Counterpunch Articles

Don’t Look, Don’t See: Time for Honest Media Reporting on Impacts of Pesticides

Photograph Source: Andy Powell – CC BY 2.0

The UK-based Independent online newspaper recently published an article about a potential link between air pollution from vehicles and glaucoma. It stated that according to a new study air pollution is linked to the eye condition that causes blindness.

The report explained that researchers had looked at vision tests carried out on more than 111,000 people across Britain between 2006 and 2010 and cross-referenced results against levels of air pollution in their neighbourhoods. Those living in areas with higher amounts of fine particulate matter were at least 6% more likely to have glaucoma than those in the least polluted areas.

Glaucoma affects half a million people in the UK and can cause blindness if left untreated. However, the study cited by The Independent, published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, was unable to prove that air pollution was a trigger.

Following the article, environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason put together a 20-page report on glyphosate and has sent it out to key public health officials and media outlets, including The Independent’s editor. In her report, she states that the European Chemicals Agency classifies glyphosate as a substance that causes serious eye damage and is toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects. But she claims that the media still remains silent on the matter. Even in UK towns and cities, glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide is still being sprayed on weeds and super-weeds which have become Roundup-resistant.

Mason implores The Independent and other mainstream media outlets to write with honesty about the use and harmful effects of glyphosate-based weedicides and other agrochemicals. She quotes the UN expert on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, who in 2017 urged the EU to put children’s health before pesticides. Children form the most vulnerable part of the population as pesticides can adversely affect their development.

Offering insight into the incidence of cataracts in England, Mason notes that annual rates of admission for cataract surgery rose 10‐fold from 1968 to 2004: from 62 episodes per 100,000 population to 637. A 2016 study by the WHO also confirmed that the incidence of cataracts had greatly increased: in ‘A global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks’ it says that cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Globally, cataracts are responsible for 51% of blindness. An estimated 20 million individuals suffer from this degenerative eye disease.

Mason discusses long waiting lists for cataracts in England. Because the NHS cannot cope with the pressure, private companies are cashing in. The growing demand for cataract operations is forcing the NHS to send increasing numbers of patients to be treated privately.

In Wales, where Mason resides, 35,000 patients are at risk of going blind from macular degeneration and glaucoma while on the NHS waiting list. All the municipal councils in Wales use glyphosate-based herbicides. Glyphosate now accounts for about 50% of all herbicide use in the US. About 75% of glyphosate use has occurred since 2006, with the global glyphosate market projected to reach $11.74 billion by 2023.

Figures for the use of glyphosate in the UK show a similar trend, which Mason has documented in her many reports. And let us not forget at this point that the current Conservative government regards Brexit as an ideal opportunity to usher in crops that have been genetically engineered to withstand the application of glyphosate or similar chemicals. The agrochemicals sector stands in the wings salivating at the prospect. This has nothing to do with boosting yields or ‘feeding the world’ as Boris Johnson asserts (claims which fail to stand up to scrutiny) but has everything to do with facilitating industry ambitions.

Never in history has a chemical been used so pervasively. Glyphosate is in our air, water, plants, animals, grains, vegetables and meats. It’s in beer and wine, children’s breakfast cereal and snack bars and mother’s breast milk. It’s even in our vaccines.

Of course, the power of the pesticides companies has been well noted. In 2017, global agrochemical corporations were severely criticised by UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver. A report presented to the UN human rights council accused them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions.”

The report authored by Hilal Elver and Baskut Tuncak says pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole”, including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning. Its authors said: “It is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.”

Hilal Elver says:

“Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger.  According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), we are able to feed nine billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.”

Elver said many of the pesticides are used on commodity crops, such as palm oil and soy, not the food needed by the world’s hungry people:

“The corporations are not dealing with world hunger; they are dealing with more agricultural activity on large scales.”

Mason notes that chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to a range of diseases and conditions and that certain pesticides can persist in the environment for decades and pose a threat to the entire ecological system on which food production depends. The excessive use of pesticides contaminates soil and water sources, causing loss of biodiversity and destroying the natural enemies of pests. The impact of such overuse also imposes staggering costs on national economies. Moreover, the use of neonicotinoid pesticides is particularly worrying because they are linked to a systematic collapse in the number of bees around the world. Some 71% of crop species are bee pollinated.

Mason goes on to describe the various lawsuits in the US against Bayer (which bought Monsanto) and the tactics used by Monsanto to conceal glyphosate-based Roundup’s carcinogenicity, including capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud to delay its day of reckoning.

Following the court decision to award in favour of Dewayne Johnson, attorney Robert Kennedy Jr said the following at the post-trial press conference:

“… you not only see many people injured, but you also see a subversion of democracy. You see the corruption of public officials, the capture of agencies that are supposed to protect us all from pollution. The agencies become captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate. The corruption of science, the falsification of science, and we saw all those things happen here. This is a company (Monsanto) that used all of the plays in the playbook developed over 60 years by the tobacco industry to escape the consequences of killing one of every five of its customers… Monsanto… has used those strategies…”

There is now also a good deal of scientific evidence linking glyphosate to obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease and brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts. Strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10. Researchers also peg glyphosate as a potent endocrine disruptor, which interferes with sexual development in children.

The compound is also a chelator that removes important minerals from the body, including iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium and molybdenum. Roundup disrupts the microbiome destroying beneficial bacteria in the human gut and triggering brain inflammation and other ill effects.

Neurotransmitter changes in the brain have been detected due to exposure to glyphosate. This is why, according to Mason, there are so many mental health and psychiatric disorders, depression, suicides, anxiety and violence among children and adults. It is even found in popular breakfast cereals marketed for UK children.

And this says nothing about the cocktail of pesticides sprayed on crops. The Soil Association and PAN UK have indicated that exposure to mixtures of pesticides commonly found in UK food, water and soil may be harming the health of both humans and wildlife. A quarter of all food and over a third of fruit and vegetables consumed in the UK contain pesticide cocktails, with some items containing traces of up to 14 different pesticides.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment has identified the rights threatened by environmental harm, including the rights to life, health, food and water and has mapped obligations to protect against such harm from private actors. In effect, where pesticides are concerned, the public are being denied the right to a healthy environment.

But it’s not just the powerful pesticides lobby that is to blame here. Rosemary Mason says the British public (and indeed people across the world) have a right to information. However, she concludes that the public have been denied this because mainstream media outlets have on the whole for too long opted to remain silent on the pesticides issue.

This article touches on just a few of the points in Rosemary Mason’s report. Readers can access the full text of ‘Glyphosatecauses serious eye damage’ on the academia.edu site.

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Gen Z and Free Speech

Photograph Source: Brian Turner – CC BY 2.0

The Knight Foundation released a study that details the attitudes surrounding free speech in our precious young people today. Generational tension is on the rise as young people confront the richer and more conservative “Boomer” generation. Among the many divides is the attitude towards free speech.

Women and people of color feel more socially empowered than past generations even as economic prospects become slimmer and slimmer. This has led to a reactionary boomer weaponization against the marginalized and their allies that takes its form in a myriad of ways. One of these ways, perhaps not the most harmful and certainly one of the more legally acceptable is the use of free speech as a weapon of oppression.

But the divide isn’t so much a generational one as it is a gender and racial one. The Knight Foundation finds: “There has been a modest increase in average support among students for the first amendment. However, there are significant differences in First Amendment support by race across all years, and gender, beginning in 2011.” Interestingly enough this means that white (presumably heteronormative) males not only are more in favor of free speech than ever before but so much in favor that they outweigh all other identity groups who have become more skeptical.

The Knight Foundation continues: “Boys and white students are less inclined than girls and students of color to agree with the statement: “The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.”” On the flip side Donald Trump and the Republican Party have effectively organized around a mythical liberal consensus that infringes on the freedoms of free-thinking fascists.

From this dynamic, we see that Mr. Trump has done more to endanger the First Amendment than help it, based on his threatening and dangerous speech. By making speech itself the terror Mr. Trump can effectively mobilize his base against the poor and vulnerable while at the same time leaving many feeling as if free speech itself is the danger. This can at the same time lead to a distrust of the supposedly neutral right of free speech, which in turn justifies restrictions on speech by the very same forces that frame hate speech as free speech.

The result of this dynamic is an overall distrust of the system and the whittling away of free speech protections for journalists, activists and whistleblowers who are speaking truth to power. Note the contraction between Mr. Trump’s championing of free (hate) speech and his treatment of anyone who dares to question his tyrant rule.

Hence we find that the right to free speech has not only gone too far but has not gone far enough. It should be possible to interpret the right to speech ambiguously, just as Mr. Trump has. Hate speech can be used against corporate rule, and this speech should be free. Love speech can be used for those most marginalized by words and deeds of hate, and this speech should be free. But if marginalized people are saying free speech has gone too far perhaps we need to seriously evaluate what it means to be free.

Does freedom entail private property, exclusive speech, deportations, violence against protestors, slave labor in poor and dark communities, and subjection of woman? If this is freedom then perhaps freedom has gone too far. Martin Luther King Jr. got it right when he said no one is free until we are all free. This is not just a relationship of idealism or solidarity he is speaking about but also a very concrete definition of the emancipation of souls.

The hateful person is not free, for they handcuff themselves to the person they hate and it is only in this joint destruction that the hateful person finds any form of self-expression. No one can deny this act of self-actualization is itself an expression of freedom but if freedom can only be achieved through enslavement to mastery itself then freedom has gone too far. It is no surprise that it is those who are most enslaved that can accurately problematize freedom. In other words, freedom of anything, including speech, should not only be limited to its negative form but also should be possible in its positive form.

How then should we deal with these contradictions? The Knight Foundation argues that today’s education does more for students asking these sorts of questions about their rights: “At the curricular level, schools also have evolved in terms of both the content of civics education and general pedagogical approaches, which look nothing like the staged, lecture-based classroom model of prior generations in many high schools.”

The First Amendment specifically has become more prominent in schools. The number of students who have taken a class that dealt with the First Amendment has gone up from 58% in 2004 to 72% in 2006, according to the study.

Social media, much-maligned, has had fascinating effects: “the course of the surveys, there has been evidence that news consumption is associated with stronger First Amendment support. In 2011, the survey first noted student use of social media to access “news and information” were more likely to signal greater support for free expression rights.” This information presents a contradiction that classical liberals and conservatives have to address. Is social media creating an environment for free speech or false speech? Or more crucially, is there a difference?

The contradiction deepens: “53% of students agree that ”social media stifles free expression because people are afraid of being attacked or shamed by those who disagree with them.” More than two-thirds of students (69%) believe that it is “too easy for people to say things anonymously on social media.”” The majority of youth then see social media as both going too far and not far enough in terms of free speech. This opinion which can make little sense legally perhaps shows the speed at which social media has taken over society’s discourse and news consumption.

Also of note: “Generally speaking, the Midwest and West were the most supportive of First Amendment rights, as of 2018, whereas the students in the Northeast and South were more likely to believe the First Amendment goes too far.” Has the First Amendment become a swing issue or are its split in demographics more complicated than the polarized American public in general?

It is hard to know what to think exactly. For those silly boomers, social media has mostly made fascism more accessible and reductive. Although for young people it is often used to unpack lies of American Empire. And yet at the same time discourse across the political spectrum has become so degraded, vulgar and ideological one is almost begging for a boomer to step in for civility’s sake. Bullying and hierarchy remain dangers across the age spectrum. Kids stuff people into lockers, adults send them into bankruptcy. Speech remains a complex question of freedom and oppression, but there is little nuance in capital: it should not be free, it should be highly regulated, and when possible, abolished, for it has no human questions or intent. The only intent of capital is malice.

Read the full study here.

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The U-Turn That Made America Staggeringly Unequal

Photograph Harrie van Veen – CC BY 2.0

Wealth in America has concentrated — and dramatically so — over the past four decades. Since 1980, note wealth researchers Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the top 0.1 percent share of the nation’s total wealth has more than doubled, from under 10 percent in 1980 to over 20 percent today. In a nation of over 125 million households, just one ten-thousandth of those households — some 12,500 — now control over 10 percent of our wealth.

But can numerical abstractions like these help us truly grasp the reality of the inequality that’s overtaken America? Or are these numbers too, well, abstract?

Let’s come at this from a slightly different angle. Let’s look at actual wealthy American families.

Forbes magazine has been annually spotlighting our nation’s 400 largest fortunes since 1982. By comparing the 1982 and 2019 Forbes listings, we can get a remarkably vivid picture of how America’s wealthiest families have fared over recent years. We can even use the Forbes data to help us compare how the grand fortunes of the original and today’s Gilded Age have unfolded.

The inaugural Forbes wealth list in 1982 conveniently included wealth numbers for two sets of intergenerational wealth dynasties: those whose fortunes had taken root before 1900 — clans like the Rockefellers and the Du Ponts — and those whose fortunes blossomed much closer to 1982, like the Waltons of Walmart and the Mars candy empire. The 2019 Forbes list, in turn, offers up numbers that help us trace how that second set of dynasties has evolved.

With all this information, we can compare the fate of the Rockefellers and Du Ponts between the original Gilded Age and 1982 to the fate of the second set of intergenerational wealth dynasties between 1982 and today.

The comparison couldn’t be starker.

In 1982, the old-line Rockefeller and Du Pont families dominated the initial Forbes 400, with 13 Rockefellers and a stunning 27 Du Ponts making the list. The 13 Rockefellers listed by Forbes held a total wealth of $2.85 billion. The Du Ponts appearing on the 1982 Forbes list held $5.13 billion. In 1982, Forbes estimated that all the then-living descendants of Pierre Samuel duPont de Nemours, some 1,700 of them, held a combined fortune of $10 billion.

How does this 1982 Rockefeller and Du Pont net worth compare with the Rockefeller and Du Pont net worth back at the tail-end of the original Gilded Age? In 1918, U.S. total wealth hovered around $200 billion. John D. Rockefeller, according to a contemporary Forbes analysis, controlled $1.2 billion in wealth at that time, giving him over half of 1 percent of the nation’s entire wealth.

By 1982, the Rockefeller family share of the nation’s wealth had dropped by over 90 percent, to less than one-twentieth of 1 percent of America’s total wealth.

Similarly, in 1929, the country’s total wealth sat around $350 billion. At that time, the stock of the DuPont corporation remained privately held within the Du Pont family, and that makes valuing the net worth of the Du Ponts difficult. But we do know that the DuPont corporation held a 36 percent stake in General Motors at the time, a company then worth $3.1 billion. If we add in the value of the DuPont chemical empire, the Du Pont family share of the nation’s wealth in 1929 must have been at least 1 percent, much greater than the one-tenth of 1 percent share the Du Ponts held in 1982.

In other words, at America’s economic summit, the wealth of the original Gilded Age’s richest de-concentrated in the mid-20th-century decades before 1982.

Unfortunately, by the early 1980s, America’s wealth had begun to concentrate all over again.

The Institute for Policy Studies Billionaire Bonanza report last year identified 15 family wealth dynasties whose richest individuals appear on both the 1982 and 2018 Forbes 400 lists. Among these families, three — the Walton, Koch, and Mars dynasties — have seen their wealth increase nearly 6,000 percent since 1982. These three dynasties now hold a combined $348.7 billion.

And what about the share of the nation’s wealth these families hold? The wealth share held by the Walton, Mars, and Koch families has increased 29-fold, 9-fold and 11-fold, respectively, since 1982.

America’s wealthiest families aren’t just increasing their share of the nation’s wealth. Even more stunning: The individual heirs of the new wealth dynasties Forbesidentified in 1982 hold a greater share of the nation’s wealth today than did the patriarchs who forged these dynasties.

That didn’t happen with the Rockefeller and Du Pont fortunes. John D. Rockefeller’s grand private fortune dispersed into ever smaller chunks, first to his children, then to their children. By the third generation, no individual Rockefeller had a personal fortune — and a share of the nation’s wealth — anywhere close to the fortune and wealth share that John D. personally held.

In the Du Pont family, the wealthiest individual Du Pont heir on the 1982 Forbes list — Lammot du Pont Copeland — held just a tiny fraction of the national wealth share his uncle Pierre controlled during the Gilded Age. How tiny? Pierre’s wealth share outpaced Lammot’s by over 100 times.

Compare that to the trajectory of the Walton family fortune after 1982. The three living children of the legendary Sam Walton each hold a share of the nation’s wealth over eight times the share held by their old man in 1982. Lukas Walton, Sam’s grandson, sports a net worth of over $18 billion and a share of American wealth nearly triple the wealth share his grandfather held.

Will the current trajectory continue? Will our richest families hold ever increasing shares of the country’s wealth, with individual members of these families each holding wealth far greater than their fortunate forbears held? A generation from now, will Sam Walton’s great-grandchildren own a larger share of the nation’s wealth than Sam did in 1982?

Unless American tax policy changes, the answers to those questions will all be “yes.”

So let’s change that policy. Let’s tax our billionaires!

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The Most Important Election in British History

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Democracy in Britain has never been particularly strong or vibrant. Yet, for the first time in decades, the British people face a real choice at the ballot box in December. It wasn’t long ago that any possibility of radical change was excluded from the outset.

What changed was the Labour Party has been changed from below. It’s now the biggest left-wing party in Western Europe with over 485,000 members. Its leader Jeremy Corbyn is the most radical candidate to ever stand for Prime Minister.

Corbyn is one of the few MPs to have voted against British involvement in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Libya and Syria. He’s been consistent and unapologetic in his support of Palestinian rights, but also lesser known causes like the struggle of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Seasoned observers will point to Michael Foot as the only comparable figure. However, Foot supported Thatcher’s war with Argentina and was partnered with the Labour right. He was a good man, but Foot was also a spent force facing worse odds than we face today.

The conditions are so radically different that there is much more to hope for in 2019 than there ever was in 1983. Foot faced a triumphant right-wing government. Thatcher was stronger than ever, not just thanks to the 1982 war but because of an upturn in the global economy as well. Post-war social democracy was crumbling due to its own contradictions.

Now the situation has been turned around. After 40 years of neoliberal policy in Britain, the UK faces a housing crisis, a health crisis and a jobs crisis. This is on top of climate breakdown. Now in 2019 it’s the neoliberal consensus that appears to teetering on the edge of collapse.

The Conservative Party offers no solutions to any of these problems, just more of the same failed policies. This election is an opportunity to break with the past and shift the balance of power and wealth in the country. The stakes could not be higher.

The wreckers

There are far more variables at play in this age of crises. It’s not all about Labour or Conservatives in this election. Former metals trader Nigel Farage has set up a new platform for reactionary populism in the UK. He has modelled it on the Five Star Movement in Italy. There’s a new game in town: the Brexit Party.

The Brexit Party pledged to institute proportional representation and abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected second chamber. At the same time, the party has waged a battle for hearts and minds in Labour heartlands, including a plan to invest £200 billion in infrastructure outside London.

This combined with the promise of a ‘clean’ Brexit could appeal to some Labour Leavers. On the other hand, there are good reasons to suspect the Brexit Party is much less of a threat to Labour than the legacy media makes out.

Yes, it may be easier for Farage to pick up disaffected voters in Northern majority Leave constituencies but this does not mean those votes will hurt Labour’s chances. Farage could just split the right-wing opposition in Northern constituencies.

The Brexit Party tends to take two to three Tory votes for every Labour vote they win over. So it may be possible for this new party to cost Labour seats, but only if Labour voters stay at home. Of course, this all assumes the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is the only issue that matters in this election.

The UK electoral system does not favour electoral pacts or minority parties, it favours whichever mainstream party can consolidate its base at the expense of other parties. It is possible smaller, more marginal parties can chisel away at the bases of large, mainstream parties, but the results can be surprising.

The Conservative establishment decided to hold a referendum to try and cull the threat of UKIP in Tory seats and Labour seats they hoped to conquer in the future. It briefly looked like Brexit allowed an opening in British politics, whereby a swathe of voters could consider voting Labour or Conservative again.

There is another mainstream party in this picture who have chosen to define themselves by their Brexit stance. The Liberal Democrats have positioned themselves as the party of Remain against the Tories and Labour, who they claim are just Leavers. However, this has not meant the Remain vote has abandoned Labour in a dramatic exodus.

Many Tory marginal seats are vulnerable to the Lib Dems compared with Labour marginals. Most Liberal Democrat voters are less open to Labour than they are the Conservative Party. Even though they tend to be more open on immigration, Liberal Democrat voters tend to be more hostile to the left. This is why several Tory MPs have joined the Lib Dems in the last few months.

Despite the media narrative, the Labour Party gained in Southern Remain areas in the May 2019 local elections. The Liberal Democrats stress the huge swing seen in the European elections, however, those votes were cast precisely because the voters knew it was never going to affect domestic politics.

The European elections saw the Lib Dems surge to second place (the Brexit Party came first), which led centrists to conclude the Labour Party had failed to mobilise Remainers. Yet the evidence suggests Labour still carries a core Remain vote.

This is despite the lack of ‘clarity’ that liberals claim is holding back Labour’s support among Remain voters. Labour’s strategy on Brexit has morphed from a soft Leave position to favouring a fresh referendum on the terms of Leave. Nevertheless, it’s not good enough for centrists because the issue was never Brexit – it was Corbyn.

The real danger

There are many real risks going into the election. The terrain could well suit a Conservative leader posturing as the man of the people against Parliament. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a clear, albeit fatuous message: “Get Brexit done”.

Not only are most voters tired of Brexit, many Leave voters are seething with rage that Brexit has not been delivered. The Tories have popularised the betrayal narrative that Parliament is full of Remainers blocking the UK’s path out of the EU. However, if pro-Leave MPs were united, the pro-Remain MPs would not be able to thwart the government on Brexit.

The Johnson government is still in its honeymoon with voters, though the prime minister is polling worse than Theresa May was before the 2017 election. May was enjoying approval ratings comparable to Blair and Thatcher at the height of their power. It didn’t take much to shatter her standing among the public.

Another factor is the timing of the election. Certain chunks of the electorate are less inclined to turn out on a cold, winter day than they would be at the height of summer. This could hurt the left if too many working people decide to stay home rather than go out in the cold and vote. Fortunately, the rise of postal-voting could combat this.

It’s possible that the combination of bad weather, anti-politics and exhaustion could allow the Tories to gain enough seats to hold the balance of power. Though it is still unclear what party would back the Tory agenda, the Conservatives have cost themselves a lot of support on Brexit.

Johnson still has to get his deal through Parliament and the Democratic Unionist Party is unlikely to back it without serious revisions. Hard-line Ulster loyalists feel they’ve been stabbed in the back more than once by this government, though it’s possible the Labour right would back the deal and help squeeze it through.

Afterwards, the Tories would have to find a way to win back the DUP to make the rest of their agenda work but that’s not guaranteed either. The alternative is to find a way to secure Lib Dem support for a Tory deal – perhaps in exchange for a confirmatory referendum. This isn’t a safe bet either.

The Lib Dems may have hinted they would be open to working with a Tory government on an issue-by-issue basis, but it’s still possible Johnson would lack the support he needs from Parliament to get his way. In other words, the UK may be stuck in a stalemate even after this election if Labour does not come out on top.

Even against these odds, the Corbyn project could still succeed. The terrain may favour a hard-right nationalist turn in England, however, the Labour left has the numbers and the infrastructure to fight the establishment and win. There is still plenty to play for in this battle over the future of the UK.

 

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The Hillsborough Soccer Tragedy: Who is Responsible?

Liverpool fans desperately try to climb the fence to reach the safety of the pitch while being stopped by the police. – Fair Use

Who was responsible for the deaths of 96 people and the hundreds injured in the collapse of stands at a soccer match in England in 1989? A jury at the Preston Crown Court in England last week exonerated David Duckenfield for responsibility for the Hillsborough tragedy. A 1991 inquiry said it was accidental and not caused by the rush of Liverpool fans; a 2016 inquest said it was disorganization and negligence by the police who ordered one of the exit gates to be opened, and David Duckenfield, the match commander for the local police, was judged not guilty.

When the verdict was announced, the son of one of the victims stood up and said: “I would like to know who is responsible for my father’s death, because someone is.” Who was that someone? The victims’ relatives still want to know.

One can understand the feeling of the victims’ families. Thirty years after the worst stadium related disaster in British sports history, the exact cause of the tragedy has yet to be legally determined. Was it the fans rushing into the stadium and undisciplined behavior during the match? Was it the insufficient organization by those responsible for such an important Football Association (FA) Cup semifinal? Or was it the fatal decision by the police and their commander to open the exit gate?

So far, after thirty years and three investigations, none of the above has answered the question: “Who was responsible?”

Without minimizing the feelings of the victims’ relatives, one could ask why it is necessary to find “someone” responsible. In the case of a New Zealand airplane crash, the organigram of the company that developed the plane was deemed responsible. No individual, no someone, was held responsible. In a famous hypothetical case, the philosopher Virginia Held asked if a random collection of individuals can be held responsible for not organizing to overcome a mugger in a subway car, assuming that only be organizing can the mugger be overcome. No individual could do the job.

Finger pointing about individual responsibility is common. Much attention is now focused on Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX planes after two planes went down within five months leaving 346 dead. Since the grounding of all 737 MAX planes, 8600 weekly flights have been cancelled across 59 airlines. And the cries of “Who was responsible?” have been loud and clear: Boeing or the FAA?

But does the answer to “Who was responsible?” have to be someone? Do we have to individualize the guilt? The mother of one of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster said: “Ninety-six people were unlawfully killed, and yet not one person is accountable.” She added: “The question I would like to ask all of you, and people within the system, is: Who put 96 people in their graves? Who is accountable?”

The mother of two teenage girls who died in the crush lamented: “We have got to live the rest of our lives knowing our loved ones were unlawfully killed and nobody will be accountable for that unlawful killing. That can’t be right.” But who was it? “I blame the system that is so morally wrong in this country,” the mother said at a news conference after the not guilty verdict was announced. “If it wasn’t him [Duckenfield], who was it?

Since the initial coroner’s report gave the cause as “accidental death,” the families of the victims have fought to have more facts revealed. It was determined by subsequent reports that the police had filed false stories, trying to cover up some of their negligence. The relatives fought and won further investigations. After the 2012 report came out, British Prime Minister David Cameron apologized in parliament. More information has come out with each investigation and trial.

The final responsibility for the disaster has yet to be determined. It seems that the not guilty verdict of the police commander will be the last trial to determine accountability. The decision has not given a definitive answer to “Who was responsible?” The victims’ relatives still have no answer, if there is one.

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The Big Deal in Warren’s Prescription Drug Plan

Photograph Source: Chemist 4 U – CC BY 2.0

Earlier this month, Senator Warren put out a set of steps that she would put forward as president as part of a transition to Medicare for All. The items that got the most attention were including everyone over age 50 and under age 18 in Medicare, and providing people of all ages with the option to buy into the program. This buy-in would include large subsidies, and people with incomes of less than 200 percent of the poverty level would be able to enter the Medicare program at no cost.

These measures would be enormous steps toward Medicare for All, bringing tens of millions of people into the program, including most of those (people over age 50) with serious medical issues. It would certainly be more than halfway to a universal Medicare program.

While these measures captured most of the attention given to Warren’s transition plan, another part of the plan is probably at least as important. Warren proposed to use the government’s authority to compel the licensing of drug patents so that multiple companies can produce a patented drug, in effect allowing them to be sold at generic prices.

The government can do this both because it has general authority to compel licensing of patents (with reasonable compensation) and because it has explicit authority under the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act to require licensing of any drug developed in part with government-funded research. The overwhelming majority of drugs required some amount of government-supported research in their development, so there would be few drugs that would be exempted if Warren decided to use this mechanism.

These measures are noteworthy because they can be done on the president’s own authority. While the pharmaceutical industry will surely contest in court a president’s use of the government’s authority to weaken their patent rights, these actions would not require Congressional approval.

The other reason that these steps would be so important is that there is a huge amount of money involved. The United States is projected to spend over $6.6 trillion on prescription drugs over the next decade, more than 2.5 percent of GDP. This comes to almost $20,000 per person over the next decade.

This is an enormous amount of money. We spend more than twice as much per person on drugs as people in other wealthy countries.

This is not an accident. The grant of a patent monopoly allows drug companies to charge as much as they want for drugs that are necessary for people’s health or even their life, without having to worry about a competitor undercutting them.

Other countries also grant patent monopolies, but they limit the ability of drug companies to exploit these monopolies with negotiations or price controls. This is why prices in these countries are so much lower than in the United States.

But even these negotiated prices are far above what drug prices would be in a free market. The price of drugs in a free market, without patent monopolies or related protections, will typically be less than 10 percent of the US price and in some cases, less than one percent.

This is because drugs are almost invariably cheap to manufacture and distribute. They are expensive because government-granted patent monopolies make them expensive. We have this perverse situation where the government deliberately makes drugs expensive, then we struggle with how to pay for them.

The rationale for patent monopolies is to give companies an incentive to research and develop drugs. This process is expensive, and if newly developed drugs were sold in a free market, companies would not be able to recover these expenses.

To make up for the loss of research funding supported by patent monopolies, Warren proposes an increase in public funding for research. This would be an important move towards an increased reliance on publicly funded biomedical research.

There are enormous advantages to publicly-funded research over patent monopoly-supported research. First, if the government is funding the research it can require that all results be fully public as soon as possible so that all researchers can quickly benefit from them.

By contrast, under the patent system, drug companies have an incentive to keep results secret. They have no desire to share results that could benefit competitors.

In most other contexts we quite explicitly value the benefits of open research. Science is inherently a collaborative process where researchers build upon the successes and failures of their peers. For some reason, this obvious truth is largely absent from discussions of biomedical research where the merits of patent financing go largely unquestioned.

In addition to allowing research results to be spread more quickly, public funding would also radically reduce the incentive to develop copycat drugs. Under the current system, drug companies will often devote substantial sums to developing drugs that are intended to duplicate the function of drugs already on the market. This allows them to get a share of an innovator drug’s patent rents. While there is generally an advantage to having more options to treat a specific condition, most often research dollars would be better spent trying to develop drugs for conditions where no effective treatment currently exists.

Under the patent system, a company that has invested a substantial sum in developing a drug, where a superior alternative already exists, may decide to invest an additional amount to carry it through the final phases of testing and the FDA approval process. From their vantage point, if they hope that a successful marketing effort will allow them to recover its additional investment costs, they would come out ahead.

On the other hand, in a system without patent monopolies, it would be difficult for a company to justify additional spending after it was already clear that the drug it was developing offered few health benefits. This could save a considerable amount of money on what would be largely pointless tests.

Also, as some researchers have noted, the number of potential test subjects (people with specific conditions) is also a limiting factor in research. It would be best if these people were available for testing genuinely innovative drugs rather than ones with little or no incremental value.

Ending patent monopoly pricing would also take away the incentive for drug companies to conceal evidence that their drugs may not be as safe or effective as claimed. Patent monopolies give drug companies an incentive to push their drugs as widely as possible.

That is literally the point of patent monopoly pricing. If a drug company can sell a drug for $30,000 that costs them $300 to manufacture and distribute, then they have a huge incentive to market it as widely as possible. If this means being somewhat misleading about the safety and effectiveness of their drug, that is what many drug companies will do.

The opioid crisis provides a dramatic example of the dangers of this system. Opioid manufacturers would not have had the same incentive to push their drugs, concealing evidence of their addictive properties, if they were not making huge profits on them.

Unfortunately, this is far from the only case where drug companies have not accurately presented their research findings when marketing their drugs. The mismarketing of the arthritis drug Vioxx, which increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes, is another famous example.

We can try to have the FDA police marketing, but where there is so much money at stake in putting out wrong information, we can hardly expect it to be 100 percent successful in overcoming the incentives from the large profits available. There is little reason to think that the FDA will be better able to combat the mismarketing of drugs, than law enforcement agencies have been in stopping the sale of heroin, cocaine, and other illegal drugs. Where you have large potential profits, and willing buyers, government enforcement is at a serious disadvantage.

It is also worth mentioning that the whole story of medical care is radically altered if we end patent monopolies on drugs and medical equipment, an area that also involves trillions of dollars over the next decade. We face tough choices on allocating medical care when these items are selling at patent protected prices, whether under the current system of private insurance or a Medicare for All system.

Doctors and other health care professionals have to decide whether the marginal benefits of a new drug or higher quality scan is worth the additional price. But if the new drug costs roughly the same price as the old drug and the highest quality scan costs just a few hundred dollars (the cost of the electricity and the time of the professionals operating the machine and reading the scan), then there is little reason not to prescribe the best available treatment. Patent monopoly pricing in these areas creates large and needless problems.

In short, Senator Warren’s plans on drugs are a really huge deal. How far and how quickly she will be able to get to Medicare for All will depend on what she can get through Congress. But her proposal for prescription drugs is something she would be able to do as president, and it will make an enormous difference in both the cost and the quality of our health care.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s Patreon page.

The post The Big Deal in Warren’s Prescription Drug Plan appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Another Utility Disaster Headed Our Way

Photograph Source: P.primo – CC BY-SA 3.0

Twenty years ago Montana’s Republicans enacted the worst and most costly public policy decision in the state’s history. Overwhelming Republican majorities in the state legislature and Republican Gov. Marc Racicot colluded to launch a very complex bill hundreds of pages long near the very end of the legislative session that would overturn the historic regulation of monopoly public utilities in favor of what they called “consumer choice.”

Now, with Colstrip’s coal-fired power plants closing much earlier than predicted due to coal’s economic disadvantage against natural gas, wind and solar electricity production, Montana’s all-Republican Montana Public Service Commission is about to allow another corporate-friendly, consumer-disastrous decision that will offload hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to consumers, some of whom will never use the power for which they will be charged.

For those new to Montana, the deregulation debacle is worth telling as a cautionary tale of what happens when single party rule takes precedence over the good of the populace. Governor Racicot was friends with Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who supported Enron, a Texas energy corporation that championed deregulation. Racicot jumped on Bush’s deregulation train, hoping to ride it to Washington, D.C., if Bush became president.

The Montana Power Company (MPC) had long enjoyed a monopoly over the state’s consumers as a “regulated utility” that was allowed to develop generation sources, roll the costs into the consumer rate base plus a 10% profit. The costs and rates were overseen by an elected Public Service Commission tasked with protecting consumers’ interests and Montanans had the lowest-cost power in the northwest region.

But corporate greed and faulty political ideology set the stage for disaster. MPC’s CEO, Bob Gannon, wanted to transform it into a telecommunications company, Touch America. To generate capital, Montana’s consumer-funded hydroelectric dams were sold to Pennsylvania Power and Light — an out-of-state corporation looking forward to the tidy profits from supplying unregulated monopoly power to the state’s consumers at whatever the market would bear.

Zoom forward to now. Enron went bankrupt, MPC crashed — taking pensions and stock holdings with it — and Touch America failed. PPL sold the dams to South Dakota’s NorthWestern Energy (NWE), for nearly a billion bucks. The legislature re-regulated utilities and Montanans now get to pay again for the dams they already paid for once, resulting in the highest power prices in the northwest region. Colstrip is on the rocks, but not before the Public Service Commission OK’d $400 million in debt to be passed on to consumers. And NWE is trying to stick consumers with millions more for power it bought when Colstrip’s generators were offline due to mercury emissions violations. To top it off, NWE is trying to hit solar panel owners for a ridiculous line maintenance charge.

Meanwhile, the all-Republican Public Service Commission’s internal war was highlighted by Commissioner Roger Koopman’s recent opinion column slamming fellow commissioners and Commission Chair Brad Johnson for abusing travel expenditures, conducting backroom hiring deals and failing to notify the public of increased millions in ratepayer charges. Calling the current PSC “habitually dysfunctional, politically dominated,” Koopman concluded with: “The question is, at the end of the day, can elected officials bury their egos and ambitions long enough to put the people’s business ahead of their own? Recent events would suggest that where the Montana PSC is concerned, the answer is ‘no.’”

The real question, it seems, is whether Montanans should continue to be the victims of Republicans’ corporate-friendly, consumer-disastrous policies and decisions. And as Koopman so succinctly put it, “the answer is no.”

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Spying on Assange: the Spanish Case Takes a Turn

Judge José de la Mata of Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, had been facing a good deal of stonewalling on the part of his British colleagues. He is overseeing an investigation into the surveillance activities of a Spanish security firm aimed at WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, during his stay at the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

De la Mata had issued a European Investigation Order (EIO) in September seeking the assistance of British authorities in trying to interview Assange on the matter. This involved allegations that David Morales, owner of the security outfit UC Global SL, “invaded the privacy of Assange and his lawyers by placing microphones inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London without consent from the affected parties.” Morales, for his part, was indicted in October on privacy violations, bribery and money laundering.

While EIO requests are generally regarded as mundane and automatic, the United Kingdom Central Authority was not so sure. De la Mata’s requests, specifically to interviewing Assange by videoconference, were initially blocked. The initial response, signed by Rashid Begun, claimed that “these types of interview are only done by the police”. The justice, Begun stated curtly, had also lacked clarity in his description of events, and the appropriate elaboration on what jurisdiction was being invoked.

It took an irritated De la Mata to retort in a subsequent letter that, “In this case, Julian Assange is a witness, not an accused party”, a point that enabled him to be interviewed by videoconference. He also reiterated that “all the events and crimes under investigation” had been clearly stated.

The question of jurisdictional bar was also given short shrift. As the alleged crimes by UC Global had taken place on Spanish territory; given that the microphones deployed against Assange had been purchased in Spain; and given that information obtained in London was uploaded to servers in UC Global SL’s headquarters in Jerez de la Frontera, a clear nexus was established.

The UK Central Authority has had a change of heart. On December 20, Assange is set to be transferred from his current maximum security abode, Belmarsh, to Westminster Magistrates Court to answer questions that will be posed by De la Mata.

To date, the evidence on Morales and the conduct of his organisation is bulking and burgeoning. It is said that the company refurbished the security equipment of the London Ecuadorean embassy in 2017, during which Morales installed surveillance cameras equipped with microphone facilities. While Ecuadorean embassy officials sought to reassure Assange that no recordings of his private conversations with journalists or legal officials were taking place, the opposite proved true.

An unconvinced Assange sought to counter such measures with his own methods. He spoke to guests in the women’s bathroom. He deployed a “squelch box” designed to emit sounds of disruption. These were treated as the measures of a crank rather than those of justifiable concern.

The stance taken by Ecuador has not shifted, despite claims by Morales that any recordings of Assange were done at the behest of the Ecuadorean secret service. Instead, Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno has used the unconvincing argument that Assange, not Ecuador, posed the espionage threat. “It is unfortunate that, from our territory and with the permission of authorities of the previous government, facilities have been provided within the Ecuadorean embassy in London to interfere in the processes of other states.” The embassy, he argued, had been converted into a makeshift “centre for spying”.

German broadcasters NDR and WDR have also viewed documents discussing a boastful Morales keen to praise his employees for playing “in the first league… We are now working for the dark side.” The dark side, it transpires, were those “American friends”, members of the “US Secret Service” that Morales was more than happy to feed samples to. NDR has added its name to those filing charges against UC Global for allegations that its own journalists were spied upon in visiting the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

The allegations have the potential to furnish a case Assange’s lawyers are hoping to make: that attaining a fair trial in the United States should he be extradited to face 18 charges mostly relating to espionage would be nigh impossible. The link between UC Global, the US intelligence services, and the breach of attorney-client privilege, is the sort of heady mix bound to sabotage any quaint notions of due process. The publisher is well and truly damned.

Not that this convinces such legal commentators as Amy Jeffress, former US Department attaché at the US embassy in London. The appropriate standard here, she surmises, is whether extradition accords with the guarantees of the UK Human Rights Act. Privacy may well be protected, but it is duly balanced, if not ditched, by the imperatives of combating crime and national security.

US outlets have been gingerly moderating the Spanish angle in the Assange affair. The New York Times, for instance, concedes that, “After President Trump took office in 2017, the CIA began espionage aimed at Mr Assange, WikiLeaks and their ties to Russian intelligence, and the Justice Department began building case against him.” A cautionary note, however, is struck: it remained “unclear whether it was the Americans who were behind bugging the embassy.”

Such reservation has infuriated journalists of Stefania Maurizi’s ilk, those who have long praised the work of WikiLeaks and paid visits to Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy. “Appalling,” she tweeted, “how the NY Times minimise the spying activities against all of us inside the embassy: my phones were secretly unscrewed, all my electronic equipment secretly accessed.”

These proceedings constitute the running down of the clock on the extradition process that promises to internationalise the US effort in punishing the publication of national security information. In the meantime, a sinking feeling is being registered by physicians concerned that Assange may not be able to withstand the trauma the legal process is evidently inflicting on him. As medical authorities from eight states have noted, “The medical situation is urgent”, so much so, in fact, that there was little time to lose. The efforts of De la Mata, at the very least, offer a temporary and much needed roadblock, if not total reprieve.

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Big Rallies and Big Differences in Germany

Looking out my window at the wide Karl Marx Allee boulevard below, I have seen many a big May Day parade march by in the old GDR days, and many a passing bicycle race or Marathon. Recently, for the first time, I saw a slow, endless column of green or yellow tractors. I learned later that 5600 of them, after blocking traffic while driving in from North, South, East and West Germany, had converged at the Brandenburg Gate, parked in orderly rows and then voiced their demands: “Fewer or better pesticides, OK! Less or better fertilizers, also OK! We too want to save our planet. But not without consulting with us, who are fighting a bitter battle against monopoly agriculture giants and monopoly retailing giants which are threatening the survival of us family farmers.”

Four days later, also at Brandenburg Gate, 35,000 “Friday for Future” demonstrators joined other kids around the globe to demand an end to long debates about wind farm placement, higher prices for gas and plane tickets, lower ones for railroad fares, to dubious procrastination and all kinds of bamboozlement so as to quickly produce results in cutting global warming.

The next day, in southeastern Lusatia, other young people, mostly in white, blocked roads to the huge, landscape-devouring pit mines for low-grade lignite coal until the police tear-gassed them away. As its sole natural resource, the GDR had been forced to excavate this crumbly fuel as a needed base in building or saving its fumbling economy, but the motivation of the privatized pits is now simply profit.

In southwestern Stuttgart, a week earlier, IG Metall, Germany’s biggest union, organized an angry outdoor rally with 8000 workers from the nearby giant Mercedes plant, also from Audi and parts suppliers like Bosch and Continental.

Germany’s auto industry, its major exporter, is huge and powerful. It helped build up Hitler, made billions from slave laborers during the war and grew even stronger after 1945, as the backbone of West Germany’s “economic miracle”. Those with steady work making Mercedes, BMW, Opel, VW, Porsche won relatively high wages and benefits and became one of the best situated sectors in the economy – but no longer the most militant. The atmosphere in worker-manager company councils was often friendly, sometimes even chummy.

But that is changing – fast! The nasty emission-concealing scandal, an escalating switch from stinky fluid fuels to odorless electricity, from assembly lines with humans to twisting, turning robot arms, with software replacing skilled workers, are taking effect. So are sanctions against Russia, a major importer, and sinking sales to China. Management promises to save jobs where possible are not all too convincing; workers realize, now if not earlier, that the main worries of the big bosses circle around profits, while for them, as one woman at Stuttgart said: “It’s the same wherever you go; no job is safe!” Was this protest an omen of big new conflicts ahead?

Big demonstrations can be highly dramatic, or bloody at times, but can also be stirring examples of solidarity, determination and courage, as in Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Sudan, Lebanon. Of course, they vary; an unusual abundance of US flags does not always prove a progressive ground swell, especially when loudly greeted, almost unanimously, by both the US Congress and Donald Trump.

USA flag-bearers, and those of other countries, may find few cheering crowds in April and May when 16 NATO countries plus Finland and Georgia conduct, right on Russia’s borders, one of the biggest military maneuvers since the Cold War, with 37,000 soldiers, among them 20,00 GIs with heavy equipment flown over to join in. With Germany in the middle of Europe, much of the super-modern weaponry, with deathly missile bearers overhead, will be causing train delays and traffic tie-ups and see tanks clanking over the “blossoming landscapes” once promised to East Germans if they vote for unification. Some made bitter comparisons with all too similar military moves in 1939 and 1941.

Aside from the noise and turmoil, such “defensive” maneuvers always contain a fearsome possibility; one blunder, one missile fired mistakenly at a false angle, one accidental plane crash or a malicious provocation could be a spark and, within seconds, render all worries about fertilizers, hungry polar bears, emission concealment, multiple job losses or Ukrainian phone calls forever irrelevant.

Some hope to disrupt this fearful menace and discourage its expansion or repetition. A hundred experts from a mix of opposition organizations met in Leipzig to plan some action; legal challenges, leaflet distribution to those in or out of uniform, posters and banners, also hung from bridges, anti-maneuver relay races, perhaps civil disobedience action and a big demonstration near the main highway route, perhaps in East German Cottbus or Magdeburg. This won’t be easy; protesting has lately become more attractive – or urgent – as noted earlier. But while a polled majority of Germans oppose international confrontation it has been difficult to win people for peace parades or rallies ever since the giant but unsuccessful protest against an Iraq war in 2003.

How do Germany’s main parties face up to these issues?

The strongest, the two joint “Christian“ parties, are sinking in the polls as their commanding figure, Angela Merkel, though still chancellor, gradually fades. Any hopes that her follower as party head, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, might move the party in a moderate direction also faded, but not so gradually. AKK, as she is known, is now Minister of Defense and just as belligerent and aggressive as her predecessor, Ursula von der Leyen, who now heads the key European Union Commission. AKK has called for a new German National Security Council to help achieve “a stronger German military presence in the world” …  ”ready, together with its partners, to assume more responsibility”. All partners (except the USA and perhaps France) would be junior partners, so when AKK says “we cannot simply stand on the outside observing things but must join in international debate, pushing things forward” we are wise to be worried. AKK defied a challenge from even further right and gained her party’s full support, for now, not on a question of policy but of personal power.

Her party rules in coalition with a frightened Social Democratic Party, whose poll results have sunk to a sickening 14% (while the Christians stand at 29%). And now it is suddenly in a state of total turmoil. Is its loss in membership and poll figures caused by its membership in the increasingly unpopular Great Coalition (Grosse Koalition or “GroKo”)? If so, should it heighten leftish demands, maybe cause a crisis, leading to an early election – and perhaps an even worse disaster for the party? Or should it stick it out? Its leading politician Olaf Scholz, a right-winger and now deputy chancellor and powerful Minister of Finance, says energetically; Stick it out! He clearly prefers the bird in the hand!  A turkey?

But after six months of electioneering, with as many candidate duos as there are Democratic candidates in the USA, two relative unknowns have won out in a membership vote for party leadership, beating a visibly stricken Scholz duo. And now the winners, a hitherto largely unnoticed Bundestag deputy, Saskia Esken, and an equally unknown minister in a state government, Norbert Walter-Borjans (shortened to NoWaBo), are thinking about insisting on a higher minimum wage law. The Christians would not go along! Even the militarist foreign policy is being questioned. The Young Socialists, a party adjunct, and a majority of the voting membership see a left turn as necessary to save the party, even with risky new elections. The present leadership is really scared, rather like the Tony Blair establishment with Jeremy Corbyn or establishment USA-Democrats with Bernie and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Who will win out? A party congress next week may be decisive.

As for the Greens, still euphoric after overtaking the Social Democrats in the polls (with 22%) and despite a slow-down of their upward swoop, they stick largely to their stress on the environment. But in international affairs they sadly remain the most belligerent of all in their confrontation policy towards Russia. Just now they are hinting that, if really necessary, they might just patriotically consider replacing the Social Democrats in a government with the Christians.

They have done this before. Right now, in Saxony and Brandenburg, state governments of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Greens are in the making, called “Kenya” coalitions (with the colors of that country’s flag), and both excluding the Left and the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The AfD held its congress this past weekend in Braunschweig, after finally finding a hall willing to accept them (the Volkswagen company in this case). While outside thousands of anti-fascists protested all day, kept carefully at a distance by a thousand cops, they chose their leaders. One artisan painter now represents East Germany, where they have registered their biggest gains. Known for using unmistakable Nazi jargon and, when questioned, resolutely sticking to it, he will replace Alexander Gauland, 78, now honorary president and still the main AfD spokesman of its 91-man Bundestag caucus (almost no women). They are all still viciously anti-Muslim and anti-foreigner but ousted one delegate for being too overtly anti-Semitic. They now make a policy of this, supporting Israel as a bulweark against Islam.  Although their far-far right group “Der Flügel” (“The Wing”) stayed in the shadows, its dominance prevailed, and Gauland’s prediction that the “Christians” would soon have to seek the AfD as partners was as menacing as the words: “Just wait two or three years”.

DIE LINKE (The Left) also had a meeting as the 69 members of its Bundestag caucus chose co-chairs, always a man and a woman. Dietmar Bartsch, an East German, remained in office. But prominent Sahra Wagenknecht had decided to step down after sharp disagreements as well as health problems, so a new co-chair was needed. The winner, with 36 to 29 votes, hitherto largely unknown outside Oldenburg in West Germany, was Amira Mohamed Ali, 40, whose father was Egyptian, her mother German. She is considered closer to the left wing but called for more unity within the party and stated: “What’s important is to achieve notable improvements for the great majority of the people. If that is possible by working with the Social Democrats and the Greens I am naturally in favor!”

A major test site for this combination is the city-state Berlin, where a coalition of those three parties is now passing a rent control law, defying bitter opposition. If the courts give their OK it will prohibit (with some exceptions) any rise in apartment rental charges for the next five years. But a more radical initiative, aiming at a public referendum, would  also confiscate big chunks of housing from often international corporations. It is supported by the Left but not by the Greens and Social Democrats. (“It’s like the GDR” some opponents whine!). It is just possible that the local coalition could split on this issue, leading here too to a new local election before completing the normal term. The basic direction of the Left would be intricately involved.

One other question is heating tempers. Many organizations survive only thanks to tax-free contributions by their supporters, like a group I am in, “Fighters and Friends of the Spanish Republic 1936-1939” and a wide range of solidarity groups, but also many right-wing groups. Suddenly, out of the blue, the German finance authorities have denied the “non-profit character” of the VVN- BdA, the organization of survivors of Nazi political and racist oppression and those (like me) who oppose modern fascists. The move was based on a decision by the Bavarian “constitution protectors” (like the FBI) that it is against “our democratic rule of law”. A few people recalled an attempt to outlaw the organization in 1962 which was dropped when the defense proved that all three trial judges had been active Nazis, stormtroopers or SS judges. Now the fight is on again. Many are joining to force a reversal of the decision, which hits at just a time when fascist threats and murders are finally, if hesitantly, being officially condemned. All in all, Germany political future looks anything but placid.

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A Playboy Misrules Pakistan

Unlike Western press practices, Pakistan’s privacy traditions constrain a robust discussion of the private lives of celebrities in electronic or print media. However, hush-hush gossip, group text messages, and social media in Pakistan are as brutal as anywhere else in the world. As such private lives of political leaders, such as Prime Minister Imran Khan (IK), remain shrouded in an unsortable mixture of fabrications and truths. For the most part, the Pakistani public ignores the private lives of favored leaders, including IK.

The Western press unreservedly paints IK as a playboy. In his youthful days, IK played cricket and won the World Cup for Pakistan, earning celebrity status. In his midlife, IK slept with British women, faced a paternity lawsuit in California, befriended Princess Diane, and married the daughter of an Anglo-French billionaire. More recently, IK enticed a niqabi woman of four children in Pakistan to divorce her husband and marry him.

For the world, IK’s persistent playboydom spanning over several decades is most puzzling as he leads a conservative Pakistan where sisters and daughters are slaughtered (honor killings) on mere suspicion of having a boyfriend. Just as conservative Christians see Jesus in President Trump, many Pakistanis see a messianic figure in Prime Minister Khan.

Unlike Trump, who made money in real estate, IK has not worked to make a living most of his life. It is unclear how he has managed to maintain a playboy lifestyle without a known source of income. IK lives in a palatial house by a lake near Islamabad, a house he claims his former billionaire wife gifted him. Since 1991, IK has established various trusts to raise millions of dollars from domestic and overseas Pakistanis to build hospitals and universities. It is unclear whether he charges administrative fees to run these trusts or whether he has been drawing his expenses from donations to the political party he launched in 1996. The election commission of Pakistan is presently investigating the foreign funding of his political party.

As a consummate thespian, IK plays on religious sentiments of the people of his country. He has promised to institute an Islamic state like the one the Prophet of Islam established in the 7th-century Medina. The religious establishment has little faith in IK’s holiness. IK begins his mostly unprepared speeches with familiar verses of the Quran. In international photo-ops, IK carries a tasbih – a string of beads conventionally used for repeating the names of Allah. In a 2018 memoir, published in London, yet another former wife of IK accuses him of sexual misconduct, use of drugs, and blatantly fooling the public with his counterfeit piety.

The IK fans condemned the 2018 memoir and made it unviable for the author to visit Pakistan. IK’s cult refuses to die down. A swarm of social media trolls comes hard on journalists, opinion writers, politicians, TV commentators, and even judges who question the policies, speeches, or lawless behaviors of IK. He encourages the media regulatory agency to suppress free speech and retaliate against uncomplimentary journalists and media houses.

Playing with the law is the most alarming element of IK’s personality. As an opposition leader, IK pressed the people not to pay utility bills or send money through the banking system, incited his followers to attack the national parliament, demanded the resignation of the sitting prime minister, and openly solicited the military generals for political intervention.

For reasons of their own, the military generals support and prefer IK to lead the government. IK, as a matter of policy, has decided to play with the generals, not against them. Historically, the generals have had uneasy, if not confrontational, relations with civilian governments. Several times, the generals overthrew democratically elected governments. Opposition political parties assert that the military rigged the 2018 general elections to acquire a majority for the IK political party. They call IK as the “selected prime minister.”

Corruption is an endemic problem in Pakistan, as politicians, bureaucrats, and even judges engage in bribes, undue influence, nepotism, and money laundering. There is enormous public support for rooting out corruption. IK has promised to eradicate corruption and get rid of corrupt dynastic politics that have dominated Pakistan for the past forty years.

However, IK, much like President Duterte of the Philippines, trashes the concept of due process and uses the corruption mantra to poison the legal system. IK adores the Chinese decision to take out 500 corrupt people and wants to do the same in Pakistan. One of his ministers proposed “the mass execution of 5,000 corrupt people without even trying them in a court of law.” No tribunal has taken notice of these genocidal statements.

In fact, in one of its judicial opinions, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has prematurely declared IK to be a “truthful and trustworthy” leader while disqualifying a sitting prime minister as being untrustworthy. Riding on the shoulders of generals and judges, IK has toughened up his rhetoric of holding corrupt politicians accountable. He does not express any respect for the national parliament, where he rarely shows up, and occasionally, he walks into the parliament with riling snootiness.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the scarecrow, responsible for the enforcement of anti-corruption laws, has produced horrifying optics. A university professor arrested for corruption was found dead in chains. The Vice-Chancellor of a university was handcuffed and paraded in humiliation. A former Islamabad Development Authority officer committed suicide, leaving a note that he feared NAB prosecution. A former president and a former prime minister of Pakistan are rotting in prison without any formal charges. A former law minister, a fierce critic of IK’s playboy life, has been arrested for carrying drugs in his vehicle. Ironically, many minsters in IK’s cabinet, facing corruption indictments, have not been booked or brought to trial.

IK’s rhetoric of fighting against corruption has undermined government efficiency and productivity. The bureaucracy scared of the NAB has been forced into inaction. Many government projects are halted or grudgingly carried out. The national parliament has failed to generate any significant legislation because opposition parties, fighting for their detained leaders, are unwilling to cooperate.  Foreign investments are hard to come by because the prime minister in his speeches abroad paints Pakistan as a thoroughly corrupt country. “We are corrupt” is a lousy slogan to attract foreign investments.

To please the military establishment, IK has decided to withdraw the prosecution team that was winding up the treason case against General Pervez Musharraf, who overthrew a democratically elected government and detained the high court judges. While the trial court was only days away in pronouncing a default judgment against Musharraf, IK petitioned a high court to prevent the trial court from giving its verdict. This move has alienated the lawyers of Pakistan, who have been for years campaigning for the rule of law.

Last week, in an unprecedented show of audacity, the Pakistan Supreme Court ruled that no law is available under which the prime minister could extend the Chief of Army Staff’s tenure.  Several times since the birth of Pakistan in 1947, the top general in control of the government has extended his tenure. At other times, the top general has coerced the civilian government to extend his tenure. The parliament must now pass legislation to determine the reappointment of the top general. This empowerment of the parliament might weaken the quid pro camaraderie between IK and the military.

While the people of Pakistan suffer unemployment and unbearable prices of basic groceries, IK has shown little competence to solve the problems. Fantasizing himself as a tremendous autocratic Massiah, IK is by heart undemocratic. He is highly uncomfortable with elected representatives, even in his political party. Little does he know that governing a developing country is different from playing cricket, living on donations or fooling women into submission. Increasingly, his speeches against corruption ring hollow, and his feigned religiosity seem unconvincing. The opposition parties are asking for fresh general elections without military manipulations.

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How American Exceptionalism is Killing the Planet

Ever since 2007,  I’ve been arguing against America’s forever wars, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere. Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that, despite my more than 60 articles, American blood is still being spilled in war after war across the Greater Middle East and Africa, even as foreign peoples pay a far higher price in lives lost and cities ruined. And I keep asking myself: Why, in this century, is the distinctive feature of America’s wars that they never end? Why do our leaders persist in such repetitive folly and the seemingly eternal disasters that go with it?

Sadly, there isn’t just one obvious reason for this generational debacle. If there were, we could focus on it, tackle it, and perhaps even fix it. But no such luck.

So why do America’s disastrous wars persist? I can think of many reasons, some obvious and easy to understand, like the endless pursuit of profit through weapons sales for those very wars, and some more subtle but no less significant, like a deep-seated conviction in Washington that a willingness to wage war is a sign of national toughness and seriousness. Before I go on, though, here’s another distinctive aspect of our forever-war moment: Have you noticed that peace is no longer even a topic in America today? The very word, once at least part of the rhetoric of Washington politicians, has essentially dropped out of use entirely. Consider the current crop of Democratic candidates for president. One, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, wants to end regime-change wars, but is otherwise a self-professed hawk on the subject of the war on terror. Another, Senator Bernie Sanders, vows to end “endless wars” but is careful to express strong support for Israel and the ultra-expensive F-35 fighter jet. The other dozen or so tend to make vague sounds about cutting defense spending or gradually withdrawing U.S. troops from various wars, but none of them even consider openly speaking of peace. And the Republicans? While President Trump may talk of ending wars, since his inauguration he’s sent more troops to Afghanistan and into the Middle East, while greatly expanding drone and other air strikes, something about which he openly boasts.

War, in other words, is our new normal, America’s default position on global affairs, and peace, some ancient, long-faded dream. And when your default position is war, whether against the Taliban, ISIS, “terror” more generally, or possibly even Iran or Russia or China, is it any surprise that war is what you get? When you garrison the world with an unprecedented 800 or so military bases, when you configure your armed forces for what’s called power projection, when you divide the globe — the total planet — into areas of dominance (with acronyms like CENTCOM, AFRICOM, and SOUTHCOM) commanded by four-star generals and admirals, when you spend more on your military than the next seven countries combined, when you insist on modernizing a nuclear arsenal (to the tune of perhaps $1.7 trillion) already quite capable of ending all life on this and several other planets, what can you expect but a reality of endless war?

Think of this as the new American exceptionalism. In Washington, war is now the predictable (and even desirable) way of life, while peace is the unpredictable (and unwise) path to follow. In this context, the U.S. must continue to be the most powerful nation in the world by a country mile in all death-dealing realms and its wars must be fought, generation after generation, even when victory is never in sight. And if that isn’t an “exceptional” belief system, what is?

If we’re ever to put an end to our country’s endless twenty-first-century wars, that mindset will have to be changed. But to do that, we would first have to recognize and confront war’s many uses in American life and culture.

War, Its Uses (and Abuses)

A partial list of war’s many uses might go something like this: war is profitable, most notably for America’s vast military-industrial complex; war is sold as being necessary for America’s safety, especially to prevent terrorist attacks; and for many Americans, war is seen as a measure of national fitness and worthiness, a reminder that “freedom isn’t free.” In our politics today, it’s far better to be seen as strong and wrong than meek and right.

As the title of a book by former war reporter Chris Hedges so aptly put it, war is a force that gives us meaning. And let’s face it, a significant part of America’s meaning in this century has involved pride in having the toughest militaryon the planet, even as trillions of tax dollars went into a misguided attempt to maintain bragging rights to being the world’s sole superpower.

And keep in mind as well that, among other things, never-ending war weakens democracy while strengthening authoritarian tendencies in politics and society. In an age of gaping inequality, using up the country’s resources in such profligate and destructive ways offers a striking exercise in consumption that profits the few at the expense of the many.

In other words, for a select few, war pays dividends in ways that peace doesn’t. In a nutshell, or perhaps an artillery shell, war is anti-democratic, anti-progressive, anti-intellectual, and anti-human. Yet, as we know, history makes heroes out of its participants and celebrates mass murderers like Napoleon as “great captains.”

What the United States needs today is a new strategy of containment — not against communist expansion, as in the Cold War, but against war itself. What’s stopping us from containing war? You might say that, in some sense, we’ve grown addicted to it, which is true enough, but here are five additional reasons for war’s enduring presence in American life:

The delusional idea that Americans are, by nature, winners and that our wars are therefore winnable: No American leader wants to be labeled a “loser.” Meanwhile, such dubious conflicts — see: the Afghan War, now in its 18th year, with several more years, or even generations, to go — continue to be treated by the military as if they were indeed winnable, even though they visibly aren’t. No president, Republican or Democrat, not even Donald J. Trump, despite his promises that American soldiers will be coming home from such fiascos, has successfully resisted the Pentagon’s siren call for patience (and for yet more trillions of dollars) in the cause of ultimate victory, however poorly defined, farfetched, or far-off.

American society’s almost complete isolation from war’s deadly effects:We’re not being droned (yet). Our cities are not yet lying in ruins (though they’re certainly suffering from a lack of funding, as is our most essential infrastructure, thanks in part to the cost of those overseas wars). It’s nonetheless remarkable how little attention, either in the media or elsewhere, this country’s never-ending war-making gets here.

Unnecessary and sweeping secrecy: How can you resist what you essentially don’t know about? Learning its lesson from the Vietnam War, the Pentagon now classifies (in plain speak: covers up) the worst aspects of its disastrous wars. This isn’t because the enemy could exploit such details — the enemy already knows! — but because the American people might be roused to something like anger and action by it. Principled whistleblowerslike Chelsea Manning have been imprisoned or otherwise dismissed or, in the case of Edward Snowden, pursued and indicted for sharing honest details about the calamitous Iraq War and America’s invasive and intrusive surveillance state. In the process, a clear message of intimidation has been sent to other would-be truth-tellers.

An unrepresentative government: Long ago, of course, Congress ceded to the presidency most of its constitutional powers when it comes to making war. Still, despite recent attempts to end America’s arms-dealing role in the genocidal Saudi war in Yemen (overridden by Donald Trump’s veto power), America’s duly elected representatives generally don’t represent the people when it comes to this country’s disastrous wars. They are, to put it bluntly, largely captives of (and sometimes on leaving politics quite literally go to work for) the military-industrial complex. As long as money is speech (thank you, Supreme Court!), the weapons makers are always likely to be able to shout louder in Congress than you and I ever will.

America’s persistent empathy gap. Despite our size, we are a remarkably insular nation and suffer from a serious empathy gap when it comes to understanding foreign cultures and peoples or what we’re actually doing to them. Even our globetrotting troops, when not fighting and killing foreigners in battle, often stay on vast bases, referred to in the military as “Little Americas,” complete with familiar stores, fast food, you name it. Wherever we go, there we are, eating our big burgers, driving our big trucks, wielding our big guns, and dropping our very big bombs. But what those bombs do, whom they hurt or kill, whom they displace from their homes and lives, these are things that Americans turn out to care remarkably little about.

All this puts me sadly in mind of a song popular in my youth, a time when Cat Stevens sang of a “peace train” that was “soundin’ louder” in America. Today, that peace train’s been derailed and replaced by an armed and armored one eternally prepared for perpetual war — and that train is indeed soundin’ louder to the great peril of us all.

War on Spaceship Earth

Here’s the rub, though: even the Pentagon knows that our most serious enemy is climate change, not China or Russia or terror, though in the age of Donald Trump and his administration of arsonists its officials can’t express themselves on the subject as openly as they otherwise might. Assuming we don’t annihilate ourselves with nuclear weapons first, that means our real enemy is the endless war we’re waging against Planet Earth.

The U.S. military is also a major consumer of fossil fuels and therefore a significant driver of climate change. Meanwhile, the Pentagon, like any enormously powerful system, only wants to grow more so, but what’s welfare for the military brass isn’t wellness for the planet.

There is, unfortunately, only one Planet Earth, or Spaceship Earth, if you prefer, since we’re all traveling through our galaxy on it. Thought about a certain way, we’re its crewmembers, yet instead of cooperating effectively as its stewards, we seem determined to fight one another. If a house divided against itself cannot stand, as Abraham Lincoln pointed out so long ago, surely a spaceship with a disputatious and self-destructive crew is not likely to survive, no less thrive.

In other words, in waging endless war, Americans are also, in effect, mutinying against the planet. In the process, we are spoiling the last, best hope of earth: a concerted and pacific effort to meet the shared challenges of a rapidly warming and changing planet.

Spaceship Earth should not be allowed to remain Warship Earth as well, not when the existence of significant parts of humanity is already becoming ever more precarious. Think of us as suffering from a coolant leak, causing cabin temperatures to rise even as food and other resources dwindle. Under the circumstances, what’s the best strategy for survival: killing each other while ignoring the leak or banding together to fix an increasingly compromised ship?

Unfortunately, for America’s leaders, the real “fixes” remain global military and resource domination, even as those resources continue to shrink on an ever-more fragile globe. And as we’ve seen recently, the resource part of that fix breeds its own madness, as in President Trump’s recently stated desire to keep U.S. troops in Syria to steal that country’s oil resources, though its wells are largely wrecked (thanks in significant part to American bombing) and even when repaired would produce only a miniscule percentage of the world’s petroleum.

If America’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen prove anything, it’s that every war scars our planet — and hardens our hearts. Every war makes us less human as well as less humane. Every war wastes resources when these are increasingly at a premium. Every war is a distraction from higher needs and a better life.

Despite all of war’s uses and abuses, its allures and temptations, it’s time that we Americans showed some self-mastery (as well as decency) by putting a stop to the mayhem. Few enough of us experience “our” wars firsthand and that’s precisely why some idealize their purpose and idolize their practitioners. But war is a bloody, murderous mess and those practitioners, when not killed or wounded, are marred for life because war functionally makes everyone involved into a murderer.

We need to stop idealizing war and idolizing its so-called warriors. At stake is nothing less than the future of humanity and the viability of life, as we know it, on Spaceship Earth.

This essay first appeared on TomDispatch.

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The Mad Activist Impeaches Western Culture

Dear Hot-to-Impeach Congressional Democrats,

I thought of you when I read “Why the Ukraine Scheme Matters,” the November 25 editorial in the New York Times. As usual, Times syntax and grammar are superb and the editors’ argumentation skills fully justify the current high tuition rates at name universities. So, congrats, Impeacho-crats! The Times delivered your message: What Trump did in the Ukraine – in his own self-interest – matters.

But I am a tired, marginal, aging, rad-lib lesbo activist moonbat, and I don’t care. What’s scary is, the New York Times can sense this. I bet you can, too.

Americans, the Times writes, now know for sure that Donald Trump “orchestrated a scheme”: he coerced or quid-pro-quo’d or bribed Ukraine’s leader – against U.S. administration policy – to dig up dirt on his political opponent, so that Ukraine could actually get the military aid that Congress had already promised. Crucially, Trump did this, “all for himself, rather than in pursuit of the American national interest.”

Here is where the Times worries that I am not taking your impeachment process seriously. I presumably don’t value our Constitution or the rule of law from which it came. I’m distracted or glaze over at details from impeachment hearings that “don’t map neatly into some Americans’ idea of wrongdoing.”

My “idea of wrongdoing”? They got that right.

See, I’ve been protesting and advocating for human and ecological justice – making an ass out of my broken heart –for years. Basically, all I want is universal dignity, equality, and a living planet: the essence of which you could find embroidered on a throw pillow at a PTA crafts sale.

But, although I’d love to see Trump OUT – heaved into deep space, there to be devoured by other killer viruses – I really can’t follow your impeachment proceedings. I guess I’m what NPR commentators like to call a “civic illiterate.” I’m too exhausted and heartbroken to know just which of Trump’s acts of bribery, treason, high crimes, or misdemeanors “matters.”

Like, I don’t understand why you Democrats are so shocked that, vis-à-vis Ukraine, Trump placed his own interests over those of his country, and acted like a king, rather than an elected official. Hell, I’d be shocked if he hadn’t. In fact, most of us here in Mass-America, along with all three branches of our touted democracy, have put up with Trump acting like King Tweet for years.

So, why have you waited, Impeacho-crats? Why didn’t you take Trump to Subpoena-City when he was pulling out of nuclear arms treaties or climate accords or mutilating the Supreme Court or gutting voting rights or eroding queer policy protections or implementing his anti-travel/Muslim ban or equating, as “very fine people,” Neo-Nazis with anti-racists? Could this possibly be because, technically, all those things are legal?

I’ve actually done some of research, here, to wit: the Western rule of law grew out of the Magna Carta and the subsequent need of England’s revolutionaries to argue against the divine right of kings. Over the centuries, countless enlightened and beautifully crafted words have been written about civil liberties and the rule of law, a minor example being Declaration-of-Independence signer Samuel Adams saying: “There shall be one rule of Justice for the rich and the poor.” I also visited a U.S. Government website on Courts – which Trump doesn’t seem to have wrecked yet – and saw that there are four rule-of-law principles, one being that laws should be “consistent with international human rights.”

So here’s what I don’t get, Impeacho-crats. How was Trump not acting like a king when he ordered ICE to tear children away from their parents, to throw innocent people – fleeing violence and poverty caused largely by the U.S. – into detention camps, and hold them indefinitely in lethally wretched conditions? How are these camps not “high crimes,” and why are they not mentioned as examples of “wrongdoing” in your hearings, which we’re now supposed to take seriously?

But maybe that’s just me being civically stupid. I know there’s some rule-of-law explanation. Like, legally, the president is allowed to build that border wall and destroy nonwhite immigrant lives because you figure that someday a Democratic president would want to do the same thing?

I know your congressional investigations aren’t only about the Ukraine, Impeacho-crats. There are also several House committees exploring other issues, such as Trump’s obstructing the Mueller investigation; his business profits while in office; tax returns; campaign finance/hush money; yadda yadda. But, to me, these focus more on power, finance, and bad boardroom behavior than on liberty and justice for all.

I also recognize that your legal strategy is basically de rigueur. Forty-five years ago, the House chose to hit Richard Nixon with impeachment articles concerning the Watergate break in, and not Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia or his collusion with the FBI to bring down SDS and the Black Panther Party. I guess I’ll have to trust that you are now well within correct legal parameters.

After all, are we not all backed up by that wise rule of law, which, for all its enlightenment, permitted a reality like slavery to stand for centuries as an essential component of a good and just society? So, what you are doing probably makes sense. The 21st-century takeaway from this is that, legally, genocide is not an impeachable offense.

Good luck with this, Impeacho-crats. I had wanted something more. I’m too tired to remember what it was. But I hope you can see why I’m just not that into you.

© Susie Day, 2019

Sources:

Times editorial, 11/24-5/19, “Why the Ukraine Scheme Matters”:

Trump and military aid to Ukraine:

Civic illiteracy:

Cleveland.com, “Teaching Impeachment in an age of poor civic literacy

On the Media, ” A 2011 Newsweek survey found that 70 percent of Americans didn’t even know that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. And only 26% of those surveyed in 2017 by the University of Pennsylvania could name all three branches of government….”

Nuclear arms treaties, e.g.: “Trump Abandons Iran Nuclear Deal He Long Scorned”

“Trump Serves Notice to Quit Paris Climate Agreement

Supreme Court, “Gorsuch comes through for Trump and big business

Voting Rights, “Trump administration has Voting Rights Act on life support

Queer rights, “Under Trump, LGBTQ Progress Is Being Reversed in Plain Sight“.

Travel/Muslim ban, “Statistics show that Trump’s “travel ban” was always a Muslim ban”:

https://qz.com/1736809/statistics-show-that-trumps-travel-ban-was-always-a-muslim-ban/

“Very fine people,” How Trump Changed After Charlottesville”:

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/07/18/donald-trump-racist-rally-227408

Rule of law:

https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/otist14-soc-maglaw/magna-carta-rule-of-law/#.XeQ8Wi2ZNgg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_law#United_States

Samuel Adams:

http://www.americassurvivalguide.com/rule-of-law.php

Rule of law, human rights:

https://worldjusticeproject.org/about-us/overview/what-rule-law

Immigrants and camps, “Trump Is Legalizing Concentration Camps for Immigrant Families”:

https://www.thenation.com/article/immigration-kids-trump-flores-concentration-camps/

“Detained. How the US built the world’s largest immigrant detention system”:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/sep/24/detained-us-largest-immigrant-detention-trump

House investigative committees:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/11/26/trump-impeachment-inquiry-committees-investigations-ukraine/3919128002/

Nixon, impeachment, Cambodia bombing:

https://www.politico.com/story/2014/07/committee-rejects-tax-impeachment-for-nixon-july-30-1974-109517

Nixon, Black Panther Party (“”Found the tape, baby — smoking gun evidence that the Nixon administration, starting with Nixon himself, this dude was giving directives to get rid of these Black Panthers,” said Seale….”:

https://slulibrary.saintleo.edu/c.php?g=866778&p=6314903

# # #

 

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Look Out for the Drift

In the mid-nineties, after receiving a BA in psychology, psychopathology was on my mind daily. I worked at a group home for psychiatrically diagnosed teens in Queens, New York; later as a psychiatric rehab counselor for adults transitioning from group homes to independent living in the South Bronx. My experiences were disturbing enough to make me leave that counselor career path and drift from one job to another—finally end up as a poet, with society and politics being main interests. How could they not be: my family is from Puerto Rico. If government is, indeed, now just a big business, the tiny defenseless island of Puerto Rico has received a brutally raw deal since its occupation in 1898. It’s difficult to see your mother raped by someone you are supposed to trust—a neighbor you were taught was moral and good.

When Trump began his presidential campaign, I began thinking about psychopathology again, specifically Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Shortly after he slithered into the White House and crowned himself king, a few psychologists were criticized for diagnosing him as having a sociopathic narcissistic disorder. Approaching 2020, you can find many pieces written by psychologists and psychiatrists describing a constellation of his behaviors that demonstrate his uniquely robust blend of NPD and psychopathy. You wouldn’t think Trump is a narcissistic psychopath if you don’t explore outside the corporate backed news matrix, from dirty Fox to cleans-up-nice-news, CNN. Mainstream news platforms are not going to open themselves up to charges of slander. Treasonous and seditious are words Republican loyalists immediately shout if anyone dares call their boy dangerously crazy. He has been a disaster for the country in so many ways, and yet part of me wants to thank him for revealing the true white supremacist and narcissistic nature of my country.

On the ground floor of NPD is a lack of empathy and a cruel disregard for the well-being of others; and the more “other” you are the greater doses of cruelty you can expect. Tearing children away from their parents seeking refuge at our southern border or blowing up a building with women and children to kill a supposed threat in the Middle East is now openly being cheered by a large percentage of your neighbors. Are you happy? Is it really a beautiful day in the neighborhood for our next generation of children? What would Mr. Rodgers preach now if still alive? I understand telling a four-year-old he or she is the center of the universe and precious just for being exactly who they are; however, hard core narcissists rarely outgrow this message, no matter what they do in the world. Evidence of abundant narcissism may be just as easy to spot in your own household as in the White House or a Trump rally (where there’s a narcissist expect co-dependents too). If you try for intellectual honesty, perhaps a little spirituality, and are not afraid, sometimes your gaze may turn as close to home as you can get-inside your own thin skin. What’s scary is you never know when your worries may be justified. Exactly how do we teach and learn to have empathy?

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RIP Fred Hampton: a Black Visionary Assassinated by the FBI

Fred Hampton (August 30, 1948 – December 4, 1969) was an African-American activist and deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party

Fifty years ago this week, a squad of Chicago police officers killed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in a pre-dawn raid on the apartment where they were sleeping. In the decades since, a revealing body of evidence has emerged showing that Hampton was the victim of a political assassination, sanctioned at the highest levels of the U.S. government

The story matters today, but not because the FBI still engages in assassination. The Bureau targets so-called “Black Identity Extremists” on flimsy grounds, but there’s no evidence that it has killed any of them. Indeed, FBI director Christopher Wray says new agents are required to study COINTELPRO precisely to learn what not to do.

What Wray prefers not to tell his employees or the public is that one of his predecessors, J. Edgar Hoover, instigated the murder of a promising African-American political leader, and got away with it. Hampton’s murder was a textbook example of how U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies robbed the country of hope and peaceful change and were never held accountable.

No one was ever convicted for Hampton’s murder. To this day, many journalists and historians are unwilling to state that Hoover and other senior U.S. officials countenanced the assassination of domestic foes. Yet compelling circumstantial evidence demonstrates they did exactly that in the case of Fred Hampton.

The story of Hampton’s assassination is not as well-known as that of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and Malcolm X. In 2018 a diverse group of citizens formed the Truth and Reconciliation Committee which calls for the re-opening of the investigations of those four famous killings. (I am a member.) The story of Fred Hampton shows why this is necessary.

Hampton’s terrible murder has much in common with the deaths of JFK, MLK, RFK, and Malcolm. It is an unsolved political crime, rife with official malfeasance and wrapped in mealy-mouthed media coverage.

Who Was Fred Hampton?

At age 21 Hampton was an honor student from suburban Chicago and an experienced leader. He got his start as an organizer for the integrationist National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He came to prominence as leader of the Black Panther Party, which scorned the NAACP as too accommodating to white people. At a time when many black militants favored dashikis and leather jackets, Hampton wore a button-down shirt and a pullover.

A self-described “revolutionary,” Hampton envisioned the future of the civil rights movement as a “rainbow coalition” of white, black, brown, yellow, and red people. Jesse Jackson would later adopt the term as the name of his organization and the theme of his ground-breaking presidential campaigns of 1984 and 1988. In short, Hampton was a charismatic leader with a vision of marrying the social gospel of King to the militant nationalism of Malcolm X.

Not coincidentally, Malcolm X, King, and Hampton were assassinated in the span of four years.

Was the FBI Involved?

The raid that killed Hampton was the culmination of the FBI’s notorious Counterintelligence Program. COINTELPRO, as it is known, is usually identified as an FBI program. In fact, COINTELPRO originated with the CIA. When CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton launched a secret and illegal program to open the mail of Americans in 1957, he fed the results to Hoover, along with the techniques for “neutralizing” perceived enemies. COINTELPRO was the domestic implementation of standard CIA operating procedures in other countries.

As Hoover’s deputy (and Angleton’s close friend) William Sullivan later explained to Senate investigators, the “rough, rough dirty business” of foreign counterintelligence was “brought home against any organization against which we were targeted.”

(I tell the story of COINTELPRO’s origins in my 2017 biography, The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton. )

Hoover regarded all but the most quiescent of African-American leaders as advocates of “hate.” It was the bizarre projection of a hateful man, not unlike the rhetoric of Hoover’s political progeny—Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump—who bray that Barack Obama is a “racist.”

The Meaning of ‘Neutralize’

An early COINTELPRO target was Martin Luther King, a religious advocate of non-violence and integration. In 1964 FBI operatives mailed King a letter saying “your end is approaching…. You are finished…. There is but one way out for you.” King’s colleagues understood the letter as an unsubtle invitation to commit suicide.

As the civil rights movement burgeoned in the 1960s, Hoover became more explicit about his techniques of repression. In an August 1967 memo, available on the FBI’s web site, Hoover said the purpose of COINTELPRO was

“to expose, disrupt, misdirect, or otherwise neutralize the activities of Black nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesman, membership, and supporters.”

When the Black Panther Party (BPP) exploded as popular movement among African-Americans impatient with King’s “turn the other cheek” approach, Hoover sent another memo ordering FBI field offices to submit “imaginative and hard-hitting counterintelligence measures aimed at crippling the BPP.”

The language was an invitation to political violence: imaginative, hard-hitting, crippling. The purpose, the racist director stressed, was to “prevent violence… to pinpoint troublemakers and neutralize them before they exercise their potential for violence.” The goal, he explained, was to prevent the emergence of leader who might “unify and electrify” the black community, as Malcolm X and King aspired to do.

Most white law enforcement officer with guns and badges understood full well what Hoover intended when he used the word “neutralize.” Many white journalists and historians still do not.

In a January 1969 memo, Hoover reiterated that the Panthers were a prime COINTELLPRO target because the group was seeking to improve its image. Not coincidentally, Hampton was then making headlines with his efforts to forge a truce among Chicago’s feuding street gangs and revolutionary activists.

At the time, COINTELPRO operatives regularly insinuated informants and provocateurs into the gangs and the Panthers with the goal of provoking violence between them. This tactic was lethally successful. And anyone who dared to say the FBI engaged in such tactics was sure to be described by the mainstream press as a “conspiracy theorist.”

In the face of fearsome violence, the Panthers refused to surrender (which is one reason why black Hollywood dreamed up a superhero called “Black Panther.”) The FBI ransacked the Panther’s Chicago headquarters in July and October 1969. In November 1969, one of the Panthers was ambushed and killed in a shootout that left two Chicago police officers dead.

By then, the FBI had inserted a paid informant, William O’Neal, into the Panther organization. According to lawyers for Hampton’s family, O’Neal gave a floor plan of the apartment where Hampton lived to his police handler. The plan was passed to a special squad of Chicago police officers working for the Cook County State’s Attorney Office. The office was headed by Edward Hanrahan, a politically ambitious prosecutor. On December 3, 1969 Hanrahan’s office notified Hoover of a plan to raid Hampton’s apartment for illegal weapons.

What Happened on December 4?

The Panthers and the police gave diametrically opposed versions of Hampton’s death. The police said when they had announced themselves they were greeted with a shotgun blast. The Panthers said the cops opened fire first. Hampton died in his bed, next to his pregnant wife. Another Panther leader, Mark Clark, was killed in another room. Four people in the apartment were wounded and three were unharmed.

Chicago authorities then gave O’Neal a $300 bonus and charged the seven survivors with attempted murder of the police officers. At trial, an FBI crime scene examiner testified that the police had fired at least 89 gunshots and the people in the apartment had fired exactly one. It did not come from Hampton’s room.

As public outrage mounted, the U.S. Justice Department began to investigate, and Hanrahan dropped the charges. A state special prosecutor later indicted him and 13 other police officials and officers for obstruction of justice. They were acquitted in 1972.

COINTELPRO was exposed by a band of doughty leftist burglars who broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania and came away with a trove of secret FBI documents that they shared with reporters. In 1975, the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA activities, known as the Church Committee, investigated and documented a host of COINTELPRO crimes. FBI director Clarence Kelley issued a formal apology.

But “sorry” didn’t pay any bills for Hampton’s widow, infant son, and the other survivors. The families of the victims filed a $47 million civil lawsuit against Hanrahan and the police officers, which was dismissed and then reinstated. Thirteen years later, in 1982, the city of Chicago, Cook County, and the U.S. Justice Department agreed to pay a $1.85 million settlement, a belated admission that Hampton had been illegally targeted. For the suffering of seven victims and their families, it was a welcome but relatively parsimonious payout.

Hanrahan went on to run for mayor of Chicago twice; he lost badly both times. He died in 2009.

A State-Sanctioned Assassination

The final report of the Church Committee denounced COINTELPRO but refrained from using the A-word.

“COINTELPRO was more than simply violating the law or the Constitution. In COINTELPRO the Bureau secretly took the law into its own hands, going beyond the collection of intelligence and beyond its law enforcement function to act outside the legal process altogether and to covertly disrupt, discredit and harass groups and individuals.”

This was far too charitable to the FBI. It is true that Fred Hampton and his fellow Panthers were disrupted, discredited, and harassed. It is true that some Black Panthers had, on other occasions, committed crimes or provoked violent encounters with police. Hampton was not one of them. The simple truth, still largely unspeakable in Washington, is that Hampton was assassinated–murdered for political reasons. He was, in a word, “neutralized” at the behest of the leaders of the U.S. government.

To be sure, J. Edgar Hoover and James Angleton did not conspire to kill Fred Hampton in his bed. They merely encouraged and enabled others to do the “rough, rough dirty business” of political repression, at home and abroad. Men of power in America knew how to keep their fingerprints off the resulting crimes.

The loss is painful to contemplate. If he had lived, Fred Hampton would 71 years old, more senior than Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker, more youthful than Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden. Maybe he would have made revolution. Maybe he would have run for president. Maybe he would have done both. We can only imagine the possibilities that were extinguished that night 50 years ago.

Jefferson Morley, author of The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton, is the editor of The Deep State blog. He is a member of the Truth & Reconciliation Committee, founded to reopen the investigations of the assassination of JFK, MLK, RFK, and Malcolm X.

 

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Wealthy Countries’ Approach to Climate Change Condemns Hundreds of Millions of People to Suffer

Mill and power plant, West Linn, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

In Madrid, Spain, the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference—known as COP25—began on December 2. Representatives of the world’s countries gathered to discuss what is decidedly a serious problem for the planet; no one, except dangerous political forces in the neofascist right, denies the reality of climate change. What prevents a transfer from carbon-based fuel to other fuels is not the stubbornness of this or that country. The main problems are three:

1) The right wing that denies climate change;

2) Sections of the energy industry that have a vested interest in the continuation of the use of carbon-based fuels;

3) The refusal by the Western advanced countries to admit both that they have caused the problem and that they should use their vast wealth to finance the transfer from carbon-based fuels to other fuels in countries whose wealth has been siphoned off to the West.

The first two blockages—the right wing and sections of the climate industry—are related, since it is often money from the climate industry (the Koch brothers, for instance) that finances the climate deniers and sows confusion about the immense reality that confronts us.

The third blockage is serious, and it has prevented the United Nations process from bearing fruit. At the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, the countries of the world negotiated a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In that document—which was ratified at the General Assembly two years later—the governments agreed to a key principle, namely that the impact of colonialism cannot be divorced from discussions of the climate crisis.

“The global nature of climate change,” the parties wrote, “calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions.”

Common and Differentiated Responsibilities

The main phrase here to consider is “common but differentiated responsibilities.” This means that the problem of climate change is something that is common to all countries, and that no one is immune to its deleterious impact; at the same time, the responsibility of countries is not identical, and some countries—which benefited for centuries from colonialism and carbon fuel—have a greater responsibility for the transition to a less damaging energy system.

There is little scholarly debate on the fact that certain countries—the West—benefited inordinately from both colonialism and carbon fuel. A look at the data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center’s Global Carbon Project shows that the United States of America—by itself—has been the largest dispenser of carbon dioxide emissions since 1750. The main carbon emitters were all colonial powers, namely European states and the United States of America. From the 18th century, these countries have not only dispensed the bulk of the carbon into the atmosphere, but they also continue to exceed their share of the Global Carbon Budget.

Carbon-fueled capitalism—enriched by the wealth stolen through colonialism—enabled the countries of Europe and North America to enhance the well-being of their populations. The extreme inequalities between the standard of living for the average European (742 million people) and the average Indian (1.4 billion people) is as stark as it was a century ago. The reliance by China, India, and other developing countries on carbon—particularly coal—is high; but even this use of carbon has not raised the per capita emissions of China and India above that of the United States, whose per capita emissions are almost twice as much as China’s per capita emissions.

Green Climate Fund

The Framework Convention recognized the importance of colonialism, the geographical divergence of industrial capitalism, and its impact on the carbon budget. That is why the countries at Rio agreed to create a Green Climate Fund. The West was asked to make substantial contributions to the fund, whose capital would then be used to assist developing countries to “leapfrog” carbon-fueled social development.

It was hoped that the fund would draw in $100 billion—at a minimum—by 2020. The United States pledged $3 billion but has only contributed $1 billion. Trump has blocked any further contributions to the fund (Bernie Sanders, in contrast, said he would pay $200 billion into the fund, while the UK’s Jeremy Corbyn pledged to use his country’s leverage over the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds toward “climate justice for the Global South”). Australia and Russia have also paused contributions. No real appetite exists to expand this fund; there is little expectation that it—or the concept of leapfrogging—will be taken seriously at COP25.

The $100 billion figure is very conservative. The International Energy Agency suggests each year in its World Energy Outlook that the actual figure is in the trillions. None of the Western powers has intimated anything like a commitment of that scale to the fund.

Attack on Coal

It is far easier to attack China and India, and other developing countries.

In early November, UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the press after his participation in the UN-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. He mentioned neither the concept of “common but differentiated responsibility” nor the Green Climate Fund.

Tellingly, the secretary-general made three proposals, each of which says nothing to the main principle of “differentiated responsibility”:

1) Taxes must be placed on carbon emissions.

2) Trillions of dollars of subsidies for fossil fuels must end.

3) Construction of coal-fired power stations must end by 2020.

None of these proposals per se would raise eyebrows. In fact, given the gravity of the reports coming in from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is no doubt that action is necessary.

But what kind of action? These three proposals would directly strike at the energy sources for countries that have not yet provided electrification for their populations, or where their people are far from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Southeast Asia, where Guterres made these remarks, only anticipates full electrification of the region by 2030.

Advanced industrial states—such as the United Kingdom and Germany—have said that they will phase out coal by 2040. These are countries that have created the Powering Past Coal Alliance (backed by the Bloomberg New Energy Finance, one of the major capital funds that seeks to make money off the Green New Deal). There is money to be made here for venture capitalists; they are not going to contribute the billions needed for the Green Climate Fund. No philanthropy by the billionaires will be willing to donate their money into the fund; the tax-free money they make on the “green transition” will eclipse the tiny amounts of money they will donate for a non-carbon future.

Ugly Choice

Meanwhile, developing countries have an ugly choice before them: to forgo carbon, the cheapest fuel, and then forgo social development for their populations; or to continue to use carbon and threaten the planet. These are the only choices if the advanced industrial states refuse to fund the Green Climate Fund, and if they refuse to transfer technology for wind and solar to countries without any financial obligation.

A Green New Deal in the West is not going to be sufficient if this deal does not include trillions of dollars into the UN’s Green Climate Fund and the transfer of technology as a social practice and not for profit.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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The Tory Election “Campaign” to Date

Photograph Source: Annie Mole – CC BY 2.0

The Tory election “campaign” has been precisely that– a non-campaign in which BoJo Johnson has declined to debate with his opponents or be interviewed on TV by a figure (Andrew Neil) noted for asking difficult questions and persisting with them.

BoJo’s public appearances are now confined to staged photo ops in which the man who has never done a real day’s work in his life dons a hard hat, protective goggles, and high-visibility jacket, and poses with sheep and bulls on visits to agricultural shows and farms– from past form we know he’d much rather be at some posh London night club where Barbie Doll floozies will be available for his uxorious delectation.

After a few disastrous “walks-about” in which BoJo was stiff-armed verbally by members of the public, genteel old ladies included, these too have been abandoned.

The posh fellow touted in the rightwing trash-rags for his (supposed) ability to charm your ordinary John and Jane Bull turned out to be a dud when it came to “relatability”.

I had expected to discuss the Tory election manifesto at some point.

All such manifestos are aspirational by their very nature, some more credible than others, and yet others hopelessly incredible.

Labour’s manifesto veers towards the former, while the latter is definitely where the Tories have placed themselves.

The Tories promise to end austerity, but pledge a pittance towards this end, and of course there are the de rigueur neoliberal tax cuts for the rich.

To sum up the Tory manifesto: we’ll pretend that austerity will end (although it won’t), and the rich will of course continue to get their free lunch.

Like their Republican counterparts in the US, the Tories can no longer be called the party of business and industry.

Today’s Tory party is the party of hedge funds, financiers, property speculators, asset strippers, “dark money” of all sorts, and Russian oligarchs.

By tying itself to a donor base that has detached itself from the productive economy, the Tory party has untied itself from any real need to concern itself with that economy— the financial and property-market sectors, with a little bit of tourism added on, will see Ukania through, thank you very much!

Except of course they won’t.

The UK is teetering on the edge of recession, and Brexit will certainly tip it into a downturn.

As I write there are 10 days to go to the election. Labour is closing the gap in the opinion polls in the face of the Tory non-campaign.

BoJo’s henchman and fellow Etonian, Jacob Rees-Mogg (“the Hon Member for the 18th Century”) has vanished from the face of the earth, and seems to be under a house arrest imposed by Tory HQ.

Moggy turned out to be a horror show at the start of the election campaign, simply by saying the things his colleagues believe but dare not utter in public.

At the same time, BoJo never seems able to give an answer when asked by an interviewer about the number of children he has, so he is now under a semi-house-arrest, and this question is of course at the top of nearly every interviewer’s list.

BoJo also skipped the Channel 4 debate for party leaders on climate change, and sent his dad and his colleague Michael Gove in his place. Channel 4 refused to have them at the podium, saying, quite rightly, that Daddy Johnson and the Govester were not party leaders.

Melting ice sculptures of planet Earth were placed where BoJo and the leader of the Brexit party, Nigel Farage (who also declined to attend), would have stood.

BoJo threw a fit, and threatened to review Channel 4’s broadcasting license after the election— a clear abuse of power.

Daddy Johnson was also asked in an interview to comment on a caller who gave his son the nickname “Pinocchio Johnson” for his inveterate lying, to which Johnson pere gave the lofty response that this was of no consequence because most Brits were plebs who could not spell “Pinocchio”.

At this rate there will soon be a Tory HQ-mandated house arrest for Johnson pere as well.

The media have been doing a trawl through some of BoJo’s output when he masqueraded as a journalist, and, not unexpectedly, uncovered some real gems.

On the children of single mothers: “’ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and Illegitimate”. As commentators pointed out, this is deeply ironical coming from someone who has added to the total of single mothers.

On the working class: “likely to be drunk, criminal, aimless, feckless and hopeless, and perhaps claiming to suffer from low self-esteem brought on by unemployment”. Again, as commentators pointed out, this is deeply ironical coming from a member of the posh Bullingdon social club when he was at Oxford, whose raison d’etre was/is getting drunk and drugged-out, trashing restaurants, and burning high-denomination banknotes with a cigarette lighter in front of street-sleepers.

On the poorest 20% of society: “the group that supplies us with the chavs, the losers, the burglars, the drug addicts and the 70,000 people who are lost in our prisons and learning nothing except how to become more effective criminals”.

All BoJo could do when asked about these comments was to whine that they were being taken “out of context”.

As more such pearls are discovered by inquisitive journalists, BoJo may even join his pal Moggy and Daddy Johnson in a cave somewhere in southern England designated by Tory HQ.

The news regarding the NHS continues to be grim.

34 routine diagnostic tests and treatments will be rationed– so that patients will only be able to get them in exceptional circumstances– as part of an effort to save money.

It was disclosed that patients have been delayed inside ambulances for at least 30 minutes almost 1.5 million times over the past 3 years as they waited for hospital handovers.

The creeping privatization of the NHS continues. Private firms have been handed almost £15bn in NHS contracts over the past 5 years. The value of contracts given to non-NHS entities has soared by 89% since 2015.

The one-trick Tory campaign pivots on Brexit and Brexit only, and its politicians have clearly been instructed to take every opportunity to bring all questions in interviews and debates round to this issue.

For example, a simple question: what will the Conservative party do about the worsening teacher shortage that has occurred under its watch?

Robotic Tory answer: Let me tell you that when Brexit happens… (greeted by a mixture of groans and guffaws from the audience).

By contrast, Labour’s election prospectus involves the most significant reconstruction of Britain’s economy and society since the immediate postwar years, when the then Labour government created the welfare state.

The narrowing gap in the opinion polls could portend a minority government formed by either the Conservatives or Labour, or, dare one say it, a Labour government with a majority.

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Indians Shall Not Govern

Photograph Source: Zlatica Hoke – Public Domain

“The Indian is good for nothing. But he represents in Bolivia a living force, a mass of passive resistance, a concrete tumor in the entrails of the social organism…The Indian race and the Mestizo caste will have to perish in the struggle for existence.”

– Nicodemos Antelo, Bolivian writer, circa 1860

It was a fundraiser for Peruvian sick children. Being at the main table, I was seated – uncomfotably- next to a young man who was the embassy envoy, representing one of the most corrupt governments in the Americas. “But it is for a good cause, I shall behave and talk small talk”, I kept telling myself. My good intentions did not last long.

When the music performance was announced I said something to the effect that Latin American music was very romantic but some seem to think we have only salsa. (That was my attempt at small talk.) The diplomat then proceeded to tell me who was and who was NOT Latin American, and pointing to the photo of a needy child which graced every table, he said: “For instance, that child there is not Latin American”. Astonished I asked how can you say that? She is Peruvian! “No, she is Indian. Latin Americans are those of us who stem from Spain and Portugal.” He was not kidding nor making some sort of epistemological statement on the origin of Latin languages. He was unashamedly, sneeringly , racist, making a clear distinction between himself and that poor child. Our conversation deteriorated from then on to reach a point when he said that “those” children got sick because their mothers were too ignorant to know how to care for them. Trembling with disgust, I got up telling him I would sit next to him no more.

Peru and Bolivia, two of the countries of the Americas with the largest indigenous populations share the same racist attitude among much of their ruling white/mestizo middle classes. The “Indian” is apart, but lower, less worthy, ignorant, too backward to be able to really participate in politics, let alone, rule. This attitude is long standing, strengthend by European positivism in the 18th century and a vile distortion of Darwin’s scientific theory[1] . It is demonstrably prevalent in many works of Latin American literature, such as Facundo, Doña Barbara, La Voragine, in authors from Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile or Peru. [2] The Argentinian president Sarmiento, rabid anti-Indian put it quite clearly: “Nothing can compare to the extinction of the savage tribes or else to keep them weakened until they stop being a social danger.” Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (President of Argentina, 1868-74)

The scene painted by these anti-Indigenous writers is invariably one of a struggle between Civilization vs. Barbarism, with the Indian representing that which is barbarous or savage, reinforcing the myth of the treacherous, lazy, worthless Indian. The Black population fares the same fate, being regarded as even lower than the Indian, branded by the stigma of slavery and the myths of devil worship and voodoo. Thus President Hugo Chávez, of mixed Indian and Black ancestry, suffered the visceral hatred of the Venezuelan upper classes throughout his mandate, hatred which the working class mestizo president Nicholas Maduro has fully inherited.

This is at the very root, the very heart, of the passionate contempt

of the elites for Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of the región who dared recognize the plurality of cultures and languages in Bolivia, who dared promote and protect the human rights of the majority. Representing the indigenous population with dignity he led a wise and properous political administration. In the recent tumultous political life of Bolivia how could the upper clases admit that The Indian knew how to govern better than any previous white president? He was the antithesis of every prejudice, of every biased attitude and feeling against “Indians” that the elites had held for centuries.

Evo Morales was deposed in a coupd’etat that the USA, Canada and other satellite nations, right wing politicians, crass NGOs, the Ministry of Colonization (i.e. the OAS) and the prostituted mainstream press dared say was NOT a coup, despite the killings, the wounded, the suspension of civil guarantees, the onslought of the armed forces and police, and the outrageous, blatant disregard of the Bolivian Constitution. So often we hear from politician’s mouths platitudes of how they respect the “rule of law”- rule of law , which is only invoked when it suits their economic and political interests.

The men and women who run the large corporations have a most overwhelming stance: that of greed – which in capitalist terms is not a vice, but a virtue, the mandate to accummulate capital and enjoy profits without pesky regulations or governmental interference. If the animosity and desire to depose the Venezuelan government lies basically on corporate longing to fully control the vast Venezuelan petroleum reserves, the desire to topple Evo Morales lies in great part in longing to fully control one of the largest deposits of lithium on the planet that lies in Bolivia. If petroleum is the lifeblood of today’s economies, lithium is the lifeblood of the future economy: batteries to power digital technology, artificial intelligence and state-of-the art aeroplanes and missles. Petroleum and lithium may not be in the hands of democracy, of popular governments, of dark people that dare question corporations’ rights to their natural resources. So the greed of corporations and the racism of Bolivia’s upper clases came together in perfect harmony to destroy Bolivia’s Constitutional order.

So what is to be done? If we could turn back the clock and be there when the Spanish (and later the English in North America) decimated the indigenous peoples of the Americas: Aztec , Mayas, Incas, Carib, and every tribe in between with their gunpowder, mail, horses and diseases, if we had been there as they utterly destroyed their cities, temples and cultivated lands, if we had been witnesses to their human and cultural genocide, would we had done anything to counter it? Would we have been like Fray Bartholome de Las Casas denouncing such human outrage, or would we had been complicit with our acceptance?

We cannot turn back the clock, but cirumstances have brought us to a historic crossroads, so similar in intent, that it is a temptation to say that History is repeating itself. We can reject the racist politicians and usurpers in Bolivia, we can denounce their racism, we can repudiate corporations’ rapacious and malign interference, and we can exert whatever democratic means are at hand to shame the “supposed” democratic countries of the world to stand by the Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia and the Americas, and demand the return of Evo Morales.

This is not only about one man, one Indian, one Evo Morales. If we allow his ouster to stand, the message, the reality, will be that no other such as him will be allowed to govern, no Indian and no Mestizo who dares defy the might of corporations and the governments they control will be aceptable. Decent people should not be willing to live with that.

All is not lost. I had the honour of being invited as an observer to the Encounter of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas that took place in October in Caracas. It was stirring to listen to indigenous representatives from many countries, one by one talk of their peoples, situations amd common threats. I noticed a steely resolve not simply to survive, but to thrive, to exercise their rights, protect their communities, lands and resources from rapacious capitalism. After 500 years of resistance, they are determined to be united in the midst of their distinctiveness and defeat any form of oppression or paternalism.

All is not lost. Despite their outragous and bloody attempts, the USA hegemon and allies have not been able to oust the democratic and popular government of Nicolás Maduro. It endures as a clear sign of the times: Latin Americans are repudiating elite governments in places such as Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil, Haiti, that for so long have oppressed the indigenous peoples and the working class, elites that have identified with the empire and turned their backs on their own people, history and culture.

Notes.

1) Gustav Le Bonn, Auguste Compte, Spencer, Gobineau all presumed superior and inferior races. See Antonio Sacoto, “El Indio en el Ensayo Hispanoamericano” Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, 2002

2) Authors such as: D.F. Sarmiento, Alcides Arguedas, César Zumeta, Agustín Alvarez, José Ingenieros, Carlos Octavio Bunge, Carlos Arturo Torres, Nicodemos Antelo, Romulo Gallegos, among others.

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Bolivia’s Five Hundred-Year Rebellion

Photograph Source: Alka Agrawal It appears Gaston Ugangi created the painting – CC0

In 1781, the Bolivian indigenous leader Tupac Katari led a rebellion in which La Paz, the Spanish colonial capital of “Upper Peru,” was besieged for 109 days.The siege ended with the arrival of a Spanish army. Katari was captured, he and his wife, Bartolina Sisa, were gruesomely executed, and thousands of indigenous people were massacred. For many years this was treated as a minor event in history books, but in the latter half of the twentieth century Katari and Sisa have been celebrated as symbols of the resistance to oppression by the indigenous majority, and as martyrs in a national revolution whose time has finally come.

The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and the Decolonization of History in Bolivia, by Benjamin Dangl (AK Press, 2019), is the story of decades of work by organizers, activists, intellectuals, and politicians to turn this story of indigenous resistance to oppression into the symbol of national liberation. It follows the way social movements have related to the question of indigenous identity, and their efforts to organize and focus its power, up to the point of electing an indigenous president. It is a story of decolonization, of people freeing themselves from the mental and political structures that were imposed upon them by imperial powers.

In 1952 the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) led a revolution that made historic gains with expanded rights for workers, land reform, and national economic sovereignty. It was supported by miners, workers and peasants, but it was led by a white and mestizo middle class who saw the indigenous majority as “primitive,” people who needed to modernized, assimilated, and brought into the economy as workers and capitalist farmers. This implied giving up communal economic forms, traditional clothing, using Spanish, and finding their place in a capitalist society. While peasants welcomed the land reform, cultural change was resisted.

Many indigenous people benefited from improvements in their rights and education, but as their conditions improved they became more aware of how racism was limiting their advancement—it was not just poverty. By the 60’s Aymara, many of rural origin who had got into the university, were forming Katarist circles that promoted a powerful, liberating ideology. In the words Luciano Tapia, a protagonist in the movement, “I understood that, far from feeling as though I were a beggar and foreigner in my own ancestral land, rather, I should instead feel proud of being a descendant of the great and glorious civilizations from this part of the world. From this comes the reason to maintain that beyond being a simple campesino class,we are fundamentally a living historical reality, a people made of flesh and bone, a real Nation.”

Kataristas looked back at a time when Andean people lived in a society that was superior in its values and organization to 20th century Bolivia. That society was not a Utopia, it was a living reality that their ancestors created. Their country had been violently taken from them and they had been enslaved. However, there is a history of resistance to be proud of, not just Katari but many others who are being rediscovered as the stories of the elders are compiled. Dangl tells how indigenous thinkers and activists deepened and popularized these ideas, turning them into a political force.

The revolution of 1952 had empowered a government sponsored peasants’ union, but a series of subsequent coups eroded its gains after a few years. Kataristas went to work to take control of the state-dominated union, using their message to build morale and solidarity. One of their early leaders spoke of analyzing things with ”two eyes,” that is, that exploited campesinos were members of the wider oppressed working class of Bolivia and also exploited as indigenous people. By 1979 they created a new peasants’ union that was affiliated with the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB), the national union of miners and industrial workers.

Bolivia has relatively few roads, and they run through areas with concentrations of campesinos. Road blockades have been a key tactic for indigenous struggles all the way back to Tupak Katari’s time. Katarist ideology enhanced this strategic asset, raising morale and determination by enabling people to see their actions as part of a historic continuity. Dangl skillfully  embeds these stories of campesino resistance in a concise account of Bolivia’s tumultuous history of those times.

Aymara students at the university in La Paz in the seventies found themselves in an environment in which they were expected to abandon their indigenous identity, even to the point of having to adopt a Spanish sounding surname. They also learned that there was virtually no information at all about the history of their people. Two chapters of the book are devoted to their response: the Andean Oral History Workshop (THOA), a project in which they worked collaboratively with indigenous communities, often the ones they grew up in, to collect memories from elders. They were able to reconstruct historical struggles and biographical information about Aymara leaders who worked for justice, and they turned them into widely distributed books, radio programs other media. The chapters on the work of THOA are a fascinating story of a nation discovering its own history by reassembling the fragments stored in the living memories and family stories of its people.

Ayllus were the basis of pre-Columbian society in the Andes.  They are communities typically consisting of two or more settlements at different altitudes to take advantage of the different ecological zones for a greater range of products. Dangl explains how they function on the basis of reciprocity and mutual obligation, sharing not only produce but also the risks that come with adverse weather, labor parties for tasks like harvesting, and decision making by consensus. Leadership responsibilities rotate routinely among members among members; governance is egalitarian and participatory.

The ayllu is stable enough to have survived long after the conquest in more remote areas, but the Spanish and their creole successors had other uses for allyu lands and populations, and by the middle of the twentieth century they were gone. But in the eighties people began to advocate their revival, and by the nineties a national network of ayllus was well under way. Dangl traces this expanding reconstructive effort and its complicated relationships with successive governments, the campesino union, etc.

This book was written at a time when Evo Morales was nearing the end of his third term. It was clear that while Bolivia’s first president had been in office—since 2005—the county had undergone substantial economic expansion, and that those who had benefited most notably were the poorest, that is, mostly the indigenous. Not only were they better off economically, they had also developed a new understanding of their place in their own country.

The symbols of Tupak Katari and Bartolina Sisa evolved as the MAS, understandably, adopted them wholeheartedly, but more in their role as political leaders and less as revolutionaries. But the MAS government has been criticized for some decisions that are inconsistent with the vision that the Kataristas articulated. As an astute observer, Dangl alludes to some of those contradictions, but to analyze them in depth would be outside the scope of the book.

The Kataristas presented an idealized pre-Columbian society, outlining a socialist vision that many Bolivians would like to make a reality. The ideas of national liberation and communal society have taken root. Benjamin Dangl’s book tells how that came about; it will be a valuable resource in understanding what is to come.

Peter Lackowski is a retired Vermont school teacher who has been visiting and writing about Latin America, including Bolivia, since 2004. See his CounterPunch report from Venezuela this May.

 

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Billionaire Entitlement Run Amok: the Case of Michael Bloomberg

Photograph Source: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. O’Brien – Public Domain

Michael Bloomberg, according to Forbes Magazine the 9th richest man in the world with a net worth this year of $54.7 billion, isn’t just the real billionaire candidate for President in 2020 (Donald Trump’s net worth is almost certainly not counted in the billions, and could be negative for all we know, since he won’t release his tax records) Bloomberg is also the billionaires’ candidate for president. That is to say, he’s not just rich, he’s their man.

Bloomberg, who owns 88% of the giant media company Bloomberg LLC, where most of his wealth is in the form to shares of that company, has seen his wealth grow from $4.5 billion in 2001 when he first ran for public office seeking and winning election as mayor of New York City, to $36 billion by the time he left that office after a third term in 2013. It would be a neat trick to increase one’s wealth four-fold to such a staggering sum while receiving a Big Apple mayor’s salary of some $250,000 a year, but Bloomberg didn’t take a salary, receiving at his request only $1 per year for his services during those three terms.

That might seem harmless enough, but let’s remember that during those years, New York had to survive through the Fiscal Crisis — a crisis largely brought on by the criminal behavior and limitless greed of the denizens of Wall Street and the giant banks, most of which had their corporate headquarters only a few blocks south of City Hall and the Mayor’s office. During that crisis, the Mayor hammered public employee pay, threatened to lay off teachers during bargaining with the city’s teachers’ union, cut spending on school construction for a burgeoning student population, and pushed the state government to limit public employee unions’ right to strike.

Did Mayor Bloomberg put any pressure on the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., to prosecute those giant global banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase and Citicorp and their top executives for mortgage fraud? No, not a word from him on that.

The one thing this wealthiest of men (in 2011 while he was having his police harass and ultimately crush and evict the Occupy Movement from Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park his $19.5 billion in net assets made him America’s 12th richest person) also never did during his tenure was offer to plunk some of his money down to help the city’s struggling working class city employees weather the man-made storm that was battering the city’s finances. Significantly, he did plunk down $1.8 billion as a donation to Johns Hopkins University, a hardly struggling institution based in Baltimore, but nothing for New York City Schools, or even, if he were so enamored of higher ed, for the always struggling City University of New York.

As our tragically departed and sorely missed correspondent Charles M. Young (known for years to avid readers of Rolling Stone magazine as “The Reverend”) learned in a conversstion with a “push-poll” caller working for Bloomberg, he could solve the city’s budget problems if he wanted to. All of them. Here’s part of that conversation:

Caller: Mayor Mike Bloomberg wants to avoid raising taxes…

Young: Why should I give a crap?

Caller: Sir, do you strongly approve, somewhat approve…

Young: Let me ask you a question…It’s your turn to answer my question. Do you know how much Mayor Mike Bloomberg is worth?

Caller: No, I don’t.

Young: I’ve seen different estimates, but it’s probably about $18 billion. You can put on your survey that I strongly disapprove of that.

Caller: The statement is this, sir: Mayor Mike Bloomberg wants to avoid raising taxes on the middle class by taking control of the city union pension plans from the state legislature.

Young: Didn’t I already answer that?

Caller: No, sir.

Young: Strongly disapprove. $18 billion. You know what Mayor Mike could do with that all that money in his wallet? Mayor Bloomberg could cover the entire budget gap all by himself, and still have $14 billion to live on. How bad could his life be with a mere $14 billion to spend? Would his daughter have to give up even one of her dressage ponies?

Caller: If we could just continue, sir.

Young: I mean, what’s the point of having the 23rd richest guy in the world as mayor if he doesn’t help us out? … I want you to type this opinion into your computer: Mayor Mike should cover the budget gap with $4 billion of his own money, and then he should take the other $14 billion and give it to people who have no pension at all, and then he should jump off the George Washington Bridge, and then I won’t spit on his grave. How’s that for an opinion?

Democratic voters should keep Chuck Young’s comical but very timely opinion of Bloomberg in mind as the 2020 primary season gets closer. The Democratic National Committee poobahs are no doubt delighted that a guy with enough money to fund the entire presidential national campaign out of his own pocket without even noticing a dent in his holdings is in the running. (The 2016 presidential and congressional election combined for both parties cost $6.5 billion. Bloomberg could have funded the whole damned thing and not missed the money.) Not just would Democratic party leaders be freed from having to grovel this year to get funding from Bloomberg and the rest of the billionaire set, but that crowd, upon which the Democratic Party has come to depend primarily for its campaign underwriting, would be happy should Bloomberg succeed in becoming the party’s nominee, to know that one of their own — a real, not illusory, billionaire and a predictable one — could be sitting in the White House running things on their behalf.

Clearly Bloomberg is not the People’s candidate. His history of slamming public workers and of taxing the middle class instead of the rich make that clear. So too did his cracking down severely on dissent (his NYPD’s violent night-time rousting of the Wall Street Occupation provided the model for similar violent crushing of Occupy encampments across the country), and his making Wall Street and Lower Manhattan the most video-surveilled jurisdiction in America.

The truth is, if Bloomberg were to win the nomination and then the presidential election, the US will have completed it’s self-willed decline into becoming not a Third World country, but simply a larger version of the Sultanate of Brunei. The only difference would be that instead of the national religion being Islam, it would be Freemarketism.

On the other hand, there is one bright side to a Bloomberg candidacy. He and his money, should suck the air out of all the conservative candidates running for the party’s nod, from Biden to Buttigieg, setting up a likely head-to-head between Sanders and Bloomberg. In that matching, it’s hard to imagine Bloomberg buying his way to the top or even to a brokered convention where he could buy the support of the Super Delegates.

 

The post Billionaire Entitlement Run Amok: the Case of Michael Bloomberg appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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