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Masquerading Reforms: The Tricks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Thu, 2018-11-08 15:55

The surgical dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi has sent the military establishments of several countries into a tizz.   Arms manufacturers are wondering whether this is an inconvenient blip, a ruffling moral reminder about what they are dealing with.  Autocratic regimes indifferent to the lives of journalists are wondering whether the fuss taken about all this is merely the fuss endured, till the next bloody suppression.  But importantly, those states notionally constituting the West may have to reconsider the duping strategy that the House of Saud has executed with the deft efficiency of the dedicated axeman.

The ranks are closing in around the Saudi royals, notably the purportedly suspicious son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose status has been given an undue measure of inflation from various powers happy to see reform in the air. The measures taken by MBS have been modest and hardly worth a sigh: the cutting of subsidies, permitting women to drive, and restructuring the economy.  But like a fake article of purchase at an inordinately expensive auction, the prince’s counterfeit credentials are starting to peer through the canvas.

The Crown Prince has been happy to provide a train of examples to suggest to his Western audience that the roots of a liberal Saudi Arabian past are very much in evidence.  To Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, the beguiling royal explained that, “Before 1979 there were societal guardianship customs, but no guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia.”

The tactic is clear: speak of a yesteryear that was jolly and a touch tender, and promise that a current era seemingly harder can emulate it.  Goldberg was good enough to make the observation that the Crown Prince had gotten one thing right from the perspective of his sponsors in Europe, the Middle East and the United States: “He has made all the right enemies.”

In the aftermath of Khashoggi’s disappearance, Mohammed was keen to get a word in to the Trump administration before any firm conclusions could be drawn.  His first port of call was President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security adviser John Bolton.  Accordingto The Washington Post, the call featured one theme of justification: Khashoggi was a dangerous, destabilising Islamist, and any tears shed would be premature.

Publically, the Crown Prince played along with the conceit that the death of Khashoggi had been “very painful for all Saudis”, being unjustifiable. Khalid bin Salman, Riyadh’s ambassador in Washington, insisted that the slain journalist had been a friend of the Kingdom, “dedicating a great portion of his life to serve his country.”

The powers, regional and beyond, have taken to douching the image of the Crown Prince, hoping to minimise prospects for any rash action.  Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu might well concede that was happened in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month “was horrendous and should be duly dealt with”, but the broader strategic interests topped anything connected with a mere journalist’s life.  When a figure corrupted by power reasons with violently inflicted death, he is bound to embrace that word that forgives and justifies all: stability.  “At the same time, it is very important for the stability of the world, for the region and for the world, that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”

Minor appendages of US power such as Australia also find themselves in a tangle about how best to approach the revelations and claimed royal involvement.  Shrouded in history, the officials of distant Canberra also remain gulled, confused, and happy to be led.  The Australian defence sector has been placed in the dim light of deals with the Kingdom. As legal advocate Kellie Tanter notes, documents obtained via Freedom of Information laws confirm that, between January 1 2016 to December 31, 2017, sixteen military licenses were procured for export of military equipment from Australia to Saudi Arabia.  As is traditional with such freedom of information laws, permit holders, permit numbers and approved goods, consignees, end-users and approved destinations were redacted.

Under questioning from Labor Senator Alex Gallacher last month in a Senate estimates hearing, the Australian Department of Defence was not forthcoming about the nature of the exports to Riyadh. Official Tom Hamilton refused to disclose their value, citing weak “commercial-in-confidence” reasons.

The pickle Australian policy makers find themselves in lies in the obligations of the Arms Trade Treaty, which insists on a ban on exports of weapons to countries where evidence can be shown of use against civilians.  The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen against the Houthis, featuring a true orgy of civilian-targeted destruction, qualifies.  But Yemen hardly qualifies as a humanitarian disaster in Australian political discourse (distant places have a certain ethical irrelevance to the plodders in Canberra).  To make sure her bases are covered, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, in reference not to the war in Yemen but the killing of Khashoggi, suggested that, “All options are on the table”.  It is already clear what option Canberra prefers: ignore the complicity of the House of Saud, and keep the procession of defence contracts going.

Khashoggi himself was clear enough about the nature of the Crown Prince: the royal was entirely self-centred, and any reform would take place in a contrived way.  Concepts of reform within the Saudi royal court can, at best, only be a limited affair, and have nothing to do with deeper social considerations.  Saudi intellectuals, activists and journalists languished in prison even as MBS was being praised for his openness; such projects as the futuristic city of Neom were doomed examples of extravagance rather than forward thinking.

“He has no interest in political reform,” comes Khashoggi, a voice from the grave.  “He thinks he can do it alone, and he doesn’t want really any counter opinion or anyone to share those changes in Saudi Arabia with him.”  Hardly revelatory, and something bound to do little to turn the ladies and men of the security establishments of the West.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Worthy and Unworthy Victims: Jamal Khashoggi and US Imperial Management

Thu, 2018-11-08 15:54

Daniel Falcone: Americans are calling the journalist Jamal Khashoggi a courageous politico who “spoke truth to power,” but as Noam Chomsky has stated power already knows the truth.” Is U.S. response to these types of events reliant upon lazy narratives? 

Anthony DiMaggio: It depends on who we are referencing when we talk about elite responses. The U.S. political elite are quite fragmented at the moment between 1) a creeping fascist-wing, as personified by Trump and reinforced by his followers/lackeys in the Republican Party and far-right corporate media; and 2) a liberal wing that favors corporate power and empire, but has never felt comfortable embracing a full-throated authoritarian, fascistic politics when it comes to domestic affairs.

On the one hand, the authoritarian/creeping fascist wing of the U.S. political-economic elite, as led by Trump, has little concern with a journalist for a major American newspaper (the Washington Post) who was murdered and dismembered by an allied Saudi terror state that practices medieval torture. It seems silly to try and deny this point in light of the available evidenceof Saudi Arabia’s responsibility for the murder, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to play stupid on the matter. Now the Saudi monarchy is backpedaling from their initial denials, claiming Khashoggi’s death was a “rogue operation” from elements internal to the Saudi security apparatus. But there’s little reason for any critically minded independent thinker to take them seriously considering that they’ve already been exposed as liars on this issue, and considering Khashoggi’s history of being critical of the Saudi regime, rather than simply being critical of individual, allegedly “rogue” operators within that repressive regime.

For Trump, the fact of the matter is that Saudi Arabia is a regime that supports U.S. power in the Middle East, and it is committed to protecting U.S. dominance of Middle Eastern oil reserves, which are the lifeblood of our capitalist economy. In this case, Trump’s commitment to the U.S. empire, overlaps well with his authoritarian contempt for the U.S. press, which has generally viewed him as an embarrassing deviation from the “responsible” bi-partisan political leadership that has long dominated the U.S. political system. Trump is an authoritarian at heart, and he has been sending out trial balloons for the last two years, during his electoral campaign and as president, that demonstrate his flagrant contempt for freedom of the press and for dissent against his presidency.

On the other hand, there is a very real concern with freedom of the press among the liberal segment of the U.S. political-economic power structure. They view it as a serious assault on the journalistic segment of the U.S. governing apparatus that a reporter for the Washington Post – even if he was not an American citizen – could be so horribly murdered, and with such impunity. This horror is potentially compatible, I would argue, with the propaganda model laid out three decades ago by Herman and Chomsky. The heavy attention to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder fits within the binary between “worthy” and “unworthy victims” that they described. The “worthy” victims designation was originally created to refer to victims of terror and coercion who live in officially designated enemy states, compared to “unworthy” ones who are the victims of state violence committed by U.S. allies.

But in the case of Khashoggi, the dynamic is somewhat more complicated. In one sense, it is true that he is a victim of violence committed by an allied state that is committed to U.S. imperial power in the Middle East. On the other hand, as a journalist for the Washington Post, he was also a defacto/adopted member of the U.S. political-economic-media elite, so he is being treated as such via the heavy attention to his murder in the U.S. press, and contrary to President Trump and Republicans’ own efforts to downplay it.

Daniel Falcone: Can you share your initial reaction to the death of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in terms of both the US special relationship with the Saudis and the corporate media’s response to the barbaric killing?

Anthony DiMaggio: I was not surprised that the Washington Post reacted the way it did, considering Khashoggi’s employment by the paper. I didn’t expect the U.S. corporate press to try to suppress this issue. Why would they? If I was a major editor of a national agenda setting paper like the New York Times or Washington Post, I would view this murder as an act of aggression against western establishment journalists.

These reporters are guided by a set of ethics and professional norms, even if nationalistic pressures pervert those norms in terms of their downplaying of coverage of victims of state violence in allied states. But this murder seems to have hit too close to home for U.S. media elites. And I’d imagine that it took on added significance considering the Trump administration’s deplorable response, via their attempt to cover for the Saudi monarchy. American journalists aren’t stupid, and they probably see Trump’s non-response as overlapping with his larger contempt for reporters and freedom of the press. A strongly negative reaction to Khashoggi’s murder, as I see it, is a simple act of self-preservation on the part of U.S. journalists, who must share very real concerns at this point about the heavy hand of state censorship following Trump’s own calls to charge the editors of the New York Times with treason for their publication of a critical and embarrassing anonymous op-ed from within Trump’s own administration.

Fortunately, the call for a treason charge to be introduced against the NY Times was ignored (or perhaps dismissed) by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But it’s a sad day for the rule of law and limited government in America when the one man standing between the Trump administration and full-on fascism is a reactionary racist, misogynist, xenophobe, and right-wing class warrior who just happens to also have some lingering respect for the First Amendment.

Of course, there’s also another way of looking at Khashoggi’s death and the heavy coverage it received in the U.S. media. And that is to lament journalists’ fixation on one de facto member of the U.S. journalistic elite, at the expense of a larger discussion of the countless victims of violence in Yemen, following the criminal Saudi intervention there, which has imposed a massive humanitarian crisis and threatens to induce mass starvation and death; if we are serious about condemning Saudi human rights violations, we simply cannot ignore (or downplay) its actions in Yemen.

The Saudi blockade has imposed a horrible toll on the people of Yemen, in what the United Nations has referred to as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” Saudi Arabia’s efforts to reinstate the government in exile, and defeat the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels has exacted a heavy human toll, with estimates of thousands of civilians killed (a large number of which are children), the rise of deadly disease via the most severe cholera outbreak in modern history, and with the danger of famine reaching surreal levels, considering the U.N. estimate of 7 million people in danger of starvation, and with 80 percent of the Yemeni population lacking consistent access to food. These are serious crimes that we are not hearing much about, with Yemen’s population being treated as the most recent case of “unworthy victims” of U.S.-allied state violence and aggression.

Daniel Falcone: Can you talk about the liberal tendency to view this event (Khashoggi’s death) in isolation in relation to the Trump presidency? What are the limitations of that trope?

Anthony DiMaggio: The viewing of the event in isolation fits within the elitist practice of the U.S. media of only caring about the “right” victims of state violence – those in officially designated enemy states – and in this case, those who are part of the U.S. intelligentsia class (or as close as you can get to being part of the intelligentsia in a U.S. media system that parrots the views of political-economic elites). There’s also a broader problem in terms of attempts by journalists to treat Trump’s response to Khashoggi’s murder, and to treat Trump’s presidency more generally, as if they are an aberration and an assault on the (allegedly) longstanding U.S. commitment to the rule of law, democracy, and just governing principles. This narrative is deplorable, absurd, and quite dangerous. There’s a tendency among U.S. liberals and liberal political elites to treat Trump as if he’s the exception to the rule when it comes to “responsible” governance on the part of Republican and Democratic elites. The reality of the matter is quite different. The U.S. has been migrating to the far right, incrementally shifting to embrace reactionary politics, for decades. This movement has been fueled by a far-right corporate media system, which dominates 90 percent of talk radio, and is well-represented on television via Fox News – the most watched cable news outlet. U.S. Republican elites have been happy to benefit from these right-wing shock jocks for decades, who all have stoked extremism, racism, misogyny, paranoia, and now encourage authoritarianism within the Republican Party’s base.

That base has become a veritable Frankenstein’s monster, which is no longer so easily controlled by the old-guard Republican political elites. And the Democratic Party has continued to play into treating this rabid reactionary movement with kid’s gloves, in light of its calls for a return to “civility.” You don’t have a civil discourse with wannabe fascists – who we now know based on various national polls make up approximately half of the Republican Party’s base. This group wants the U.S. media shut down for criticizing Trump, even in cases where stories are accurate, but critical of the president. And they are also fine with shutting down the 2020 elections to combat fictitious “voter fraud.”

These individuals represent a serious danger to the republic, as their fanaticism is being stoked by not only right-wing media, but by the commander in chief. The fact that you can’t have civil engagements with fascists should go without saying. But the Democratic Party is so tepid and spineless in its “opposition” to creeping fascism that it makes little sense to speak of it as a genuine alternative to Republican rule. If the Democrats win back control of the House or Senate in November, it will be more a result of their winning by default than because they provided any sort of coherent or principled opposition to the reactionary Republican agenda (they haven’t).

Daniel Falcone: Could you also discuss the implications and dangers of leftists and radicals minimizing the murder to overcompensate for Democrats and the establishment’s lack of appreciation for history, foreign policy and bipartisan support of the Saudis? 

Anthony DiMaggio: Well, it seems like you’re speaking to the practice, which is knee jerk for some on the left, of automatically assuming that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In this case, as the thinking apparently goes: if we hate the Democrats because they’ve sold out the working class via neoliberalism and neoliberal imperialism, then those (like Trump) who attack the Democrats using populist language must be worth supporting, or at least not worth stridently opposing. This point has been compounded by Trump’s own rhetoric, and his talk about calming relations with Russia, as well as his rhetorical attacks on corporate globalization.

I could see how some on the left might have been taken in by this language during the election, considering that Trump presented himself as a sort of maverick or loose cannon who couldn’t be controlled by either party’s elites, and in light of his promises to transform the U.S. economy and foreign policy. But nearly two years into his presidency, he’s done literally nothing to bring back all those manufacturing jobs he promised would return to the United States. And much of his rhetoric about de-escalating tensions with foreign powers (North Korea and Russia in particular) has been just that, rhetoric.

Little of actual substance has emerged from all his promises, in terms of an actual agreement with North Korea to reduce the prospect of nuclear war. The U.S. has intensified its conflicts with China, Russia, and Iran under Trump, as seen in the president’s tearing up of the Iran agreement, his tariffs on China and other allies, and the institution of sanctions against Russia for its reported role in attempting to impact the 2016 election. Nearly half-way into Trump’s first term in office, it seems fair to say that his “anti-imperialist” rhetoric was a fraud, and that his presidency has not represented a serious deviation from standard U.S. operating procedure in the foreign policy realm.

Daniel Falcone: What do you think the average voter’s response has been to Khashoggi’s murder? How does it compare to those on the American left?

Anthony DiMaggio: Most Americans (56%) agree that Trump hasn’t been “tough enough” on Saudi Arabia following the Khashoggi murder, but the numbers are heavily skewed by partisanship, with most of Trump’s Republican supporters agreeing that his response was “about right.” The large majority of Democrats – 78 percent – say Trump has been too soft on Saudi Arabia and its monarchy in relation to this event. This is the state of public opinion on foreign policy in the hyper-polarized modern America. Individuals filter their views of U.S. actions through the prism of “their guy,” with their assessments of human rights and democracy-related issues vacillating based on who is in control of the White House. The tendency to normalize Trump has been on display among American conservatives and Republicans for the last two years, so there was little reason to think that was going to change for Trump in the foreign policy realm.

I’m encouraged that most Americans are critical of Trump’s response to Khashoggi’s death. But I’m also guarded in my assessment of public opinion. It seems that many Americans – most in fact – are content to ignore major human rights violations that the U.S. has a direct hand in – such as the starvation of Yemen by Saudi Arabia (the latter which receives its military hardware directly from the U.S.), so long as American boots are no longer “on the ground” in the Middle East. This sort of parochial thinking makes it more difficult for the American people to pressure their government to rollback its commitment to power politics, militarism, and empire.

Furthermore, Democratic Americans don’t have the greatest track record under Obama of fighting U.S. militarism. The Democratic base bought hook, line, and sinker into President Obama’s propagandistic rhetoric about “hope” and “change” in the 2008 election onward and as related to the Iraq war, while the Democrat (once in the White House) proceeded to fight war after war in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. I think that Trump may be the most dangerous American propagandist of the 21stcentury in terms of his embrace of fascist principles and the mass support base behind his authoritarian politics. But I also believe Obama was probably the most talented (American) propagandist of the 21stcentury. He had the tremendous ability, through his smooth talk and lip service to principles such as peace, human rights, and democracy, to manipulate not only liberal public opinion in the U.S., but international public opinion. For the latter, we saw across most regions of the world (save the Middle East), that public opinion polls showed far more favorable opinions of Obama than of the previous President, George W. Bush; all of this, despite his continued militarism and commitment to maintaining and expanding the U.S. empire.

Obama was a far more competent imperial manager than Bush, in the sense that he didn’t step back from American militarism. He spent more money on war and the military budget in his first four years in office than Bush did in the first four years after 9/11, while convincing much of the American public and world that he was “anti-war.” That’s just incredible when you think about it. Of course he was no “anti-war” figure, and to make such a claim is simply Orwellian propaganda. The done strike program and limited military engagements under Obama replaced largescale military occupation, in contrast to the more brazen, in-you-face militarism of the preceding administration. Getting boots off the ground in Iraq was apparently enough to pacify much of the American liberal-left in terms of stifling any potential criticisms of the Democratic in the White House. In the end, I bring up Obama here not to dwell on the past, but to point out that even what may seem to some like a “principled” opposition to Trump has its limits in a nation where individuals know little about U.S. foreign policy, care even less about what is happening in the world, and in which their limited engagement with other countries is filtered through partisan propaganda and agendas.

Anthony DiMaggio is a political scientist at Lehigh University and the author of The Politics of Persuasion (SUNY Press, 2017)

Daniel Falcone is an activist, educator and journalist in New York City. Follow his work at: @DanielFalcone7

Categories: News for progressives

Drilling Sacred Land: the Fight to Save the Badger-Two Medicine

Thu, 2018-11-08 15:52

We respectfully urge Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Interior Department to protect Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine landscape, and appeal the recent reinstatement of two cancelled oil leases there.

On Sept. 24, efforts to protect “the Badger” suffered a setback when D.C. District Judge Richard Leon restored those leases.

The leasing dates from the 1980s, when countless leases were created, blanketing western national forest lands with would-be oilfields. Much of that leasing, including in Badger-Two Medicine country, was improperly rushed, with essentially reusable “cookie-cutter” environmental assessments (EAs), instead of required site-specific environmental impact statements (EISs) and without mandated Blackfeet Tribal consultation. The government maintained then that leasing was simply clerical, and didn’t itself impact the environment.

Montanans promptly sued, focusing on an area farther south on the Rocky Mountain Front (Bob Marshall Alliance v. James Watt), and another in the Flathead National Forest (Conner v. Burford). Plaintiffs argued that leasing requires site-specific EISs, because leasing leads to drilling, with site-specific environmental impacts. Judges agreed, voiding both leases and directing the government to start over with site-specific EIS processes.

That “start over” never happened. And the threat from oil development on public wildlands subsided. In the Badger-Two Medicine’s Hall Creek drainage, drilling was cancelled at the 11th hour. That Hall Creek lease was suspended (though not voided), and conservationists were lulled into a sense of security. Then, in 2013, that threat reared its head as an oil-industry lawsuit. Louisiana oilman Sydney Longwell maintained that his old Hall Creek lease constituted a property right, and he wanted to develop that property. He challenged the government’s suspension of lease development. Judge Leon agreed and directed the government to provide a quick timeline to drill.

Ironically, Longwell proved the old conservationists right. As argued 30 years ago, selling an oil lease did imply the consequence of drilling, with all the environmental, wildlife and cultural impacts that oil exploration entails. This time the government agreed. After considerable deliberation, then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewel cancelled all remaining Badger-Two Medicine leases, affirming that they were illegal.

In 2017 Longwell, joined by Texas oilman W.A. Moncrief Jr., sued again, claiming the government overstepped in cancelling their leases. And last month Judge Leon ruled for Longwell and Moncrief without addressing the legality of their leases. He opined that lease cancellation was “capricious and reckless” because of the time involved and was unfair to the lease-holders.

It’s worth reviewing those years of lease suspension. While Longwell waited to drill, the conservation community and the Blackfeet Nation continued their efforts to protect “the Badger.” Over 30 years they worked to translate a Montana groundswell of support into lasting protection for this treasured wildland. And much happened: most leaseholders sold, traded or voluntarily surrendered their old leases; Congress declared “the Badger” and the Front off limits for future leasing; the U.S. Forest Service banned damaging motorized travel there; the Badger-Two Medicine was recognized under the National Historic Preservation Act as a Traditional Cultural District sacred to the Blackfeet; and its importance in the greater Crown of the Continent Ecosystem was confirmed.

On its own, “the Badger” is a beautiful wildland with crucial wildlife habitat, and a living cultural landscape. Recognizing its keystone connections with the adjoining Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, it’s clear that the Badger-Two Medicine must never be drilled.

While Judge Leon’s opinion represents a setback, this issue is not settled. We now urge Secretary Zinke and the Department of Interior to strongly appeal Judge Leon’s decision, to cancel these illegal leases and to protect “the Badger” for perpetuity.

Kendall Flint and Lou Bruno are president and president-elect of the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance.

Categories: News for progressives

Why Is Israel Afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

Thu, 2018-11-08 15:50

When Israeli troops stormed the house of Palestinian parliamentarian and lawyer, Khalida Jarrar, on April 2, 2015, she was engrossed in her research. For months, Jarrar had been leading a Palestinian effort to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Her research on that very evening was directly related to the kind of behavior that allows a group of soldiers to handcuff a respected Palestinian intellectual, throwing her in jail with no trial and with no accountability for their action.

Jarrar was released after spending over one year in jail in June 2016, only to be arrested once more, on July 2, 2017. She remains in an Israeli prison.

On October 28 of this year, her ‘administrative detention’ was renewed for the fourth time.

There are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, most of them held outside the militarily Occupied Palestinian Territories, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

However, nearly 500 Palestinians fall into a different category, as they are held without trial, detained for six-month periods that are renewed, sometimes indefinitely, by Israeli military courts with no legal justification whatsoever. Jarrar is one of those detainees.

Jarrar is not beseeching her jailers for her freedom. Instead, she is keeping busy educating her fellow female prisoners on international law, offering classes and issuing statements to the outside world that reflect not only her refined intellect, but also her resolve and strength of character.

Jarrar is relentless. Despite her failing health – she suffers from multiple ischemic infarctions, hypercholesterolemia and was hospitalized due to severe bleeding resulting from epistaxis – her commitment to the cause of her people did not, in any way, weaken or falter.

The 55-year-old Palestinian lawyer has championed a political discourse that is largely missing amid the ongoing feud between the Palestinian Authority’s largest faction, Fatah, in the Occupied West Bank and Hamas in besieged Gaza.

As a member of the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) and an active member within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Jarrar has advocated the kind of politics that is not disconnected from the people and, especially, from the women who she strongly and uncompromisingly represents.

According to Jarrar, no Palestinian official should engage in any form of dialogue with Israel, because such engagement helps legitimize a state that is founded on genocide and ethnic cleansing, and is currently carrying out various types of war crimes; the very crimes that Jarrar tried to expose before the ICC.

Expectedly, Jarrar rejects the so-called ‘peace process’, a futile exercise that has no intention or mechanism that is aimed at “implementing international resolutions related to the Palestinian cause and recognizing the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.”

It goes without saying that a woman with such an astute, strong position, vehemently rejects the ‘security coordination’ between the PA and Israel, seeing such action as a betrayal to the struggle and sacrifices of the Palestinian people.

While PA officials continue to enjoy the perks of ‘leadership’, desperately breathing life into a dead political discourse of a ‘peace process’ and a ‘two state solution’, Jarrar, a Palestinian female leader with a true vision, subsists in HaSharon Prison. There, along with dozens of Palestinian women, she experiences daily humiliation, denial of rights and various types of Israeli methods aimed at breaking her will.

But Jarrar is as experienced in resisting Israel as she is in her knowledge of law and human rights.

In August 2014, as Israel was carrying out one of its most heinous acts of genocide in Gaza – killing and wounding thousands in its so-called ‘Protective Edge’ war – Jarrar received an unwelcome visit by Israeli soldiers.

Fully aware of Jarrar’s work and credibility as a Palestinian lawyer with an international outreach – she is the Palestine representative in the Council of Europe – the Israeli government unleashed their campaign of harassment, which ended in her imprisonment. The soldiers delivered a military edict ordering her to leave her home in al-Bireh, near Ramallah, for Jericho.

Failing to silence her voice, she was arrested in April the following year, beginning an episode of suffering, but also resistance, which is yet to end.

When the Israeli army came for Jarrar, they surrounded her home with a massive number of soldiers, as if the well-spoken Palestinian activist was Israel’s greatest ‘security threat.’

The scene was quite surreal, and telling of Israel’s real fear – that of Palestinians, like Khalida Jarrar, who are able to communicate an articulate message that exposes Israel to the rest of the world.

It was reminiscent of the opening sentence of Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial: “Somebody must have made a false accusation against Joseph K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.”

Administrative detention in Israel is the re-creation of that Kafkaesque scene over and over again. Joseph K. is Khalida Jarrar and thousands of other Palestinians, paying a price for merely calling for the rights and freedom of their people.

Under international pressure, Israel was forced to put Jarrar on trial, levying against her twelve charges that included visiting a released prisoner and participating in a book fair.

Her other arrest, and the four renewals of her detention, is a testament not just to Israel’s lack of any real evidence against Jarrar, but for its moral bankruptcy as well.

But why is Israel afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

The truth is, Jarrar, like many other Palestinian women, represents the antidote of the fabricated Israeli narrative, relentlessly promoting Israel as an oasis of freedom, democracy and human rights, juxtaposed with a Palestinian society that purportedly represents the opposite of what Israel stands for.

Jarrar, a lawyer, human rights activist, prominent politician and advocate for women, demolishes, in her eloquence, courage and deep understanding of her rights and the rights of her people, this Israeli house of lies.

Jarrar is the quintessential feminist; her feminism, however, is not mere identity politics, a surface ideology, evoking empty rights meant to strike a chord with western audiences.

Instead, Khalida Jarrar fights for Palestinian women, their freedom and their rights to receive proper education, to seek work opportunity and to better their lives, while facing tremendous obstacles of military occupation, prison and social pressure.

Khalida in Arabic means “immortal”, a most fitting designation for a true fighter who represents the legacy of generations of strong Palestinian women, whose ‘sumoud’ – steadfastness – shall always inspire an entire nation.

Categories: News for progressives

Bolsonaro’s Win Brings Big Dangers, but Brazil’s Left ‘More United Than Ever’

Thu, 2018-11-08 15:50

Brian Mier, editor of Brasil Wire and Voices of the Brazilian Left: Dispatches From a Coup in Progress, spoke to Federico Fuentes about the victory of fascist candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s presidential elections, and what it means for the coming period.

Much of the media has portrayed Jair Bolsonaro as a kind of “Trump of the Tropics”, but what does Bolsonaro’s victory really represent?

The only thing that Bolsonaro and [US President Donald] Trump have in common is that they’re racist and Steve Bannon apparently worked on both campaigns.

Bolsonaro is not a “Trump of the Tropics” because, although Trump has used racist, homophobic and sexist rhetoric to generate controversy and ratings, he’s essentially a conman. He’s not someone that you get the feeling grew up believing this sort of stuff.

Bolsonaro, on the other hand, is literally a neo-fascist who comes out of Brazil’s neo-fascist tradition.

[US academic] Noam Chomsky and others coined the phrase neo-fascist to describe the dictatorships of Latin America, especially in Brazil, in the 1960s and ’70s.

That’s the time in history Bolsonaro values most highly.

He has appointed into top cabinet positions three military generals who were active during the dictatorship and his vice president is a military general.

He’s also not someone who inherited a lot of money; he is petty bourgeois.

And he has talked openly about killing large amounts of people in Brazil. In the week before the final round of elections, he spoke of about arresting or expelling leftist from the country. He uses the kind of myth-building that fascists use. Fascists have always accused leftists of being corrupt.

So there is enough in common between Bolsonaro and fascist rulers of the past to say he’s an actual fascist and not a racist demagogue like Trump.

What can we expect from a Bolsonaro government? Well, we can expect that the current polarisation and political crisis will be considerably aggravated.

He will probably respond to any challenges to his government, or to governability, with threats and repression instead of dialogue. This could be enough to push Brazilian democracy over the edge and spell the end of democracy.

In terms of the economy, he has appointed Paulo Guedes as his economics chief. Guedes was an advisor to the [Chile’s] Pinochet regime.

Guedes is already talking about copying Chile’s failed pension model, where they only get 40% of the minimum wage. In Brazil, pensioners are guaranteed a pension equivalent to 100% of the minimum wage.

We’re looking at an extreme sell-off of all of Brazil’s natural resources, probably at below market rates, building on a process that started under Michel Temer [who was installed as president following the parliamentary coup against former Workers’ Party (PT) president Dilma Rousseff in 2016].

He’s talking about eliminating indigenous reservations. He has no qualms about wanting to sell off as much of the Amazon rainforest as possible, along with privatising public banks and other public companies.

These kinds of extreme austerity measures have never worked in the developing world, and they’re not going to start working now.

Brazil’s role on the international stage, which was built up during the PT administrations, as a player in BRICS [the bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa], reaching out to other countries like China and Turkey, countries in Africa; not depending entirely on the US for everything; getting more involved in the United Nations system. This kind of stuff is all completely out the window under Bolsonaro.

He’s been mistakenly built up as a nationalist, but he’s not a nationalist at all. He worships the US and he’s going to hand over everything he can to the US.

Also, the fact that he never condemns fascist mob violence means we can expect more violence against gays, Blacks, women.

What do some of the voting patterns in these elections tell us about what is happening in Brazil?

The overall voting patterns show, first, that all of the political parties that were involved in the 2016 coup were decimated: the MDB [Brazilian Democratic Movement], Democratas, which used to be the official governing party in the dictatorship, and the PSDB [Brazilian Social Democracy Movement].

This is the first election since the 1980s where the PSDB did not finish either first or second. PSDB’s support plummeted: they dropped from almost winning the elections in 2014 to not even getting 5% this time.

These three parties, which are generally considered to be centre right — although Democratas is neo-fascist — lost about 50 seats in Congress between them. They’ve essentially been wiped out of as a factor in Congress. Bolsonaro’s tiny PSL [Social Liberal Party], which had eight MPs, now has 52 deputies and four senators.

What has happened is that the so-called centre right, led by the PSDB, has spent so much time and energy attacking the PT for the past 15 years, instead of putting forward solid proposals, that it got to the point where the conservative electorate said well if you’re going to go this far, why don’t we go all the way against them and side with the real fascists?

These elections represent blowback against the parties that orchestrated the coup. Unfortunately, this did not translate into the PT retaking power; it translated into a further right-wing party rising up to the point where it is now the second largest party in congress, after the PT.

The left was seemingly divided under the PT, but largely united in the second round against Bolsonaro. What has been the response of the left to confront what many call a fascist government?

With the 2016 coup, they illegally imprisoned the PT’s most popular candidate [Lula], who was leading in all the election polls and was predicted to win in the first round; that the PT was forced to come up with another candidate at the last minute, one who was not well known on the national scale, due to the legal persecution of other, more well-known candidates; it’s really impressive that the PT even made it to the second round.

This is now the eighth election in a row that the PT has come first or second. This means that they are still a powerful party — except the worry now is Bolsonaro is going to try to outlaw the PT.

He’s promised to arrest all leftists. He’s using the old neo-fascist technique of declaring an internal enemy in order to declare war on it. The internal enemy is the PT, which just won 47 million votes and still represents a large section of the population.

It’s kind of a testament to its base, which is the unions and the social movements, representing about 15-20 million people, who campaigned the old-fashioned way: knocking on doors, talking to neighbours.

It’s a testament to it that, with all of the anti-PT campaign, it still managed to do that well.

But more generally, the left is in shock. It’s in shock, but they’re talking about regrouping and taking to the streets. I think a lot of this was expected after the first round, but it’s still a shock to a lot of people.

The left is more united than at any time in the past 23 years that I’ve lived in Brazil. [This comes out of] the immediate response to the 2016 coup, when these two big popular fronts were formed — People Without Fear and Popular Brazil Front. I think the left is very united right now.

One problem is that some elements of the Anglo left have been feeding into conservative, anti-PT arguments, which has hampered solidarity with the Brazilian left by buying into some of the myths.

For example, accepting the corruption accusations and not challenging them. Hitler attacked the German Socialists on corruption, Mussolini attacked the Italian Socialists on corruption, the Brazilian military dictatorship attacked social democrats on corruption.

Given the history of fascists using corruption as a way to attack the left, some sections of the left really did a disservice to the Brazilian left by not challenging these accusations.

Now that all the evidence is out, everyone who’s looking into it knows that Lula didn’t do anything. That’s why Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky, why most of the trade unions in the world, are standing in solidarity with him. They know that Lula didn’t do anything.

I feel that sometimes in the Anglo world, it almost looks like some people on the vanguard left are rooting for more fragmentation on the Brazilian left instead of unity.

At this moment, in which Haddad gave his concession speech last night, with Guilherme Boulos from PSOL [Socialism and Freedom Party, founded by a 2004 split from the PT] and Manuela d’Ávila from the Communist Party of Brazil standing right next to him, the left is more united than it ever has been.

And it’s going to have to be if it’s going to fight this fascism.

This article originally ran in Green Left Weekly.

Categories: News for progressives

Why Forests are the Best ‘Technology’ to Fight Climate Change

Thu, 2018-11-08 15:50

The warning from the world’s top climate scientists that carbon dioxide (CO2) will need to be removed from the atmosphere to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is both a due and dire recognition of the great task in front of us. What must not be forgotten, however, is the hope that our forests provide.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said limiting global warming to 1.5C is not only achievable but also critical, given the previously underestimated accelerating risks for every degree of warming beyond that target.

It has also suggested that the amount of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) that will be needed can be limited by significant and rapid cuts in emissions, but also reduced energy and land demand to a few hundred gigatonnes without relying on Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).

This means forests and land use can and must play a key role in efforts to achieve 1.5 degrees, but governments and industry too often overlook why improved forest protection, as well as forest restoration, are crucial alternative solutions to risky CDR technologies such as BECCS.

While greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and the destruction of forests and peatlands contribute heavily to climate change, the growth and restoration of forests can contribute significantly to reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Recent research suggests that forest protection and restoration, together with other “natural climate solutions”, can provide over one-third of the climate mitigation needed between now and 2030.

The IPCC has estimated that between 100 and 1,000 gigatonnes of CO2 will need to be removed from the atmosphere to meet the Paris goals. It has been broadly agreed that the most important natural “carbon sinks” are the world’s forests. To limit climate change, we must urgently adopt an holistic approach to forest and peatland protection.

This means deforestation must be halted and our remaining forests well protected, intact forests must be kept away from logging and other destructive activities, the management of used forests must change and where land is available, it must be restored with natural forests.

To allow these natural climate solutions to thrive, wildland fires, most of which are sparked by human activities and contribute to global warming, must also be reduced. The tragic and wide geographic spread of wildfires across Siberia, Europe and California during the northern hemisphere summer is a stark reminder of the threat climate change poses to our forests.

Our forests are our only natural and tested “technology” to lessen the impacts of climate change and protecting them will bring benefits that untried carbon removal technical solutions do not.

Forest protection will help communities adapt to climate change and support their livelihoods. Fires, droughts, floods, storms and their impacts can also be reduced, biodiversity protected, freshwater-cycles maintained and soil erosion prevented.

By accepting that our lands and forests are primarily needed to feed people, protect nature and protect the climate, rather than as resources for profit, areas for industrial agriculture, livestock or coal mining for example in Germany’s Hambach Forest, we can turn the tide against global warming.

The IPCC report identifies different pathways to limiting global warming to 1.5C, most of which are dependent to varying degrees on the deployment, future availability and success of more technological, but so far unproven, approaches to CDR, and, in particular, BECCS.

Deployment of BECCS would involve massive upscaling in intensive production of monoculture crops or tree plantations, leading to increased loss of natural habitats and biodiversity, threatening indigenous peoples, small farmers and local communities, squeezing land needed for food production and increasing water demand and agrochemical pollution.

Bioenergy without carbon capture and storage is contributing to, rather than helping mitigate, climate change and there exists great uncertainty around the technical feasibility, safety, sustainability and cost of long-term geological carbon storage.

This is why we need to act on the IPCC report and re-appraise the way we view our forests. One-third of the global forest area has already been cleared for arable land, grassland, settlements and roads in the last millennium.

We can halt and reverse this trend by ending the expansion of agricultural crops, particularly for bio-energy and animal feed, into natural ecosystems. We must also embark on a dramatic change to our agricultural practices, embracing ecological agriculture and shifting to a diet less reliant on meat to reduce emissions from livestock.

What is required is bold action from governments and industry to commit to forest protection and restoration while upholding the rights of indigenous people. By seizing the opportunity now to restore deforested areas and opt against false solutions such as BECCS, we can ensure our forests fulfil their critical role.

Home to millions of people, our forests offer us a path towards climate mitigation, but we have no time to waste.

Jennifer Morgan is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

This column originally appeared on Al Jazeera.

Categories: News for progressives

The Awful Reason Police Don’t Go After Right-Wing Extremists

Thu, 2018-11-08 15:45

Not for the first time nor the last, the U.S. has recently been hit by a wave of political violence by right-wing political extremists. People are stunned; aren’t far-right groups like the KKK and Nazi Party relics of history?

Clearly not. Package bombs mailed to Democratic politicians and celebrities, the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, another mass killing at a Florida yoga studio and the double murder of African-Americans in a Kentucky grocery store have Americans asking two questions: who’s to blame, and why didn’t the people we pay to keep us safe see this coming?

The answer to the first question can be answered in part by digging into the second: law enforcement and intelligence agencies have long had a dismal record of tracking the activities of right-wing extremist groups, much less disrupting violent plots before they can be carried out.

Considering that the right is responsible for three out of four political terrorism-related deaths, the police are failing to do their job of protecting the public from the biggest threat. (The other fourth are almost all attributable to radical Islamists. In the U.S. the political left hardly ever kills anyone.)

Turning a blind eye to right-wing violence isn’t new. “Law enforcement’s inability to reckon with the far right is a problem that goes back generations in this country,” Janet Reitman wrote in The New York Times, referencing the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.

Why don’t the authorities infiltrate and eavesdrop upon the “alt-right” with as much vigor as they dedicate to disrupting peaceful left-leaning organizations like Occupy Wall Street and the anti-nuclear nuns? Why do cops spend more time monitoring political cartoonists than Klansmen and neo-Nazis? Why do they pepper-spray pacifists while “standing down”—refusing to interfere—when a Klansman shot a gun at a black counterprotester at Charlottesville?

The answer is as obvious as it is terrifying. America’s state security apparatus, military and civilian police, alike, view the left as enemies. To the police, right-wingers are political allies.

Which is why the police routinely creates “safe spaces” for white nationalist violence. Crazy as it sounds, they even form working partnerships with racists and anti-Semites.

Washington D.C. police conspired with far-right groups Project Veritas and the Oath Keepers to use doctored evidence to prosecute people arrested for protesting Trump’s 2017 inauguration.

There is evidence that the California Highway Patrol is working with the Traditionalist Workers Party, a neo-Nazi organization.

In June 2017 U.S. Department of Homeland Security officers at an alt-right rally in Portland, Oregon worked in tandem with right-wing militia goons to arrest liberal counterprotesters.

“With the extremes of the American political spectrum squaring off nearly every week in tense rallies and counter-protests, where violence erupts not infrequently, police are drawing outside aid from only one side: the far-right,” The Intercept reported. “The relationship works both ways: Police get help, and alt-right demonstrators are seemingly put above the law in return.”

Violent right-wing extremists don’t just work with the police. Many times they are the police.

Most cops are conservative. Quite a few are far, far right. “Federal law enforcement agencies in general — the FBI, the Marshals, the ATF — are aware that [right-wing] extremists have infiltrated state and local law enforcement agencies and that there are people in law enforcement agencies that may be sympathetic to these groups,” said Daryl Johnson, lead researcher on an Obama-era DHS report. The FBI was concerned, Johnson said last year, but local police departments don’t seem to care.

“For some reason, we have stepped away from the threat of domestic terrorism and right-wing extremism,” Samuel Jones, a law professor at the John Marshall Law School, told The Intercept. “The only way we can reconcile this kind of behavior is if we accept the possibility that the ideology that permeates white nationalists and white supremacists is something that many in our federal and law enforcement communities understand and may be in sympathy with.” It’s more than a “possibility”—police unions overwhelmingly endorsed Trump.

The military leans right too. A 2017 Military Times survey found that one out of four servicemen and servicewomen have personally observed white nationalist activist among the ranks. According to a 2018 Pro Publica report a secretive neo-Nazi group called the Atomwaffen Division, a paramilitary organization accused of five murders, has infiltrated the armed services.

Veterans voted 61%-to-34% for Trump over Clinton.

A 50-50 left-right nation ruled by right-wing cops and soldiers is about as good an idea as a black neighborhood policed by all white suburban cops. But what can we do about it?

Part of the issue is self-selection. As local policing has evolved from a protect-the-public “guardian” model to a military-influenced “warrior” mentality, the personality type of recruits and applicants has increasingly skewed toward those with authoritarian tendencies. Your local PD isn’t hearing from many Bernie-voting hipsters.

But the biggest problem is the message from the top.

I’m not just talking about Trump. Liberal Democrats like Obama and Pelosi and likeminded media personalities like those on MSNBC are no less effusive about supporting the troops and first responders while turning a blind eye to the terrible truth that many of rank-and-file soldiers and police officers, as well as their leaders, are rabid right-wingers who ought not to be allowed to own a gun, much less legally train one on a left-leaning protester at a rally.

Both major parties share the blame for atrocities like Pittsburgh.

Categories: News for progressives

MBS Usurps King Salman’s Authority

Thu, 2018-11-08 15:33

Reuters news agency report October 19, 2018, said that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has intervened to contain the growing scandal surrounding the death of Jamal Khashoggi. The five sources cited in the report have connection to the Saudi ruling family. One of the sources mentioned that the King has been “asserting himself” to handle the current situation. Two other sources indicated that the King was ignorant of the severity of the “crisis” because the aides to MbS had been guiding the King to only TV channels that showed Saudi Arabia in good light.

Khashoggi’s death

The Saudi national and US resident Jamal Khashoggi was a Washington Post reporter living in the United States in a self-imposed exile. When writing for Al-Watan in Saudi Arabia, his writing was within the establishment framework; he was not a radical as is portrayed in eulogies by the Western media but was a “reactionary.” On October 2, he went inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul while his Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz waited outside. He never came back. He was tortured and murdered; the act was over in seven minutes. According to Yasin Aktay, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top adviser, Khashoggi’s corpse was then dismembered and dissolved in acid. A team of fifteen members belonging to Firqat el-Nemr, (tiger squad), extremely loyal to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) had flown into Istanbul especially to carry out the gruesome killing; they were out of Turkey that same evening.

Mohammed bin Salman was presented with Khashoggi’s fingers to assure him of Khashoggi’s death, because, according to a source quoted in the Middle East Eye, “‘MBS always said that he will cut off the fingers of every writer who criticizes him.’”

The entire episode has become an international issue. The initial denial by the Saudi regime was followed by several versions of explanations for his disappearance.

Many days later, the death of Khashoggi was acknowledged by MbS; on October 23, he termed it as a “heinous crime that cannot be justified.” Two days later, the joint Turkey/Saudi investigation indicated that “the suspects in the incident had committed their act with a premeditated intention.”

MbS, who runs/ruins Saudi Arabia is under immense pressure to produce a believable story of the events surrounding Khashoggi’s brutal murder and the whereabouts of his body.

Khashoggi vs Yemen

Unsurprisingly, the question gnawing many minds is: why one reporter’s murder caused such a huge outcry in the Western world whereas the horrific war against Yemen carried out by Saudi Arabia with US-supplied weapons has elicited little reaction?

Yemen has witnessed blind bombings of its cities, towns and people causing heavy death, destruction, famine, and misery.

Every ten minutes a child dies; the insecurity for the next meal is felt by 8.4 million people; statistics of the Yemeni tragedy are indeed heart wrenching.

The answer for the unbalanced reaction to the two tragedies is simple: Khashoggi wrote for a very powerful US newspaper without deviating from the information permitted the mainstream media in the US.

The Saudi war against Yemen would have gotten a Khashoggi type coverage if:

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times would have gotten killed in Yemen by Saudi bombing while he was justifying the Saudi war against that country or Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person and the owner of Washington Post, had become a part of a collateral damage in Yemen looking for warehouse workers who used toilets at the assigned time only or … so on and so forth.

Did the King really intervene?

The Reuters report mentioned above, had one source drawing attention to the fact that Khashoggi’s disappearance became tough for MbS to hide from his father, the King, because the news was on all the Arab and Saudi TV channels. This led the King to question his aides and MbS. Therefore, MbS had to ask the King to intervene.

The report’s credibility is questionable: such a long report fails to mention anything about the King’s dementia. In December 2014, three weeks before Salman became king, Simon Henderson of The Washington Institute had written

Salman’s brain is evidently ravaged by dementia. Visitors report that after a few minutes of conversation, he becomes incoherent. The fact that Salman appears in public at all is attributed to his determination to become king — or, more likely, the ambition of his closest relatives that he should do so.”

The Editor in Chief of the Middle East Eye, David Hearst, had this to say:

“Salman’s state of health is cause for concern, which is why the power he has given his son is more significant than other appointments announced. Aged 79, Salman is known to have Alzheimers, but the exact state of his dementia is a source of speculation. He is known to have held cogent conversations as recently as last October. But he can also forget what he said minutes ago, or faces he has known all his life, according to other witnesses. This is typical of the disease. I understand the number of hospital visits in the last few months has increased and that he did not walk around, as he did before.

So his ability to steer the ship of state, in a centralised country where no institutions, political parties or even national politics exist is open to question.”

With his prevailing medical condition, it is hard to believe the King is able to comprehend what’s going on. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that King is well and understands the fallout from Khashoggi’s death. This will make the King a co-culprit with MbS for all the crimes MbS has committed such as:

+ forced resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri who was visiting Saudi Arabia;

+ the diplomatic and trade blockade of Qatar;

+ the ongoing Saudi war in Yemen;

+ arrest of womenfighting for their rights;

+ arrest of tens of ministers and princes on charges of corruption who were held for a long time;

+ the doubling of number of executions;

+ going along with Trump and his son-in-law Kushner in their recognition of Jerusalemas Israel’s capital; forgetting Palestinians for Kushner; and so on.

Saudi kings have one of the worst records on human rights and King Salman is no exception. Nevertheless, none of them have done such dangerous and foolish things as MbS has done. If King Salman were in a proper state of mind, he would have curbed MbS’s power long ago – because in today’s world, it’s impossible for anybody to find a vast country like Saudi Arabia, with plenty of oil, to conquer it, and turn it into personal family property.

What is most likely is that MbS has usurped the King’s power, and now exercises the authority of the Crown Prince and King. MbS has a Hitler-ian mind and doesn’t know how far he can go before he outstretches himself.

The adventures he has gone on have backfired:

+ Hariri was released upon French President Emmanuel Macron’s intervention;

+ the blockade of Qatar didn’t work, Qatar is doing fine and has good relations with Iran and Turkey;

+ the horrible murder of Khashoggi has forced the hypocritical governments of US, UK, and France to issue stern statements.

As observed by recent history, it can be predicted that pretty soon, all this will blow over and it will be business as usual.

The MbS modus operandi seems to be: when MbS realizes that managing his crime or folly is beyond his personal capacity, he gets a statement issued in the name of the King. It has happened in the past. MbS has become friendly with Israel and regarding Israel’s rights to exist, but, then a statement by King Salman was issued who

“reaffirmed the kingdom’s steadfast position towards the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

And so the story goes on …

Categories: News for progressives

How to Support the Caravan and Fight Racism

Thu, 2018-11-08 14:54

As we write, thousands of men, women and children are traveling to the southern U.S. border with Mexico. The largest group of the migrants who make up the “caravan” are from Honduras. They are fleeing poverty, corruption and violence that is largely the result of over 100 years of US domination, beginning with massive banana plantations. This American business took over most of the best land, and later the US came to dominate mining, coffee and banking as well. To keep its interests safe and also play a role in fighting the Sandanista rebels in neighboring Nicaragua in the 1970s, the US developed and dominated the military. Although a liberal reformer, Zelaya was elected in 2006, the military, with US support, overthrew him in 2009. Since then, poverty, crime, drug trafficking and police violence have driven ever more people to flee.

These conditions are not unlike those in other Latin American countries, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, from which migrants also come. Similar conditions also account for the over 200 million migrants currently seeking a survivable place to settle around the world. While each country has its own specific causes for migration, from wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria to hopeless poverty in Pakistan, India, and Somalia, these migrations reflect the drive for cheap labor, resources, and markets by the major capitalist countries, topped by the US. For decades, the US has off-loaded its manufacturing industries to countries with un-living wages, impoverishing workers in the US and other countries, especially exploiting black, Latin, and Asian people. (See Migration: a reflection of capitalism in this blog at https://multiracialunity.org/2016/05/07/migration-as-a-reflection-of-capitalism)

Rulers around the globe, from Trump to Modi in India, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Orban in Hungary, use racism and nationalism to attack migrants and blame them for society’s ills. These ideas are not different from those of white supremacists who have murdered blacks, Jews and anti-racists from Charlottesville to Kentucky to Pittsburgh, encouraged by the White House. For most African Americans, racist terror began under slavery never stopped. Klan and Nazi organizations have flourished throughout US history, blaming black and Jewish people for the economic and social problems created by capitalism.

We have also seen powerful movements to fight racism and inequality around the world, from revolutions in Russia and China, reforms in Cuba, anti-colonial movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and the civil rights movement in the US. With the murders of black and Jewish people this past week and the growing Administration threats against the caravan, many are asking what we can do to oppose these trends. The following proposes some ideas. You can use the Comments section to add your own suggestions.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO SUPPORT THE CARAVAN AND FIGHT RACISM?

+ Mass at the border to greet and protect the caravan. Stop the police and military from arresting and shooting the marchers with massive action.

+ Speak up against racist and nationalist ideas. There are no such entities as “illegal” people or “invaders.” There are no distinct human races with different capabilities. Jewish people do not control US policy; they are rich and poor, conservative and radical.

+ If you are in the armed forces, refuse to follow orders to detain or attack people trying to cross the border.

+ Refuse to work in a detention center which imprisons migrants.

+ Join the sanctuary movement and find placements for immigrants and oppose deportations.

+ Organize demonstrations and vigils against deportations and racist violence.

+ Confront white supremacists wherever they rally.

+ Forge friendships and political alliances with people from different backgrounds. Fight for each other’s issues, such as open borders and against police violence, to grow the anti-racist movements and build trust.

+ Build a stronger, inclusive labor movement to organize for better working conditions and to unite US born workers with immigrants. During the early 20th Century, the AFL (American Federation of Labor) opposed immigration fearing that Eastern European and Mexican workers would take “American” jobs and spread communist ideas. The CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) organized immigrant workers during the 1930s; immigrant women working in the garment industry created the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, one of the most militant unions in that period. Mexican workers organized the United Farmworkers Union in California led by Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta and struck big agriculture for better wages and safer working conditions. Thousands supported the grape boycott to pressure growers to recognize the union (California has the strongest labor movement in the US with 22 percent of the workforce unionized while the national average is 11 percent).

+ Support immigrants on the job. Unions can oppose “reverification” actions where ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can demand to see the immigration status of employees. Many unions have represented workers caught by this policy and lobbied against it in California.

+ Defend Immigrants with sanctuary places, legal aid, and amassing people at sites where raids occur and at the border. The meatpackers union exemplified fighting racism off the job when they defended black residents who moved into segregated Chicago neighborhoods during the Great Migration. They also guaranteed that black union members serve on the executive boards and other leadership positions.

+ Reject anti-communism when it is used to attack mass struggle. Communists built the CIO and led many labor struggles in the shipping, garment, and meatpacking industries among others. The Russian Revolution in 1917 inspired people around the world to challenge capitalism and build a more equitable society. Important anti-racist communists in the US, such as Paul Robeson, William Patterson, and Claudia Jones, led campaigns to free the Scottsboro boys, falsely accused of raping a white woman, abolish racist ideas, publish progressive newspapers, support international anticolonial struggles, and build antiracist organizations.

SOME DON’Ts

+ Do not remain silent in the face of racist speech or acts.

+ Do not defend or excuse racist speech as “free speech”. Fascists use free speech principles to recruit members and build deadly movements.

+ Do not adopt nationalism and separatism as a response to racism and anti- Semitism. For example, Zionists in Israel use the history of the Nazi holocaust, which murdered six million Jews, to justify oppression of Palestinians.  Farrakhan, a black nationalist, voices hate against Jewish people.

+ Do not allow violent racist attacks to be portrayed as “not the American way.” Violence and white supremacy instigated by a small financial elite have always dominated American domestic and foreign policy, from the war against Britain, enslavement, colonizing South America and Asia to conducting the current wars in the Middle East and exploiting globalized labor.

+ Do not think that voting out Trump and the Republicans will end deportations. Obama deported more immigrants (3.5 million people by 2012) than all previous administrations. The police have murdered black and Latin citizens with impunity under liberal and conservative administrations.

Capitalists and the politicians who represent them need cheap labor to maintain profits, and the super-exploitation of immigrants, as well as women and non-white workers, helps maximize profits. Immigrants are also scapegoated and blamed for many problems, like unemployment.

We must not allow white supremacists to build their movement attacking workers of color, native born or immigrant. We need to unite students, employed and unemployed, immigrant and US born from all backgrounds to oppose racist ideas and practices. As Ibram Kendi writes in Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Epilogue): 
“Racial reformers have customarily requested or demanded that … White Americans sacrifice their own privilege for the betterment of Black people… based on a myth that racism materially benefits the majority of White people, that White people would not gain in… an anti-racist America…. It is also true that a society of equal opportunity would actually benefit the vast majority of White people much more than racism does. 
…eradicating racism must involve Americans committed to antiracist policies seizing and maintaining power … over the world.”

We have an opportunity to realize this potential to create a more equal world. But we must fight racism every day.

Kathryn Pomerantz is a retired public health worker and librarian who has been active in antiracist movements in the U.S. She she co-edits the multiracialunity.org blog.

Categories: News for progressives

The Troika of Tyranny: The Imperialist Project in Latin America and Its Epigones

Wed, 2018-11-07 16:06

Photo Source vaticanus | CC BY 2.0

Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are today threatened by US imperialism. The first salvo of the modern Age of Imperialism started back in 1898 when the US seized Cuba along with Puerto Rico and the Philippines in the Spanish-American War.

The Age of Imperialism, as Lenin observed, is characterized by the competition of the various imperial powers for dominance. That inter-imperialist rivalry led to World War I. Lenin called those putative socialists who supported their own national imperialist projects “social imperialists.” Social imperialism is a tendency that is socialist in name and imperialist in deed. Imperialism and its social imperialist minions are still with us today.

US Emerges as the World’s Hegemon

The United States emerged after World War II as the leading imperialist power. With the implosion of the Socialist Bloc around 1991, US hegemony became even more consolidated. Today the US is the undisputed world’s hegemon.

Hegemony means to rule but even more so to dominate. As the world’s hegemon, the US will not tolerate neutral parties, let alone hostile ones. As articulated in the Bush Doctrine, the US will try to asphyxiate any nascent counter-hegemonic project, no matter how insignificant.

In the Caribbean, for instance, the US snuffed out the leftist government of Grenada in 1983 in what was code named Operation Urgent Fury. Grenada has a population smaller than Vacaville, California.

The only powers that the world’s hegemon will tolerate are junior partners such as Colombia in Latin America. The junior partner must accept a neoliberal economic regime designed to serve the interests of capital. Structural adjustment of the economy is demanded such that the neoliberal “reforms” become irreversible; so that you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Colombia recently joined NATO, putting that junior partner’s military under direct interaction with the Pentagon bypassing its civilian government. The US has seven military bases in Colombia in order to project – in the words of the US government – “full spectrum” military dominance in the Latin American theatre.

Needless-to-say, no Colombian military bases are in the US. Nor does any other country have military bases on US soil. The world’s hegemon has some 1000 foreign military bases. Even the most sycophantic of the US’s junior partners, Great Britain, is militarily occupied by 10,000 US troops.

The US is clear on its enemies list. On November 1, US National Security Advisor John Bolton, speaking in Miami, labelled Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba the “troika of tyranny.” He described a “triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua.”

Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are targeted by US imperialism because they pose what might be called the “threat of a good example;” that is, an alternative to the neoliberal world order.

These countries are suffering attacks from the imperialists because of the things they have done right, not for their flaws. They are attempting to make a more inclusive society for women, people of color, and the poor; to have a state that, instead of serving the rich and powerful, has a special option for working people, because these are the people most in need of social assistance.

Sanctions: The Economic War against Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba

The US imperialist rhetoric is backed with action. In 2015, US President Obama declared Venezuela an “extraordinary threat to US security” and imposed sanctions. These sanctions have been extended and deepened by the Trump administration. The US has likewise subjected Cuba to sanctions in a seamless bipartisan policy of both Republicans and Democrats for over half a century. Now the US is the process of imposing sanctions on Nicaragua.

Unilateral sanctions, such as those imposed by the US, are illegal under the charters of both the UN and the Organization of American States, because they are a form of collective punishment targeting the people.

The US sanctions are designed to make life so miserable for the masses of people that they will reject their democratically elected government. Yet in Venezuela, those most adversely affected by the sanctions are the most militantly in support of their President Nicolás Maduro.

Consequently, the Trump administration is also floating the option of military intervention against Venezuela. The recently elected rightwing leaders Bolsonaro in Brazil and Duque in Colombia, representing the two powerful states on the western and southern borders of Venezuela, are colluding with the hegemon of the north.

The inside-the-beltway human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, fail to condemn these illegal and immoral sanctions. They lament the human suffering caused by the sanctions, all the while supporting the imposition of the sanctions. Nor do they raise their voices against military intervention, perhaps the gravest of all crimes against humanity.

Liberal establishments such as the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) try to distinguish themselves from hardline imperialists by opposing a military invasion in Venezuela while calling for yet more effective and punishing sanctions. In effect, they play the role of the good cop, providing a liberal cover for interference in the internal affairs of Latin American nations.

These billionaire-funded NGOs have a revolving-door staffing arrangement with the US government. So it is not surprising that they will reflect Washington’s foreign policies initiatives.

But why do some organizations claiming to be leftist so unerringly echo the imperialists, taking such umbrage over Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua while ignoring far greater problems in, say, Mexico, Colombia, and Honduras, which are US client states?

Most Progressive Country in Central America Targeted

Let’s take Nicaragua. A year ago, the polling organization Latinobarómetro, found the approval rating of Nicaraguans for their democracy to be the highest in Central America and second highest in Latin America.

Daniel Ortega had won the Nicaraguan presidency in 2006 with a 38% plurality, in 2011 with 63%, and 72.5% in 2016. The Organization of American States officially observed and certified the vote. Polls indicated Ortega was perhaps the most popular head of state in the entire western hemisphere. As longtime Nicaraguan solidarity activist Chuck Kaufman noted, “Dictators don’t win fair elections by growing margins.”

Nicaragua is a member of theanti-imperialist Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America with Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and some Caribbean states. Speaking at the UN, the Nicaraguan foreign minister had the temerity to catalogue the many transgressions of what Martin Luther King called “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” and express Nicaragua’s opposition.

These are reasons enough for a progressive alternative such as Nicaragua to curry the enmity of the US. The enigma is why those claiming to be leftists would target a country that had:

+ Second highest economic growth rates and the most stable economy in Central America.

+ Only country in the region producing 90% of the food it consumes.

+ Poverty and extreme poverty halved; country with the greatest reduction of extreme poverty.

+ Reached the UN Millennium Development Goal of cutting malnutrition by half.

+ Nicaraguans enjoyed free basic healthcare and education.

+ Illiteracy had been virtually eliminated, down from 36% in 2006 when Ortega took office.

+ Average economic growth of 5.2% for the past 5 years (IMF and the World Bank).

+ Safest country in Central America (UN Development Program) with one of the lowest crime rates in Latin America.

+ Highest level of gender equality in the Americas (World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017).

+ Did not contribute to the migrant exodus to the US, unlike neighboring Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

+ Unlike its neighbors, kept out the drug cartels and pioneered community policing.

In April of this year, all of this was threatened. The US had poured millions of dollars into “democracy promotion” programs, a euphemism for regime change operations. Suddenly and unexpectedly, a cabal of the reactionary Catholic Church hierarchy, conservative business associations, remnants of the US-sponsored Contras, and students from private universities attempted a coup.

Former members of Ortega’s Sandinista Party, who had long ago splintered off into political oblivion and drifted to the right, became effective propogandists for the opposition. Through inciting violence and the skillful use of disinformation in a concerted social media barrage, they attempted to achieve by extra-legal means what they could not achieve democratically.

Imperialism with a Happy Face

We who live in the “belly of the beast” are constantly bombarded by the corporate media, framing the issues (e.g., “humanitarian bombing). Some leftish groups and individuals pick up these signals, amplify, and rebroadcast them. While they may genuinely believe what they are promulgating, there are also rewards such as funding,media coverage, hobnobbing with prominent US politicians, and winning awards for abhorring the excesses of imperialism while accepting its premises.

Today’s organizations that are socialist in name and imperialist in deed echo the imperial demand that the state leaders of the progressive movements in Latin America “must go” and legitimize the rationale that such leaders must be “dictators.”

They try to differentiate their position from the imperialists by proffering a mythic movement, which will create a triumphant socialist alternative that fits their particular sect’s line: chavismo without Maduro in Venezuela, sandinismo without Ortega in Nicaragua, and the Cuban Revolution without the Cuban Communist Party in Cuba.

The political reality in Latin America is that a rightwing offensive is attacking standing left-leaning governments. President George W. Bush was right: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” There is no utopian third way. Each of us has to determine who are the real terrorists, as the juggernaut of US imperialism rolls out a neoliberal world order.

Chaos: The New Imperialist Game Plan

For now, the coup in Nicaragua has been averted. Had it succeeded, chaos would have reigned. As even the most ardent apologists for the opposition admit, the only organized force in the opposition was the US-sponsored rightwing which would have instigated a reign of terror against the Sandinista base.

The US would prefer to install stable rightwing client states or even military dictatorships. But if neither can be achieved, chaos is the preferred alternative. Libya, where rival warlords contest for power and slaves are openly bartered on the street, is the model coming to Latin America.

Chaos is the new imperialist game plan, especially for Bolton’s so-called troika of tyranny. The imperialists understand that the progressive social movements in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are too popular and entrenched to be eradicated by a mere change of personnel in the presidential palace. Much more drastic means are envisioned; means that would make the bloody aftermath of the US-backed Pinochet coup in 1973 in Chile pale by comparison.

In Venezuela, for example, the opposition might well have won the May 2018 presidential election given the dire economic situation caused in large part by the US sanctions. The opposition split between a moderate wing that was willing to engage in electoral struggle and a hard-right wing that advocated a violent takeover and jailing the chavistas.

When Venezuelan President Maduro rejected the US demand to call off the elections and resign, he was labelled a dictator by Washington. And when moderate Henri Falcon ran in the Venezuelan presidential race on a platform of a complete neoliberal transition, Washington, instead of rejoicing, threatened sanctions against him for running. The US belligerently floated a military option for Venezuela, stiffened the suffocating sanctions, and tipped the balance within the Venezuelan opposition to the radical right.

The US is not about to allow Venezuela a soft landing. Their intent is to exterminate the contagion of progressive social programs and international policy that has been the legacy of nearly two decades chavismo. Likewise, for Cuba and Nicaragua. We should also add Bolivia in the crosshairs of the empire.

We’ve seen what Pax Americana has meant for the Middle East. The same imperial playbook is being implemented in Latin America. Solidarity with the progressive social movements and their governments in Latin America is needed, especially when their defeat would mean chaos.

 

Categories: News for progressives

US Americans Are Not the Only Americans

Wed, 2018-11-07 16:05

Photo Source Fibonacci Blue | CC BY 2.0

The migrant caravan that originated in Honduras is currently making its way northward through Mexico towards the US border. Who are these people who have fled their homeland in a desperate search for a better life” If we are to believe President Donald Trump, many of them are “hardened criminals.” But the men, women and children in the migrant caravan are not hardened criminals as President Trump would have us believe. They are people fleeing from economic hardship and violence that has resulted in part from the foreign policy of the US government. Furthermore, they are Americans.

In 2009, the Obama administration supported the military coup that overthrew the democratically-elected government of President Manual Zelaya. Even since the coup, the country has suffered from rampant violence as well as neoliberal economic reforms that have impoverished millions of Hondurans. In response, tens of thousands of Hondurans, including those currently travelling in the migrant caravan, have fled their homeland. These people are not only Hondurans, they are also Americans whose lives have been impacted by US government policies.

But how can they be American if they are not US citizens? For most people in the English-speaking world, particularly in the United States, Canada and Britain, an ‘American’ is a citizen of the United States of America. And this is true. But it also not true, by omission. Because people throughout Latin America also consider themselves to be Americans, with many believing it to be presumptuous and arrogant for citizens of the United States to monopolize the label ‘American.’ Therefore, like many political people who have engaged regularly with Latin America, I am not comfortable calling citizens of the United States ‘Americans.’ But what can we call them instead? After all, ‘people from the United States’ is far too unwieldy. And so, after years of struggling with this issue, I have finally settled on a solution: US Americans.

From the early years of independence in Spanish America, now known collectively as Latin America, the term ‘America’ referred to all of the Americas. There are many examples throughout history of famous Latin Americans referring to Latin America as ‘America’ and the people as ‘Americans.’ In the early 1800s, South American liberator Simón Bolívar wrote, “The United States appear to be destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty.” Clearly, his reference to America meant all of the Americas, particularly Latin America. Furthermore, Bolívar’s words represented an early warning about the US imperialism that continues to plague Latin America today, as evidenced by the migrant caravan.

And on his death bed, the liberator declared, “Our America will fall into the hands of vulgar tyrants.” Given that Bolívar was born in present-day Venezuela, it is evident that “Our America” refers to Latin America, or at least to part of it. And most of the “vulgar tyrants” who have ruled much of Latin America over the past two hundred years were backed by Washington.

Similarly, Cuban poet José Martí wrote an essay in 1892 titled “Our America” in which he stated, “And let the vanquished pedant hold his tongue, for there are no lands in which a man may take greater pride than in our long-suffering American republics.” By referring to American republics in plural, he clearly was not referring to the United States but to the republics throughout Latin America. And much of that “suffering” has resulted from US intervention in the region. Martí was again referring to Latin America when he wrote, “America began to suffer, and still suffers, from the tiresome task of reconciling the hostile and discordant elements it inherited from the despotic and perverse colonizer …”

In contrast, citizens of the United States tend to think of themselves, even if unconsciously, as the only Americans. And, in recent decades, every US president has ended speeches from the Oval Office in the White House with the phrase “God bless America.” Unlike Bolívar and Martí, none of these presidents, from Nixon, Reagan and the Bush’s to Clinton and Obama and now Trump, were referring to all of the Americas when they asked God to bless America, they were only talking about the United States of America. We even have a song called “God Bless America,” composed by Irving Berlin in 1918, which also reduces America to the United States.

Another explanation for the Latin American perspective is the way that geography is taught in the region. In contrast to the United States and Canada, schools in Latin America (and most of world for that matter) teach that there are only six continents in the world: Africa, Antarctica, America, Asia, Australia and Europe (and some parts of the world believe there are only five continents with Europe and Asia being combined into one: Eurasia). It is primarily only the United States, Canada and Britain that consider the world to consist of seven continents with North America and South America being separate.

Consequently, Latin Americans consider all of the Americas (North, South, Central and the Caribbean) to be America and everyone living in these regions to be Americans. Therefore, the label ‘American’ refers to anyone from the Americas, while a person’s nationality is drawn from the name of the country of which they are a citizen. For example, Mexicans are Americans who are citizens of Mexico. Colombians are Americans who are citizens of Colombia. Canadians are Americans who are citizens of Canada, and so on.

But this labelling structure poses a problem when referring to the nationality of people from the United States of America, because this nation has incorporated the word ‘America’ into its name. At least it poses a problem for English speakers. In Spanish, there is a word that is widely used throughout Latin America to refer to US citizens and that word is “estadounidenses,” which translates into English as “unitedstatesians” (united-states-ians). But it is a very clumsy word in English, therefore not a practical alternative for us English speakers.

My solution is to use the term ‘US Americans.’ It rolls off the tongue relatively easily and recognizes that people from the United States are Americans. But, most importantly, it shows respect and sensitivity to our Latin American neighbors by also acknowledging the fact that we are not the only Americans. All of us living in the Americas are Americans, and the nationalistic rhetoric and policies of President Trump cannot change this reality. So let’s open our arms, our hearts and our border to welcome the thousands of our fellow Americans who are desperately attempting to escape US-backed oppression in their homeland.

Categories: News for progressives

Is NATO Protecting My Granddaughter in Norway?

Wed, 2018-11-07 16:05

Photo Source Official U.S. Navy Page | CC BY 2.0

Like all grandparents, I worry about my offspring. As President Trump and John Bolton continually remind us, it’s dangerous out there. But these nights I am sleeping better. My granddaughter, age nine and living in Norway, is being particularly well looked after.

Fifty thousand allied troops are participating in Operation Trident Juncture in Trondheim, Norway, my granddaughter’s home town. It is the largest North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise since 1991. About 15, 000 American troops are involved, almost as many as President Trump has promised to send to the United States border to stop the “ caravan.” Fifteen thousand troops to protect my granddaughter just because her mother and grandfather are American citizens. What service! This is why American citizens, even those abroad, file taxes.

NATO was established after World War II to defend the western alliance against the Warsaw Pact and a confrontation with the Soviet Union in Europe. Originally twelve countries, the alliance has grown to 29-member states. After the end of the Soviet Union, NATO was active in the former Yugoslavia and in out of the European areas such as Afghanistan. During a cooling of U.S.-Russian relations – remember Hillary’s “reset the button” – the alliance seemed like 29 characters in search of an author. What was the point of military cooperation if there was no common enemy to fight?

The alliance has now found a raison d’etre. My granddaughter is nine years old, approaching that delicate age between childhood and adolescence when parents and grandparents worry about where the youngsters are and what they are doing. While she seems wise for her years, and her devoted parents are more than attentive, one never knows where trouble is lurking, even in peaceful Norway.

In addition to the 50,000 troops from all NATO countries plus Sweden and Finland, there are 65 ships, 250 warplanes, and more than 10,000 vehicles. As reported by a first-hand report from Trondheim: “There have been huge problems on the roads because of them. First there were eight trucks carrying tanks and stuff that all crashed into each other when they were following a snowplough and the snowplough stopped and none of them noticed. Two people were sent to the hospital by helicopter and one by ambulance! Then people are trying to pass the convoys and crashing because it’s icy and the convoys are so long.”

And think of the troops’ dilemmas. Having fought in the heat of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the soldiers, according to the New York Times, have to wear black, Merino-wool long johns to protect themselves from the cold. Two Italian soldiers have been treated for hypothermia. In addition, they have to use cold-weather lubricant for machine guns and worry about crossing snow-filled fields, all in the name of protecting my granddaughter.

Could there be another reason why so many troops are there? The exercise, according to NATO’s Lt. Col. Ben Sakrisson, is “focused on ensuring the continued freedom and liberty of our allies’ nations, and partners, and their citizens.” Obviously he could not mention my granddaughter, but why else would 50,000 troops be in the frozen north of Norway? Reports state that the “war game will continue…and include continue mock assaults on Norwegian towns and a ski resort. The drills will involve clandestine water crossings and battles – although, thankfully for residents, not with live ammunition.”

That’s reassuring. I worry enough about her being attacked by wolves or elk while crossing the street to school, but live ammunition has no place in peaceful Norway except perhaps during the hunting season.

Lt. Gen. Valery Zaparenko, a former deputy chief of the Russian general staff said: “Even if NATO says otherwise, Trident Juncture is really preparation for a large-scale armed conflict in regions bordering the Russian Federation.” That’s obviously the Russian perspective.

But, no, Lt. Gen. Zaparenko. The reason for the exercise involves protecting a charming nine-year old. As proof, listen to the argument of NATO officials as reported in the Times, “Officials with the Atlantic alliance said Russia had nothing to worry about…” Indeed, the Russians have nothing to worry about. It’s the elk and wolves who may think of bothering my granddaughter who should be careful. After all, sending 50,000 troops to the frozen north to protect a nine-year old girl, like sending 15,000 troops to stop 3,000 desperate migrants fleeing persecution, makes little rational sense. Unless you consider that this grandfather sleeps better at night knowing that his granddaughter is well protected. That’s the truth, and I’m glad to make it public.

Categories: News for progressives

Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty Could Become Law Next Year

Wed, 2018-11-07 15:57

Photo Source International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons | CC BY 2.0

“GENEVA (Reuters) — A treaty banning nuclear weapons could come into force by the end of 2019, backers of a campaign that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize said in an annual progress report on Monday.”

This October 29 report also announced a newly established watchdog for the 2017 nuclear weapons ban known as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The new “Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor” published by Norwegian People’s Aid will measure progress related to signature, ratification, and entry into force of the TPNW.

So far, 19 governments have ratified the TPNW and it will come into force after 50 states ratify. Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, told Reuters, “We have about 25 or 30 countries that say they will be ready [to ratify] by the end of 2019, so it’s definitely possible” to pass the 50 country mark next year.

The TPNW places nuclear weapons in the same outlaw category as biological weapons, poison gas, land minds and cluster munitions, all of which are banned by treaties. The Monitor says the TPNW will further stigmatize both nuclear weapons and the countries that ignore the treaty. The Monitor can be downloaded on at www.banmonitor.org

The Monitor’s lead article says about the new ban treaty: “Adopted by 122 states on 7 July 2017 at a United Nations diplomatic conference, the TPNW provides a reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.” Once it takes effect, the TPNW will forbid the development, testing, possessing, hosting, using of, and threatening to use nuclear weapons. The treaty also outlaws assisting, encouraging, or inducing these prohibited acts. The treaty “codifies norms and actions that are needed to create and maintain a world without nuclear weapons,” the Monitor notes.

The United States under president Obama led the nuclear-armed states’ opposition to the treaty, and when final negotiations were launched March 27, 2017, Trump’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley explained the US-led boycott this way: “[W]e have to be realistic. Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?”

Realists for Unilateral Nuclear Abolition

But being realistic means at least listening to realists, and no one can be considered more so than the late Paul Nitze, the Cold War military strategist and Reagan presidential advisor. As Secretary of the Navy and later Deputy Secretary of Defense, Nitze drafted and implemented US nuclear war plans himself. His advocacy produced of the world’s first hydrogen bombs and the vast increase of the arsenal’s size.

Yet five years before his death, this hard-nosed realist wrote, “I see no compelling reason why we should not unilaterally get rid of our nuclear weapons. To maintain them is costly and adds nothing to our security.”

Sec. Nitze’s public and absolute renunciation of the Bomb, “A Threat Mostly to Ourselves,” New York Times, Oct. 29, 1999,  read, “I can think of no circumstances under which it would be wise for the United States to use nuclear weapons, even in retaliation for their prior use against us.”

This total rejection of “nuclear deterrence” had become the view of a life-long defender of pro-nuclear orthodoxy. Sec. Nitze’s argument demolishes Ambassador Haley’s ahistorical March 27, 2017 UN speech, in which she said, “[W]e can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have [nuclear weapons], and those of us that are good, trying to keep peace and safety not to have them.”

Putting aside the United States’ “trying to keep peace and safety” by simultaneously bombing seven different countries, Amb. Haley’s excuses for the Bomb are archaic and laughable in view of the devastating non-nuclear weapons in the Pentagon’s hands. Sec. Nitze made this point crisply: “In view of the fact that we can achieve our objectives with conventional weapons, there is no purpose to be gained through the use of our nuclear arsenal.”

Haley and the nuclear-armed states could embrace the new ban treaty using Sec. Nitze’s words:“Destruction of the arms did not prove feasible then [in 1982], but there is no good reason why it should not be carried out now.”

Categories: News for progressives

More Foul Murders, in a System That Survives on Racism

Wed, 2018-11-07 15:55

Photo Source Governor Tom Wolf | CC BY 2.0

We live in a nation totally beholden to racism. Founded on racism, built on racism, surviving by virtue of racism. From the near total eradication of Native Americans by disease, slaughter, and death marches; to the enslavement of 12 million Africans and the continued oppression, imprisonment, impoverishment and wanton killing of their descendants; to the exploitation and deportation of immigrants; to the Jews and Irish and Italians being eventually admitted into invented whiteness in order to turn them anti-black, but still maligned; to the wars fought against “gooks” and “ragheads” to increase rich men’s profits – US capitalism survives on racism. And the US that survives this way is not beneficial to any of its working people, tearing us apart from each other, impoverishing our souls and our pocketbooks, depriving us of health and learning and peace needed by all and the strength we could have in our oneness. Separated, we can be led down the road to fascism.

Today we are witnessing national agonizing over the murder of 11 Jews, those only grudgingly admitted members of the white circle, although 6 million others were allowed slaughtered as the US did little and turned back escapees begging for refuge on the ship St. Louis. Nonetheless, we know all their names and have witnessed the funerals of these latest victims and shared the grief of their intimates. This is not regrettable, it is only in contrast deaths of the approximately 1000 killed by police each year, nearly half of whom are black or Latin (Atlantic, 5/8/18), about whom we learn little and mourn less.

Despite these harsh words, it would be an error to seek a cause for these disparities in the sculpting of our brains or the failure of our morality. No, we live in a nation that needs racism and thus it is inserted purposefully deep into our souls in our neighborhoods, our classrooms, our media, our pulpits, our clinics, our labor unions –in most of our American experiences. The multiracialunity.org blog I co-edit has many articles on the overt creation of racism (Lerone Bennett), and racism in housing, health care, immigration and migration, labor organizing and others areas our lives, things we are not taught and that are kept hidden from us.

Even today, wages and the opportunity to work remain vastly different by race. 51.3% of young black high school graduates are underemployed compared to 33.8% of whites; 23% of young back college graduates are unemployed vs. 12.9% of whites. 330,000 black high school graduates are not employed at all. Keep in mind that unemployment rates do not count workers who have been discouraged from looking for work for less than one year, although those numbers are tabulated, nor those who have given up after more than a year of unemployment. According to Shadowstats.com, the Labor Department even counts as employed someone who works as little as one hour a week and earns as little as $20 a week. The Federal Reserve finds that only one fifth of the difference between black and white can be accounted for by differences in education, age and location.

2..3 billion Americans are in prison, 59% of whom are black, Latin or native American – not “employed”, but providing free labor. Black and Latin workers who are acknowledged to be full time employees earn about 75% of the wages of white workers, disparities based on education, training, and differences in wages paid for the same work.

According to the Center for American Progress report Unequal Education of 2012, schools are just as segregated and unequal now as they were in 1954 when Brown was decided. The average white student attends a school where 77% of students are white and 40% of black and Latin students attend schools where over 90% are non-white. Not only are students deprived of knowledge and kinship of each other, but schools with over 90% students of color spend $733 less per student per year than schools with 90% or more whites.

How do we accept these disparities in our own country? How do we not rise up against the death of over 10,000 Yemenis and starvation of half of the population? How do we explain our ability to accept the death of half a million Iraqis due to sanctions before the invasion even started? How do we turn away from the deaths of thousands of Gazans imprisoned in their illegal concentration camp? How do we explain the assignment of troops to go to the border and threaten migrating families fleeing the ravages of US imperialism? We can only explain it by racism, and without that racism this government, under Democrat or Republican, would not be able to maintain profits at home or wield its imperialist might around the world.

So let us mourn all of those who die by violence or die young or die by neglect perpetrated by the ruling class or those whom they win to carry out their racist policies. Let us celebrate times we have fought together, in many union battles, in Selma, in Ferguson, in Charlottesville and many, many more. Let we who work, whether builder or waiter or teacher or unemployed, unite together in every way, in every struggle, in all our mourning, in all our resistance and continue together until we found a world based on equality, one that seeks to provide the fullest life for all. Not a capitalist world for sure.

 

Categories: News for progressives

When It Comes to Short-Term Economic Results, Momentum Matters More than Presidents

Wed, 2018-11-07 15:50

Photo Source frankieleon | CC BY 2.0

Here’s a truth at the intersection of politics and economics that is particularly germane right now: When an economy is well into an expansion, as is the case today, presidents have little to do with the positive outcomes for which they take credit. President Trump would have us believe he’s responsible for Friday’s strong jobs report (the recent stock market losses, however, are the fault of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell). In fact, once the momentum of an expansion is solidly in place, as was the case when Trump took office, a president’s effect on the daily data flow is mostly on the margin.

In normal times, a large economy like ours chugs along like a huge oil tanker on the high seas. Various forces can speed it up or slow it down, but it is mostly driven by momentum. In economic terms, such momentum is a function of the virtuous growth cycle wherein strong consumer demand creates more jobs, which creates more wage income, which creates more demand. This is particularly the case in the United States, where consumer spending is 70 percent of the economy.

When President Barack Obama took office, the tanker was, if not sinking, going backward, and it is here where the actions of presidents (as well as the Federal Reserve) matter a great deal. The housing bubble that had driven the economy since 2002 was in full collapse, with home prices falling fast. The four-point drop in the construction sector as a percentage of GDP would be equivalent to a loss of annual demand of $800 billion in today’s economy. The sudden loss of housing wealth caused an equally large hit to consumer spending.

The stimulus package and financial rescue stopped the free fall and got GDP growing again by the summer of 2009. Obviously, there are important arguments as to the effectiveness of these interventions, but our point here is that despite persistent Republican opposition, federal policy got the oil tanker moving forward again.

For more than eight years, the economy has been consistently adding jobs, and in Obama’s last year in office, payrolls expanded by 2.5 million. The unemployment rate came down from 10 percent in 2009 to 4.8 percent when Obama left office.

In other words, and notwithstanding his incessant lies about how he saved the day, by the time Trump took office, the virtuous cycle was well underway.

True, the 17 percent increase in the budget deficit last (fiscal) year is boosting growth and putting downward pressure on the jobless rate. The 49-year low in the unemployment rate is very much welcomed, especially as its benefits mostly redound to less-advantaged workers. But from the perspective of the macroeconomy, it’s a sugar high, not a lasting boost, which is expected to start fading late next year.

The advocates of the tax cut promised an investment boom, which they claimed would provide long-term benefits in the form of higher productivity growth. However, there is no evidence of this boom to date, with investment up only modestly from year-ago levels. In fact, in the last quarter, business investment grew at less than a 1.0 percent rate. Nor do we see evidence of a forthcoming boom in the various measures of business intentions or orders for capital goods, i.e., measures of future investment.

These facts imply that the growth effects from the tax cuts are largely from wealthy people spending their tax windfalls. In that regard, it’s important to consider the opportunity costs of corporate cuts and pass-through loopholes compared with a more progressive, forward-looking agenda. Had the resources lost from the tax cuts instead gone to infrastructure, quality preschool, or wage subsidies for low-income workers, that, too, would have added to demand and created jobs, but it might have also delivered longer-term benefits to the poor and middle class. Of course, Republicans would not countenance any such spending by Obama because, back then, deficits mattered to them.

There are also economic negatives to Trump’s agenda; they’re not enough to tank the tanker, but they’re problematic nevertheless. For example, stimulating an economy already closing in on full employment has led to higher interest rates (as has the Federal Reserve’s rate hike campaign that began in late 2015), and these dynamics, in tandem with his trade war, are also putting upward pressure on the trade deficit.

The impact of higher rates can already be seen in housing, as residential construction has fallen in each of the last three quarters. New-home sales are down 13.2 percent from their year-ago level. This is bad news for low- and moderate-income people, for whom rent is consuming an increasing share of their income because of housing shortages in many cities.

Higher rates, tariffs and the fact that the United States is growing faster than many of our trading partners are also boosting the value of the dollar, which tends to increase our trade deficit. The most recent data has the trade deficit running at a $650 billion annual rate, or 3.2 percent of GDP. That is up from a deficit of $502 billion in Obama’s last year in office, an especially ironic development given the importance Trump placed on the trade balance in his campaign.

The punchline is that presidents can nudge the oil tanker in the short-term with fiscal stimulus, but especially in Trump’s case, that doesn’t lastingly change its course compared with true, game-changing public investments, such as building the highways, developing the Internet, or crafting the GI bill, which helped veterans pay for college. Add in the worsening of inequality under him, the environmental degradation, a Treasury starved for revenue, and his purveying of hatred and divisiveness, and it seems glaringly clear that we’re in the midst of trading off a few quarters of juiced growth for many years of potential damage.

Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and author of ‘The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity‘.

Dean Baker is the co-founder and senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

This column originally appeared in The Washington Post.

Categories: News for progressives

Taxing the Digital Giants

Wed, 2018-11-07 15:50

Photo Source John Marino | CC BY 2.0

The treasurers of various countries seem to be stumbling over each other in the effort, but taxing the digital behemoths has become something of an obsession, the gold standard for those wishing to add revenue to state coffers.  Back in May, when Australia’s then treasurer Scott Morrison oversaw the purse strings of the country, it was declared that, “The new economy shouldn’t be some sort of tax-free environment.”  (Low tax environment was not be confused with a no-tax one.)  He had his eye on the $7 billion in annual Australian sales recorded by Google, eBay, Uber, Linked-In, and Twitter.

As always, such statements must be seen for all their populist worth.  A treasurer keen to secure more revenue but happy to compress the company tax base must be regarded with generous suspicion.  Trickle-down economics, with its fanciful notions of job creative punch, still does the rounds in certain government circles, and Morrison, both as treasurer and now as Australian prime minister, is obsessed with the idea of reducing, let alone imposing company tax.  But the Australian Tax Office has not been left entirely out of pocket: the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law (MAAL) and Diverted Profits Tax have both done something to draw in some revenue from the likes of Facebook and Google.

What is lacking in approaches to the digital company environment is consensus.  At the specialist level, there has been no end of chatter about how to rein in cash from the earnings of the digital world.  But action has been tardy, inconsistent and contradictory.  The OECD-G20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Plan (2015), the product of 12,000 pages of comments, 1400 contributions from interested parties, 23 drafts and working documents and two years of deliberation, is one such imperfect effort.

According to the OECD, “Under the inclusive effort framework, over 100 countries and jurisdictions are collaborating to implement the BEPS measures and tackle BEPS.” Their enemy is a phenomenon described as “tax avoidance strategies that exploit gaps and mismatches in the tax rules to artificially shift profits to low or no-tax situations.”

The tech giants, however, remain examples of singular slipperiness.  The idea of a digital tax, undertaken in the absence of international understanding will, it has been said, be not merely problematic but dangerous.  The European Commission, for one, has also considered the prospect of a 3 percent tax on the turnover off digital revenue, estimated to yield some 5 billion euros.

In making the March announcement, the Commission conceded that the growth of social media companies, digital businesses and “collaborative platforms and online content providers, has made a great contribution to economic growth in the EU.” The tax regime, however, was obsolete, creakingly incapable of covering “those companies that are global, virtual or have little or no physical presence.”  Profits derived from the sale of user-generated data and content fell outside current tax regulations.

A two-pronged approach was suggested: the first, aiming to “reform corporate tax rules so that profits are registered and taxed where businesses have significant interaction with users through digital channels”; the second, a response “to calls from several Member States for an interim tax which covers the main digital activities that currently escape tax altogether in the EU.”

When the plan surfaced, opponents closed ranks. Ministers from Luxembourg and Malta expressed their displeasure at a meeting of EU ministers in Sofia in April.  German finance minister, Olaf Scholz, was obviously cognisant of the disagreements and confined his remarks to claiming that digital companies had to pay more tax as part of a “moral question”.  His proposed answer, however, remained vague. The pro-taxing grouping was hedging.

Two prongs essentially became one: the interim measure might be implemented in the absence of a global strategy, one featuring a temporary levy on corporate turnover.  Companies would merely be charged on their profits but no tax in their absence. (This remains the great loophole of company tax: where there are losses, there can be no tax revenue.) “The idea,”claimed economy minister Ramon Escolano, “is to introduce it as soon as possible and for it to take effect from 2019 onwards.”

Unilateral tax approaches have been considered the enemy in this debate.  Not aligning the system with those of other states might, for instance, stir US anxiety and trigger a trade war.  But we live in an age of vibrant, aggressive unilateralism, exemplified by that man of bullied deals, US President Donald J. Trump.

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, is one who has gotten impatient with the foot-dragging over an international agreement on how best to cope with tax avoidance on the part of the digital giants.  A “narrowly targeted tax”, coming into force in April 2020, is intended to raise more than £400 million a year for the public purse.  The Office for Budget Responsibility is less optimistic even on that projection, suggesting, in all likelihood, that the figure is more likely to be a mere £30 million. This will provide little cheer to the campaign and research group Tax Watch, which has argued that the digital giants deprive the exchequer of some £1 billion annually.

All taxes are pot-holed matters, fabulously effective on initial inspection, but worn on a closer inspection.  Hammond’s digital services tax is aimed at online advertising revenue generated from Twitter, Google and Facebook.  Direct sales (the likes of Amazon, in this regard) are not the subject of the measure. As Martin Vander Weyer of the conservative Spectator noted, “I doubt it will make a jot of difference to the ragtag rearguard of bricks-and-mortar shopkeepers.”

Nor to the digital tax giants, given the versatile tax avoidance strategies they have proven more than adept at deploying. Tax avoidance remains the forgiven misdemeanour, the dirty dispensation.  As if to prove this finest of points, Facebook has appointed a previous Liberal Democrat leader, former deputy-prime minister and pro-tax figure, the now knighted Nick Clegg, chief of its global policy and communications.  Brazenly cunning, but expected.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Electoral Fetishism

Wed, 2018-11-07 15:47

Our word “elect” comes from the latin eligere meaning to pick out or choose. Bourgeois democracy celebrates the etymological sense of this word in elections. However, what, exactly, are we the people actually choosing?

The argument has been made by Marx, Badiou, and Chomsky among others that we do not so much as choose in elections as having parties, platforms, and candidates chosen for us.

Every politician in the Western “democracies” has to go through a complex vetting process which assures those truly in power that they, at best, will become paper tigers that will do their bidding and no more. Those foolish enough not to play by the rules will be eliminated by either defamation, extortion, or even, in the final instance, downright murder(JFK? MLK?).

However, those who now enter Western politics are well aware of the rules as well as the ultimate nature of the game. They knowingly enter the theater that is modern Western politics without any intention to fundamentally challenge either system or elites.

Yet, the electorate must in some sense be satiated. And that is done through a combination of spectacle, marginal issues, or at best policies which can be safely co opted by ruling elites.

Creating an appearance of change, of participation, of self empowerment even of crisis is crucial as long as the actual outcomes are handily managed by those with the most to loose.

Yes, on occasion compromises are made. But these, in the long run, are only undertaken to further enhance the long term power of elites.

Hence, personality and platitude become the very life blood of Western politics. We focus on biography, psychology, and style as if these individual components could ever budge the Sisyphean rock that is our daily political penance.

Issues, policies, and outcomes are all carefully manufactured and managed by a small number of power elites. The media, political parties, security forces (psych-ops), even the mafia and intellectual and artistic elites all work together to shape a political simulacrum within which our limited discourses and actions circulate.

To be sure, just as political actors are co opted into the system so, too, are ideas. The system is amazingly good at acknowledging, absorbing, and, then, transforming even the most radical challenges until they are just so much mush under the weight of the economic and social interests of American/Global oligarchy.

Yes, things change but according to the timetable of the powerful who are skillful in their manipulation of any political impulse that may percolate below. In the end, the people may make waves but, ultimately, the oligarchic elites will shape and ride them to their self-appointed shores.

 

Categories: News for progressives

The Ultimate General Strike: a Revolution of Failures

Wed, 2018-11-07 15:32

In “The Postmodern Condition” the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard painted a picture of the future neoliberal order as one in which “the temporary contract” supplants “permanent institutions in the professional, emotional, sexual, cultural, family and international domains, as well as in political affairs.” This temporal relationship to people, things, institutions and the natural world ensures collective self-annihilation.

– Chris Hedges, The Rule of the Uber-rich….

People who are capable of dissent but incapable of disobedience are often uncomfortable challenging the very legitimacy of that authority to wield power.  In contrast, genuine anti-authoritarians are comfortable with both dissent and disobedience when they deem authority to be illegitimate.

– Bruce E. Levine, Vital Ignored Truths In Milgram’s… Studies

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground….The struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both, …but it must be a struggle.  Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did and it never will….

– Frederick Douglass (quoted in Zinn’s People’s History)

When I taught public speaking I frequently had students view a commencement address given by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.  Though I’ve not read her books, I knew many students knew Harry Potter through books and movies.  It made a decent speech for discussion as it was so highly organized around two points, failure and imagination, as well as being genuinely interesting and inspiring. Her ingenious idea was to talk to Harvard graduates, many of whom had likely not yet failed at anything, about the value, even the necessity, of learning from failure in order to live a larger life, with compassion for others and self.

The message was spot on, but highly unlikely to have inspired anyone listening to seek the wisdom of failure for themselves, either at Harvard or at the state college where I taught. The idea of failure bears the hiss of the snake and its hideous rattle; to be avoided for dear life.  That this is so is no accident, for those who learn the deeper wisdom of failure will likely come to feel that success on capitalism’s terms is failure in human terms. (For this reason,  the poets, artists, prophets and anarchists who can teach us the wisdom of failure are marginalized, i.e., to appear as failures.)

Going further with the idea, learning to fail may in fact provide the basis for a revolution that begins with overthrowing  the dominant neoliberal worldview that thrives on the illusion reality can be controlled and predicted, and on our terror of acknowledging our true condition, i.e., powerlessness.  There’s much agreement on the left that no way exists out of the  ongoing catastrophe driven by global capitalist hegemony, other than mass disobedience.  Therefore, I suggest the most radical call to disobedience that could be made to liberal middle class white people is to refuse, en masse,  success on capitalism’s terms, just say “I prefer not to,” i.e., to fail.

Revolutionary refusal of success  includes refusing the prized freedom of lifestyle that dresses up capitalism and to which society is addicted.  This freedom to live within temporal arrangements has disastrously distorted the meaning of liberty  and so weakened our wills that we no longer can act decisively, courageously, purposefully from our deepest humanity.  When “freedom” means relativizing the connections of life that “humanize,” that ennoble our lives with meaning and purpose, the worth and value of which cannot be supported by science or reason – then such a freedom  must be refused.  I refer here mainly to the relationships that bind the individual  in family and community, with the land that is one’s ground, and to one’s creative work.   If freedom has come to mean the individual freedom to succeed materially, which clearly leaves out the majority of people, who don’t even get up to bat, let alone be born on third base, revolution begins in refusing the path to success and its rewards.  Refuse the schools, refuse the family diasporas, refuse the relocation for better pay, the nice suburban neighborhood, the vacation home, the white collar salary and perks, the technology upgrades, etc.  As well, refuse the hierarchical notion of “jobs,” that make manager superior to worker, principal a step up from teacher, etc. Refuse a shallow freedom by which commitments freely made, such as to marriage and to a place, are abandoned with no one ever the wiser as to what such “permanencies” are for, and where they can lead if the human “stakes” are properly understood.  Much humanity-sustaining knowledge having to do with “standing in” in traditional and satisfying solidarities has been lost already. There’s much to relearn, but this learning is in reach of every person, a new type of heroism that sacrifices for the sake of re-embodying love.

To disobey in these ways is to move from “dissent” to actual disobedience that can, in the sense Bruce Levine describes,  disempower illegitimate authority.  To stand in such a radical disobedience, the disobedience of failure,  leaves one seeking a different loyalty beyond the  accustomed  reassurances of bourgeois neoliberal reality. There has to be a reliance upon a different knowing, a different and higher truth that is blocked from awareness in the modern, secular liberal context, but for those who can admit failure, is inexhaustibly available.  To radically disobey, the postponed meet-up with “God”  within, the one we’ve avoided since we smartened up in high school or college, and that’s bypassed in our context of scientist supremacy, is no longer an option. The only legitimate authority is  located in the imaginative soul whose wisdom, serving positive desire, can sustain the authentically heroic passage past habitual obedience to radical struggle.

Obedience to legitimate authority challenges the hegemony of routine temporality, alluded to by Chris Hedges in the epigraph above.  Temporality explains not only the absence of fellow-feeling among the “uber-rich,” but among us all, an isolation we cannot accept. For too long we’ve gone down the path of  caving in to the temporality imposed upon us.  Way too readily have we divested ourselves of the familial, communal, and place-based  ties our ancestors handed  down to us as a kind of common sense foundation, to them probably the most important thing, something they could take for granted as a shared value, as we no longer can.  However, even as mass protest and mass demonstrations are being made increasingly impossible under  the corporate state, each individual is yet free to commit to desire for the creative spirit itself, which thrives in the soil of the local, familial and communal, and following which we can threaten capitalism, so smugly confident of our consumerist obedience, to its foundations.

I will not argue we should go backwards to serve tradition in order to restore a rigidly hierarchical universe,  as religious fundamentalists do.  But if, as Hedges suggests, temporality has taken the place of the permanencies of the heart and caused the “uber-rich” to compulsively accumulate wealth for themselves at the expense of everyone else and of the earth, we hardly have a place to stand when we have given ourselves over to the same.

Is it not possible that the revolution now must consist of people saying no to everything we’ve been taught is the proper, smart, successful, way to live? Isn’t it now possible that we really are called to live differently?  I’m not necessarily suggesting Paleo-anarchism, or Walden Pond back-to-the-landism,  to “Luddhism” or to some specific “Golden Age” to which we ought to return. But could we not make our intention be to consciously withdraw from this system that after all serves not our interests but those of this tiny circle of loathsome uber-rich who care only about themselves?  Could we not take up civil disobedience against unjust civilization itself, that must have its lopsided preference for scientific positivism as against the unprovable but entirely knowable reality thatispermanent and unchanging?

To voluntarily down scale, to smash the machine, one must have in place the coherence of a thoughtworld, a foundation in imagination, without which defying the “wisdom” of one’s own age isn’t possible and will never be undertaken by more than a handful. Even were we to restore Paleo-anarchism (for instance), we would still face the difficulty of regaining the lost permanence, of finding the meaningfulness underlying the restored bonds of community and family needed to compensate for the restriction on personal freedom and material comfort  that would be demanded.  Meaning will not simply reappear because living arrangements are changed.  And without a positive basis for meaning, people will not willingly simplify; impoverishment, like a diet, is merely deprivation.  Thoreau did not take to the woods as if removing himself from civilization were just a matter of building a “tiny house,” giving up material commodified goods and so on.  In fact, his actual “lifestyle” changes (I understand his experiment was not permanent, and that he was not fully “off the grid”) were secondary to the thought world he inhabited as a writer and poet, to his faith in invisible spiritual reality that allowed him to live in abundance while living simply.

Please don’t  take my word for this.  In fact, as I’m saying, the struggle to restore the rule of love against the rule of the machine that works ceaselessly on behalf of the “uber-rich” at the expense of everyone else will not be taken on until/unless people experience metaphysical reality for them (your)selves.  That is, until people discover within the authority by which their lives are ordered. Such a discovery, that through the soul we are connected to the Divine and to each other, is a confirmation of something already known that has come to appear suspect, doubtful, make-believe, under the dominant temporal nihilism.

The implication here is more than just that people have a spiritual experience of “Oneness,” which countless Westerners have had.  If such experiences are to be more than bourgeois window dressing, if the purposes of personal integrity and social integration are to be achieved, a politics of resistance is demanded of those so blessed.  Spiritual/shamanic experience finds its natural expression in anarchist resistance to the machine whose lie is, everything is temporary and separate.  The core of resistance to neoliberal reality, that has forsaken the human in favor of the Gospel of progress and the soullessness of the  machine, lies in restoring permanence, commitment, stability, continuity in this life relationships in families, communities, and with the land, right where we are.  If this sounds heartwarming, be advised: it is the path of failure. You will not survive its trials except by means of your art.

Categories: News for progressives

Tax Reform: Down with the ‘Stepped-Up Basis’

Wed, 2018-11-07 15:31

The term “stepped-up basis” is shorthand for a tax loophole that lines the pockets of the haves while it picks the pockets of the Treasury. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost over ten years could reach $644 billion.

Let’s see how the well-off get handed hundreds of billions that should be going toward the good of all Americans.

The basis of an asset (stocks, real estate, fine art, etc.) is its price or fair market value when it’s acquired. Any increase over the basis becomes a capital gain. When holders dispose of assets, they’re taxed on those gains—except when the stepped-up basis steps in, and erases both the gains and the taxes.

It’s automatic: when assets are passed along to an heir, the value at the time of the transfer becomes the heir’s basis. Magically, all the accumulated gains vanish. With no gains, all the taxes vanish too.

The basis loophole is actually one tax inequity on top of another. First, capital gains are taxed at a far lower rate than wages. When this preferential rate isn’t preferential enough, the affluent simply hold on for the zero rate.  (“This is the thrill that pulses through the veins of the well-to-do when they discover there is no longer any limit on their power to accumulate.” The words are Thomas Frank’s, taken from his latest book Rendezvous with Oblivion.)

The loophole doesn’t apply to commonly-held retirement accounts such as regular IRAs and 401(k)s. Putting it another way, those hundreds of billions go hugely to the wealthy—people with valuable assets far beyond retirement savings.

Full disclosure: The stepped-up basis is available to just about everybody. For tax years 2018 through 2025, it’s open to individuals with a net worth up to $11.2 million or couples with a net worth up to $22.4 million.

Anybody who calls for ending a law has to counter the thinking that led to it in the first place. Proponents of the stepped-up basis claim that it’s often not possible to accurately determine the original basis, especially for assets that could date back several decades.  Our digital age has made this rationale more and more tenuous. In the large it simply doesn’t wash anymore.

In addition, Congress could always tailor a repeal to deal with holdings acquired long ago. Lawmakers faced a comparable situation in 2008, when they passed a bill requiring basis reporting for stock market capital gains. In that case they worked out various post-2008 schedules for different types of holdings. While Wall Street investors were always required to report gains honestly, the Internal Revenue Service now gets basis figures that provide a double-check. Over the long term, accurate reporting of capital gains by brokerage firms should approach the 99% level already achieved by employer reporting of workers’ wages and salaries.

Basis prices of other major assets should also be routinely reported. Realtors, for example, should be required to report to the IRS any home or property sale exceeding a specific amount; the same for major art galleries, antiques dealers and jewelers. Exceptions could be allowed, e.g., family heirlooms (provided they stay in the family and aren’t resold for tax-free gains).

The two capital gains tax inequities (the stepped-up basis and lower rates) effectively increase income inequality and perpetuate wealth over generations. For this the Treasury pays dearly: according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), these tax breaks are expected to cost a combined $1.984 trillion from 2014 to 2023.

The same CBO report estimated the federal deficit for that decade at $1.932 trillion (excluding interest on the national debt). So if those two tax breaks were ended—just those two—the Treasury could gain enough revenue to pay for all federal programs over that period without running a deficit. (Of course behaviors could also change, lowering the Treasury’s pick-up. Even so, the prospect should warm the hearts of all fiscal conservatives and deficit hawks.)

Eliminating both breaks likely goes a break too far. In that case, Congress should start with the most egregious. It should shut down the stepped-up basis.

Categories: News for progressives

Peterloo and the Realist Tradition

Wed, 2018-11-07 15:17

Still from “Peterloo.”

Worthy, sumptuously shot, convincingly acted and not without moments of insight – but a tad leaden. That’s my take on Mike Leigh’s new film, released November 2. I’ll give a more nuanced view in a moment but first a timeline, reverse chronology, in which Peterloo – the event, not the movie – can be framed: Orgreave 1984 .. Bloody Sunday 1972 .. Amritsar 1919 .. Peterloo 1819.

It’s hardly a competition but the toll of fifteen sliced to death by mounted and sabre flailing yeomanry, many of them drunk, charging into the crowds at St Peter’s Field in Manchester on August 16, 1819, is dwarfed by that of 379 mown down at Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh, April 13, 1919. As are the fourteen shot dead by the Parachute Regiment in Derry’s Bogside on January 30, 1972 – while at Orgreave in June 1984, police in riot gear and supported by dogs killed no one at all when they attacked1 striking miners, their livelihoods on the line.

So why lump together events separated not only by centuries and continents, but by degree of homicidal intensity too? 2

Because they share a single thread. Each in its own way showcases the response, the absolutely predictable response, of our rulers – heirs in spirit and often as not in genealogy to those rival gangsters who slugged it out at Towton and Bosworth Field – to challenge from below. I don’t say the British ruling class delights in ruthlessness.3 Only that it can be relied on, once it deems the time for words has passed, to cast off the velvet glove.

But what does Peterloo – movie not event – do to advance our understanding of such things? Not enough, in my view; its approach barely distinguishable from the work – the admirable and at the time groundbreaking work – of Ken Loach, Tony Garnett and Jim Allen in the Days of Hope quartet more than forty years ago. Some will remember a debate then current in left intellectual circles as to whether Realism, a storytelling form rooted in bourgeois society, could ever seriously challenge the material and ideological underpinnings of capitalism’s historically unique way of exploiting the many by the few.

This criticism, of Days of Hope and similar attempts at Socialist Realism, targets two aspects of the form.4 5

One is an empiricism held by some – yours t. for instance – to constrain the ability to penetrate surface and concrete phenomena to tease out deeper and more abstract truths. (This limitation had Bertolt Brecht seeking dramatic estrangement via narrative disruption. A young Mike Leigh did similar, and to wicked effect, in plays like Nuts in May and Abigail’s Party and I can’t help thinking that while Leigh has grown kinder with age, he lost some of his edge along the way.)

Twenty minutes in we see a clumsy attempt – noteworthy in an otherwise finely crafted film – to explain in ‘natural’ dialogue how the Corn Laws benefited a landed gentry at the expense of both johnny-come-lately factory owners with economic but not (yet) political power,6 and the hungry wealth creators: agricultural labour in steady decline, and a booming proletariat evicted from the land by mechanisation and Enclosure.

But inept manouevrings aren’t the issue here. More important is the fact that so able a director as Mike Leigh has to resort to them, thereby revealing this intrinsic limitation of realism. You can’t make sense of Peterloo without saying, however awkwardly, how the Corn Laws worked in the context of severe economic downturn following the Napoleonic Wars. What’s more, you still have to explain the unusual balance of class forces at this juncture, with feudalism and mercantile capitalism on the threshold of giving way to fully fledged industrial capitalism.

Nor is this a problem solely for those who seek the socialisation of wealth creation. At a more immediate level realism, even at its best, is hard put to draw together the underlying threads: a ruling class still land based and able through its rotten borough system to keep the manifestly unjust Corn Laws in place. That a hamlet like Old Sarum returned two MPs, while Manchester had none, is cited at several points but the connection and historic context – twenty-five years after France’s settling of accounts, and a scant four after Bonaparte’s defeat at Waterloo – for well heeled reformers like Orator Hunt are clear only if you knew these things already. In which case Peterloo the movie will offer little more than a well made, colourful reminder: enjoyable in its way, but hardly the stuff of filmic greatness.

In some circumstances realism can indeed tease out and draw together abstract truths, though with no great efficiency. That this film does not do so strikes me, given the calibre of its maker plus two and a half hours of viewing canvas, as pointing to constraints of a more fundamental and less personal nature.

***

The other defect seized on by socialist critics of realism is its reflection of bourgeois society’s elevation of the individual. Realist films need heroes and villains, and these must have what some call typicality.  The Everyman of Shakespeare and earlier story telling forms won’t cut it. Realist protagonists must be psychologically plausible and this too poses problems for would be critiques of the capitalist order; critiques looking by definition to the cooperative half of our dual nature as individuated but social animals. In the main I accept the truth of that constraint but on this front Leigh – who when all is said and done has been finding human universality in the particularity of idiosyncratic characters for decades – acquits himself well. Peterloo the film weaves convincing characterisation with generalisations more far reaching: such that we aren’t simply seeing Orator Hunt, but the limitations of (pre-neoliberal) Reform itself; not seeing high class butchers, snobs and effete clowns but the largely hidden face of the ruling class. In short, Leigh’s typicality  serves its subject well.

Bottom line? Three out of five. Don’t let me spoil the fun. See and enjoy this film – then tell me where I fail to get its measure.

Notes.

1) The BBC infamously reversed Orgreave footage to imply that the police charged in response to stones thrown by miners when the reverse was the case.

2) The Amritsar massacre exceeded those others not only in body count but in its chilling precision. Colonel Dyer ordered the narrow exits from Jallianwala Bagh – “smaller than Trafalgar Square”, said Winston Churchill – to be sealed by armoured cars. He then had his Sikh, Gurkha and Baluchi troops fire 1650 live rounds into the densest sections of a Punjabi gathering more than 10,000 strong. When the protestors dived in panic to the ground the troops were ordered to train their Lee Enfields downwards. Churchill, not known for bleeding heart liberalism, would later describe the event as “monstrous” while Dyer said his aim “was not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience.” Not all the fatalities were instant. Long into that night – with April the most searing month in Northern India – cries from the dying and pleas for water filled the air, Dyer having denied medical relief services access to Jallianwala Bagh.

3) Indeed, a deserved reputation for hypocrisy is largely down to the British ruling class’s mix of steely determination to do the bloody necessaries, with a capacity to weep bucketloads after the fact.

3) A third criticism of socialist realism, that it fosters pessimism through its (historically accurate) focus on betrayal and defeat, is beyond my scope here.

4) Also beyond my scope is a discussion of alternatives. Defenders of socialist realism often claim, sometimes in philistine tones, that the masses don’t relish alternative forms. This is simply untrue, witness Britain’s richly surrealist tradition – at the time this claim was being made, Kenny Everett’s zaniness was constantly topping Britain’s viewing ratings. More immediately to the point, one film pulled off the balancing act, of disrupting the surface narrative in Brechtian ways without losing audience interest, with great aplomb. See The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil for its non-realist depiction of centuries of Scotland’s looting.

5) Decades after Peterloo Marx showed just why the feudal Corn Laws disadvantaged capitalists by raising the value of labour-power.

Philip Roddis writes the Steel City Scribblings blog, where this essay originally appeared.

 

Categories: News for progressives

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