed and order throughout the homeland. Most notably, the “unidentified snipers” did not seem to shoot on both sides (the Empire’s favorite tactic to justify its interventions).

Outside Venezuelan national territory, this first confrontation was also a defeat for the Empire.  Not only because most countries in the world refused to recognize Washington’s puppet, but because the level of rejection of a possible invasion proved remarkably intense, and the Internet and the blogosphere overwhelmingly opposed U.S. intervention. This situation created many internal political tensions in several Latin American countries whose public opinion is firmly opposed to any form of U.S. interference in Latin America, even if not with the historic oligarchy.

The leaders of the Empire and their puppets do not hide the fact that their goal is to overthrow the constitutional government and to replace it with the kind of regime that Washington seems to have been able to impose on Colombia.  Pompeo, Abrams, Pence, Elliot Abrams and Marco Rubio were particularly hysterical in their threats, although the oligarchies (not so the peoples) of the “Lima Group” countries submissively abided by them.

Certain American politicians resorted to their usual childish language for threats in situations of gravity as an obvious show of contempt for their own population. For those bewildered because adult politicians used the language.

No one should be surprised when they claim that Maduro is a “new Hitler” who commits a “genocide” against his own people. Or that he is accused of using “chemical weapons”.

Last weekend’s military defeat of Venezuela’s self-appointed interim president, Juan Guaidó, has been publicly reproached by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. The White House has attempted to evade responsibility for what its espionage and subversion agencies have been unable to achieve. They’d saught the adherence of an emblematic number of traitors from the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB) to the action of the alleged coup plotters, and failed to get it. Pence reproached the supposed interim president of Venezuela for the failures suffered after his recognition last January 23, actions called to justify the military intervention designed by Washington.

Their main demand was against the support of the FANB for the legitimate president, Nicolás Maduro.

Guaidó had promised the U.S. government that if the majority of world leaders recognized him as president of Venezuela, at least half of the FANB officers would defect, which did not even remotely happen.

The U.S. official also questioned the uncommitted attitude of Venezuelan millionaires abroad who “were expected a more determined contribution of money to finance the bribery of police, military and politicians and their adherence to the Guaidó sphere, which did not happen either.

Important international decision-making centers allied to the Trump regime have warned that the Venezuelan opposition “could lose the momentum” that the U.S. supposedly provided with the sudden appearance of the puppet Guaidó. He certainly has not yet found territory to govern and perhaps would have to do so from Colombia or another nation whose government is not ashamed to cede a piece of its sovereignty to the United States.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Worse Than a Wall

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:51

The current administration has bent over backwards to force-feed its anti-immigrant agenda to the American public. That agenda remains broadly unpopular, but they’ve tried every trick in the con artist book to impose it anyway.

Despite years of hysterical anti-immigrant propaganda, most Americans continually report positive views of immigrants and immigration in opinion surveys. Yet we’ve been faced with constant threats of government shutdowns or made-up “national emergencies” if we don’t give the administration money for a wall most of us oppose.

While politicians debate these things, real people die.

Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old, was separated from her father, kept in a cage, and died in Border Patrol custody. Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old, died just weeks later in custody in New Mexico.

Roxana Hernandez, a trans woman seeking asylum from Honduras, died in ICE custody last spring, with an autopsy showing signs of abuse. Thousands of migrants, in fact, have reported sexual abuse and other mistreatment in ICE and CBP custody.

When big injustice occurs, a bigger plan for resistance must follow. To be effective, we must recognize where the core of the injustice lies.

This is true of policy, too. And the inescapable conclusion is that funding for the agencies that detain, abuse, deport, and sometimes kill migrants needs to be every bit as toxic as many Democrats regard funding for the wall.

The American public recognizes this. The administration’s “zero tolerance” and family separations policies drew protests across the country and political spectrum. And despite an anti-immigrant advertising blitz by Republicans late last year, voters repudiated this brutal extremism in the midterm elections, flipping seat after seat in the House of Representatives (and a Senate seat in the border state of Arizona).

Most people understand that the wall is just a symbol, a waste money on a fabricated crisis. But the crisis created by agencies that persecute immigrants, families, and people looking for a better life is all too real.

As funding for agencies like ICE and CBP has increased, so have deportations — chiefly among immigrants with no criminal record, according to many on-the-ground studies.

Unfortunately, Democratic leaders in Congress have kept this funding on the table in their negotiations with the administration. They’re funding agencies that accomplish in real life what the wall is supposed to do symbolically: keep out people looking for a better life.

While politicians talked, Eduardo Samaniego was deported.

At just 16, Eduardo immigrated alone to the United States to look for a better life for his family, knowing he’d have no chance to enter legally. Eduardo worked full time, enrolled himself in high school, and excelled academically. He made himself known not only because he was kind, hopeful, and spirited, but because he believed in justice and making his community a better place.

Then ICE took him.

They placed him in solitary confinement for months, which mental health professionals consider a form of torture. The boy that had seem unbreakable by life’s challenges was broken by the injustices ICE inflicted on him. It got so bad he chose to accept “voluntary departure” to Mexico.

Day after day these agencies keep taking people, families keep being separated, and people keep dying — and they’ll keep doing it if we keep funding the agencies that are responsible. Instead of playing games on the wall.

Fortunately, a growing number of Americans are demanding strategies that actually protect families — and honor the majority of Americans who welcome their immigrant neighbors. As the last election showed, if leaders don’t catch up, they’ll be held accountable.

Karla Molinar-Arvizo is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Categories: News for progressives

Police Violence and a Safe Black Space

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:50

Dr. Kristee Haggins is an African-centered psychologist who facilitates Sacramento’s Safe Black Space: Community Healing Circles by and for People of African Ancestry. Black community outrage in California’s capital city is an apt word for the district attorney’s decision to condone the police killing of Stephon Clark, an unarmed African-American man. The email interview below is an effort to amplify underreported aspects of how militarized policing affects nonwhites in the U.S.

Seth Sandronsky: What is the psychological toll on black and brown folks after Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert decided not to criminally charge the two police officers who shot and killed unarmed Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old African-African male, in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18, 2018?

Kristee Haggins: The psychological impact has been one of anger, disappointment, frustration and rage for many people.  While some expected this outcome—given the law, it still feels like a “slap in the face” especially in terms of how Stephon Clark and his personal life was put on trial during the report process. Black people are tired of feeling as though their lives simply do not matter – both locally here in Sacramento and beyond.  Stephon Clark did not deserve to die.  Period.  Many in the Black community are carrying the pain and anguish of his murder, along with so many others who have died at the hands of police violence – without consequences.

SS: What is your sense of the March 5 Sacramento City Council meeting and the community’s reaction in real time to the DA’s report clearing the police officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark?

KH: I was able to watch the DA’s report live on March 2 with a few other African American community members and leaders and am glad I had that support and we had each other.  The sentiments I described above were some of the reactions present in the room that day, along with
others. The March 4 peaceful protest that resulted in the arrests of nearly 85 people only exacerbated these types of emotions and with good reason. People reported being trapped by the police on a bridge, unable to leave and then subsequently arrested with batons and bikes used to corral, contain and control them.  During the City Council meeting on March 5 many community members described being traumatized by the arrests and found the circumstances reminiscent of the 1965 Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  Our local situation was one in which youth, women, clergy, among other community members, were marching to express their discontent. What was communicated to them was—your voice doesn’t
matter, you don’t matter, you’re in the wrong neighborhood, and a militarized response is necessary.  At the City Council meeting emotions ran high as people told their stories.  You could see the passion and pain of the people.

SS: What are your thoughts on the report from Xavier Becerra, the state Attorney General, about Clark’s killing?

KH: Similar to the DA’s report.  It feels as though Stephon Clark’s death was in vain.  This was another slap in the face.  There’s a feeling of a loss and of hope,  yet also a renewed commitment to continue to support the family and the community.

SS: What is the meaning of the Sacramento City Police Department, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol arresting 84 people at the March 4 nonviolent protest over Clark’s death at the hands of the police?

KH: I spoke to this in a previous response but will add that although I was not present at the March 4 nonviolent protest, I heard from the testimony of many community members at the City Council Meeting on March 5th that the number of responders present and the actions of the officers were inappropriate, over the top, and an abuse of power.  This primarily African American group of protestors described being restrained with zip ties and having to sit in the rain after being arrested until the early morning hours.  Some people were bruised, wrists cut from the restraints, one person’s ankle was broken and another’s shoulder was injured. This occurred as the march was coming to a close and people described trying to retreat as ordered.  These injuries were a result of the actions of those meant to “protect and serve” but that was not what was experienced. People felt terrorized and traumatized.  The physical injuries were accompanied by mental health or psychological responses although these may not always be spoken about.  We heard of someone hyperventilating that night, experiencing a panic attack without being offered assistance by law enforcement.  Others were overwhelmed or crying uncontrollably, while some experienced intense fear. Because of this encounter, the already tense relationship between the community and the police has justifiably intensified. There is huge disappointment and anger at the response of law enforcement on Monday evening as well as at the City Council meeting. At the March 5 meeting Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn was not able to answer questions about what occurred the night before—stating a review of body cameras and other reports was needed.  This tension was exacerbated when later during that meeting, police officers advanced with batons drawn, after a speaker exceeded his time to speak and became upset and emotional in his responses.  The energy in the room intensified for almost a half hour -until it was acknowledged that what was happening in that very moment was in itself  traumatizing/re-traumatizing especially for those who had been arrested less than 24 hours before!

SS: Assemblymembers Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) have introduced AB392 to limit police violence, which law enforcement groups oppose, at the state Capitol. How do you see AB392?

KH: I believe AB392, the bill that allows police to use deadly force only when it’s necessary to prevent injury or death is one change that will address some of the concerns with the killing of black and brown people by law enforcement. Having the legal backing in instances like what happened with Stephon Clark, can provide some sense of relief in ensuring justice may be served. We have much work to do in shifting laws that do not serve Black people and in addressing the inherent, institutional and historical racism that is still present today.  In addition to legal implications, there are profound shifts needed in how we see, treat, and understand the experiences of Black people in the U.S., in our state and in our city. Intentional efforts to address implicit bias, racism and oppression, and its consequences for both the targeted and privileged groups is necessary. As we begin to truly protect all lives equally and legally, and we truly  value all lives equally – including Black lives, then we will be moving toward a world that truly works for everyone.

SS: Thank you for your time.

KH: Thank you for the opportunity. I invite people who identify as being Black and have been impacted by racial stress and trauma to check out the Safe Black Space website and consider coming to an upcoming Safe Black Space Community Healing Circle. www.safeblackspace.org. In addition, I encourage everyone to use local community resources and tap into their personal support systems in order to take care of themselves right now.

Categories: News for progressives

Medicare for All is Doable and Most Americans Want It

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:50

In Canada, everyone in the country is guaranteed access to health care by the government.

The same is true for France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands and every other country that we think of as comparable in terms of levels of wealth, democracy and economic development.

In spite of providing universal care, these countries also all spend much less on health care than the United States.

In Canada, per person spending is 60 percent what it is in the United States. In Germany spending per person is 56 percent and in the United Kingdom just 42 percent of what we spend.

And these countries all have comparable outcomes. People in other wealthy countries not only have longer life expectancies and lower infant mortality rates, they also have comparable outcomes when looking at more narrow health issues like treatment for cancer or heart disease.

The basic story is that we spend roughly twice as much per person as people in other wealthy countries and we have pretty much nothing to show for it in terms of better health. This is the context in which critics of Medicare for all are telling us it is not possible.

If the argument is that it won’t be easy, the critics have a point. The reason we spend twice as much for our health care is that big actors in the industry get twice as much money here.

Drug companies get away with charging us twice as much for drugs as they do in other wealthy countries. The same is true for medical equipment companies who charge far more for kidney dialysis machines and MRIs than in France and Germany.

And our doctors and dentists get paid twice as much on average as their counterparts in other wealthy countries.

In addition, we spend more than $250 billion a year paying insurance companies to administer our chaotic system.

Doctors’ offices, hospitals and other providers spend tens of billions more on administrative personnel who have to deal with the paperwork and issues that are caused by having a range of insurers, each with their own payment rules and practices.

These interest groups will use all of their political power to protect the income they get under the current system. The pharmaceutical industry will fight measures to rein in their profits in the same way the tobacco industry fought public health advocates who sought to curb smoking. The same is true for the medical equipment industry.

And doctors and dentists will fight like crazy to preserve a pay structure that puts most of them in the top 1 percent of wage earners.

This will also be true of insurers faced with a more efficient system that will put most of them out of business.

While a well-designed pathway can get us to Medicare for all, even we can’t do it all at once.

For beginners, we can look to lower the age of Medicare eligibility from the current 65 to 60 or even 55 in an initial round. We can also allow people of all ages to have the option to buy into a public Medicare-type system.

We can also look to start getting our costs down. This means lowering drug prices, both by negotiating in the same way as other countries, and directly funding research so that newly developed drugs can be sold as cheap generics.

We should do the same with medical equipment. And we can subject our doctors and dentists to the same sort of foreign and domestic competition that workers in other professions face.

These steps can get us on a path to Medicare for all, on which we will quickly be extending coverage to millions of people, while substantially reducing the cost of care for everyone.

We are smart enough to be able make the same sort of guarantees on providing health care as every other wealthy country.

This oped originally ran in the Sacramento Bee.

Categories: News for progressives

Realtime Training for the Cascadia Megaquake

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:50

Mt. St. Helens, from Trapper Peak. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

A century storm came, a foot of heavy white snow on the ground, a real natural disaster.

This part of Oregon doesn’t see this much snow, the last time around 1915, give or take, as snow records are not kept here. We live just west of Elkton along State Highway 38 where the Umpqua slices through the coast range, at the confluence of two creeks falling a quarter mile to the river, in a rectangle single story house on a couple acres surrounded by a sheep ranch that is also better populated by hundreds of mature black and white oaks with encroaching douglas firs.

The storm came in the afternoon, a Sunday, picking up steam as the night progressed. Forecast for 2-4 inches of rain and localized flooding, a usual event, the Pineapple Express cold front instead slipped south or was just was colder aloft than thought, and instead we received the snow.

Elkton is 35 miles from the Pacific Ocean and the snowfall gained intensity as the airmass rose inland, the Hawaiian river of condensation flowing up the river valley through the fragmented, monoculture rainforest remnant, first wringing it’s atmospheric towel at the coast range and never stopping until met with the dry continental polar of the rain shadow Cascade eastside that is meteorologically influenced by the Great Basin sagebrush steppe.

Big, wet, snowflakes quietly mashed, the gunshot-like sounds breaking the silence starting slowly, turning cacophony meaning picking up in number, those accompanied by booming and thumps meaning limbs thousands of pounds were coming down nearby, the shaking of the house meaning entire trees once 50-80 feet tall.

We forecast the power going after 6 inches and a flicker. In the dark through the ever moving highway lights we watched as one of the fallen stopped a semi-truck and a few cars, some turning around, likely to be trapped or maybe crushed and killed. We couldn’t sleep with the fear knowing any minute we might have a good death, a memory feeling likely not forgotten, and needed to experience the show.

***

All of us were early risers.

It’s still snowing, thumping, now in the daylight, a 30 foot branch system drops from an oak 40 feet from the house.

It is said that the indigenous whose land we occupy called the white and black oaks ‘giving trees,’ a different story than that logging book from the ‘70s that kills the tree indoctrinating western children today. The indigenous story of untoppled living giving is a better truth, I anthropocentrically say to myself, as we’ll also consume them but purposefully leave most of the slowly dying, and opt for the easy gathering of the thigh sized branch systems, hard firewood for the next five years, starting with the one next to the house.

The fat old broken oak with the goatball hung from a living mossy branch as wide as most trunks and supporting a rainforest fern ecosystem says she remembers 1915, having lost her top and been in decline ever since. After all, she’s over 300. Today, she’s paying homage some of her progeny, once in their prime at 200 but now laying down uphill of the creek that is their home and, maybe, resting place, as the humans will come to segment and take all but 20’ of their 3’ diameter trunk and 15’ diameter root balls away.

What does the resident blue heron do during a storm like this, I think, as she flies by to survey the semi-new riparian area that is our confluence, the roosts where her broods reared rearranged, some gone, a few better. Imagine 3 foot tall herons riding out the storm, covered in wet snow. They try to shake it off as it comes but it is too much. To the core, cold heavy feathers weigh their big bodies down, snow covering the roost to their chest on a branch system halfway up an 80 foot tree. One such system in an adjacent tree falls, the branches crashing into branches, her branches, her tree, knocking her sideways upside down, falling to the floor. She lives, ruffles, gathers her wits in the dark, then flies into the nearest hemlock, protected from the snow but not the chaos.

A sheep ranch surrounds us, the spring lambs put out two weeks ago. Poor things. The rancher said he has to wait until the melt to survey the carnage likely huddled in now semi-frozen fear under the oaks. He’s worried about pneumonia, the sheep sodden, warm but wet. Won’t be days until the sun comes out in earnest, the radiative heat stronger than snow cover and the forecast 45F. They cry at night, the bells around the necks of the ewes say they restlessly roam at night.

About midday, the stalled semi and the others were rescued from the direction of Reedsport, beforehand one fella using our bathroom to take a shit. With one lane opened and my partner a federal lands manager out of contact with her staff for two days and having a duty, she and the kids left shortly after, their mission to contact the outside world and get a few supplies.  Little did I know I wouldn’t hear from them for two days.

***

The food from the cleaned out refrigerator is set upon the table under the covered porch with the old coleman propane two burner camping stove, temperature in the 30s at night. Good refrigerator weather. The firepit outside can also be used for cooking and the wood firebox is keeping the shoebox house warm, the top covered with multiple boiling stock pot meltwater caught in the barrel installed that drains the eaves for this kind of event.

No cell, the emergency battery powered radio said the Douglas County Commissioners declared a State of Emergency. That’s good, as I was wondering about old people and the nonexistent 911 system, the cell towers down. I suppose an old fashioned hard line would work, but the neighboring rancher says just to Elkton.

A few weeks ago on the A.M. dial driving to a doctor’s appointment, I listened to a rich retired fella responsible for raising awareness in Oregon about preparing for the eventual Cascadia mega-earthquake that geologists say is overdue. Power out for a year, roads closed due to bridges and trees down, months without utilities, services, groceries resulting in mass migrations from the region – know how to get water out of your hot water heater. Get ready, he says, as water is the most important. Think like a Mormon (my thoughts) and stock up on storable food for the short term. Maintain a great garden centered on permaculture (Kollibri Terre Sonnenblume’s thoughts in my head). You’re on your own for at least a year.

Last fall I purchased from the honey factory in Eugene the repurposed 50 gallon barrel mentioned earlier for $10 along with a 250 gallon tank I have yet to install for $120. They are both food grade. Gonna put the 120 on a 5 foot tower for pressure, collect rainwater off the roof of the garage, manifold it with valves with one piped to the hoop house raised beds that are netted to keep the chickens out, as chickens are also a necessity, largely for eggs and slug control. Our buck Thor also needs a mate, one we can milk and with he can share time. Next year, I hope we’re producing ⅓ of our needs, in time more as the fruit and nut trees mature. Someday, maybe, 100%. Takes time – I hope we have time – a little bit of money, lateral reuse and a kick in the ass to be a liberal, pot smoking, home making, shot-gun owning, prepper.

Electric crews are not ready here, many down in California fixing things after their State of Emergencies based in fire, slowing progress. They must first clear lines from roads for safety, then roads crews supplemented by local fire crews clear one lane of debris, days later moving to the clear rest to the ditches. For months they’ll be cleaning up the ditches, for years utilities and roads crews will struggle to clear their entire rights of way.

Our drop was down the first night next to Thor’s small building, pulled from its burial to our house next to the pole by several trees. He was terrified and wanted a good scratch that always leaves me with stink. He probably feels the same regarding humans. Luckily for us we both don’t mind and that the pole in his cross-fenced area is upright and close to the feeder that always follows main roads. Won’t take but a few hours to repair once they’ve pulled the line from under the downed trees. He’ll enjoy the company.

What is quite noticeable is the drop in traffic. While we can get to Reedsport we cannot get to the I-5 corridor 25 miles away. Hwy 38 between here and Drain is said to have over 2,000 trees down, Hwy 138 meandering along the Umpqua upstream to Roseburg is also closed with likely a similar number. Only a few vehicles associated with clearing the roads out today, not a single State Trooper, and the quiet nice.

***

Driving to Reedsport today to see if my family was alive hundreds of trees hung precariously over the roadside, many landslides a result of the highway cut along the river to its mouth with the pacific toppling entire monoculture groves. They’re alive and we meet at the grocery store. I’m relieved and happy of their tales of adventure, of the unstable single lane widowmakers they passed under, of how as they entered town days earlier the barricades were going back up and couldn’t get back to Elkton, spending the first night in Coos Bay, the second in Florence, all of us wondering about the other, while my civil service partner was able to be in contact with her staff also affected by and responding to the disaster.

Our area is ground zero for plantation logging and I muse that Gaia is monkeywrenching their operations, closing roads in the knife edge hills above us, the clearing of downed trees and clearcut induced landslides a summer long endeavor that costs Roseburg Forest Products and their corporate kind millions to pay people to reopen their private roads, millions in lost revenue from raw material stream disruption, and a measly few hundred thousand in lobbying politicos to pressure public lands managers like my spouse to reopen USFS and BLM roads using both the emergency declaration and the neoliberal Congressional delegations who eat government cheese by the pound by to authorize agencies to spend money and time they otherwise would spend “managing” the now peaceful forest.

But, for now, the earth around our region rests, the carbon of thousands of vehicles is not being expended on the way to a coast vacation or to industrial log, the inhabitants of this place no matter the species again enjoying a quiet dark sky night.

***

The two highways to I-5 reopened today and the cars have come back. The radio says people can now drive from Roseburg to the high Cascades to enjoy the new snow, to drag snow machines and to hopefully be caught in avalanches. I saw a sand machine pulled by monster truck heading to the coast to tear up Oregon Dunes National Wreckreation Area. The unquiet returns.

Still, the still is in the forest as the forest roads come last, the feeders just starting to feed once again, and I haven’t seen a single log truck.

No power, the snow on the metal roof took the rain catching gutter down. I anticipated such, the weight of the snow coupled with local building practices told me, as being from snow country you know to either not have gutters or set them down from the finished roofline a few inches instead of flush. We bought this place two years ago and I’m still making adjustments. No matter, as the barrel is full and after the 48’×24’ slab of snow slides I’ll tack it up right, safely. Besides, the creek never runs dry. Good kids work filling buckets for toilet water.

We talked of how easy it is to account for our carbon when the roads are closed and power out. Firewood and batteries, using the stored carbon in our cupboards, gear, household. No water heater, heater (we have wood primary), refrigerator. However, we are still using the vehicle and we really miss hot water and a bath, an adjustment that must be made.

We keep saying this is a trial run, the pain temporary yet hopefully long lasting on lifestyle awareness.

***

The governor signed the State of Emergency Declaration, sending money to the area. We hope power might come by Monday, a full week after the storm. The City of Drain, 15 miles from Elkton, has drained it’s water tank, asking it’s 500 residents to conserve until tomorrow when a tractor trailer generator is to arrive and power the water and sewerage treatment plants. The City of Elkton, of which we are not a part, is receiving the same treatment. At least water and sanitation are covered for most, a few putt-putt small generators for lights.

I imagine thousands of people feeling like us and worse experiencing pains changing to routines long lost, finding old school things they must and can only do, which is usually a hard thing. I also imagine disasters elsewhere around the world, and further to how everyday people around the world live like we temporarily live today with far less.

Capitalism keeps humans from being still, our species history sitting in groups mostly processing food and telling stories. It is very pleasant to be old school with the family, working, playing, perhaps training, for future survival. No power for cooking, cells and internet to entertain. A different habit almost is being allowed to develop a rhythm.

Today, corporations and their industries prey upon both stories and the human ADHD condition, marketing virtual and reality, resulting in 10% of the planet’s GHGs produced through global travel and tourism alone just to occupy our free time, no matter the logging.

As I type on my phone, I notice that the cell phones have come back tempered with the knowledge of power being on in the next few more days. A conflict emerges within, of how to again feed. Then, a friend and her one year old son stop by saying they were at the community meeting held at the high school this morning and gives me the good news: no power for at least two weeks. She being a board member we wonder about the schools, sanitation, talk about the fuel oil boiler on their next agenda that now functions when the solicited electric replacement will not, of industrial and home use generators now being deployed and kept filled by a FEMA funded generator to power the the only fuel station in town, of how after the Cascadia earthquake fossil fuels will eventually run out.

Of how everyone is in training.

***

The kids not so lucky, school is beginning Monday after a week out of school, as a tractor trailer fossil fuel generator has been deployed, furthering their carbon education. A similar generator is set up at the high school that is functioning as a Red Cross Shelter for the public providing water, scheduled meals, appliance charging, a shower and a place to stay. Wandering through, a few old couples obviously using the cots, a couple middle aged ladies putting together puzzles, the younger glued to screens, and others taking donated food and drinking water for home use. The kids will start school two hours late every day and be allowed time for showers, the old fuel oil boiler put to good use as most students are and will be without power for weeks at home meaning sanitation a concern and communicable illnesses probable.

Heat, water and sanitation are everyone’s new home routine. Heat to boil water for washing, another basin with a bit of bleach for rinsing, all the leftover grey water reused for rinsing the next set of dishes, a reason for everyone to pitch in with the chore. This water I collect, the gutter still hanging half way along the 48’ long rectangle of our house, ⅓ of the entire slab remaining, the 50 gallon barrel no longer filling. I improvise and have an old fiberglass pressure tank, cut a hole in the top and placed it under the drain pipe connecting the remaining gutter, again capturing meltwater we can use for toilets and cleaning. I want the slab to come so that I can repair the gutters safely and collect the rain to come in three days. All of this so we don’t need to haul water from the creek. Then, we can sit back and wait for power.

Everything is melting nicely, uncovering the subjective sense of damage. I have many fences to mend (physically and metaphorically), the dogs now in tethers, the neighboring sheep can find the holes. I, too, will be firing up a chainsaw I haven’t started in 15 years, as I can’t hand cut the sizes to be cleared and have a relatively old responsibility of a neighborly agreement to maintain our fence. I’ve noticed a few dead sheep being piled by their burn pile, “Besides, I bet you have a mile of your own to work to do, sheep to care for.” He smiles, “Well, if ya need anything….”

Thor can get to the highway if he climbs over the debris that covers his fence but he won’t as the fossil fuel carbon is about back to normal – it scares me also – every 15 seconds cars and trucks pass us during the day, adding to thousands. But, still, no log trucks and we lament it was good while it lasted.

Douglas County Electrical Cooperative issued a map indicating our area now three weeks away from power, describing after flyovers six days after the beginning of the storm, “What they are revealing is complete devastation. Trees too numerous to count have brought down an incredible amount of our system. Some areas can be repaired while others will need to be rebuilt. Our thirty foot right-of-way clearing zone does little when the eighty foot firs from outside of our allowed area come crashing down. Trees on wires, we can deal with. Trees taking out complete sections of poles and wires is a different story. Frankly, our hope and concern is that we continue to receive supplies needed to fix the system.”

Adding,

“We average 6 consumers for every mile of power line, in the most densely forested areas of our county. For this reason, it necessitates that our members be prepared and self-sufficient as they are often on their own. In times like these, everyone needs to help everyone.”

***

It’s been a week and another neighbor asked if I wanted to use one of their generators. I graciously declined, as I feel we have it mostly covered, my internal reasoning unsaid that the carbon conversion to lighting wasteful.  It won’t run a water pump or electric heater, our immediate desires.

It’s not over but most everyone appears to be managing..

Before the next disaster – hopefully a year or more from now – whether the same, Cascadia earthquake or climate change, I do hope everyone has the bath figured out.

For us, I’m thinking a wood fired outdoor stock tank hot tub fed by rainwater and giving trees, in the garden next to our modern longhouse by the confluence. My wife and I will clean each other while the kids are catching fish for dinner from the Umpqua River, throwing the small ones to the herons.

Categories: News for progressives

Has NATO Met Its Match?

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:50

Despite claims by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to have defeated its own troops using Facebook (and, really, what plot to take over a high school hasn’t done that?), the biggest challenge NATO will face this year will probably not be nefarious Russian social media posts.

Nor will it be the dreaded Russian military, now sucking down 6 percent as many dollars each year as the war machines of the NATO nations.

Nor is NATO terribly threatened by a U.S. president who demands that its members spend more, that more nations join, that the North Atlantic nation of Colombia partner up, and that the war games and weapons deals and expansion eastward press ahead, but who once blurted out obvious stuff his handlers would never allow him to act on, such as that NATO serves no good purpose. (Which of his projects does serve any good purpose?)

NATO is extremely popular among militarists, warmongers, weapons dealers, Republicans, and Democrats, some of them proud of its various aggressive and catastrophic wars, some of them willfully ignorant of them or eager to excuse them. It’s that last group that presents a danger for NATO, a weak link. People think that NATO somehow makes wars legal or acceptable, which actually makes wars easier to start. People think NATO is defensive, so that distant aggressive wars are OK. People think putting nuclear weapons into more countries is safe and legal if they’re NATO countries. People think adding Russia’s neighbors to NATO makes them safer, but that adding Russia would endanger them. But will people resist learning the truth when NATO celebrates itself on a date that belongs to peace and Martin Luther King Jr?

This is where the unexpected and possibly significant challenge to NATO comes in. It’s a challenge from the Peace Movement, the demise of which has been seriously exaggerated. Check out this list of events:

Thursday, March 7, Free webinar: No to NATO — Yes to Peace

In Washington, D.C.:

Saturday, March 16 Hands Off Venezuela

Saturday, March 30 Rally at Lafayette Park

Sunday, March 31 Concert for Peace and to End War

Sunday, March 31 Anti-NATO Conference

Tuesday, April 2 No to NATO — Yes to Peace and Disarmament Counter-Summit

Wednesday, April 3 No to NATO — Yes to Peace FESTIVAL

Thursday, April 4 No to NATO — Yes to Peace Rally

Thursday, April 4 Black Alliance for Peace program at Plymouth Congregational Church

All this because NATO plans to bring the foreign ministers of its vassal states to Washington, D.C., on and about April 4th to celebrate its 70th birthday . . . on a day that ought to belong to peace. April 4th is the date of MLK’s biggest speech against war, and of his assassination exactly one year later.

Events in solidarity are popping up in other places too:

March 30: Conference and Rally in Saskatchewan

April 4: No to NATO action, Parliament Hill, Ottawa

April 7: Conference in Florence, Italy

Monthly: NATO protests in Toronto

This burst of activity comes out of faith in activism and in education. If we did not believe that people who’ve been saturated with militarism can see their way out of it, none of this would be planned.

While claiming to “preserve peace,” NATO has violated international law and bombed Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. NATO has exacerbated tensions with Russia and increased the risk of nuclear apocalypse. The notion that supporting NATO is a way to cooperate with the world ignores superior non-deadly ways to cooperate with the world.

War is a leading contributor to the growing global refugee and climate crises, the basis for the militarization of the police, a top cause of the erosion of civil liberties, and a catalyst for racism and bigotry. We’re calling for the abolition of NATO, the promotion of peace, the redirection of resources to human and environmental needs, and the demilitarization of our cultures. Instead of celebrating NATO’s 70thanniversary, we’re celebrating peace on April 4th.

While Donald Trump once blurted out the obvious: that NATO is obsolete, he subsequently professed his commitment to NATO and began pressuring NATO members to buy more weapons. So, the notion that somehow NATO is anti-Trump and therefore good would not only be silly and practically amoral on its own terms, it is also at odds with the facts of Trump’s behavior. We are planning an anti-NATO / pro-peace action at which opposition to the militarism of NATO’s dominant member is welcome and necessary. Here are the Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO no matter what Trump does.

NATO has pushed the weaponry and the hostility and the massive so-called war games right up to the border of Russia. NATO has waged aggressive wars far from the North Atlantic. NATO has added a partnership with Colombia, abandoning all pretense of its purpose being in the North Atlantic. NATO is used to free the U.S. Congress from the responsibility and the right to oversee the atrocities of U.S. wars. NATO is used as cover by NATO member governments to join U.S. wars under the pretense that they are somehow more legal or acceptable. NATO is used as cover to illegally and recklessly share nuclear weapons with supposedly non-nuclear nations. NATO is used to assign nations the responsibility to go to war if other nations go to war, and therefore to be prepared for war. NATO’s militarism threatens the earth’s environment. NATO’s wars fuel racism and bigotry and erode our civil liberties while draining our wealth.

A whole lot of people support peace. Now we just need to take that extra little step to reach the point of recognizing that being for peace requires being against war. If we’re against war, we have to be against its biggest proponent. NATO nations and peoples would be better off without NATO, exactly as the rest of the world would be. Let’s begin a public and global conversation about how to leave NATO behind us.

Categories: News for progressives

The Whoes Hectoring Ilhan Omar

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:50

“Whore: Noun – prostitute; Verb – whored, whoring. … A whore is a person who is regarded as willing to do anything to get a particular thing … [to] debase oneself by doing something for unworthy motives, typically to make money.”  (From one of the 540,00 Google listings)

I had no idea that there are 245 synonyms for whore, a few of which include vulgar, tart, floozy, streetwalker,  hussy, tramp, trollop, strumpet, hooker, secret woman, courtesan, and, in this case, gold digger.

For speaking the truth, yet again, newly-elected Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar has been vilified, threatened, accused of being an anti-Semite, labeled la enfent terrible by a media hungry and eager to pounce on and highlight  tangential issues to the detriment of real issues – issues that affect serious domestic, foreign, and universal human matters.

As an example, NBC’s Morning Show (3/6/2019) spent precious minutes debating one of America’s greatest social concerns, with six illustrative graphic pencil drawings to boot. Should that all-important roll of toilet tissue hang on the outside, or the inside, of the tissue dispenser? Each of the four anchors opined her/his preferences replete with a plethora of historical evidence, protocol, aesthetic appeal, and proper etiquette.

Toilet tissue makers must derive a deep sense of pride from these all-important discussions on daily chores performed in the privacy of one’s in/out/or anywhere-house. And in their competition for ratings, the media have stooped to bland, slanted, and non-substantive wall-to-wall coverage by avoiding the numerous excrementally serious issues affecting the entire world.

News has become propaganda in support of a political ideology/agenda or special interest group.

Some four weeks back Ilhan Omar was taken to the woodshed and severely thrashed for stating the truth. “[It] is all about the Benjamins, baby”  stated she about the role money plays in buying Israeli political influence, a phrase coined and used by many prior to her being ganged on as an anti-Semite. Used as a reference to political kickbacks/hush money (Benjamin Franklin’s image on $100 bills), Benjamins has been relegated to the pile of pejorative labels associated not with the acquisition of political power/bribes, but with anti-Semitism.

And these same Benjamins, delivered in large bundles,  are used by Saudis, Emiratis, and an army of corporate and special interest groups to buy American influence, especially with this Administration.

Upon having the anti-Semitic connotation associated with Benjamins explained to her, on 2/11/2019 Omar promptly and “unequivocally  apologized.”

Her apology was not sufficient; the miscreant had to pay penance by abstaining from committing the supreme political sin, a sin so egregiously cardinal, it relegates one into the 7th sphere of hell, in very close proximity to the Devil’s arse.

In the recent past, this most egregious sin has been etched in stone and affixed to the U.S. Constitution. Thou shalt not, under any circumstance, criticize the 51stState, the favored (Socialist) State of Israel. To do so, one is banished from the kingdom, forever. Just ask Senator Chuck Percy, U.S. Rep. Paul Finley, and former President Jimmy Carter.

At a time when the first 2019 U.S. Senate item of business (S.B. 638, pro-Israel, anti BDS legislation), a Rubio bill intended to give cover and protection to Israeli apartheid and brutal occupation, Ilhan Omar has refused to remain silent about the herculean power Israel and her supporters wield in the Congressional and Executive branches of the U.S. Government . In effect, millions of Americans, including Omar, will be muzzled and prosecuted should they exercise their right to free speech, as affirmed in the  First Amendment , a most prescient legislative act (conceived by our forefathers) that guaranteed Freedom of Expression – thus making this a most sacrosanct cornerstone of our democracy.

Methinks that Rubio and many of the clowns pouncing on Ilhad Omar are Whoeing for Israel. And this is merely the first whoeing in Rubio’s  run for the presidency of the United States.

Whoeing for Israel, Republicans, angry at having lost the House, are eagerly making Ilhan Omar’s accurate and truthful statements about the power Israel wields over U.S. politicians a cause célèbre. And on Monday last 11 Jewish groups sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi demanding Ilhan’s ejection from office. And Democrats have followed suit, with many a whoeing legislator calling for her dismissal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Republican House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La. also known for associating and fraternizing with white racist types)  questioned  Omar’s loyalty and demanded that Omar be denied the committee’s intelligence briefings.

Pray,  tell, what is anti-Semitic about the following statement?  “… the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country…”

And on Sunday last Omar tweeted: “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.”

Even Donald Trump, The Head Racist-in-Chief, couldn’t help himself. On Monday last, he tweeted that Omar’s statements were a “dark day for Israel …Representative Ilhan Omar is again under fire for her terrible comments concerning Israel,” He also pointed out  “that a slew of Jewish advocacy groups had urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to remove Omar from the latter’s high-profile committee.”

Among the many whoeing remarks, the prize goes to Trump campaign adviser Jeff  Ballabon; he called Representatives Omar and Tlaib “filth,” one of Israel’s  favorite racist anti-Semitic tropes (Aravi Meluhlah) frequently employed to refer to Palestinians and Arabs. Yes, Jeff, like it or not, the Palestinians are as Semite as their Jewish cousins.

“The problem is that her beliefs are deeply rooted in hatred and anti-Semitism. She is a hater. I’m going to say it, she is filth [emphasis mine],” Ballabon said on Fox Business. “She has no place in the Congress. She has no place on the Foreign Affairs Committee. It’s outrageous that Nancy Pelosi “

Host Stuart Varney interjected to say that Ballabon used “a very strong word.”

“Yes. She is a filthy [emphasis mine], disgusting hater. So what if she’s in Congress? That’s the problem. The problem is they have now taken anti-Semitism in its worst, most base, disgusting force, and they’ve mainstreamed it,” Ballabon said.

Varney pressed Ballabon on whether he was comfortable with “using that very, very strong language, as an adviser to the Trump campaign.”

“I’m using this as a Jew. I’m using this as someone whose family directly feels threatened, but literally threatened, physically threatened in the culture that’s being created now by the mainstreaming by the Democrats of these kinds of people,” Ballabon responded.

Makes me really wonder: How does  criticizing Israeli policies “physically” threaten Ballabon’s family?  If anything, it lends support to Ilhan Omar’s comment that dual allegiance – first to Israel, and second to American– is at the heart of this debate, a debate in which neither politicians nor the media wish to engage. Cowardice is the lowest form of whoeing.

To his credit, the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman stated that “the dishonest smearing of Omar [is unfair] … she didn’t say or even imply anything at all about Jews. She said that she was being asked to support Israel in order to have the privilege of serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which was true.”

To which I want to add: it is not kosher to attack a young woman of color for her courage to question the status quo.

While hunger, drug addiction, poverty, abuse, human trafficking, violence, exploitation, to name only a few causes, relegate women and men to a life of degradation by forcing them to sell their bodies, minds, and souls to prostitution, motivated by monies that feather their political careers and futures and guarantees them access to the strongest ruling body of this world, members of the U.S. Congress, Republican and Democrat alike, continue to succumb to the lucre and lure  of wooing andwhoeing for votes, money, and power.

This past week the avalanche was quickly building a momentum of seismic proportions.

As of late Wednesday afternoon Republicans, Democrats, the Executive Branch, and a whole bunch of “Israel Firsters”  had Ilhan Omar tied to the metaphorical stake amidst a high pile of flammable phony anti-Semitic charges. And on Thursday  Nancy Pelosi, the new High Priestess of power, was about to ignite the fuse under the petite, young, brutally honest, and courageous  Joan of Arc of the moment.

And just as quickly as the avalanche, impregnated with the fury of whoeing, swelled and was about to burst,  Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow and numerous sane and fair-minded voices of conscience in the American body politic, erected barriers that have, at least for the moment, arrested the  avalanche to a slow creep.

In a bid to outdo the Republicans,  Nancy Pelosi has decided to hold a vote in the house. “I see everything as an opportunity. This is an opportunity  once again to declare as strongly as possible opposition to anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim statements, and white supremacist attitudes,”  she stated.

While the smoke and mirror charade is morphing into a broader discussion about all forms of racism, the core issue must be addressed: Should not the matter of the Zionist lobby’s stranglehold on American politicians be addressed – openly, honestly, scrupulously, and honorably? And, Israel’s critics should not be silenced with the anti-Semitism charge.

Conflating the two is an abominable attempt to silence free speech.

A final comment: while the American public’s support for Israel is, by and large,  still strong, it can turn on a dime. The racists and bigots are out there, waiting for the right moment to validate and act on their deep, dark, and deviant schemes, and the Pittsburgh slaughter is but one such reminder.

Categories: News for progressives

The Witch Hunt at Westminster

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:50

When I received the message from Jewish Voice for Labour announcing that the screening of the documentary “Witch Hunt” in parliament and the scheduled panel to follow (which I had been invited to join) had been cancelled, I was nonplussed.

Three weeks earlier, I had watched Witch Hunt at a London cinema. The documentary tells the story of Jackie Walker, the activist suspended from the Labour Party over comments that were allegedly anti-Semitic, while underscoring how “anti-Semitism” has become a weapon in the hands of those defending Israel’s abusive practices. Indeed, the film shows how accusations of anti-Semitism are increasingly being used to delegitimise critics of the Israeli government and its policies toward the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The documentary also exposes the intimate relations between the pro-Israel lobby and members of the British parliament and is quite critical of some of the ways in which the Labour party has been handling accusations of anti-Semitism. At one point, the film even suggests that the party is entering a McCarthyist era.

The complaint

As if to prove these assertions right, Labour MP Chris Williamson, who had helped arrange the screening, was suspended from the party in late February. A Labour spokeswoman said it was “completely inappropriate” for Williamson to have booked a room in parliament for a screening of Witch Hunt.

The major complaint against Williamson, however, involved a remark he had made a few days earlier about Labour having “been too apologetic ” when confronting those who have accused it of harbouring Jew-haters.

Let me be clear. Insofar as the Labour party represents a cross-section of British society, it likely does have some anti-Semites within its ranks, and I wholeheartedly agree with those who argue that the party should have zero tolerance for these bigots.

However, the real point of contention between Jewish Voice for Labour, Chris Williamson and Jackie Walker on the one side, and their detractors on the other, is not about whether the party should tolerate anti-Semitism, but about what anti-Semitism is. 

My assumption is that all those involved in this dispute agree that anti-Semitism is evil. Millions of Jews were once exterminated by an anti-Semitic regime as world leaders watched in silence. Anti-Semitism can lead and has led to genocide and other horrific and egregious crimes and therefore it must be rejected, combated and eradicated, regardless of its specific manifestations, the location of its occurrence or the identity of its promulgators. This, in my eyes, is self-evident and should be the starting point of any discussion on anti-Semitism.

I also assume that Williamson, Walker and their detractors would agree that anti-Semitism is on the rise: from the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in France and the horrific attack on a synagogue in the US through Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s anti-Semitic campaign against Jewish phillantropist George Soros in Hungary and the “Jews not welcome” signs put up by the fascist Golden Dawn movement in Greece to the current Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz’s belief that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are authentic.

The dispute between the different sides, then, has to do with how anti-Semitism is defined. Again, I presume, everyone involved would agree with the way historians and social scientists have traditionally defined anti-Semitism: hatred of Jews per se; belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy; belief that Jews control capitalism; belief that Jews are naturally inferior; and so on.

The disagreement

The problem begins when one side conflates anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

Although this conflation is not entirely new, it took on new life when the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance published its definition of anti-Semitism , providing a number of examples informed by the false assumptions that Zionism is completely identical to and with Jewishness and that a seamless equation can be drawn between the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

But many Jews are not Zionists, while, simultaneously, Zionism has numerous traits that are in no way embedded in or characteristic of Jewishness but, rather, have their roots in nationalist and settler ideologies of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Accordingly, a critique of Zionism or Israel is not necessarily a product of animus toward Jews, while, conversely, hatred toward Jews does not necessarily entail an anti-Zionist stance.

Indeed, when examining statements made by leading members of the alt-right in the US and extreme right-wing politicians across Europe, it becomes obvious that one can be both a Zionist and an anti-Semite. I am thinking of people like Richard Spencer from the US who characterises himself as a “white Zionist “, yet thinks that “Jews are vastly over-represented in what you could call ‘the establishment’.” In a similar vein, Orban, who has professed his admiration of Zionism, has, on other occasions, revealed his anti-Semitic tendencies.

The important point is that these right-wing politicians can be Zionist and anti-Semitic at the same time and with intellectual consistency. And if Zionism and anti-Semitism can coincide, then, according to the law of contradiction, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are not reducible one to the other.

Let there be no mistake, in certain instances anti-Zionists are indeed anti-Semitic, but this in and of itself does not say much since a variety of views and ideologies can coincide with anti-Semitism. One can, for example, be a capitalist or a socialist or a libertarian and still be an anti-Semite, but the fact that anti-Semitism can align with these ideologies does not tell us very much about their essence.

Perhaps the greatest irony regarding those who demanded that Williamson cancel the screening of Witch Hunt at Westminster is that their position is in direction opposition to the Jewish tradition and, indeed, to the great Jewish prophets – people like Amos, Jeramiah and Elisha – who were extremely critical of the people of Israel.

The frightening reality is that if these prophets were living in Britain today and were to reiterate words enshrined in the Bible, they, too, would be branded anti-Semites.

First published at Al Jazeera.

 

Categories: News for progressives

The “Hirak” Movement in Algeria Against Bouteflika’s “Mandate of Shame”

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:49

Announced as a candidate for a fifth term, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who celebrated his 82nd birthday on Saturday, 2nd March has been hospitalised in a clinic in Switzerland since Sunday, 24th February. The Algerian head of state, who could not have been quieter since he fell victim to a serious stroke in April 2013, had already been re-elected without public intervention during the campaign in 2014. Since then, as the Algériepart online media journalist Abdou Semmar explained in an interview conducted by Le Media, Bouteflika’s decision to stay in power in Algeria since 1999 has brought the regime’s institutions to a collapse through inter-clan fighting for his estate.

In the meantime, the exasperation of the Algerian people seems to have reached its peak in the face of yet another electoral joke, which is scheduled for the 18th of April. Following a text posted on the internet where he displays a sign on which is written “No to a fifth term”, Hadj Ghermoul, member of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) and the National Committee for the Defence of the Rights of Unemployed (CNDDC), was arrested on 29th January, and then sentenced on 7th February to 6 months in prison in Mascara (west of the country), officially for “contempt of a constituent body”. The attempt to stifle a protest against Bouteflika’s new term, which since then has been growing, seems to have failed.

On 2nd February, the President of the National Assembly, Moad Bouchareb, announced what everyone had suspected: the National Liberation Front (FLN – Front de libération nationale) had chosen Abdelaziz Bouteflika as its candidate. The statement issued after a meeting of leaders of the four political parties of the government coalition [1] announced: “The parties of the presidential alliance present Abdelaziz Bouteflika as a candidate for the next presidential election. In such a context, the official announcement of Bouteflika’s candidacy to remain in power raised indignation, but no one expected the incredible popular irruption that would ensue. First elected head of state in 1999, then re-elected in the first round in 2004 (85% of votes), in 2009 (90%) and in 2014 (81%), after the removal of the constitutional limitation of two presidential terms, Bouteflika has done everything possible to pave the way for a life-long presidency. He has become an object of greed to the ruling mafia and his own family, who hold the reins of Algeria, the largest country in Africa.

Friday, 22nd February, a multitude of demonstrations took place everywhere. This was the first major demonstration in the capital, Algiers, where demonstrations have been strictly forbidden since the 14th June 2001 march when hundreds of thousands of demonstrators from Kabylie converged on the capital. The wall of fear has now been overcome. “Neither Bouteflika, nor Saïd [brother of the Algerian president]! “, “Get rid of the System! ” “The people want the fall of the regime,” “Murderous power”, we could hear in the streets. Slogans that do not appear in the public media where the protests of Friday, 22nd February went unnoticed, transmitted with a delay and stripped of their content. However, a page of history is being written and there will be a before and after for 22nd February, 2019 in Algeria. A few days later, on Tuesday, 26th February, the student world protested in great numbers against the announced re-election of Abdelaziz Bouteflika to the chagrin of those in charge of most student organisations, close to power. Journalists denounced the collusion of the big media with the regime that prevented them from informing about the current uprising, internet connections that had been slowed down or even cut off by the authorities as well as visa refusals to foreign journalists wishing to cover the uprising.

The next Friday, 1st March, two days before the deadline for the candidacy of the presidential elections, a tidal wave flooded the streets throughout the country. It is now hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who have marched against President Bouteflika’s “mandate of shame”. Never since the Algerian War of Independence have the Algerians risen in this way to unite all the people around a common goal. In Oran, the second largest city in Algeria, some 10,000 people took part in the march for “dignity”. “If we are marching, it’s not against Bouteflika as an individual, but against the clan surrounding him, against a system,” said 22-year-old Youssef. In Tlemcen, which is supposed to be Bouteflika’s stronghold, the march was dense. The media could no longer ignore the uprising and Canal Algérie opened its 7 pm news with the marches without, however, mentioning the protestor’s main slogan “No to the 5th mandate”.

Bouteflika’s response stirs up anger

The next day, Sunday, 3rd March, the protests continued, including in Algiers where the metro was closed and the main streets blocked off. This day, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a sick man who had not made a single speech since 2013, addressed the issue for the first time since the beginning of the popular protest stirring the Algerian people. In a letter on the subject, he says he “listened and heard the heartfelt cries of the demonstrators”, but reaffirms his status as “candidate for the next presidential election”. In the event of an election, the Algerian head of state agreed not to complete his term and to withdraw after an early presidential election, the date of which had not yet been set. It would thus be necessary to elect Bouteflika in order to get rid of him via an anticipated presidential election, one in which he would not be a candidate…

At the same time, Bouteflika’s candidacy file was submitted on the same day with the Constitutional Council, the last legal deadline to apply for presidential elections on 18th April, 2019, by his new campaign director, the current Minister of Transport Abdelghani Zaâlane. The latter replaced at a moment’s notice former Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, sacked on Saturday after having lead the three previous campaigns of President Bouteflika in 2004, 2009 and 2014.

This response given to the Algerian people, who since 22nd February had been demonstrating loudly and clearly against a fifth term run by Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was enough to revive the protest. The same evening, spontaneous demonstrations broke out in several cities. The joke that circulated “We have two plans: plan A, for Abdelaziz. And plan B, for Bouteflika!” sums up well the intransigence of power and in the face of this intransigence, Algeria was preparing for a new explosion of anger. The same evening, thousands of young people who had been out since the beginning of the night in the streets of Algiers marched towards the presidential palace of El-Mouradia before being blocked by a police presence. On Monday, 4th March, students deserted classes at Bab Ezzouar, the largest university in the country. Several other campuses of the faculties of the capital were also deserted. In other cities marches were organised, Algeria held its breath, the responsibility of the power in place was enormous.

Translation by Jenny Bright.

This article was originally published in French on the blog Un monde sans dette from the journal Politis.

Notes.

[1] These four parties are the National Liberation Front (FLN), the presidential party represented by the President of the Assembly, Mouad Bouchareb, the Democratic National Rally (RND -Rassemblement national démocratique) represented by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, the Rally of Algerian Hope (Tadjamoue Amel El-Djazair, TAJ) of Amar Ghoul and the Algerian Popular Movement (MPA – Mouvement populaire algérien) whose president is Amara Benyounes.

Categories: News for progressives

A Modest Proposal: Don’t Start a Nuclear War

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:49

In a matter of minutes, as easily as sending a tweet, a sitting U.S. president could decide to launch a nuclear attack, without anyone else’s approval or authorization. In a matter of minutes, millions of lives would be lost, and millions of futures halted permanently.

At my organization, Physicians for Social Responsibility, we believe that we must prevent what we can’t cure. And there’s no cure for a nuclear war.

No nation on earth, including the United States, would have an adequate emergency response in the event of a nuclear exchange. Most Americans don’t want us to ever engage in a nuclear war, and the vast majority of us certainly don’t want the United States to be the ones to start a nuclear war.

The United States, like every other nation, has a vested interest in avoiding a nuclear conflict.

Yet unlike other countries, we currently have no policy against starting a nuclear war — or what experts call a “No First Use” policy.

This opens the door to a possible preemptive nuclear strike. That weakens our national security, and it puts all our health and safety at risk — for a nuclear war no one (except maybe President Donald Trump and John Bolton) wants.

Luckily, some people in Congress are looking to change the reckless status quo. This year, Rep. Adam Smith and Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation that would establish a “No First Use” policy for nuclear weapons in the United States.

“Our current nuclear strategy is not just outdated — it is dangerous,” said Smith and Warren. “By making clear that deterrence is the sole purpose of our arsenal, this bill would reduce the chances of a nuclear miscalculation and help us maintain our moral and diplomatic leadership in the world.”

No First Use is all the more critical now that vital multilateral arms treaties, like the landmark Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between U.S. and Russia, are being ditched in favor of “out-innovating” everybody else, as Trump put it in his last State of the Union address.

Not content with our already outsized nuclear arsenal, the United States has put the first so-called “low-yield” nuclear weapons into production as well. Misleadingly named, these weapons contain the destructive power of thousands of tons of TNT. To an adversary, they would be visually indistinguishable from high-yield submarine-launched warheads.

If it sounds like a James Bond villain is hard at work manufacturing an absolute worst-case scenario, you’re not far off. But in the real world, we won’t be able to rely on a martini-sipping spy to save the day.

So much is at stake here — not least for young people like me, who didn’t grow up practicing “duck and cover” drills during the Cold War, as if hiding under a school desk would protect any of us in the event of a nuclear attack.

Young people like me didn’t jumpstart a nuclear arms race, but we’ll still pay the price. Our future is still ahead of us. We shouldn’t have to inherit a world threatened by nuclear weapons — or by the sheer expense of them.

A 2017 Congressional Budget Office report estimated that it would cost $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years to update, sustain, and modernize existing nuclear forces. That’s money that could fund vital infrastructure, health care, jobs, housing, and education programs, and much more — money we’re wasting on weapons that would destroy our future.

No one wins a nuclear war. Everyone loses. The United States can and must lead by committing to an official policy of No First Use of nuclear weapons— for all our health’s sake.

Categories: News for progressives

Our Preoccupation with the Presidency is Killing the Planet

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:46

The 2020 US presidential campaign is already underway. With each day that passes between now and election day, all other topics will receive less attention, both from talking heads on the news and from regular folks (and bots) in the social media universe.

This is quite unfortunate because the race for this office is far less important than a myriad of other topics, chief among them the environment and (inextricably connected) US militarism.

“But wait,” insists the true-believer political junkie. “The outcome of this race will have a big effect on those issues.”

Yeah, except that it won’t.

No matter what candidate is selected, the state of the environment will worsen and US militarism will march on unrestrained. This is a multi-decade trend that will not be reversed by changing the occupant of the Oval Office next year.

Starting after Carter’s term in the late 70’s, the state of environmental and imperial affairs has worsened each time a new party takes over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They speak in different tones of voice, but pummel the world with the same corporate-powered club.

The creeping fascism of the Reagan/Bush years was followed by the faux progressivism of the Clintons, whose accomplishments were a Republican wet dream: slashing social programs, ratcheting up the police/prison state, deregulating finance and media and sacrificing the environment to profit. Under Bill and Hillary’s regime, six times as many trees were cut down on public lands as by Ronnie and George.

Bush II took the baton and kept up the pace, using 9/11 as a pretense for all manner of brutality, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and elsewhere. He and his cronies did their best to put the environment on the chopping block (and in the smelter, the power plant and the rancher’s hands).

What about Mr. Hope & Change? Surely he broke the pattern? Nope. As Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank sum it up in their book, “The Big Heat”: “On the environment, the transition between Bush and Obama was disturbingly smooth when it should have been decisively abrupt.” They document how, during the Obama years, the regulatory agencies continued to be run by reps from the industries they were supposed to be watchdogging, with predictable consequences (which is to say, few negative ones, if you were a corporation). Under Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, U.S. fossil fuel production hit highs not seen since the early 1970’s. BTW, any of it that’s exported is counted as someone else’s carbon emissions, but that’s some BS accounting. That’s oursWe didn’t keep it in the ground, so that pollution belongs on our ledger.

As for empire, Obama did not roll back any of W’s executive power grabs, and officially codified many of them. The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s time was the first double-term in which the US was continuously at war (at least the way such things are counted, which is by not counting the genocide of Native Americans as “war,” though it has been continuous from day one to the present). The rape of Libya, including the literal anal rape of its leader, Qaddafi, was only one of his sins (though Hillary likes to take credit for it).

Trump upped the assault on the nation’s ecology, increased the drone war, and has been an enthusiastic saber-rattler (despite a few empty words to the contrary). That he is an all-around disaster is beyond question. But so is the bipartisan agreement on nearly all of his policies from the DC crowd. And so is the fact that if a Democrat succeeds him, only a few of his worst excesses will be moderately curtailed, if that. If any.

***

You cannot be pro-environment without being anti-war.

First, because the Pentagon is the world’s single largest institutional polluter. The statistics for present and past behavior are staggering:

* The U.S. Department of Defense produces 750,000 tons of toxic waste every year

* Such waste includes depleted uranium, oil and fuel, pesticides, and heavy metals including lead

* The department’s environmental program deals with 39,000 contaminated areas in the US

* Nearly 900 of the nation’s 1200 Superfund sites are former military sites or military-related

* In 2013, “the Pentagon consumed fuel equivalent to 90,000,000 barrels of crude oil,” which would produce over 38,000,000 metric tons of CO2 if burned as jet fuel

* Additionally, nuclear radiation on Pacific islands and in the US Southwest from atomic weapons tests is causing higher local cancer rates to this day

* Adding insult to injury, carbon emissions from Pentagon activities are not counted as part of US totals in international climate meetings, as per Clinton and Bush II. So yeah, 80% of the fuel used by the federal government isn’t in the math. That makes for some funny math.

[The sources for these stats are worth reading: Why the US military is the world’s largest polluterU.S. Military is World’s Biggest PolluterElephant in the Room: The Pentagon’s Massive Carbon Footprint]

Secondly, cooperation among nations to address global issues is made far more difficult by the USA’s imperial foreign policy. On a basic level, when you are focused on trying to survive the US military machine, other considerations become secondary. Economically, the US military is acting in the interests of corporate powers that actively oppose environmental regulations and practices.

The US is the big bully on the playground, trying to tell everyone else what they can and can’t do. Yes, this makes a difference. No, we can’t just ignore it and just talk about renewable energy.

None of the Democratic candidates currently getting serious attention from the corporate media have any desire to reign in the “Defense” budget sufficiently (or in most cases, at all) or to remake foreign policy so that the military isn’t just a hired thug for corporate power. Nor will any such idea become part of the conversation unless relative outsiders are able to participate it the televised debates. (Marianne Williamson, for example, would “gladly support the establishment of a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding,” but as of this writing was still seeking the 65,000 individual donations required to gain entry to the debates.)

As for the environment, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was correct when she said we need an “ambitious, on-scale proposal to address the global climate crisis.” She is incorrect that the “Green New Deal” proposal she put forward with Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass) fits that description. It doesn’t. It is timid and inadequate.

However, in the narrow context of DC politics, it’s been like somebody cannonballing into the pool at a formal black tie, and that’s been a teachable moment, as they say, especially for the young people who know we’re in some hot water that’s only getting hotter. The overwrought and often rude responses to AOC’s apparent (“seeming”) sincerity, including from prominent Democrats, has been out there for everyone to see.

The climate crisis is only one of our ecological problems, which include widespread pollution of air, water and soil from agriculture and industry; radioactive waste from weapons-making and power plants that will remain harmful for tens of thousands of years; and species extinction from pesticides and habitat loss. The scale of all this is waybeyond what any U.S. president can address on their own.

***

Much has been made recently of the IPCC’s warning that we have 12 years to change course in order to avoid climate disaster.

Unfortunately, the IPCC is at the conservative end of climate science. Their conclusions are not drawn from current data and are subject to a process of compromise that is as much political as it is scientific. This is known within the climate science community.

Therefore, their timeline is very likely too optimistic. The point in time they are talking about may well have already passed.

Urgency is our watchword. We cannot wait until November 2020 (actually January 2021) for a new president to save us. If there’s any saving to do, that’s our job, and we need to get to it. The sooner we get going, the better.

And, pardon my language, but fuck the elections. Seriously.

***

The preoccupation with the presidency is delusional in that the power of the office is greatly exaggerated in the popular mind.

Despite the desires of the (so far) men who have inhabited the office, the president is not a dictator and cannot rule by fiat. Even with the very real rise of the “imperial presidency” over the last half century, and its steady accumulation of more power, the president must still work with others, especially on domestic issues. Executive orders cannot be used to remake the health care, education or banking systems, for example. As Trump found out with his ignored decree to withdraw troops from Syria, the president is limited even as commander-in-chief. So, voters will be disappointed if they are hoping for a revolution by way of the White House. Ain’t gonna happen.

What we need are mass movements.

Big, dedicated, active mass movements.

IRL, it should go without saying.

This is not news. As Howard Zinn famously put it: “The really critical thing isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in – in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating – those are the things that determine what happens.”

If you don’t think that’s true, look how fast Trump’s government shut-down ended when a handful of airport workers “called in sick,” threatening the nation’s airline transportation network. Of course the corporate media portrayed it as a victory for Nancy Pelosi because the narrative of battling titans makes more sense to them than people-power. But it was people power. And just a tiny taste of it.

Writer Nick Pemberton recently said: “Solidarity, not compromise, will topple the capitalist-imperialist world order.” Indeed. Our mass movements must think globally. We colonizers here in the USA do not have all the answers, and given all the time in the world, we would never come up with them, nor even enough of them. We must take our cues from our sisters and brothers in different places, especially those living indigenous lives. There is some of that wisdom within our borders, too, in the POW camps we call “reservations,” currently being ignored for the most part. It’s well past time we shut up, sit still for a minute, and listen to what they have to say. To think we can fix this mess on our own is another expression of American Exceptionalism.

The mass movements we build don’t need to be tailored to any particular president. Hardly. Whoever’s in there will be opposed to the changes that must happen. Using widespread, coordinated, non-violent civil disobedience to bring business-as-usual to a standstill, we can convince her or him – and our other “representatives” in government – to do what needs to be done.

And what needs to be done?

Among other things: pulling up the stakes of empire and dismantling the military-industrial complex; utterly ending Big Agriculture and creating local, healthy food systems; dissolving the work/school/prison system in favor of humane, life-centered communities. And that’s just to start.

Lastly, we should stop looking at the necessary transformation of society in terms of “what we need to give up.” What we gain will way exceed whatever we cut. We will literally be choosing healing over killing, thriving over suffering, life over death.

I’m ready to go when you are!

***

Extinction Rebellion UK is on the mass civil disobedience bus for real, and they are calling for people around the world to take action April 15 – 22, 2019. Chris Hedges just wrote a great article about XR and their call-to-action here.

Categories: News for progressives

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