Counterpunch Articles

The Kurds as U.S. Sacrificial Lambs

Photograph Source: Kurdishstruggle – Kurdish YPG Fighters – CC BY 2.0

In my military-brat childhood I often attended services at chapels on air force bases. The chaplains were of course obliged to reconcile Christianity with the congregants’ vocation. We would sometimes sing the Air Force hymn (“Lord, Guard and Guide the Men Who Fly”); hear how Jesus came not to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34); and in honoring the war dead, often hear John 15:13 quoted (entirely out of context): “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Thus death in battle in imperialist wars was compared to the sacrifice of Jesus of the cross! As I became aware of the magnitude of the moral crime of the Vietnam War my adolescent mind rebelled at this religious prettification of U.S. battlefield deaths. The comparison of soldiers fighting Vietcong to the Paschal Lamb disgusted me.

The boys who died in Vietnam did not die for their friends, much less “their” country. They died for capitalism, capitalist imperialism, Wall Street, the One Percent. Nothing to do with your neighborhood or its security.

Of course soldiers at war bond with their comrades-in-arms. Sometimes they perform acts of heroism to save their mates. In that sense they die heroically. That goes for Nazi soldiers, Soviet soldiers, U.S. soldiers, Iraqi soldiers, all soldiers. A U.S. soldier’s death is no worse than anyone else’s. Indeed often U.S. soldiers are killed justly by people defending their countries. (Can one still pronounce that obvious truth in this country?)

But how good the imperialists are at playing the heart-strings! If they can get people teary-eyed at the memory of that scumbag warmonger John McCain, they can surely stimulate tears of rage over the “abandoned Kurds.”

How often have we heard in the last few days—from countless retired military officers and intelligence officials, security analysts, think tank talking heads—that the Kurds in Syria “died for us”? You know, sort of like Jesus on the cross?

As though in fighting ISIL—a grotesque by-product of the criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003—the Syrian Kurds were doing anything other than protecting their homeland?

As though in killing the killers of their children they were killing for Uncle Sam? What sort of solipsistic arrogance generates this bullshit?

As though it took the butchers of Fallujah to mobilize the Kurds against a movement that commits genocide, enslaves people, subjects non-Muslim women to mass-rape, burns or buries people alive, beheads and crucifies, executes children, obliterates ancient monuments precious to humankind, imposes religious idiocy, and despises the Kurds as Kurds!

As though the Syrian Arab Army, the professional, loyal, mostly Sunni army was NOT fighting ISIL, thus leaving it to the U.S. to do the needed job. (Yes the U.S. press sometimes intimates that Assad was somehow supportive of ISIL. The fact is, his forces were focused on containing the al-Nusra-aligned forces around major cities like Aleppo before turning their attention to the northeast.)

As though the Russians, Iranians, Lebanese (Hizbollah), Iraqis (Shiite militias)—all in Syria legally, per the request of the internationally recognized government—were NOT fighting ISIL. (The United Nations recognizes the present government in Syria as legitimate. So do the world’s leading independent nations such as China, Russia, India, and South Africa. The U.S. announced in 2011 that Assad’s regime was illegitimate. U.S. close allies stupidly echoed that opinion and have worked to undermine Assad. But they have failed.)

In the U.S. media, Syria is a battleground on which the U.S. stood with the Kurds against ISIL, cementing beautiful sentimental ties with a capable force that really likes us! (How unusual that is in this world, where most people hate “us” for good reasons because of “our” unbroken record of savage violence from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya?) The question of why ISIL was in Syria in the first place is never discussed. Why local people couldn’t handle the problem and needed U.S. involvement is never discussed.

Why there is a historical antagonism between Kurds and the Turkish state—that’s just too hard for the average TV talking head to figure out. Why should the U.S. want regime change in Syria, when the government is secular, staunchly opposed to al-Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups, and maintained stability in a multi-ethnic, multicultural society for decades?

Forget all the troubling questions. Trump has betrayed the Kurds! Trump is the Judas who sold out Christ! (Pat Robertson—mixing Christ with Confucius—warns that Trump may lose “the Mandate of Heaven” over this issue. Gosh. Jesus’ chosen one is now abandoned by Jesus, and not because he abused immigrant children at the border—see Luke 17:2; but because he withdrew military forces from a place they never belonged.)

Donald Trump finally did the unthinkable, worse even than trading arms for political dirt in Ukraine. He’s abruptly made an about-face on two decades of U.S. reckless intervention in the Middle East. He has noted, in his crude clueless way, that the U.S. hasn’t known what it was doing in the area, wasted a lot of money, losing 4000 soldiers in Iraq without even talking the oil. (Recall his inaugural talk to the CIA in January 2017, in which he declared “We should have kept the oil, but that’s OK, maybe we’ll have another chance…”) He has intimated that he’s now happy to let other people finish off ISIL. (He claims on the one hand that the U.S. has defeated ISIL, as it were, unilaterally under his unparalleled leadership. But he acknowledges that there may still be mopping up to do, and leaves it to the Russians and Iranians.)

This is good. Withdrawal from illegal participation in a conflict is good. Backing off from the broader regional regime-change project championed not only by the neocons by Hillary Clinton’s “liberal interventionist” State Department

is good. U.S. forces have nothing good to contribute to the resolution of the conflicts in the area.

Russia and Iran, which want a unified Syrian state, and Iranians the Iraqis, who fear Kurdish nationalism, urge the Syrian Kurds to accept the Syrian state’s offer of limited autonomy. No one except maybe some confused Special Forces moved by their own experiences imagines that the Kurds can actually establish a separate state in the face of Turkey’s opposition and of course the ongoing opposition of the Syrian state backed by Iran with its own Kurdish nationalist issue.

Lest Assad’s refusal to allow Kurdish independence strike any (stupid) person as shocking, ask them how shocking it is that Madrid opposes Barcelona’s succession, London opposes an independent Scotland, Rome opposes an independent Lombardy. If they look at you blankly remind them that the U.S. has no business messing around in the Middle East. The Afghan War has not been about 9/11 but about counterinsurgency doomed to failure. The Iraq War based on lies produced only more terrorism, notably ISIL, the common enemy of Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Russia (and fought by all, while the U.S. somehow demands leadership in the struggle of the evil it originally generated). The Iraqi parliament demands U.S. forces leave, while the U.S. demands Iraq disband its Iranian-trained militias so vital to the anti-ISIL fight. Meanwhile the Iraqi government (contra Washington) supports Assad and has entered an intelligence-sharing arrangement with Russia.

The U.S. failed in Syria, first to topple the government, which it had so hubristically pronounced illegitimate, then to lead in the defeat of ISIL, using the Kurdish area as a base for ongoing destabilization efforts. As it is, Syrian Arab Army advances have greatly strengthened the regime even as the YPG consolidated control over Rojava. Kurdish gains have produced a Turkish invasion to displace them and replace them with Arab refugees from Turkey. Ethnic cleansing is now in progress, as Trump announces that the Kurds are “very happy” with whatever deal he’s concluded with Tayyip Erdogan.

Was not some form of this outcome inevitable? Would the U.S. have ever crossed NATO ally Turkey over the issue of Kurdish nationalism? When the U.S. added the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to its terror list over 20 years ago it embraced the Turkish state’s hostility to the Kurdish national cause. (It just apparently forgot that, in looking around feverishly for friends in Syria in 2014—anyone at all to help kill the ISIL Frankenstein that the Iraqi occupation had created!) The recent plan had been to destroy ISIL, then work with the Kurds to bring down Assad, coordinating strategy towards that end with Turkey. And then, with the establishment of a U.S. puppet regime, the U.S. would broker some sort of Kurdish autonomy arrangement suitable to all parties.

A pipe dream. Hillary Clinton might have pursued it. Trump just wants out of the Mideast. He’s content to watch the inferior peoples in their shithole countries with their age-old rivalries no one understands fight it out like schoolboys in the schoolyard. If that means the displacement and slaughter of Kurds, it’s not “our” problem. And the Kurds, Trump tells us, “are no angels.” He told a Congressional delegation to the White House that they were communists. Surely he thinks there are very good people on both sides.

Just as in my youth I felt disgusted by the deployment of maudlin religiosity to beatify one immoral war, I feel disgusted in old age by the ostentatious public manifestations of grief for the sacrificed Kurds. Poison drips from those crocodile tears. What would the mourners have? A U.S.-Turkish war in Idlib province? The fact is, they don’t know anything about Kurds, or Kurdistan, or the complex historical interactions between Kurds, Arabs, Persians and Turks.

All they know is that there was a moment in time when some people in the Middle East (other than Israelis) genuinely, enthusiastically, embraced their imperialist benefactors, and was willing to work “with us” to get something done. And so deep is their appreciation of that rare affection, they shed tears of rage when it’s requited by abrupt withdrawal. How dare Trump—that Putin puppet, that Erdogan puppet, that permanent friend of the murdering Saudi crown prince, that bully of Ukraine—once again do the Enemy’s bidding and betray OUR ALLIES?

And thus cause other allies to wonder if the U.S.’s word is good? Horrors! In betraying the Kurds Trump is betraying the whole imperialist program for the region.

The Kurds are like Isaac under his father Abraham’s knife, on the woodpile on Mt. Moriah, prepared for burnt sacrifice in lieu of an animal. Like Jesus, the Lamb of God, he is a symbol of God’s judgment but also his mercy. The entire power structure in this country is now trashing Trump for lacking mercy and betraying the paschal lambs. But one doubts whether all their expressions of anger and shame will advance the just cause of Kurdish statehood or taint it with the worst associations.

Trump is now echoing fellow strongman Erdogan and associating the sacred Kurds with the worst U.S. bugaboo. He of boundless wisdom explains: “The PKK, which is a part [sic] of the Kurds as you know [sic], is probably worse at terror and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS… So it’s a very semi-complicated, not too complicated if you’re smart, but a semi-complicated problem.” He has also accused the Kurdish peshmergas of being communists, assuming there’s something damning about that.

In other words, the lamb was not unblemished, as is required in appropriate sacrifice (Exodus 12:5). Not sacrificed but discarded, or maybe eaten. This is the ruling of today’s Solomon, who has actually boasted of his “great and unmatched wisdom” on the Syrian issue. Let Turkey occupy much of Syrian Kurdistan, ethnically cleanse it, settle Arabs there. Accept an inevitable rapprochement between the Kurdish separatists and Damascus, brokered by Tehran and Moscow. Accept the ongoing reality of an independent secular Syria that continues to resist Israel, which occupies 700 square miles of its territory. Realize America can’t realize the neocons’ dreams.

Accept the accusation that you have blood on your hands when the Turks start committing genocide. Because you do! The problem is you’re not God, able to crucify and resurrect at will. The United States under Trump or anyone lacks the moral authority to recruit willing martyrs to its tainted, exposed, defiled self. The peshmerga, angered and hurt but maybe not surprised, have deftly accepted the proffer of Damascus’ help as they try to adjust their dreams to concrete material conditions with no prospect of miraculous salvation.

To the extent that they are communists (and I hope they are) may they recall the words of the Internationale: “We want no condescending saviors…” Saviors are always mythological.

The post The Kurds as U.S. Sacrificial Lambs appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump and the Retreat of the American Empire

In days gone by, I used to compare the Trump presidency with the Arab dictatorships. He took preposterous pleasure in the company of Egypt’s Sisi (60,000 political prisoners) and his inane ramblings had much in common with those of Muammar Gaddafi, who also “authored” a book he never wrote but whom Trump never met (albeit that Tony Blair and Gaddafi kissed each other on the cheek). But over the past week, I’ve begun to realise that the crackpot in the White House has much more in common with ancient Rome.

My former classics professor once told me – when I melodramatically called him on my mobile phone from the original Roman forum during the US occupation of Iraq under George W Bush – that the Romans were a “manic” people, but that they would have been pretty unimpressed with the American handling of the Iraqi campaign.

He was right. But I am now convinced that there is something distinctly “manic” about the Trump presidency. The hatred, the threats, the fury, have much in common with both the Roman republic (Rome’s version of popular “democracy”) and the Roman empire, when quite a number of emperors showed themselves to be just as insane as Trump.

Cato the Censor, a dangerous man, would end each of his speeches in Rome with the words Carthago delenda est. “Carthage must be destroyed”. Is this not exactly the language of Trump? Did he not say that he could have Afghanistan “wiped off the face of the earth”, that he could “totally destroy” North Korea, that Iran “will be destroyed” if it attacks the US?

Cato got what he wanted. Carthage was indeed razed, its people sold into slavery, although its lands were not in fact sown with salt as English historians would later claim. So far, Trump has been more Cicero than Cato, Pompeo more Pliny than Pompey. So far.

But the American retreat from Syria, its army’s greatest disgrace only ghosted over by its new role as Saudi Arabia’s mercenaries – for the new US military arrival in the kingdom is to be paid for by the regime which butchered Jamal Khashoggi – has dark echoes in antiquity.

Contrary to the Hollywood version of history, the Roman empire did not collapse in a couple of days. The Goths, Ostrogoths and Visigoths did not just gobble up Italy over a weekend. The fall of the empire came slowly, over years, in small incremental pieces: legions forgotten, tribal allies unpaid – and then betrayed.

One of Rome’s most troublesome provinces was Cilicia. It was always changing hands. Its people allied themselves to Rome – and were then abandoned when legions left or taxes ran out. Cilicia, by extraordinary mischance, lay almost exactly along the western border of what is today the Turkish-Syrian (Kurdish) frontier.

There are still a few Roman ruins in that ancient province to remind its present-day armies of what – they should have surely realised – would be their fate. I doubt if there is a single US soldier in Syria – who must, of course, negotiate their own way out of that equally ancient country – who knows of this. Institutional memory, let alone historical memory, has long ago been erased by the internet.

The Roman empire fell in bits. The senators, living in the political wreckage of the old Roman republic, knew that something was going wrong. The people understood their demise only in stages. The great Roman roads went unrepaired. The legions could not move so fast (even if they were still loyal to Rome). Then the imperial mail service from north Africa was impaired, even halted. The wheat for bread – often from what is today the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon – failed to arrive in Rome.

Amid popular unrest in Rome, where rival leaders could and did physically threaten each other, these matters often went unnoticed. Impeachment, alas, was not an option in the ancient world.

But the sword (or poison) could do its work. Political enemies would be accused of treachery. “Crucify them!” But is that not what Trump says of the American press, the Democrats or anyone who dares to confront him with his abominable lies and his assaults on American democracy?

No, I am not suggesting that the American empire will leave us quite like this. But last week’s deplorable abandonment of the Kurds, Trump’s wickedness in allowing the Turks – and their wretched “Arab” allies – to slaughter their way into northern Syria, will have the same effect as it did in antiquity. If you can no longer trust Rome, to which other empire do you turn?

Well, Putin’s, of course. Tyrant he may be – but at least he’s sane. And his legions stayed out of the war in Syria and saved the Assad regime. They cleared the highways of ISIS mines – they restored the roads, sometimes (incredibly) what were once Roman roads – and they learned Arabic. Perhaps, indeed, Putin now plays the role of the later Roman empire of the east, the Christian one which survived in Constantinople/Byzantium/Istanbul for hundreds more years after the fall of Rome itself. All the Middle East is now his empire, every capital welcoming the emperor: Tehran, Cairo, Ankara, Damascus, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi.

More than 20 years ago, I was in Washington, seeking to find the missile-maker who manufactured the rocket which Israel fired into a civilian ambulance in southern Lebanon, killing all inside. And I was much struck at how Roman Washington looked. Its great palaces of state (save for the State Department itself, of course) were self-consciously modelled on Roman architecture.

Washington was not built as the capital of a physical empire – more a philosophical one, I suspect, in my kinder moments – but it looks (like Vienna, Berlin, Paris, London) as if the early Americans of the independence era realised it might one day be the capital of the most powerful nation on earth. Well, it was.

But Trump has changed all that. To the despair of his few friends (of the non-”manic” kind) and the delight of his enemies, he has laid America low. The Syrians, whose history goes back far longer than America’s, have played their old political policy again: wait. And wait. And wait. And then drive into Manbij the moment the Americans leave. That’s what Rome’s enemies did when the empire’s frontiers crumbled in Germania and then in Gaul and then in the Balkans – of all places – and then in Palmyra and in what is today Syria.

As for Washington’s noble architecture, it now takes its place alongside the old capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, where the fine Viennese buildings of state seem shamed by their majesty. The powerful and historical walls to study today are those of the Kremlin.

The post Trump and the Retreat of the American Empire appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump’s Endless Wars

Photograph Source: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – CC BY 2.0

Donald Trump loves to talk about ending the endless U.S. wars that he inherited as president. He tweets about it. He endlessly criticizes his predecessors for their martial mistakes.

But like the old saw about the weather, Trump talks a whole lot about endless wars but doesn’t do anything about them.

Just this month, he went against the advice of pretty much everyone to pull 1,000 U.S. troops out of northern Syria where they were protecting a largely autonomous Kurdish region. The result has been an immediate flare-up in the Syrian conflict as Turkey sent troops over the border to take advantage of the U.S. withdrawal.

Then Trump turned around and sent an additional 2,000 troops to Saudi Arabia to help them defend against Iran or the Houthis or perhaps just internal critics of the regime.

In fact, the Trump administration has deployed 14,000 additional U.S. troops to the Middle East since the spring. Compare that with the 1,000 troops that Trump is withdrawing from northern Syria. The president seems more focused on starting fires than putting them out.

Last month, Trump promised a grand deal with the Taliban that would allow the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan. But that didn’t happen.

And what about the Kushner plan that was supposed to end the endless conflict between Israel and Palestine? Dead on arrival.

America’s drone wars? By March 2019, Trump has launched more drone strikes (2,243) than Obama did in his two terms in office (1,878).

Counter-insurgency campaigns in Africa? Trump has ordered a 10 percent cut in forces on the continent by 2022, but the total forces under the Africa Command actually went up by more than double that amount from 2017 to 2018 (6,000 to 7,500).

Containment of China? The Pentagon, under Trump, has made China its “number one priority,” and much of the increase in military spending in the Trump administration has gone to preparing for war with Beijing.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Trump has declared war on Congress, on the mainstream media, on anyone who disagrees with him. A recent video shows Trump mowing down all of his critics in an altered outtake from the movie, Kingsman. As a meme, it’s disgusting. As a metaphor, it’s chillingly accurate.

Let’s face it: Trump is not against endless war. He is the embodiment of endless war. It’s the essence of his operating system. He went into politics because he understood that it’s endless war by other means (and he’s always been too squeamish to fight in endless wars by ordinary means).

Once and for all, let’s bury the myth of Trump the dealmaker. He’s about as transactional as a heavyweight boxer. Remember: he was the host not of Let’s Make a Deal but of The Apprentice, in which he presided over a war of all against all with a single winner and lots of losers. He has simply brought that spirit of ungenerosity into the White House.

The consequences have been devastating all around.

The Mess in Syria

Somehow Trump figured out the one geopolitical move he could make that could pave the way for a Turkish invasion of Syria, force a desperate alliance between beleaguered Kurds and the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, improve Russia’s standing in the region, and revive the fortunes of the Islamic State.

He seized on this strategy of withdrawing 1,000 troops from northern Syria probably because everyone warned him not to do it. Trump loves to defy expert advice. He’s convinced that he knows better. It’s unclear whence he derives this confidence since he has made disastrous decisions his entire life that have produced bankruptcies, unbuilt buildings all over the world, and a near total refusal of banks to provide him with loans.

The latest fiasco started with a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 6 in which Trump effectively endorsed the Turkish cross-border operation in Syria.

David Sanger, in The New York Times, explains that Trump’s “error, some aides concede in off-the-record conversations, was entering the Oct. 6 call underprepared, and then failing to spell out for Mr. Erdogan the potential consequences — from economic sanctions to a contraction of Turkey’s alliance with the United States and its standing in NATO.”

This was enough of a green light for the Turkish leader. Erdogan has been dreaming of invasion for some time in order to neutralize what he believes are a bunch of terrorists aiding Kurdish separatists in southeastern Turkey. He’d also like to relocate many of the Syrian refugees in Turkey to a new Turkish-controlled area in northern Syria.

Until this month, however, Erdogan had been satisfied with a buffer zone. In a sense, U.S. troops were serving as peacekeepers in the region. There were not enough to launch significant military operations but just enough to stand between Turkey and the Kurds on one side and the Syrian government and the Kurds on the other. But no more.

The immediate victims of Trump’s latest decision are the Kurds, the ally that Trump relied on so heavily in his campaign against the Islamic State. The hope of Syrian Kurds for maintaining a peaceful and semi-autonomous state is now gone. The Kurds immediately signed a deal with Damascus that has brought Syrian government forces into the one significant part of the country that remained in opposition hands. When Trump’s callous move forced them to choose, Kurds opted for the devil they knew over the devil across the border.

Turkey’s intervention has displaced tens of thousands of people from their homes. Kurdish refugees are flowing into Iraqi Kurdistan, and humanitarian organizations like Mercy Corps are pulling out their staff from northern Syria. Atrocities against civilians have taken place, including the execution of Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf. Turkey is also moving against domestic critics of the military operation, which also happen to be mostly Kurds. Erdogan’s move is motivated in good part by domestic considerations — his desire to silence his critics and generate a spike in nationalist sentiment.

Russia, meanwhile, has moved swiftly to take the place of the United States. Russian troops have flowed into northern Syria to serve as a buffer between Turkey and the government in Damascus. Perhaps it’s better for the Russians to play this role, particularly in the Trump era. But given Moscow’s support for the ruthless Assad, its willingness to sell anybody pretty much any weapon, and its general indifference to human rights, I’m not enthusiastic about an expanded Russian role in Middle East affairs. The United States was no great shakes, but Russia is worse.

Then there’s the Islamic State, which has not disappeared, contrary to Trump’s fanciful assertions. According to The New York Times:

The White House statement on Sunday came as the Islamic State is gathering new strength, conducting guerrilla attacks across Iraq and Syria, retooling its financial networks and targeting new recruits at an allied-run tent camp, American military, counterterrorism and intelligence officers say.

Over the past several months, ISIS has made inroads into the sprawling Al Hol tent camp in northeast Syria, and there is no ready plan to deal with the 70,000 people there, including thousands of family members of ISIS fighters.

American intelligence officials say the Al Hol camp, managed by Syrian Kurdish allies with little aid or security, is evolving into a hotbed of ISIS ideology. The American-backed Syrian Kurdish force also holds more than 10,000 ISIS fighters, including 2,000 foreigners, in separate makeshift prisons.

In the chaos of the Turkish intervention, at least 750 Islamic State adherents escaped from a displacement camp in the Kurdish-held region. Trump has speculated without any proof that the Kurds deliberately released the prisoners in order to draw the United States back into military engagement. Nice try, Donald: the Kurds are no longer counting on the United States for anything.

But the worst part is: it turns out that Trump didn’t end the war with the Islamic State after all.

The War at Home

The president has been conducting a two-front foreign policy war ever since he took office.

Overseas, he’s been involved in numerous conflicts with both allies and adversaries. But at home, he’s also been at war: with his own policymaking apparatus. He has chewed through foreign policy advisors of all types: Jim Mattis, John Bolton, Rex Tillerson, HR McMaster. As he retreats further into the mancave of his twitterverse, Trump has fallen back on the advice of someone with an even more paranoid and incoherent worldview than his own.

It turns out that there’s an advisor even worse than Trump’s own gut: Rudy Giuliani.

The impeachment hearings are every day revealing the real deep state — the shadow foreign policy orchestrated by Trump and Giuliani. Fiona Hill, who was responsible for Russia and Europe policy at the National Security Council, testified that Giuliani worked to get Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, removed from her post. He was also trying to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. He was even trying to prove that Ukraine helped the Democratic Party in the 2016 elections.

According to The Washington Post, Giuliani “said he believed Hill was out of the loop compared to Sondland and others involved with Ukraine. ‘She just didn’t know,’ he said. He added that he had never talked to her about Ukraine policy.”

Wake up and smell the facts, Rudy: that’s the definition of a shadow foreign policy. The person who knew the most about Russia and Ukraine was out of the loop? And you, Rudy Giuliani, whose knowledge of Ukraine can be boiled down to a handful of ludicrous conspiracy theories, presume to displace Marie Yovanovitch, who speaks the languages of the region, was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Kiev from 2001 to 2004, and was determined to help root out corruption in Ukraine?

And your chief ally in this endeavor, other than a president who has even less understanding of geopolitics than you do, is Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union? Sondland has only one qualification for his job: absolute fealty to Donald Trump. The guy’s nothing more than a glorified hotelier who has spent most of his time in Brussels overseeing an expensive renovation of the ambassador’s residence.

Giuliani has emerged as this generation’s Oliver North, the architect of the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan years. Like North, Giuliani has been running a covert operation under the noses of the foreign policy professionals. Rudy’s goal was much narrower and grubbier than North’s: the reelection of the president. Giuliani, in other words, was basically a CREEP (Committee to Reelect the President) unto himself.

All of this is bad news for Trump on the impeachment front. But it’s also bad news for Giuliani, particularly if it turns out that he didn’t disclose his lobbying ties, which would expose him to criminal charges. After all, he actively lobbied on Turkey’s behalf to persuade the Trump administration to extradite the cleric Fethullah Gulen from Pennsylvania back to Turkey. Mike Flynn, Trump’s erstwhile former national security advisor, went down for almost the identical offense.

Meanwhile, Rudy was pulling down half a million dollars for his consulting work with the aptly named Fraud Guarantee (or is that Guaranteed Fraud?), which just happened to be owned by one of the Ukrainians recently arrested for campaign finance violations.

It’s not looking good for the president and all the president’s men. Trump continues to try to fight his way out of his predicament. So far, he still has the Republican Party in his corner. But that might not last long.

The impeachment will not be an endless war. It will be nasty and brutish, but it will be relatively short. Trump the putative dealmaker might make one last appearance in an effort to stay out of jail. But the more fitting scenario would be if the president goes down in flames as the most prominent casualty of his own endless war against the U.S. people.

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Will the GOP Become the Party of Blue-Collar Conservatism?

Photograph Source: USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency – Public Domain

From the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt onward through to the 1990s, the Democrats had long been considered the party of the working class. That perception lingered long after the fact that by the 1990s, they had more accurately become the party of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, often embracing policies at variance with their traditional blue-collar supporters. As Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen outline in a paper sponsored by the Institute for New Economic Thinking: “Within the Democratic Party, the desires of party leaders who continue to depend on big money from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, health insurers, and other power centers collides [sic] head on with the needs of average Americans these leaders claim to defend.” So the Democratic Party, a historically center-left political grouping, has increasingly embraced a neoliberal market fundamentalist framework over the past 40 years, and thereby facilitated the growth of financialization (whereby the influence and power of a country’s financial sector become vast relative to the overall economy).

Donald Trump exploited that shift during his 2016 campaign: Not only did he proclaim his love for “the poorly educated,” but he also campaigned as an old Rust Belt Democrat—not only by attacking illegal immigration and offshoring, but also coming out against globalization, free trade, Wall Street, and especially Goldman Sachs.

As president, of course, Trump has proven incapable of “walking the walk,” even as he continued to speak about “draining the swamp” and eliminating business as usual in Washington. But there is increasing evidence suggesting that some of the more ambitious and opportunistic politicians in the GOP are seeking to exploit the material abandonment of working-class voters by the Democrats. Both Senators Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio are trying to move the party in a more pro-worker direction, championing a new kind of blue-collar conservatism that is supportive of unions and policies that emphasizes the “dignity of work.” Likewise, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has recently introduced a tax rebate for lower-income Americans to offset the tariffs President Trump has proposed on Chinese goods—essentially an annual payment from the federal government to citizens to offset any increased cost in consumer goods that might arise from Trump’s proposed tariffs, thus neutralizing the economic impact, and countering the political argument that the president’s trade war on Chinese goods ultimately represents a tax on American consumers. As Henry Olsen notes in the Washington Post:

“Cotton’s approach addresses both the economic and political challenges arising from Trump’s tariffs. Economically, giving the revenue back to average Americans offsets the expected rise in prices they will face as a result of the tariffs. Consumer spending, which was feared would decline in response to the price hikes, would now likely stay high: Why cut back in spending when you’re not losing any money? That would keep the economy strong.”

In other words, it’s a tax-time Universal Basic Income.

Cotton’s proposals would augment a little-discussed feature emerging now in the U.S. labor market, as CNBC’s Jeff Cox writes: for the first time in this cycle (which started in 2009), “the bottom half of earners are benefiting more than the top half—in fact, about twice as much, according to calculations by Goldman Sachs,” using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More recently, Derek Thompson of the Atlantic cites additional work by labor economist Nick Bunker, who makes the case that “wage growth is currently strongest for workers in low-wage industries, such as clothing stores, supermarkets, amusement parks, and casinos. And earnings are growing most slowly in higher-wage industries, such as medical labs, law firms, and broadcasting and telecom companies.” Absent a significant growth slowdown, these workers might increasingly identify their economic self-interest with Republicans, not Democrats, particularly given the increasingly restrictionist stance the GOP is adopting on immigration, which will further tighten the labor market structurally and enhance the relative bargaining position of American blue-collar workers.

The one lingering question is whether or not this trend will yet supersede the power and influence of the GOP’s historic corporate constituencies, notably oil, mining and chemical companies, Big Pharma, tobacco, the arms industry, and civil aviation. On the face of it, this could well prove to be a tall order. But it is conceivable if trade policy is ultimately rendered subordinate to national security concerns, as increasingly appears to be the case today. In the words of Michael Lind, all it would take is a national developmental industrial strategy predicated on sustaining U.S. military supremacy: “to identify and promote not specific companies but key ‘dual-use’ industries important in both defense and civilian commerce.” That would seem to be a more likely scenario for the GOP, one that would build on Trump’s steady inroads into the Democratic Party’s traditional blue-collar constituencies, while simultaneously catering to the party’s strong links to national defense interests.

Although a military-industrial strategy might run counter to some of the interests of the party’s traditional corporate backers (such as Charles Koch), it would likely prove hugely beneficial to America’s manufacturing heartland, particularly the country’s disaffected blue-collar workers. Historically, these workers have been Democrats, but their livelihoods have been decimated by decades of trade liberalization and other neoliberal policies. As Lind points out, a national industrial policy based on the model of Alexander Hamilton but married to “Cold War 2.0” could, therefore, consolidate the GOP’s efforts to become more of a party of the working class. And such a policy is not historically anomalous: during the original Cold War, free trade and globalization were always subject to the constraints of containing the expansion of Soviet-led communism. A large chunk of the world under the enemy sphere of influence was off-limits to American trade and capital.

Today, even with the overriding influence of the Koch brothers, and the Mercer family, a number of Republicans are geopolitical hawks first, and economic libertarians second. They increasingly see that it makes no sense to go to war against wage earners while claiming to protect the same wage earners from Chinese competition, especially if Beijing becomes the new locus of an emerging Cold War 2.0. Furthermore, if they are in safe, rock-solid GOP districts, they are less vulnerable to a primary attack from corporate interests antithetical to those positions. As geo-economics is increasingly remarried to geopolitics (as it was during the original Cold War), “blue-collar conservativism” will likely gain increasing policy traction in certain conservative circles, even though Republicans still have a ways to go before they can fully shift their party’s agenda toward a modern-day equivalent of “Bull Moose” progressivism.

Donald Trump is, first and foremost, a wrecker, as opposed to a builder. Arguably, that is one of the things that got him elected in the first place. But he has set the stage for a further political realignment, especially as more educated whites and elites migrate to the Democratic Party, and traditional Southern populists reside in the GOP. There are very few Fritz Hollings types left in the party, whose views on trade, immigration and manufacturing are closer to the Democrats’ historic New Deal constituencies. This theory, though, is not watertight, and new coalitions are still very much in flux. But as things stand today, ironically, the Democrats now have trade and open borders policies that are closer to those of the old Reagan/Bush Republicans and libertarians such as the Koch brothers, while the GOP policy under Trump is gravitating toward the old positions of the AFL/CIO on both trade and immigration, a policy combination that makes the embrace of a kind of blue-collar conservatism even more credible for the GOP. Furthermore, as trade issues (especially in regard to China) are increasingly conflated with national security concerns, the GOP may ultimately decide to build on Trump’s attempts to re-domicile key supply chains back to the U.S. From the national security hawk perspective, this will ensure that strategic industries necessary to sustain American military power remain on home shores, even if this conflicts with the principles of free trade, limited non-interventionist government. Sustaining permanent production on U.S. soil, not just innovation in America and production elsewhere, would be profoundly favorable to blue-collar workers (hitherto among the biggest casualties of globalization) and likely consolidate the GOP’s efforts to become the future party of the American working class, unless of course the Democrats suddenly and unexpectedly reclaim their New Deal legacy.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The post Will the GOP Become the Party of Blue-Collar Conservatism? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump’s Fake Withdrawal From Endless War

Photograph Source: Chairman of the Joint Chief – CC BY 2.0

On Monday, October 7th, the U.S. withdrew 50 to 100 troops from positions near Syria’s border with Turkey, and two days later Turkey invaded Rojava, the de facto autonomous Kurdish region of northeast Syria. Trump is now taking credit for a temporary, tenuous ceasefire. In a blizzard of tweets and statements, Donald Trump has portrayed his chaotic tactical relocation of U.S. troops in Syria as a down-payment on his endless promises to withdraw U.S. forces from endless wars in the greater Middle East.

On October 16, the U.S. Congress snatched the low-hanging political fruit of Trump’s muddled policy with a rare bipartisan vote of 354-60 to condemn the U.S. redeployment as a betrayal of the Kurds, a weakening of America’s credibility, a lifeline to ISIS, and a political gift to Russia, China and Iran.

But this is the same Congress that never mustered the integrity to debate or vote on the fateful decision to send U.S. troops into harm’s way in Syria in the first place. This vote still fails to fulfill Congress’s constitutional duty to decide whether U.S. troops should be risking their lives in illegal military operations in Syria, what they are supposed to be doing there or for how long. Members of Congress from both parties remain united in their shameful abdication of their constitutional authority over America’s illegal wars.

Trump’s latest promises to “bring the troops home” were immediately exposed as empty rhetoric by a Pentagon press release on October 11, announcing that the Trump administration has actually increased its deployments of troops to the greater Middle East by 14,000 since May. There were already 60,000 troops stationed or deployed in the region, which the Congressional Research Service described in September as a long-term “baseline,” so the new deployments appear to have raised the total number of U.S. troops in the region to about 74,000.

Precise numbers of U.S. troops in each country are hard to pin down, especially since the Pentagon stopped publishing its troop strength in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in 2017.  Based mainly on reports by the Congressional Research Service, these are the most accurate and up-to-date numbers we have found:

14,000-15,000 (plus 8,000 from other NATO countries) in Afghanistan; about 7,000, mostly U.S. Navy, in Bahrain; 280 in Egypt; 5,000-10,000 in Iraq, mostly at Al-Asad air base in Anbar province; 2,800 in Jordan (some may now have been relocated to Iraq); 13,000 in Kuwait, the fourth largest permanent U.S. base nation after Germany, Japan and South Korea; a “few hundred” in Oman; at least 13,000 in Qatar, where the Pentagon just approved a $1.8 billion expansion of Al Udeid Air Base, U.S. Central Command’s regional occupation headquarters; about 3,500 in Saudi Arabia, including 500 sent in July and 2,500 more since September; 1,000-2,000 in Syria, who may or may not really be leaving; 1,750 at Incirlik and Izmir Air Bases in Turkey; and more than 5,000 in the UAE, mostly at Al Dhafra Air Base.

As for actually ending the wars that all these forces are waging or supporting, Trump escalated the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in 2017, and these bombing campaigns rumble on regardless of peace talks with the Taliban and declarations of victory over the Islamic State. U.S. air wars are often more devastating than ground warfare, especially to civilians.

Between 2001 and October 2018, the U.S. and its allies dropped more than 290,000 bombs and missiles on other countries. This rain of terror has not stopped, for according to U.S. airpower statistics, from November 2018 to September 2019 the U.S. has now dropped another 6,811 bombs on Afghanistan and 7,889 on Iraq and Syria.

In Donald Trump’s first 32 months in office, he is responsible for dropping 17,100 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan and 48,941 on Iraq and Syria, an average of a bomb or missile every 20 minutes. Despite his endless promises to end these wars, Trump has instead been dropping more bombs and missiles on other countries than Bush II and Obama put together.

When Congress finally invoked the War Powers Act to extricate U.S. forces from the Saudi-led war on Yemen, Trump vetoed the bill.  The House has now attached that provision to the FY2020 NDAA military spending bill, but the Senate has not yet agreed to it and Trump may find another way to exclude it.

Even as Donald Trump rails against the military-industrial complex that “likes war” and sometimes sounds sincere in his desire to end these wars, he keeps hiring arms industry executives to run his foreign and military policy. His first defense secretary was General Dynamics board member and retired General James Mattis. Then he brought in Boeing’s Senior Vice President Patrick Shanahan as acting secretary of defense, and now Raytheon lobbyist Mike Esper as Secretary of Defense. Secretary of State Pompeo made his fortune as the co-founder of Thayer Aerospace. Trump boasts about being the best weapons salesman of all, touting his multi-billion dollar deals to provide the repressive Saudi regime with the weapons to commit crimes against humanity in Yemen.

And yet withdrawal from endless wars is one Trump campaign promise that Americans across the political spectrum hoped he would really fulfill. Tragically, like “drain the swamp” and other applause lines, Trump’s promises to end the “crazy, endless wars” have proven to be just another cynical ploy by this supremely cynical politician and con man.

The banal truism that ultimately defines Trump’s foreign policy is that actions speak louder than words. Behind the smokescreen of Trump’s alternating professions of faith to both sides on every issue, he always ends up rewarding the wealthy and powerful. His cronies in the arms industry are no exception.

Sober reflection leads us to conclude that Trump’s endless promises will not end the endless wars he has been waging and escalating, nor prevent the new ones he has threatened against North Korea, Venezuela and Iran. So it is up to the rest of us to grasp the horror, futility and criminality of the wars that three successive U.S. administrations have inflicted on the world and to organize effective political action to end them and prevent new ones.

We also need help from legitimate mediators from the UN and mutually trusted third parties to negotiate political and diplomatic solutions that U.S. leaders who are blinded by deeply ingrained militarism and persistent illusions of global military dominance cannot achieve by themselves.

In the real world, which does still exist beyond the fantasy world of Trump’s contradictory promises, that is how we will bring the troops home.

The post Trump’s Fake Withdrawal From Endless War appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump Declares Victory in China Trade War

Photograph Source: The White House from Washington, DC – Public Domain

Back in the late 1960s, when it was clear that the United States was losing in Vietnam, Vermont Senator George Aiken came up with the plan to declare victory and leave. It seems that Donald Trump has stolen the senator’s playbook.

While we don’t know much of the details of Trump’s partial deal with China, it seems almost certain that he has not won most of his demands. According to press accounts, China will commit to buy a large amount of U.S. agricultural products. This is a highly visible, but largely pointless victory for Trump.

All the major agricultural commodities, such as wheat, corn, soybeans, and beef, sell on massive world markets. If China commits to buying some amount from U.S. producers, for the most part, it will come at the expense of producers from other countries. It will not be an increase in world demand. This means that the displaced producers will be dumping their now surplus commodities on world markets, leaving the market price received by U.S. farmers little changed.

Anyhow, it was hardly a surprise to some of us that Trump would go the declare victory and leave route. My colleague at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Mark Weisbrot, made exactly this predictiona couple of weeks ago, as did I, a few days earlier.

This outcome was easy to see. Trump could not care less about U.S.-China trade policy. He does care about not looking weak and he very much wants to be re-elected. The obvious answer is to say that he won. It doesn’t matter that he may have gotten almost nothing of what he demanded. His followers will believe him and when the media raise questions after seeing the deal, we all know the Trump response: FAKE NEWS.

Just as was the case with the U.S. in Vietnam, the trade war was not going well for Trump. Rather than going down, our overall trade deficit has been rising. This also has been the case with the countries that Trump designated as foes in his trade war.

In 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, the trade deficit was $518.8 billion, or 2.8 percent of GDP. The trade deficit expanded in both 2017 and 2018, reaching $638.2 billion in 2018, or 3.1 percent of GDP. It looks to come in slightly higher in 2019, with the deficit averaging $648.3 billion in the first half of 2019. This is clearly going the wrong way.

There are many factors behind the rise in the trade deficit. Growth in the US has been somewhat faster than in major trading partners like the EU and Japan. The dollar has also risen in value, although most of that rise predates Trump. But we know that Trump wouldn’t be interested in excuses, the bottom line is the trade deficit has gotten worse on his watch.

The story does not look any better if we look at his major nemeses. Starting with China, in the last year of the Obama administration, the trade deficit in goods with China was $346.8 billion. This had increased to $419.6 billion last year. It looks like the trade deficit is coming down somewhat in 2019, with the deficit for the first eight months at $231.6 billion, compared to over $260.0 billion in the same months last year. Nonetheless, we are still likely to end up with a higher deficit with China in 2019 than we had in the last year of the Obama administration.

It is also worth remembering that it is difficult to calculate bilateral trade deficits with rigor. Suppose that iPhones, which had previously been assembled in China, are instead assembled in Thailand. If we imported the iPhone from China, the full value of the iPhone would have been recorded as an import from China, even though the assembly may have counted for less than 10 percent of the value added.

When the assembly shifts to Thailand, the reduction in our reported imports from China is equal to the full cost of the iPhones that we previously imported from China. The actual hit to China is just the small share of the value added that is attributable to assembly.

It’s also worth noting that contrary to Trump’s claims, China is not paying for the tariffs. There is a very simple way to measure the extent to which suppliers in China have been forced to absorb tariffs in lower prices. We can look at the change in the price of our imports from China.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes data on import prices monthly. In the year from September 2018 to September 2019, in which tariffs on many items have been raised to 25 percent, the price of items imported from China fell just 1.8 percent. This means that virtually all of the tariff is being paid either by consumers in the United States or being absorbed by retailers or wholesalers here.

If Trump’s battle with China is not going well, he seems to be doing even worse with other trade combatants. The trade deficit in goods with Mexico was $63.3 billion in 2016. It hit $80.7 billion last year and is virtually certain to come in even higher in 2019. The trade deficit in goods with the European Union was $146.7 billion in 2016. It had risen to $168.7 billion last year and is on a path to come in $10-$15 billion higher in 2019. The deficit with Canada rose from $11 billion in 2016 to $19.1 billion last year. It is likely to be roughly $1 billion higher in 2019.

In short, Trump is doing really awful in his trade war. It is as though after Pearl Harbor, Japan went on to seize Hawaii and was threatening California and the rest of the west coast.

But apart from the theater surrounding the trade deal, the rest of us should be happy that Trump is waving the white flag in his trade war. His agenda would have actually been negative for the vast majority of America’s workers.

While Trump does have a point in complaints about currency valuations, this issue has taken a back seat in his trade war, especially with China. Instead he has made demands about respecting the intellectual property of U.S. corporations front and center. This is an agenda that is detrimental to the interests of U.S. workers.

At the most basic level, if Boeing and GE know that they can outsource operations to China, and don’t have to worry about being forced to transfer technology to Chinese partners, they will be more likely to outsource jobs than if they do have to worry about being forced to transfer technology. Making it more profitable for U.S. corporations to outsource jobs is not in the interest of U.S. workers.

More generally, longer and stronger patent monopolies have been a major factor in the upward redistribution of income over the last four decades. They mean higher prices for items like prescription drugs, medical equipment, and software, and more money for the people who design these items. Only an economist can stand by and watch the U.S. make patent and copyright protections ever stronger and then wonder why we have an upward redistribution of income.

Perhaps even more importantly, the demand for stronger protections for the patents and copyrights of U.S. corporations is incredibly anachronistic in a world where China has an economy that is already 25 percent larger than the U.S. economy and is likely to be more than twice as large within a decade. With China spending roughly the same share of its GDP on research and development as the United States, it is virtually certain that it will have far more innovations that we want from them, than U.S. innovations they will want from us.

A forward thinking trade policy would look to pool research spending and make it open to all, especially in areas like prescription drugs and clean energy. We should want technology to advance as quickly as possible in these areas. And, once developed, we should want innovations to spread as widely as and quickly as possible.

Hopefully this will be the trade agenda of our next president, but Donald Trump’s trade agenda was going 180 degrees in the opposite direction. For this reason, his defeat by the Chinese in the trade war should be cause for celebration. This was Donald Trump’s trade war, not a trade war fought for to benefit the people of the United States.

This article first appeared on Dean Baker Patreon page

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Bretton Woods Institutions’ Neoliberal Over-Reach Leaves Global Governance in the Gutter

John Maynard Keynes (right) and Harry Dexter White at the inaugural meeting of the International Monetary Fund’s Board of Governors. Photograph Source: International Monetary Fund – Public Domain

Last week’s annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund was held in Washington, DC, with back-slapping now that the Bretton Woods twins have reached age 75 (they were founded at a New Hampshire hotel in 1944). But no amount of back-slapping can disguise the way these institutions have led the world into a governance cul de sac.

Multilateralism has surfed the up-swells and down the troughs of globalisation. In the latter case, the League of Nations faded away during the 1930s as a relevant force for peace, once the waves of Great Depression ripped Western economic interests apart. Today, multilateralism also seems to have entered the final, life-support stage of its 21st-century crisis, in part because of the overwhelming power of multinational corporations, and in part because of fast-rising reactionary nationalisms.

As the 2019 G7 summit confirmed, the world cannot contend with the bully-boy ascendance of Donald Trump and other right-wing critics of ‘globalism’ (an anti-Semitic smear), who spew ever more toxic nativist-populist hatred while ignoring their countries’ historic responsibilities to solve problems that their corporations mainly created. As a result, concluded the founder of world-systems theory, the late Immanuel Wallerstein, the 2018 G7 meeting was simply farcical: “Trump may have done us all the favour of destroying this last major remnant of the era of Western domination of the world-system.”

Even at the G20, which is the economic grouping responsible for three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions and hence the site where addressing climate catastrophe is most urgent, the 2017-19 hosts in Hamburg, Buenos Aires and Osaka were cowed by Trump.

As a result, the world’s most important climate, trade and financial arrangements are increasingly ineffectual and discredited. Notwithstanding a decade-old network of five ‘middle powers’ (better termed ‘subimperialists’), the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) bloc, the South is much less capable of giving the world’s oppressed a chance to make inputs and win long-overdue concessions.

Those expecting progressive change through the BRICS’ collective financial and trade statecraft are disappointed, especially as the world spins out of control economically. “BRICS should be much stronger by now,” one of its founders, former Brazilian president Lula da Silva told Asia Times recently. “I imagined a more aggressive BRICS, more proactive and more creative.”

Instead, global-scale neoliberalism remains dominant. The ill-conceived United Nations (UN) collaboration deal with the plutocratic Davos World Economic Forum in June 2019 followed persistent ‘bluewashing’ concerns about the UN’s discredited Global Compact with some of the world’s least ethical firms, growing corporate manipulation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and sabotage of multilateral environmental and human rights governance.

Another sign of ever-worsening degeneracy is personal. Thanks to unashamed cronyism, all the major multilateral economic organisations with the exception of the near-impotent World Trade Organisation (WTO) are run by Westerners: the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Bank for International Settlements and the United Nations itself.

The only exception, Brazilian WTO leader Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo, has notoriously pandered to the West, although to be fair, he is now openly expressing frustration as Trump ratchets up protectionism and as US trade representative Robert Lighthizer obstructs appointments to his crucial Appellate Body. “The dispute resolution mechanism is in crisis,” according to neoliberal Peterson Institute scholars, a paralysis which “runs the risk of returning the world trading system to a power-based free-for-all, allowing big players to act unilaterally and use retaliation to get their way.” That is exactly how Trump and Xi Jinping are handling their trade dispute.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro is following Trump’s anti-multilateral lead, quickly renouncing ‘special and differential treatment’ provisions for poor and middle-income countries at the WTO – although it is sacred to other BRICS members, especially India. But Brasilia’s divorce began much earlier, complains Third World Network’s Ravi Kanth, because although the developing-country bloc inside the WTO now “exists on paper, it remains paralysed after Azevêdo became director-general in September 2013.”

Bolsonaro also cancelled Brazil’s hosting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit later this year, forcing its move to Chile. Deploying bogus anti-colonial rhetoric, he turned his nose up at the G20’s tokenistic $20 million grant to control the Amazon’s conflagration. Moreover, Bolsonaro could well wreck the BRICS when he hosts the other four leaders in November.

In any case, the BRICS have already failed miserably when attempting to reform global finance, for example by complaining about – but failing to contest – the IMF and Bank leaders, chosen by Europeans and the US in the 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2019 ‘elections.’ At the same time, four of the BRICS bought expensive voting-power increases in the IMF (e.g. China rising 37 per cent), but at the expense of countries like Nigeria and Venezuela (which in 2015 both lost 41 per cent of their votes, while even South Africa’s IMF ‘voice’ softened by 21 per cent).

The BRICS’ supposed alternative to the IMF, the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, was founded in 2014 with a notional $100 billion. It actually gives Washington even more power, by leveraging most of its loans on the condition that the borrower accept an IMF structural adjustment program. The BRICS New Development Bank’s first five years of lending confirm that it is as rife with corruption, non-consultation, climate damage and inappropriate currency denominations as the World Bank, and even more unfriendly to gender equity.

Likewise, there is no BRICS alternative to Western domination in trade or climate multilateralism. At the WTO, the BRICS were fatally divided, leading to the 2015 destruction of food sovereignty options during the Nairobi summit. And as for climate, the Brazil-South Africa-India-China (BASIC) leaders’ close alignment with Barack Obama at the Copenhagen UNFCCC summit in 2009 held firm through the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

But that won’t solve our existential crisis, for the BASIC countries are absolute CO2 emitters at levels even higher than the West (and in South Africa’s case higher per capita than any country in Western Europe). So Paris’ fatal weaknesses suit them fine.

More recently, new causes of global governance illegitimacy appear similar to the centrifugal forces tearing Europe apart. The political commitments of climate-denialist, ‘paleo-conservative’ xenophobes like Trump are different to other Washington philosophies imposed on the world, including the 1980s-90s’ Reagan-Bush-Clinton era of neoliberalism (stretching with Thatcher and Blair into Britain and Kohl and Schroeder into Europe), George W. Bush’s 2000s neoconservatism and Obama’s 2010s fusion of these two US-centric ideologies.

With just a couple of exceptions (discussed below), an earlier generation of global-scale social-democratic hopes – fostered by serious multilateralists from 1970s traditions, e.g. Willy Brandt and Gro Harlem Brundtland – were dashed by the early 1980s, thanks to the role the Bretton Woods Institutions played in fracturing the world’s progressive potentials on behalf of international financiers. The poorest countries went through a ‘lost’ decade or more of austerity. The 1995-2002 middle-income countries’ rolling crises meant local elites allowed the same inappropriate neoliberal regime to be imposed by Washington even more deeply and dangerously in Mexico, East Asia, Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey.

Then it was the turn of the West’s ‘labour aristocracy,’ a core group of working-class people dethroned, for they lost their once-solid manufacturing jobs to machines and overseas outsourcing, and were reduced to taking underpaid and under-valued service-based jobs and relying upon fast-degenerating public services. In 2008-09 they too witnessed a replay of brutal 1980s-90s Bretton Woods power plays, once their elites agreed upon a multilateral ‘solution’ to the world financial meltdown: a coordinated central bank bailout for the largest Western financial institutions.

This generosity was confirmed by the 2010s’ official prioritisation – by the IMF, European Central Bank and European Union (EU) – of the Frankfurt, New York, London, Paris and Rome bankers’ interests, which were near-fatally exposed to Greece and other peripheral European borrowers. By 2016, neo-fascist political parties were thriving there, while the most resentful within the British and U.S. working classes chose xenophobic backlash in the form of Brexit and Trump.

Self-destructive IMF and World Bank ideology and financing

The crucial break point for multilateral potential was the 1980s world debt crisis, during which neoliberal ideology stretched the Third World so far that the likes of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere and Cuba’s Fidel Castro even proposed a ‘debtors’ cartel’ – but could not find a sufficient critical mass of other brave leaders even in a Latin America suffering sustained IMF rioting, to the relief of international elites.

At one point in 1983, World Bank president William Clausen quite bluntly explained the balance of forces: “We must ask ourselves: How much pressure can these nations be expected to bear? How far can the poorest peoples be pushed into further reducing their meagre standards of living? How resilient are the political systems and institutions in these countries in the face of steadily worsening conditions?”

Clausen’s power came from the 1979-80 ‘Volcker Shock’: soaring interest rates catalysed by US Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker’s decision to restore the Dollar’s power, in turn causing the Third World Debt Crisis. Clausen and all his successors abused that power to impose the Washington Consensus’s ten policy commandments. The term came from John Williamson of that city’s Institute of International Finance, representing the world’s major banks:

1. Budget deficits … should be small enough to be financed without recourse to the inflation tax.

2. Public expenditure should be redirected from politically sensitive areas that receive more resources than their economic return can justify…

3. Tax reform… so as to broaden the tax base and cut marginal tax rates.

4. Financial liberalisation, involving an ultimate objective of market-determined interest rates.

5. A unified exchange rate at a level sufficiently competitive to induce a rapid growth in non-traditional exports.

6. Quantitative trade restrictions to be rapidly replaced by tariffs, which would be progressively reduced until a uniform low rate of 10 to 20 per cent was achieved.

7. Abolition of barriers impeding the entry of foreign direct investment.

8. Privatisation of state enterprises.

9. Abolition of regulations that impede the entry of new firms or restrict competition.

10. The provision of secure property rights…

Needless to say, the victims were mainly women, youth, the elderly and people of colour. The IMF’s flows of annual loans that, thanks to conditionality, locked these policies into place, were initially less than $15 billion before the Volcker Shock, then soared to $40 billion by the late 1980s, jumped as high as $100 billion by the early 2000s, and exceeded $140 billion by the early 2010s (see Fig 1). The World Bank had similar bursts.

Fig 1. IMF loans, 1970-2015

Source: Reinhart and Trebesch, 2015, p.24.

Added to the neoliberal agenda were trillions worth of ‘illicit financial flows’ manoeuvred into offshore financial centres, leaving governments with rising budget deficits and their social sectors experiencing permanent cost-cutting pressures. IMF economists Jonathan Ostry, Prakash Loungani, and Davide Furceri admitted in 2016 that as a result, “The increase in inequality engendered by financial openness and austerity might itself undercut growth, the very thing that the neoliberal agenda is intent on boosting. There is now strong evidence that inequality can significantly lower both the level and the durability of growth.” But notwithstanding that admission, most subsequent Article IV consultations offered advice that amplified inequality, Oxfam researchers discovered.

The IMF also made a similar confession about its role in patriarchy, namely that “some policies recommended by staff… may… exacerbate gender inequality” – but again, when it came to a correction, the IMF “missed the forest for the policy trees,” explains Emma Bürgisser of the Bretton Woods Project. “Almost every macroeconomic policy the IMF regularly prescribes carries harmful gendered impacts, including labour flexibilisation, privatisation, regressive taxation, trade liberalisation and targeting social protection and pensions.”

Activists try to undo destruction

In turn the predatory debt, precarious work and privatisation of so many aspects of life experienced by the world’s citizenries calls forth two kinds of responses: appeals to global governance to sort out problems national states have shied away from, and popular revolt. There are both good and bad versions of these top-down and bottom-up responses, as we have seen, with cases such as the Montreal Protocol and Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria as top-down successes, but the latter owes more to bottom-up pressures.

Since the urgency of the situation required a global response, the 1987 Montreal Protocol was supported by even the reactionary Ronald Reagan administration. It committed national states to ensure their corporations (e.g. Dow Chemical and General Electric) stop producing and emitting CFCs within nine years. The ban worked and the problem is receding (aside from recent Chinese corporate cheating on hydro-CFCs).

At present, a Montreal Protocol-type ban on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions is presumed unthinkable, notwithstanding the impending eco-social catastrophe. A solution as forceful as the Montreal Protocol is needed for GHGs, but the weakness of multilateralism and the pro-corporate balance of forces makes it unlikely within the UNFCCC – unless the world’s rising youth and other climate activists ramp up the civil disobedience and divestment advocacy that is now beginning to worry fossil fuel financiers.

In that spirit, there was one other more recent multilateral solution to a world crisis, AIDS, which shows how to shift the balance of forces not through elites’ top-down meetings of minds (although within the World Health Organisation and UN AIDS, there were a few bureaucratic allies) – but instead, bottom-up, through militant activism.

Because of groups like South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign (led by visionaries Zackie Achmat and Vuyiseka Dubula), the US AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (‘ActUp’) and the health NGO Medicins sans Frontiers, a persuasive case emerged in the 1990s – and gained confirmation in 2001 – to exempt copyrighted AIDS medicines within the WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property System. Generics were permitted, not made in the US and Germany, but instead in many Southern countries. This resulted in more than a decade’s rise in life expectancy, in South and North alike.

Anti-neoliberal protests help shift the balance of forces, including many millions in the Third World who objected to structural adjustment, or “IMF Riots.” In the main study of these protests, David Seddon and John Walton in 1994 remarked on how not just poor and working-class people, but larger coalitions of society rose up: “Once mass discontent is made evident by these coalitions, political parties may take up the anti-austerity cause in successful bids for national office (e.g. Peru, Dominican Republic). In several countries, austerity protests initiated political crises that sooner (e.g. Sudan, Turkey) or later (e.g. Philippines, Haiti, Poland) toppled the national government.”

Since then, there have been scores more countries – especially in Africa – whose unpatriotic leaders were tossed out of power or drew sustained dissent as they imposed the BWIs’ logic.

Solidarity activism in the North is vital, such as demonstrations at IMF and Bank official events. Major protests included the 1988 Berlin Annual Meetings (which attracted tens of thousands of protestors), the 2000 Spring Meetings in Washington (30,000) and 2000 Prague Annual Meetings (50,000), as well as even the Oslo 2002 Bank research conference on development economics (10,000). One of the main activist challenges to Bretton Woods power was the early 2000s “World Bank bonds boycott” which – at the peak of the global justice movement’s mobilisations – compelled cities as large and financially potent as San Francisco to divest from Bank securities. (Trevor Ngwane and another South African, the poet Dennis Brutus, joined then-U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders to launch the boycott in 2000.)

This led to a ‘fix it or nix it’ debate, in which reforms of the Bank and IMF were so slow that TransNational Institute scholar Susan George fumed in 2000, “These institutions have had their chance. Anytime anyone asks, ‘And what would you put in its place?’ I am tempted to respond, ‘And what would you put in the place of cancer?’” Added Kenyan activist Njoki Njehu, the leading Washington protest organiser at the Bank/Fund Spring Meetings that year, “The IMF and the World Bank increase poverty. The consensus is that the IMF and World Bank cannot be reformed. They have to be abolished.”

It’s a debate that needs kick-starting once again. The 75th anniversary is a good time to ask whether such out-dated ideologies and their enforcers deserve to be retired, not (as the right-wing populist protectionists argue) so as to close the door on global governance, but to open it much wider in a way that serves people and planet, not multinational corporate profits. At the same time, by posing the question of abolition, we should also recall instances where impressive reforms were won at the multilateral scale.

The post Bretton Woods Institutions’ Neoliberal Over-Reach Leaves Global Governance in the Gutter appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

XR Co-Founder Discusses Climate Emergency

Extinction Rebellion (“XR”) has hit the world stage like a flash of light with participants in more than 70 countries all within one year’s time. Its allure is simply “telling the truth” about the climate crisis… for a change. A breath of fresh air in a world filled with deceit and lies by people in positions of power.

Recently, Roger Hallam, an organic farmer and King’s College scholar and co-founder of XR spoke at a gathering of local people in Penzance, Cornwall.

What follows is an abbreviated interpretation of that speech:

One of the biggest lies/misunderstandings about climate change is: “It’s complicated.” Meaning, only scientists and trained officials can deal with it because ordinary people cannot grasp the complexities. Whereas, the fact of the matter is: It’s not that complicated. Hallam expounded upon some simple, what he refers to as killer facts:

It’s undeniable that the Arctic is melting. “It’s too warm; it’s ice; it melts. You don’t need a degree in science to figure that one out.”

Unquestionably, the severity of the diminishment is horrifying. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the mass volume of Arctic ice has melted in the past 30 years. Stop and think about that for a moment… after thousands of years of thick multi-layered ice, it’s nearly all gone in only 30 short years. That’s well beyond the scope of natural behavior; it is catastrophic in many ways. After all, it’s not 10% not 30%; it’s 75%, which will ultimately bring torrential shifts in climate for the entirety of the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, it has already started.

Hallam mentioned a Harvard professor who recently claimed that there would be no permanent ice left in the Artic by the summer of 2022. The professor said it’s a certainty. “It’s clear the summer ice is headed for zero within the next 1-5 years… it’s going to be happening. And, it’s a simple scientific law that says once you’ve removed the ice from dark water, you get the latent heat effect, which means that temperatures increase dramatically and suddenly.”

All of which disrupts upper atmospheric jet streams as the temperature differential between the Arctic and the tropics drops, so it slows down the jet streams, and creates weather blocks that terrorize farmers that depend upon predictable weather cycles, year-in, year-out. Nowadays, it’s the unpredictable, e.g., the 2019 Midwest massive flooding of farmland, unprecedented.

“Once the ice is gone, it’s going to be completely chaotic. Within the next ten years, this is what’s coming down the road.” (Hallam)

Hallam claims the Arctic is not a complicated issue. The ice goes and the entire Northern Hemisphere changes in ways that nobody knows because we’ve never been there before. It’s an unintended experiment that’s already gone off the rails.

He discussed the climate crisis in terms of temperature: Since pre-industrial times the temperature has increased 1.1°Centigrade. Some people think it’s a bit more, some people think it’s a bit less, but 1.1°C is in the ballpark. In that regard, the Paris climate agreement, “which I’ll suggest to you is the biggest example of a massive delusion in the history of humanity,” promotes the lie that we must stay below 2°Centigrade. But, the simple scientific fact is 2°C is already locked in.” It’s well known in academia that 2°C is already locked in. There are several reasons why:

1. Carbon Life – When carbon is put into the atmosphere, it doesn’t immediately heat up the earth. It takes 10 to 30 years to translate to higher temperatures. Therefore, even if carbon emissions stopped tomorrow, there’s still 10-30 years of carbon working its way through the climate system. A recent scientific peer-review paper projected that latent carbon cycle equal to 0.7°C no matter what mitigation steps are taken today. That means 1.8° is already locked in (adding 1.1°C to 0.7°C).

2. And, “global dimming” peer-reviewed papers say fossil fuel usage puts pollutants or particulate matter in the atmosphere that actually mitigates heating of the planet by reflecting solar rays back to outer space. So, once you get rid of the fossil fuels, and cease emissions, the sun’s rays will come thru unimpeded by fossil fuel particulates. It’s estimated to increase global temperatures by 0.7°C.

Inclusive of all above, 2.6C is locked-in even though part of the “lock-in” is removal of carbon emissions. Another recent peer-reviewed paper says carbon in soils will increase temperatures by another one degree centigrade by 2050 because once you heat up the earth, you heat up the soil, it releases more carbon, taking temperatures up over 3°C.

All of the above-mentioned climate disruption happens before human anthropogenic current activities are counted. Alas, carbon emissions are still going up at rates of 1.6 ppm as of a couple years ago, then, 2.7 ppm and then 3ppm. The growth rate is headed straight up, not down.

Thus, with global average temperatures already locked in at 2°C, it means portions of middle continents or mid latitudes will hit 4°C. According to NASA, global warming varies but is highest in Earth’s mid-latitude regions during the warm season. At 4°C in the middle continents you cannot grow grains at scale. That means one thing: Starvation.

Looking at the issue one more way: Pre-industrial CO2 in the atmosphere was 280ppm at its peak over the past 400,000 years, but it’s been growing much faster than ever before over that past 100 years and now at 415ppm. It wasn’t so long ago that people were saying 350ppm was the upper limit or danger zone when ecosystems would start to falter. But, atmospheric CO2 is already at 415. What about that upper limit and shouldn’t that be a call to action? Nevertheless, there is no call to action, nowhere to be seen or heard. There is only talk interspersed with token dabbling in electric cars and solar panels and wind. The hard fact is fossil fuels were 80% of energy sourcing 50 years ago. Fossil fuels are 80% of energy sourcing today. Where’s the change?

In all, Hallam claims the “real bad news is: We’re facing social collapse. We are facing the end of civilization.” If you want to know what social collapse looks like, check out Somalia. Check out Afghanistan. Social collapse looks like an economic crisis when there is no longer any support for the poor. The schools won’t be able to run. The university courses will close. No beds available at hospitals. Food supplies run out, people starve and fight.

Last year for the first time ever a food-growing crisis hit all across the Northern Hemisphere, down 20% down in North America, Europe and Russia, all in one year! If that were to happen three years running, there would be massive starvation in Europe. That analysis by a sustainability professor is based the most downloaded (450,000) academic paper in history.

Fifteen years ago, Hallam planted 20 acres of crops. Starting in early June, the rain continued for seven weeks, nonstop. He lost every single outdoor vegetable. He lost £100,000 and 20 people lost their jobs. But, nobody cared because if you can’t get your food locally, you can fly it in. And, the following year, it rained almost 7 weeks once again. That was followed by the warmest April ever in the UK; then the coolest August ever, then the coldest wet winter on record, and last year was the warmest summer on record in Wales. Climate change is real and unpredictable. Thus, farmers do not know what’s going to happen and many go out of business. Around the world, farmers are committing suicide in record numbers, and as for America: “Suicide Rates are Rising, Especially in Rural America,” NBC News, Sept. 6, 2019.

Still the worst consequence of the climate crisis, which is the real endpoint, will be war. What will happen when hundreds of millions of refugees are fleeing from the tropics because the heat is unbearable? There will be war. This will happen before flooding of major coastal cities, which is also “locked-in” to the climate system.

The climate crisis is absolutely real. It’s a climate emergency! Temperatures continue setting new records. It was over 44°C in Karachi last year and many people died of heat stroke, but nobody cared because it is Karachi. Heat hit 47°C in parts of India. (Body temps at 42.22°C can result in convulsions and death)

The risks can be explained by the theory of nonlinear dynamics in social and economic systems. First, a few hundred die from heat stroke, and then it goes up a little bit more and then a thousand die, up a little bit more and then three million people die in a few days. All of a sudden, it happens so suddenly!

Because of wet bulb effect, at a certain point the human body cannot survive heat and humidity and dies within 6 hours. It’s nonlinear. This is already happening in the animal kingdom. It happened in the Russian Steppes 2-3 years ago when 200,000 deer died in 3 days.

Hallam has talked to leading political economists around the world, and they all agree catastrophe is coming. “When it comes it’s going to be fast.” They all agree. Within weeks because everything is inter-connected, meaning, food supply and distribution throughout the world.

Hallam mentioned what he refers to as “a difficult discussion item” how to stop the misguided process. The social sciences provide answers. If you want to rapidly change the political direction of a society it only happens thru massive social disobedience. Period! It’s the only way, and it is what XR is all about.

Society has been trying to sort out the climate crisis for 30 years. Alas, it’s gotten nowhere. Meantime, since 1990 there’s been a 60% increase in carbon emissions. All efforts, meetings, and discussions have been a catastrophic disaster. One-half of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere by the human race have been since Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth was released. Still, it’s been followed by catastrophic failure, which is the starting point for thinking about what really works. And, what really works is what we haven’t been doing. We haven’t been “Causing a Fuss.”

On a personal basis, Roger Hallam admitted that he does not like causing a fuss. It’s not in his character, but it’s the only formula for success.

Civic disobedience works. The reason it works is because of two things: (1) Disruption… no one takes any notice unless you cause disruption. It increases the reputational and economic costs of the opponents. Whereas, “being nice doesn’t do anything.” Disruption creates attention, and attention is the first point at which people start to change their opinions. For an example of what doesn’t work, in 2003, one million people in London protested the Iraq war. The protestors waved banners and hollered and conjoined with like-minded, and then, they got on buses and headed home. What happened? Nothing happened because a march never causes disruption. It’s there and it’s gone. (2) Sacrifice- without suffering there is no change. It’s when you go to jail that people take you seriously. What changes a person is seeing other people suffer for their beliefs.

XR involves arrest and going to prison. XR’s slogan is: Tell the truth and act as if it is real. Rebels have to be willing to upset people. XR has added 100,000 people to their mailing list in one year because people want to hear the truth.

The fight for civil rights in U.S. is an example of civic disruption working to the benefit of a cause. The Freedom Rider campaign of 1961 started with 25 students. MLK advised them not to do it. They did it and were surrounded by KKK, who set fire to their bus and beat up the students. Then, another 25 students came; Followed by national press. Pres. Kennedy noticed. The racist beat up his emissary. Hundreds more went to Mississippi… 500 people were put into prison doing hard labor. Prior to the Freedom Riders, 70 years of conventional protests did not work, did not move the civil rights needle. But, several weeks of Freedom Riders did the job. They caused a fuss.

The Children’s March- Birmingham circa 1963 is another example as 50 children, marching in opposition to segregation, went to prison after harassment by police, fire hoses and beatings because the kids simply walked in the streets. Then, 1,000 children in prison; then 3,000 in prison the next day, until the authorities give in. The chief of police caved in and Birmingham, Alabama agreed to desegregate the local stores. The children caused a fuss.

Radical political change works when participants have no fear. The children of Birmingham were fearless in civic disobedience.

At King’s College Hallam was suspended twice for pushing fossil fuel divestment. Eventually, King’s College said they would divest tar sands investments in a few years. Thereafter, Hallam and one other student started spraying signs around the campus. Then, eight more students joined, and they sprayed the campus. Then, the vice principal came within five minutes of a massive spraying. At the time, Hallam was suspended from King’s college. Still, he re-entered the property again and again. After 5 weeks, the university agreed to divest. According to Hallam, the willingness to personally sacrifice is key to success.

In April 2018 the upstart Extinction Rebellion ignored warnings from authorities. Within 8 days in London they had 1,200 arrested. It was the biggest civil disturbance in London in 50 years. Before the April civic disruptions, the general public did not have an opinion about climate change. After XR’s public disruptions, 67% of the UK population acknowledged the “climate emergency” and 50,000 people signed up for XR.

Disruption and sacrifice are the necessary ingredients. People get involved for a range of reasons. Including, (1) they are terrified about what’s going to happen with the climate crisis, knowing their careers and status won’t be there anyway if it’s not stopped (2) it is an act of conscience. It’s a sense of civic duty. (3) A sense of adventure by people who are already messed up in life and looking for redemption in their lives.

Extinction Rebellion intends to continue civil disobedience until governments of the world declare a “climate emergency.” It almost seems as if it’s their fate in life.

But, is there truly a climate emergency at hand? Answer: It’s a given, study the science, and you’ll join in person or commit funds to XR. The science is 100% definitive, and it’s real scary!

The post XR Co-Founder Discusses Climate Emergency appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Terrorized, Traumatized and Killed: The Police State’s Deadly Toll on America’s Children

Mommy, am I gonna die?”— 4-year-old Ava Ellis after being inadvertently shot in the leg by a police officer who was aiming for the girl’s boxer-terrier dog, Patches

“‘Am I going to get shot again.’”—2-year-old survivor of a police shooting that left his three siblings, ages 1, 4 and 5, with a bullet in the brain, a fractured skull and gun wounds to the face

Children learn what they live.

As family counselor Dorothy Law Nolte wisely observed, “If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. If children live with hostility, they learn to fight. If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.”

And if children live with terror, trauma and violence—forced to watch helplessly as their loved ones are executed by police officers who shoot first and ask questions later—will they in turn learn to terrorize, traumatize and inflict violence on the world around them?

I’m not willing to risk it. Are you?

It’s difficult enough raising a child in a world ravaged by war, disease, poverty and hate, but when you add the toxic stress of the police state into the mix, it becomes near impossible to protect children from the growing unease that some of the monsters of our age come dressed in government uniforms.

Case in point: in Hugo, Oklahoma, plain clothes police officers opened fire on a pickup truck parked in front of a food bank, heedless of the damage such a hail of bullets—26 shots were fired—could have on those in the vicinity. Three of the four children inside the parked vehicle were shot: a 4-year-old girl was shot in the head and ended up with a bullet in the brain; a 5-year-old boy received a skull fracture; and a 1-year-old girl had deep cuts on her face from gunfire or shattered window glass. Only the 2-year-old was spared any physical harm, although the terror will likely linger for a long time. “They are terrified to go anywhere or hear anything,” the family attorney said. “The two-year-old keeps asking about ‘Am I going to get shot again.’”

The reason for the use of such excessive force?

Police were searching for a suspect in a weeks-old robbery of a pizza parlor that netted $400.

While the two officers involved in the shooting are pulling paid leave at taxpayer expense, the children’s mother is struggling to figure out how to care for her wounded family and pay the medical expenses, including the cost to transport each child in a separate medical helicopter to a nearby hospital: $75,000 for one child’s transport alone.

This may be the worst use of excessive force on innocent children to date. Unfortunately, it is one of many in a steady stream of cases that speak to the need for police to de-escalate their tactics and stop resorting to excessive force when less lethal means are available to them.

For instance, in Cleveland, police shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was seen playing on a playground with a pellet gun. Surveillance footage shows police shooting the boy two seconds after getting out of a moving patrol car. Incredibly, the shooting was deemed “reasonable” and “justified” by two law enforcement experts who concluded that the police use of force “did not violate Tamir’s constitutional rights.”

In Detroit, 7-year-old Aiyana Jones was killed after a Detroit SWAT team launched a flash-bang grenade into her family’s apartment, broke through the door and opened fire, hitting the little girl who was asleep on the living room couch. The cops were in the wrong apartment.

In Georgia, a SWAT team launched a flash-bang grenade into the house in which Baby Bou Bou, his three sisters and his parents were staying. The grenade landed in the 2-year-old’s crib, burning a hole in his chest and leaving the child with scarring that a lifetime of surgeries will not be able to easily undo.

Also in Georgia, 10-year-old Dakota Corbitt was shot by a police officer who aimed for an inquisitive dog, missed, and hit the young boy instead.

In Ohio, police shot 4-year-old Ava Ellis in the leg, shattering the bone, after being dispatched to assist the girl’s mother, who had cut her arm and was in need of a paramedic. Cops claimed that the family pet charged the officer who was approaching the house, causing him to fire his gun and accidentally hit the little girl.

In California, 13-year-old Andy Lopez Cruz was shot 7 times in 10 seconds by a police officer who mistook the boy’s toy gun for an assault rifle. Christopher Roupe, 17, was shot and killed after opening the door to a police officer. The officer, mistaking the remote control in Roupe’s hand for a gun, shot him in the chest.

These children are more than grim statistics on a police blotter. They are the heartbreaking casualties of the government’s endless, deadly wars on terror, on drugs, and on the American people themselves.

Then you have the growing number of incidents involving children who are forced to watch helplessly as trigger-happy police open fire on loved ones and community members alike.

In Texas, an 8-year-old boy watched as police—dispatched to do a welfare check on a home with its windows open—shot and killed his aunt through her bedroom window while she was playing video games with him.

In Minnesota, a 4-year-old girl watched from the backseat of a car as cops shot and killed her mother’s boyfriend, Philando Castile, a school cafeteria supervisor, during a routine traffic stop merely because Castile disclosed that he had a gun in his possession, for which he had a lawful conceal-and-carry permit. That’s all it took for police to shoot Castile four times as he was reaching for his license and registration.

In Arizona, a 7-year-old girl watched panic-stricken as a state trooper pointed his gun at her and her father during a traffic stop and reportedly threated to shoot her father in the back (twice) based on the mistakenbelief that they were driving a stolen rental car.

In Oklahoma, a 5-year-old boy watched as a police officer used a high-powered rifle to shoot his dog Opie multiple times in his family’s backyard while other children were also present. The police officer was mistakenly attempting to deliver a warrant on a 10-year-old case for someone who hadn’t lived at that address in a decade.

A Minnesota SWAT team actually burst into one family’s house, shot the family’s dog, handcuffed the children and forced them to “sit next to the carcass of their dead and bloody pet for more than an hour.” They later claimed it was the wrong house.

More than 80% of American communities have their own SWAT teams, with more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and all in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually some small amount of drugs.

A child doesn’t even have to be directly exposed to a police shooting to learn the police state’s lessons in compliance and terror, which are being meted out with every SWAT team raid, roadside strip search, and school drill.

Indeed, there can be no avoiding the hands-on lessons being taught in the schools about the role of police in our lives, ranging from active shooter drills and school-wide lockdowns to incidents in which children engaging in typically childlike behavior are suspended (for shooting an imaginary “arrow” at a fellow classmate), handcuffed (for being disruptive at school), arrested (for throwing water balloons as part of a school prank), and even tasered (for not obeying instructions).

For example, a middle school in Washington State went on lockdown after a student brought a toy gun to class. A Boston high school went into lockdown for four hours after a bullet was discovered in a classroom. A North Carolina elementary school locked down and called in police after a fifth grader reported seeing an unfamiliar man in the school (it turned out to be a parent).

Cops have even gone so far as to fire blanks during school active shooter drills around the country. Teachers at one elementary school in Indiana were actually shot “execution style” with plastic pellets. Students at a high school in Florida were so terrified after administrators tricked them into believing that a shooter drill was, in fact, an actual attack that some of them began texting their parents “goodbye.”

Better safe than sorry is the rationale offered to those who worry that these drills are terrorizing and traumatizing young children. As journalist Dahlia Lithwick points out: “I don’t recall any serious national public dialogue about lockdown protocols or how they became the norm. It seems simply to have begun, modeling itself on the lockdowns that occur during prison riots, and then spread until school lockdowns and lockdown drills are as common for our children as fire drills, and as routine as duck-and-cover drills were in the 1950s.”

These drills have, indeed, become routine.

As the New York Times reports: “Most states have passed laws requiring schools to devise safety plans, and several states, including Michigan, Kentucky and North Dakota, specifically require lockdown drills. Some drills are as simple as a principal making an announcement and students sitting quietly in a darkened classroom. At other schools, police officers and school officials playact a shooting, stalking through the halls like gunmen and testing whether doors have been locked.”

Police officers at a Florida middle school carried out an active shooter drill in an effort to educate students about how to respond in the event of an actual shooting crisis. Two armed officers, guns loaded and drawn, burst into classrooms, terrorizing the students and placing the school into lockdown mode.

What is particularly chilling is how effective these lessons in compliance are in indoctrinating young people to accept their role in the police state, either as criminals or prison guards.

If these exercises are intended to instill fear, paranoia and compliance into young people, they’re working.

As Joe Pinsker writes for The Atlantic:

These lockdowns can be scarring, causing some kids to cry and wet themselves. Others have written letters bidding their family goodbye or drafted wills that specify what to do with their belongings. And 57 percent of teens worry that a shooting will happen at their school, according to a Pew Research Center survey from last year. Though many children are no strangers to violence in their homes and communities, the pervasiveness of lockdowns and school-shooting drills in the U.S. has created a culture of fear that touches nearly every child across the country.

Sociologist Alice Goffman understands how far-reaching the impact of such “exercises” can be on young people. For six years, Goffman lived in a low-income urban neighborhood, documenting the impact such an environment—a microcosm of the police state—has on its residents. Her account of neighborhood children playing cops and robbers speaks volumes about how constant exposure to pat downs, strip searches, surveillance and arrests can result in a populace that meekly allows itself to be prodded, poked and stripped.

As journalist Malcolm Gladwell writing for the New Yorker reports:

Goffman sometimes saw young children playing the age-old game of cops and robbers in the street, only the child acting the part of the robber wouldn’t even bother to run away: I saw children give up running and simply stick their hands behind their back, as if in handcuffs; push their body up against a car without being asked; or lie flat on the ground and put their hands over their head. The children yelled, “I’m going to lock you up! I’m going to lock you up, and you ain’t never coming home!” I once saw a six-year-old pull another child’s pants down to do a “cavity search.”

Clearly, our children are getting the message, but it’s not the message that was intended by those who fomented a revolution and wrote our founding documents. Their philosophy was that the police work for us, and “we the people” are the masters, and they are to be our servants.

Now that philosophy has been turned on its head, fueled by our fears (some legitimate, some hyped along by the government and its media mouthpieces) about the terrors and terrorists that lurk among us.

What are we to tell our nation’s children about the role of police in their lives?

Do we parrot the government line that police officers are community helpers who are to be trusted and obeyed at all times? Do we caution them to steer clear of a police officer, warning them that any interactions could have disastrous consequences? Or is there some happy medium between the two that, while being neither fairy tale nor horror story, can serve as a cautionary tale for young people who will encounter police at virtually every turn?

Certainly, it’s getting harder by the day to insist that we live in a nation that values freedom and which is governed by the rule of law.

Yet unless something changes and soon, there will soon be nothing left to teach young people about freedom as we have known it beyond remembered stories of the “good old days.”

For starters, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it’s time to take a hard look at the greatest perpetrators of violence in our culture—the U.S. government and its agents—and do something about it: de-militarize the police, prohibit the Pentagon from distributing military weapons to domestic police agencies, train the police in de-escalation techniques, stop insulating police officers from charges of misconduct and wrongdoing, and require police to take precautionary steps before engaging in violence in the presence of young people.

We must stop the carnage.

The post Terrorized, Traumatized and Killed: The Police State’s Deadly Toll on America’s Children appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

A World Partnership for Ecopolitical Health and Security

The world in 2019 is in deep trouble. States still act in their own interest, scarcely paying attention to the evolving horrors of climate change, war, hunger, ecological impoverishment of the planet and rapidly growing population.

In such a precarious ecopolitical environment, we have the United States run by a president acting like a two-year old, always putting his personal and family profits above national and international interests.

Ecopolitical governance

An alternative to this madness would be for the US (after Trump), the European Union, Russia and China to create a genuine partnership for human survival and security. This arrangement would eclipse the military project of NATO and guarantee the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.

Such a move would dramatically cut military spending, showing that civilisation still matters. What if those saved vast sums of money, currently put to planning slaughter and destruction, could be put to peaceful use? Like jointly addressing the existential threat of climate change and the social and ecological problems unsettling the US, EU, Russia and China?

Imagine an ecological and political alliance between North America, Europe, Russia and China that gives birth to a World Environment Organisation for addressing climate change and the protection of human and environmental health. Imagine that nothing in international relations, including world trade, could take place if it caused ecological harm.

People would learn to respect nature as the very foundation of life on Earth. Imagine, furthermore, such an organisation funding substantive programs aimed at reversing the environmental decline of the planet, banning plastics, cleaning the plastic pollution of the seas, and, particularly, slowing down climate change, which threatens all life on Earth.

Such a task would be both daring and demanding because, as in the golden age of Greece, the human effort of the twenty-first century must be to invent a new science and a new politics to solve human problems, but without destroying the world.

Twentieth-century science and economic development (in the unitary capitalist models in use in the twenty-first century) are obsolete and dangerous: they have been tainted and moulded by the violence and fear of the nuclear bomb.

Factory farming

Industrialised agriculture is a paradigm of  the application of bomb-inspired science. It is a gigantic mechanical enterprise contemptible of the natural world. It is fuelled by Earth-warming petroleum. It has brought into being systems of death rather than life.

The immense one-crop plantations of agribusiness are artificial deserts that devastate biological diversity. The poisons that farmers spray over them control insects, diseases and grasses only as an afterthought. This is because these toxins are primarily political. They enable landowners or states to be sole masters of huge territories while, at the same time, emptying rural areas of small family farmers, peasants and indigenous people. They are a form of toxic chemistry for the preservation of political power in the world’s countryside. They are deleterious to both nature and people.

Agriculture constructed and infected by poisons is factory agriculture, an industrialisation of the very face of the Earth.

Industrialised farming rivals climate change in its global deleterious effects. It is converting everything to a machine. In the US, for example, it has abolished rural America, turning it into a colossal mechanised hybrid of plantation and state.

About 98 per cent of America’s food contains some toxins. In the state of Georgia, for example, not one farmer grows peaches without poisons.

Domesticated animals exist in high-tech factory environments that resemble sterile concentration camps. They house thousands of pigs, chicken and cattle, which are no longer animals but units of machinery. Nevertheless, confined animals emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

Agribusiness is also undoing food itself, scrambling the genetic stuff of corn and soybeans to bring all food and crops under the dominion of a handful of global corporations.

That is why we need to invent a new science that is tainted not so much with power but with ethics, ecology and civilisation. Aristotle argued that cataclysms repeatedly reduce human societies to a point where it is necessary to search in the rubble to rediscover human culture.

We are not yet the refugees of a global catastrophe, but we are headed in that direction. Industrialised agriculture is the first step in that decline and fall.

Slow down climate change

The invisible toxins of our industrialised culture are warming the planet, making it, slowly and in the near future, unfit for life. Alaska’s permafrost is thawing and massive chunks of ice are disintegrating in the Arctic. Amazon is burning.

It is probably impossible to stop entirely the warming of the Earth. But we can slow it down, diminishing its chronic cataclysmic effects by steadfastly eliminating and ending the use of fossil fuels and our onslaught on the planet.

Are we clever enough, but not moral enough to avoid committing suicide?

Yet there’s a way out of our current killer policies: first of all, solar and other forms of renewable energy suffice in replacing oil, coal, petroleum and nuclear power.

Second, nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction are useless, unusable without provoking a holocaust. These are truly the ultimate biocides. They should be abolished.

Third, family farmers and peasants are willing to and capable of raising all the food we need, as long as we dismantle the monstrous agribusiness plantations and animal factories.

Expanding the variety of our food crops from the rich diversity of traditional agriculture will go a long way to improving our diet, and lessen the need to dam rivers for irrigation. Such a change of direction would give a new lease of life to millions of villages in the tropics while bringing back to rural Europe and America the culture, democracy and nutritious food of prosperous small family farmers and peasants.

If the US, EU, Russia and China sign on a version of this modest proposal, we boost ecopolitical civilization and human survival.

We need a World Environment Organization.

The post A World Partnership for Ecopolitical Health and Security appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Decent Protester: a Down Under Creation

The Decent Protester, appropriately capitalised and revered is, from the outset, one who does not protest. It is an important point: to protest in the visage of such a person is an urge best left to inner fantasy and feeling. You come late to the scene: the best work and revolt has been done; the people who made the change are either dead, in prison, or ostracised. Modest changes might be made to the legal system, if at all.

To actually protest, by which is meant screaming, hollering, and disrupting, with the occasional sign of public indignation, is something of a betrayal. A betrayal to your comfortable station; a betrayal to your happy state of affairs. Show disgust, but keep it regular, modest and contained. Add a dash of bitters that amount to hypocrisy.

This regularity is something that ensures the continuation of police states, apartheid regimes, and vicious rulers. It also perpetuates the status quo in liberal democracies. The cleverness of this is the idea of permissible revolt: As long as you operate within the acceptable boundaries of protest, your conscience is given its balm, and the regime can continue to hum to the tune of the tolerable. It is a principle that states of all political hues adopt, though the degree of that adoption is sometimes moderated by bills of rights and the like.

When Henry D. Thoreau was arrested and found himself spending a night in a Concord prison in 1846 for refusing to pay his poll tax, he was making a broader statement about breaking rules, albeit from a selfish perspective. His objects of disaffection were slavery and the Mexican War. To the individual exists a conscience that should not bow to majoritarian wishes. If there is a law “of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another,” he writes in Civil Disobedience, “then, I say, break the law.” In Walden (1854), he elaborated on the point, claiming that no citizen “for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation.”

This view has hardly gone unchallenged, suggesting that civil disobedience can be a slippery matter. Hannah Arendt cast more than a heavy stone at Thoreau in her own essay on the subject in The New Yorker in September 1970. Her proposal, instead, was the necessary need to institutionalise civil disobedience and render it a matter of recognised action, rather than individual abstention. Thoreau had, after all, suggested distance and the will of the individual, that it was “not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even to the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it…”

To that end, Arendt felt that “it would be an event of great significance to find a constitutional niche for civil disobedience – of no less significance, perhaps, than the event of the founding of the constitutio liberatis, nearly two hundred years ago.” But she resists, curiously enough, the idea of legalising it, favouring a political approach akin to treating the protester as a registered lobbyist or special interest group. “These minorities of opinion would thus be able to establish themselves as a power that is not only ‘seen from afar’ during demonstrations and other dramatizations of their viewpoint, but is always present and to be reckoned with in the daily business of government.”

Few countries better exemplify this dilemma than Australia, a country that has no formal constitutional protection of the right to protest yet insists on a collaborative model between protestor and state (protest permits, for instance, take precedence over any organic right; cooperating with police is encouraged, as laws are to be abided by). In some ways, an argument might well be made that civil disobedience, in anaemic form, has been institutionalised down under.

The result from brought forth in this coagulation is simple if compromising: the Decent Protester. Such a person is one very much at odds with the barebones definition of civil disobedience advanced by Robin Celikates, who describes it as “intentionally unlawful protest action, which is based on principles and aims at changing (as in preventing or enforcing) certain laws or political steps.” In other words, there can be no Australian Rosa Parks.

Each state has its own guidelines for the decent protester, offering a helpful hand for those braving a march or organising a gathering. An information booklet covering the right to protest in the Australian Capital Territory has a range of “guidelines”. It speaks of “many public places” in Canberra, the national capital, “where people can exercise their right to communicate their opinions and ideas through peaceful protests and demonstrations.” The authors of the booklet make the claim that Australian “democracy recognises this right which is subject to the general law and must be balanced against the rights and interests of others and of the community as a whole.”

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s office gives the false impression that Australia has a clear right to peaceful assembly for people to meet and “engage in peaceful protest.” A list of international human rights treaties are suggested as relevant, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 21 and 22) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 8(1)(a)). But being a party to a convention is not the same as incorporating it. Legislation needs to be passed and, for that reason, remains mediated through the organs of the state. The Fair Work Act 2009, for instance, protects freedom of association in the workplace but only in the context of being, or not being, members of industrial associations. Not exactly much to go on.

Other publications venture a much older right to protest, one that came to the Great Southern Land, paradoxically enough, with convict ships and manacles. “The origins of the common law right to assembly,” argues a briefing paper by Tom Gotsis for the NSW Parliamentary Research Service, “have been traced back 800 years to the signing of the Magna Carta.” This, in turn, finds modest recognition in state courts and the High Court of Australia, not least through the limited implied right of political communication. Ever eccentric in its conservatism, that right is not a private one to be exercised against the state, merely a control of hubristic parliaments who venture laws disproportionate to it. Not exactly a glorious, fit thing, is that implied right.

Such protest, measured, managed and tranquilised, makes the fundamental point that those who control the indignation control the argument. Much time has been spent in Australia embedding police within the protest structure, ensuring that order is maintained. Trains, buses and cars must still run on time. People need to get to work. Children need to be in school. The message is thereby defanged in the name of decency. It also means that genuine lawbreaking aimed at altering any policies will frowned upon as indecent. Good Australians would never do that.

The post The Decent Protester: a Down Under Creation appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Pro-Democracy Movement in Haiti Swells Despite Police Violence

It’s getting hard not to notice that U.S. corporate media is covering pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong far more than pro-democracy forces in the Caribbean. It can be challenging to catch up on significant events in a place that’s a mere two-hour flight from Miami; with a few exceptions, the media is largely failing Haiti right now.

A movement birthed in the shantytowns of Port-au-Prince has now swelled to broad swaths of the populace in all 10 of Haiti’s geographical departments. Friday, October 11, saw a national mobilization of tens of thousands of protesters out in force throughout the country demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise — and 10 of them didn’t make it home alive.

Longtime Haiti observer Kevin Pina, editor of Haiti Information Project, said that protesters were assaulted on October 11 by police armed with guns, tear gas and water cannons, and that seven protesters were reported to be killed by police in Petion-ville, a wealthy enclave in the hills above Port-au-Prince. Three more were killed in Saint-Marc in the western department of Artibonite. Those killed on October 11 included a 16-year-old boy, bringing the documented death toll (all on the side of the protesters) to more than 20.

Pasha Vorbe, a member of the executive committee of the political party Fanmi Lavalas, said that Lavalas has counted 28 total protesters killed by police during the current revolt.

“Today, I can tell you, we are living in a humanitarian crisis; it is not just Lavalas, the entire population is against Jovenel Moise and the rigged elections that delivered him to us,” Vorbe said.

Haiti is in revolt against The Core Group, a political entity formed by dint of United Nations Security Council Resolution in 2004, the same year as the U.S.-backed coup toppled former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas party from Haiti’s helm. A multi-national supervisory body with the nebulous mission of “steering the electoral process,” its creation was originally proposed as a six-month interim transition support measure, yet it endures to this day.

At issue is the legitimacy of the presidency of Jovenel Moise, who was installed in 2017 to serve a five-year term. Protesters say Haiti cannot wait until 2022 for his departure from office.

Moise stands accused of embezzling millions of dollars from the proceeds of the PetroCaribe energy loan program extended by Venezuela. He earned the ire of many Haitians after attempting to remove energy subsidies in July 2018. The president’s administration has been directly implicated in the massacre of upward of 70 people (some reports say closer to 300) in the Lasalin neighborhood of Port-au-Prince — a four-day torture and killing spree in November 2018.

The massacres took place in the same community that had been demonstrating on a weekly basis since July 2018 in protest of the economic violence of double-digit inflation, currently at approximately 19 percent.

Protesters were assaulted on October 11 by police armed with guns, tear gas and water cannons.

Targeted assassinations are ongoing. On October 10, Haitian journalist Néhémie Joseph, a reporter with Radio Méga and critic of the Moise administration, was found dead in his car with multiple shots to the head, prompting a demand for a swift investigation from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

With continued backing from The Core Group — which is chaired by the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, and comprised of the Ambassadors to Haiti from Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the European Union, the U.S. and the Special Representative of the Organization of American States — Moise clings to power. If he can hold on until January 2020, and parliamentary elections (currently scheduled for October 27) do not take place by then, the parliament will be dissolved and Moise can rule by decree.

Cécile Accilien, director of the Institute of Haitian Studies at the University of Kansas told us the political situation in Haiti is complex.

“We’re ruled by far more powerful countries, the 1 percent, the NGOs — everyone’s playing a game,” she said. “But most of us don’t know what the rules are or who the players are, but we know this: Everyone is playing Haiti.”

Pina noticed how Moise appeared more confident after meeting with Donald Trump in Mar-a-Lago in March 2019.

“Moise’s entire disposition changed after he’d gotten reassurance from Trump that he will back him,” Pina said. “I assume there was a quid pro quo for Trump supporting him in exchange for doing a 180 on Venezuela.”

I’ll make a promise to you,” Pence told the assembled leaders. “Stand with us and know we’ll stand with you. Work with us and we will work with you.” Haiti had pointedly not been invited in June 2018 to a confab with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence who was courting nations willing to vote to eject Venezuela from the Organization of American States and to invoke the Rio Treaty (the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance) for the first time since 9/11, potentially clearing the way for U.S. military intervention in Venezuela.

Subsequently, Moise reversed Haiti’s support for Maduro and Venezuelan sovereignty.

“Our response has to be sarcastic,” Vorbe said. “If they think that Moise is so good and great why don’t they give him a job in the U.N. or in Washington? Quick, before he drains the economy completely.”

The hypocrisy of the U.S. attacking Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as “illegitimate” while upholding Moise is not lost on Vorbe. Much of what Washington claims about Maduro’s 2018 re-election is verifiably true about Moise’s election in 2016: Yes, there was a record low voter turnout in Venezuela, only 46 percent, but in Haiti it was vastly lower: only 18 percent of the electorate went to the polls. Accusing Maduro’s government of drug trafficking and money laundering reminds Haitians that Moise came into office already accused of laundering millions of dollars. Plus, he was mentored by Guy Phillippe, currently serving nine years in a U.S. prison for those exact crimes.

The Devastation of Haiti’s Economy

Vorbe said Moise has bankrupted the startup businesses that were developing in Haiti and has annihilated the education system. This year there will be 70,000 high school graduates and places for only 7,000 university students. Jobs are in scarce supply. Without a meaningful economic development program, Haitian workers are left to labor in sweatshops that pay the lowest sub-poverty wages in the hemisphere. According to the World Bank, 32 percent of the country’s GDP in 2018 was derived from remittances from family members living elsewhere.

“Today the majority of Haitians do not eat three regular meals a day,” Vorbe said. “Maybe they eat once a day, or every other day. They feel practically doomed, and their living conditions are getting worse every day.”

Maud Jean-Michel is known as Sanite B., the host of Sewom Patriyotik on Radyo Tele Timoun. A human rights protector and freedom fighter, she uses her radio platform to expose what the U.S. is doing to Haiti. She bristles at hearing Haiti referred to as a poor country, the poorest in the Western hemisphere.

“We are one of the richest, but Haiti has been impoverished,” she continued. “This is the reason they keep us in turmoil. If we stabilized, we could use our resources — our bauxite, uranium and black marble — how can we be poor when we have so much? If Haiti is so poor, why is the U.S. there, why is The Core Group there, why do they refuse to leave us alone?”

At issue is the legitimacy of the presidency of Jovenel Moise, who was installed in 2017 to serve a five-year term.

Haiti also has billions in gold, iridium, copper, and oil advises human rights attorney Èzili Dantò. “And,” she said, “the Windward Passage and a history the enslaving nations must rewrite.”

She said the U.S. built its largest embassy in the Western Hemisphere in Haiti to control Haiti’s geopolitical position and strip it of its assets and riches.

“They will obliterate Haiti before they allow it to succeed as a nation,” Dantò said. “There is white fear of Haitian success.”

Vorbe sees preserving Haiti’s remaining riches for Haiti and the Haitian people as Haiti’s last chance for survival.

“It’s essential that Haiti get out from under the current constitution before any deals to develop mineral resources or arable lands go forward,” he warned.

“All of the institutions have failed the majority of the people,” he said. “Judiciary, legislature and executive, all corrupted completely. We have to start over, start fresh, with something that suits the younger generation.”

The country has come to a full stop and the demands are clear: Moise must go before finishing his five-year term, without conditions; the billions embezzled must be returned to the treasury to capitalize the future of the country; and a three-year “time-out” must be planned so the nation can stabilize and a meaningful process for free and fair elections can be created.

Lavalas has put out a transition plan that calls for “put[ting] in place an executive and a government of public safety…consist[ing] of credible personalities, engaged in the struggle against exclusion and corruption, who share a vision of a new method of governance.” If that sounds vague, it was meant to be a conversation starter. Dialogues across all segments of Haitian society have been ongoing with facilitation by civil society groups, and participants are finding common ground.

“We want a new nation, a democracy, free elections, a new constitution, and a type of government that’s better for us,” Vorbe said. “We’re doing the deep thinking about it now.”

A Political Crisis in the U.S.’s Backyard

Pacifica Radio journalist Margaret Prescod recently returned from a week of documenting the revolt in Port-au-Prince on the back of a motorcycle ridden through streets ablaze and blitzed with tear gas. She and her team were fortunate not to have been hit by the live rounds fired by police. This was her third trip to Haiti in the past few months, and she said she’s never seen a worse human rights crisis or people better organized and more determined to prevail.

“Over and over the people say, ‘We have no food, no jobs, no way to support our families,’” Prescod said. “‘We are not leaving the streets. We’d rather die on our feet than live on our knees.’”

Born in Barbados, Prescod keeps a sharp journalistic eye focused on foreign meddling in Haiti’s affairs.

“I’m with Frederick Douglass,” she said, referring to the abolitionist’s maxim in his 1893 World’s Fair speech: “Haitians…striking for their freedom, they struck for every Black man in the world.”

In the early 1800s, Haiti repelled Napoleon and ended slavery six decades before Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Prescod said Haitian protesters have said that they view the current revolt as a continuation of the rejection by the Haitian grassroots of the subversion of Haiti’s sovereignty in the U.S.-backed 2004 coup and its aftermath, especially the imposition of presidents “selected” by the U.S. and Canada in elections ridden with fraud.

“After victory, what follows next is an important question,” she advises. “The grassroots have nothing, but they know what’s going on: I was told by protesters that any Haitian government you see backed and supported by the U.S. is generally not one that is good for the Haitian people.”

“We want a new nation, a democracy, free elections, a new constitution, and a type of government that’s better for us.”

The days Prescod was on the ground were perilous — the police were shooting live rounds from unmarked trucks, she said. She added that her crew was told at the barricades that police were hiding in ambulances, a blatant violation of international law, transporting themselves with teargas to penetrate the roadblocks.

Prescod’s Pacifica radio team was the first international group of journalists to visit Lasalin and speak with survivors of a series of massacres said to be linked to the Moise government. They were accompanied by a delegation from the National Lawyers Guild. Following her reporting on the massacre, Prescod returned to Haiti as part of a delegation headed by U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters to further investigate the Lasalin massacres.

Surviving victims of the Lasalin massacre told Prescod that their communities were politically targeted to punish them for their protests against Jovenel Moise, and for their support for Lavalas, the party of Aristide.

“Jovenel Moise uses paramilitary thugs similar to the Tonton Macoutes, as a strategy to strike fear into their hearts,” she explained.

Prescod said the massacres were barely reported by U.S. and international media, and when they were, it was framed as gang warfare instead of political terrorism — even when a U.N. report verified there were in fact ties between the perpetrators and Moise’s government, specifically implicating Pierre Richard Duplan of the PHTK (Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale, the ruling party of Jovenel Moise).

What Happened in Lasalin

This sticks in Judith Mirkinson’s craw as well.

Mirkinson, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), is co-author with Seth Donnelly of The Lasalin Massacre and the Human Rights Crisis in Haiti, a 14-page report published on July 8, 2019, by the NLG and Haiti Action Committee.

“First of all, the narrative of competing gangs…throw that out, that’s garbage,” she told Truthout. “It was the worst massacre in decades. I get very angry thinking about it.”

The report begins:

On November 13, 2018, police and other paramilitary personnel entered the neighborhood of Lasalin in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. What followed was a massacre of the civilian population. Buildings, including schools, were fired upon and destroyed, people were injured and killed, with some burned alive, women were sexually assaulted and raped and hundreds were forcibly displaced from homes. Bodies were either burned, taken away to be disappeared, buried, never to be found, or in some cases left to be eaten by dogs and pigs.

Mirkinson hopes people will read the report and that it prompts a renewed focus on Haiti from the human rights and progressive communities.

“In recent history, the U.S. has overthrown the government twice, prevented democratic elections twice and treated Haiti like a neocolony,” Mirkinson said. “Haiti is in our hemisphere, $260 million of our tax dollars have paid for police in Haiti since 2010. We do have a responsibility to pay attention.”

Solidarity Actions in the Haitian Diaspora

A spate of solidarity actions has taken place in California, Montreal, Toronto, New York City and Miami in recent weeks.

On September 30, Solidarité Québec-Haïti #Petrochallenge 2019 occupied the prime minister’s election office in Montreal for three and a half hours. They delivered a statement to officials and media demanding that Justin Trudeau stop his support for Moise. Meanwhile, at a press conference in Toronto, Trudeau seemed flustered to hear a reporter’s question about the occupation of his Montreal election office. The group followed up with a boisterous rally on October 1, resulting in one arrest, which also garnered media attention.

Yves Engler, co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, told us that the group plans to up the ante during the Canadian elections.

“Haiti is what brought me to be critical of Canadian foreign policy,” Engler explains. “In 2004, I was shocked by how terrible Canada had been in the coup against Aristide. Life in Haiti is decided in Washington and Ottawa.”

On October 1, a group of Haitians protested Hillary and Chelsea Clinton as they were promoting their new book: The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn, New York.

Human rights attorney Èzili Dantò said she supports the protests by KOMOKODA (the Committee to Mobilize Against Dictatorship in Haiti) who bird dog the Clintons’ public appearances.

“We know the harms the Clintons have done to Haitian women,” Dantò told Truthout. “Haitian women will not have their agony and colonially imposed poverty be used by parasites like Hillary and Bill Clinton.”

Ricot Dupuy, a Haitian journalist at Radio Soleil in New York City, said he holds then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responsible for installing Michel Martelly as president, ushering in an era of illegitimate governance that is still killing Haitians today.

On October 2, Haiti Action Committee held a march and rally with South Bay students, teachers, human rights and community activists in downtown San Jose, California. They expressed solidarity with the uprising of the Haitian people and demanded an end to U.S. support for the dictatorship and death squads in Haiti. Six activists blocked the entrance to the Federal Building while chanting “Stop massacres in Haiti!”

On October 3, Haitian Americans participated in a roundtable listening session organized by U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson with invited guest U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in Miami, Florida.

A spate of solidarity actions has taken place in California, Montreal, Toronto, New York City and Miami in recent weeks.

On October 9, Solidarité Québec-Haïti #Petrochallenge 2019 held a press conference reiterating its demand that Trudeau denounce Jovenel Moise.

And on October 13, the group held a protest rally outside Trudeau’s campaign office in Montreal.

Dantò said that support from Haitians living in the diaspora now standing in solidarity with the masses in the streets has never been higher. Nevertheless, she worries about political machinations in Washington.

We requested an update from the Congressional Caribbean Caucus and received a statement from staff containing these assertions:

The country is experiencing fuel shortages, lack of clean water, dwindling food reserves, and more as protests escalate…. We hope that the October 27th parliamentary elections will take place as scheduled and without violence.

October 17 is Dessalines Day, a national holiday in Haiti that commemorates the death in 1806 of Jean-Jacques Dessaline, a major hero of Haitian independence. It is also the one-year anniversary of a bloody day for protesters against Jovenel Moise; two people were killed last year and many others wounded. The passing of an entire year is a crystallizing reminder that the patience Moise asked of the people last year has been unanswered by any positive or meaningful action all this time.

“Haiti is caught in a vicious circle,” Vorbe said, “but we want to prepare for our future.”

Many of the masses of people anticipated to be in the streets on October 17 will be carrying leafy tree branches; most don’t have the money for poster board and magic markers. And they don’t need them — the branch is the symbol for the mobilization of the Haitian people. The historical covenant to rebel in 1804, to risk bloodshed, was made in the mountains, out of sight of the overseers and bosses. It was also carried by those fighting the tyranny of their day during the Duvalier era. The leafy branch is the sign of those ramifications.

From her academic perch at the Institute of Haitian Studies in Lawrence, Kansas, Accilien said she struggles to find the words about this moment.

“Seems like this a moment of steps forward and steps back. We have a glimpse of hope, but we’ve seen these moments before,” Accilien said. “When is it going to be something else — when will it be Haiti’s turn to tell the story?”

This story first appeared on Truthout.

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Alliance for the Wild Rockies Challenges Logging and Burning Project in Methow Valley

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies has mounted a legal challenge against the Mission Restoration Project on National Forest lands in the Methow Valley west of Twisp, Washington.  This pristine, remote rural area is sandwiched between the Pasayten Wilderness on the north, the Sawtooth Wilderness on the south, and the North Cascades National Park on the west.  It is Federally-Designated Critical Habitat for a number of threatened and endangered species from lynx to salmon. The project is on the eastern slope of the North Cascades mountain range and includes 1,853 acres of commercial logging and 10,219 acres of prescribed burning.

This is an Extinction Project

President Teddy Roosevelt created National Forests to protect them from exploitation by timber and cattle corporations and to keep native species from going extinct. Unfortunately, the Mission project does just the opposite — it is an extinction project, not a restoration project.

The Forest Service failed to adequately and fully address all relevant habitat standards for the North Cascades Ecosystem grizzly bear, Canada Lynx, Northern Spotted Owl, Columbia River Bull Trout, Upper Columbia River steelhead, and Upper Columbia River Spring-Run Chinook.  The agency also failed to adequately address cumulative effects of logging, burning, cattle grazing, and road-building.

Logging and road-building are not restoration

Despite the misleading ‘restoration” label, the project’s real goal is to turn National Forests owned by all Americans into tree farms for timber corporations.  Instead of restoring the natural forest and stream habitat to recover threatened native species including grizzly bears, lynx, salmon, and bull trout it will be bulldozed to create logging roads that destroy habitat for many native species already in decline as well as deer and elk. 

Will destroy Bull Trout and Salmon spawning streams

As has been proven time and again across the West, sediment from logging roads inevitably winds up in streams and rivers where it fills in rocky streambeds and smothers the fish eggs and young of trout and salmon.  It also fills in deep holes, reducing security from predators.  Bull trout need colder and cleaner water than any other fish in the Lower 48 states.  If streams and rivers are clean enough for bull trout, they are clean enough for salmon — but the Forest Service never analyzed the impact of this project on bull trout.

Spotted Owls

One of the touted ‘restoration’ benefits, repeated dozens of times in the Forest Service’s Environmental Assessment, is to increase the growth rate of the remaining trees by thinning the forest as if it were a garden. The remaining trees will be spaced 12 feet apart so they can theoretically grow taller and faster.  But in reality it’s a bad joke by the agency since it’s a historic fact that the Forest Service’s highest priority is not to grow more big trees for the Northern Spotted Owl, but because big trees are more profitable for timber corporations to clearcut and process.

The truth is that Spotted Owls require thick old growth forests, not neatly-spaced tree farms.  The project area contains spotted owl nesting, roosting, foraging, and dispersal habitat.  Yet the Forest Service failed to disclose, let along address, the most recent annual monitoring data of the Northern Spotted Owl.  No wonder the agency didn’t want to mention it — the March 31, 2017 Annual Progress Report admits the Northern Spotted Owl population is in significant decline over the last five years and the logging and burning will destroy even more habitat for this already imperiled species.

Logging roads kill lynx and grizzly bears

Like spotted owls, lynx need thick, old forests, not tree farms.  Lynx avoid thinned forests because their main prey is snowshoe hare. In a thinned forest with roads and no hiding cover the hare become easy meals for other predators and lynx end up starving to death. The Mission timber sale and burning project would directly affect 2,132 acres of Canada lynx Critical Habitat. It would also increase open roads in critical habitat by almost 6 miles.

Most grizzlies are killed within 500 meters of a road and have the greatest chance of survival in wilderness and unroaded, unlogged forests.  With high mortality rates and so few bears, the North Cascades grizzly population chronically fails all recovery goals and is threatened by inbreeding due to lack of connectivity to other grizzly bear populations. There is evidence that grizzly bears are using the forests very near the project area. Despite this, the Forest Service did not analyze the impacts of the Project on grizzly bears.

Getting the Cut Out

The Forest Service’s goal is to maximize wood production. Every national forest has targets for how much timber to produce, and if a Forest Supervisor meets that target he or she gets promoted. If they don’t they get transferred out. Yet no Forest Supervisor is given targets on maximizing the number of grizzly bears, lynx, northern spotted owls, salmon or bull trout.  All of these species are protected under the Endangered Species Act and, by law, the government’s duty is to recover threatened and endangered species.  But as is well known, corporate profits are the Trump administration’s highest priority while endangered species are seen as dispensable.

The North Cascades ecosystem needs your help

For all the above reasons the Alliance for the Wild Rockies had no choice but to go to court to force the Forest Service to follow the law to keep these threatened and endangered species from extinction.  If this were a true restoration project, the Forest Service would be removing logging roads and letting forests grow thick to help all of these species.   True restoration would also help people since we need clean water just like bull trout and salmon.   Removing old, unneeded logging roads would create good jobs and prioritize people and native species, not corporate profits.

Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.  He is thankful for the assistance of Seattle attorney Claudia Newman (Bricklin and Newman) and the Akland Law Firm in Montana and urges readers to join the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and help preserve the ecological integrity of the North Cascades. 

 

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Change the Nation You Live In

First, I want to say that, despite the difficulty that it sometimes is, I absolutely believe in all People and our inherent worth. This is of paramount importance for us as humanity to understand, because without it, we will always come to cages, borders, hate, pollution, arrogance, war, greed – sicknesses galore; all that the mind can dream up. But no sickness or forgetfulness can ever erase our inherent worth.

Bully Nation USA

I studied Sociology and it’s how I think. I joked recently with an underground Sociologist. He’s African, brilliant, on immigrant status. He said that (unfortunately) he didn’t feel comfortable commenting on society due to the political pressures he felt would inevitably accost him. So his valuable analysis is not heard. (Does anyone still call this situation ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’? I did hear it playing at the ball field nearby recently, so…. Just wondering.)

We can choose to live in an America called Bully Nation USA. Or we can change it. Today, in the US you might be faced with a host of bullies who demand you blindly praise authority no matter what. They implore you to pledge allegiance to dubious character flaws taking orders dressed in uniforms ranging from suit and tie, to camo, to blue, etc. If you, in response, point out the complexity of life, they become irate.

Of course, America definitely sees this character flaw in itself, plastered as it is throughout the country’s interactions. Bully Nation USA. From Trump’s shouts to corrupted politicians. From ‘first contact’ to Tohono O’odham people battling to keep government spy towers from being erected throughout the Rez and the border from dividing, this interaction has been here. This character-flawed interaction is present whenever we see conversations full of arrogant disparaging. That’s Bully Nation USA. We can make that choice. Or we can choose interactions where we battle to unify and heal this world and land.

What is politics? What is Spirit? Where do they converge? In what hearts are they made pure?

You may carry energy at a time. You may carry sadness for a long long time, you may carry rage, you may carry loneliness, you may carry joy for a long long time, you may carry peace, you may carry love love love, you may carry courage, wisdom, compassion. You may energy for a long long time.

Where do politics and Spirit converge to bring renewal? And when? With us? Now? Tomorrow? (Always.)

We may carry energy for a long long time. We may carry bowing and cringing then smiling and joking, entertaining and explaining, weeping and moaning.  Like caricatures: lights camera action, scripted failure, embracing sickness, afraid to be free. We don’t have to be like that anymore.  It’s a choice.

Remember: every moment you are sacred, you are worthy, NO MATTER WHAT, nothing can erase that. Spine straight, mind right. Live life.  Believe firmly that you are worthy. Gift to this life, change the nation you live in.

 

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Humane War 

Humane War 

Dreamt last night of humane war,
The jets sprayed heavy sedatives
Across the megalopolis
Before commencing bombardment.

I inhaled just enough of the stuff
To slow me down, to keep me from
The shelter, in the cellar, but
An insufficient dose to put me under. So
What else could I do?

I lay there, watching,
And thought, for some reason,
About the fourth grade
About the word mensch — how it’s used
To refer to a person of honor —

Which gives to the term
Übermensch, by the way,
An altogether different feel —

And I laughed as the buildings
began to rock
And the glandular stench of fear
from the cats
Grew thick as I coughed
and thought of Gershom Green

How can we, he used to say,
make peace with these machines

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The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn

CounterPunch went online 20 years ago, just in time for Clinton’s war on Serbia. Clinton’s war was premeditated, our transit to the World-Wide Web was reluctant, at best. Cockburn’s relationship with computers was hostile. Mine was indifferent. I surfed the web, like anyone else, but had no idea how it would be useful for us. At the time, CounterPunch was a 6-page newsletter that we published fortnightly. We called it “fortnightly” because the word had a nice ring to it and no one was precisely sure how many days or even weeks a fortnight encompassed. But if we ran pieces online, who would pay to receive our newsletter? We remained stubbornly committed to print and our 5,000 or so subscribers. Still do. Where will the web be when the electromagnetic pulse wipes the slate clean?

The fact that we even had a domain name we owed entirely to the foresight of one of our tech-savvy donors, who told me that even though we were both too dumb to realize it now, we’d thank him for it one day. He reserved the CounterPunch domain in 1997. We didn’t start using it for another year, when the cruise missiles started shattering the night in Belgrade. The war went on for 78 days and nights, roughly four fortnights. The web allowed us to cover Clinton’s war in real-time. Cockburn said he was willing to try it as an “experiment,” fully expecting it to fail. He had just one condition: that he never had to learn how to post a piece. Thus management of the CounterPunch website fell into my hands by default. I used a primitive software program called Pagemill for the first few years and it looked primitive, like scribblings by Cy Twombley. There was no time to take any classes or seminars. “Just get it up as fast as you can, Jeffrey,” Cockburn said. “And no complaints.” I knew nothing then about html, hyper-links, analytics or even how to load a photo. I still don’t know much. I’d loved my archaic Pagemill program. It was web-design for simpletons. I threw a tantrum the day I was forced to give it up for the damnable Dreamweaver, which was far too complex for my sophomoric skill set. Nevertheless, people came. Came by the thousands and then the 10s of thousands. They came from all over the world: Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, Iceland, South Korea, India. By the 2000 presidential elections, CounterPunch had gone global. Even so, we had no idea how to make the website pay for itself or to help support CounterPunch. For years, we didn’t have a shopping cart or any way to take credit card orders or sell subscriptions online. We simply asked people to mail in a check to the office in Petrolia. In a couple of years, our readership had grown from 5,000 print subscribers to 15,000 viewers a day on the website. But the funding base had remained pretty much the same. We were supported by our subscribers and by the extra money we raised from hitting them up once a year through a direct mail letter usually sent in November. Alex enjoyed writing the letters. He told me once, he thought he could have enjoyed a great career in advertising or public relations, a fantasy fed by our friend and counselor Ben Sonnenberg, the longtime editor of Grand Street, whose father nearly invented the seductive art of public relations. And they were successful. Or successful enough to keep us afloat, though the coffers had usually been drained to a shallow tidepool by the time October rolled around. Alex told me once that he was good at raising money, because he’d spent so much time avoiding debt collectors. He said he learned the finer points of this art from his father, Claud, who like most writers of radical journalism lived close to the margin most of his life. It was from Claud that Alex inherited some of his favorite phrases: “the wolf at the door,” “pony up,” “begging bowl.” (Of course, Alex loved all canids, wild and domestic, and would have gladly left out a shank from one of his pal Greg Smith’s lambs for any wolf on the prowl.) We used to joke about Alex’s six phone lines, one for each creditor. He also had a different accent for each creditor, once pretending to be his brother Patrick, who was reporting on the siege of Mosul at the time. Listening to these calls was hearing a master at work, like a character from one of his favorite novels, The Charmer by Patrick Hamilton. DONATE TODAY In those days, the CounterPunch staff was so small we could all squeeze into Alex’s Valiant, when it would start. After Ken Silverstein left for greener pastures, it was largely down to Alex, Becky Grant and me. We worked 11 months out of the year, taking August off, and a weeklong holiday during Christmas usually highlighted by a New Year’s Eve party at Alex’s house along the Mattole River. Those years can seem idyllic in hindsight. We worked hard and drank harder, often hard cider brewed by Alex and CounterPunch’s board chair Joe Paff. Still, we were fairly productive by almost any standard. We wrote three books together in four years, two of them (Whiteout and our scathing biography of Al Gore) were substantial works requiring months of research. We both wrote a column a week separately and one together (Nature and Politics). We wrote most of the copy for CounterPunch, 10 to 12 stories a month. We both had weekly radio shows, Alex in South Africa and mine on KBOO in Portland. We both wrote for the Anderson Valley Advertiser and occasional pieces for New Left Review, The Progressive, the New Statesman, and City Pages. I wrote for the Village Voice and In These Times and Alex had a bi-monthly column in The Nation. But CounterPunch was home base. It’s the journal that we felt the closest to and saved our best writing for. Sometimes the bank accounts would evaporate even earlier. On September 11, 2001, for example. I was jolted from bed by an early morning wake-up call from Cockburn. “Jeffrey, turn on your TV and describe what you see.” He hadn’t paid his cable bill and they’d shut off his service. I spent the next several hours narrating the fall of the Twin Towers, the crash at the Pentagon, the panicky peregrinations of George W. Bush and Cheney’s tightening grip on the throat of the Republic. Our lives as journalists changed profoundly that day as well. From September 11 onward, we published nearly every day of the week, week after week, month after month, year after year. At first, we ran only two or three stories a day. (And to fill in those blank hours on the clock, we insanely decided to start a book publishing venture!) Now we publish 12 to 14 each day and 40 to 45 every Friday for our Weekend Edition. We were online for good, like it or not. No vacations, no holidays, no sick days. The web, we soon found out, waits for no one. We were online, but we still had no idea how to make our web-based journalism pay for itself. We tried running Google Ads for a few months, but got banned for what Google imperiously declared was “clicker fraud,” even though we hadn’t been the culprits. Apparently, some over-enthusiastic CounterPuncher had repeatedly clicked on Google text links, for which we received a return of a nickel a click. We think it was a CounterPuncher. Of course, it might have been Alex’s cockatiel, Percy, who in addition to whistling the Internationale, took a fancy to Cockburn’s keyboard, battering it with his beak four or five times a day. At the time, a close friend of ours was dating a top Google lawyer, who to prove his devotion to her swore that he would have the ban reversed. He failed. She dumped him. But the verdict of the corporate algorithm is absolute. It tolerates no appeals. Alex, a Luddite to the core, believed that every new feature of the cyberworld was an evil manifestation to be shunned, shamed and exorcized. Thus he continued to refer to CounterPunch as a “Twitter-free Zone” for nearly a year after Nat had set up the CounterPunch Twitter account, which now has more than 65,000 followers. No one had the heart to tell him the news. Early on we tried writing a few grant proposals, but never got one we actually applied for-our position on Israel proving fatal to our aspirations for funding. It’s just as well. We weren’t going to dance to any master’s tune or be constrained by anyone else’s ideological strings. We weren’t going to saddle ourselves with ads, either. Partly this was owing to my own incompetence. I had no idea how to use Flash or any of the other plug-ins that ad companies demanded we deploy. But we also both deplored the way online ads intruded on our own reading experiences and didn’t want to inflict that on our readers, if we could help it. And so far, so good. In the end, we’ve largely depended on the kindness of our readers to survive. And, though there have been some close calls, this simple and direct approach of appealing to those who know us best hasn’t failed in 26 years. Not yet, anyway. After Alex died, a woman approached me at the funeral and said rather smugly, “Well, I guess this is the end of CounterPunch.” I was angered at her remark and Alex would have been, too. This woman was part of the Nation magazine’s delegation to the funeral. She was married to a multi-millionaire and neither of them had ever given CounterPunch a dime. They even asked Alex to provide them a complimentary subscription to the magazine. My irritation with NationLady was only in part about how dismissive she was over my own contribution to CounterPunch, which had been substantial since Ken’s departure. It stemmed more from the flippant disregard for our writers and tens of thousands of readers. CounterPunch was no longer merely a platform for our voices. It was now the home base for hundreds of different writers from across the country and around the globe. I checked this morning. Since going online, we’ve published more than 5,500 different writers. CounterPunch belongs to them, as much as it does to us. Still, Mrs. MoneyBags was right about one thing. We were more broke than we’d ever been the week that Alex died. But we published the day Alex died, the day he was buried and every day since. The readers came through, again and again and again. We’ve grown in the seven years since Alex passed. The online readership is probably twice what it was in August 2012. We’re publishing more pieces each week and adding new writers every day. The website has been completely revamped into a more efficient and flexible WordPress design that even a Luddite like me can’t screw-up too badly. It even works on smartphones, where the analytics say nearly half of the site’s visitors read CounterPunch. To keep up, our staff (still tiny by most standards) has doubled in size, from three to six: Becky, Deva and Nichole in the business office and me, Josh and Nat on the editorial side. That means our costs have nearly doubled. What hasn’t doubled, however, is the number of print magazine subscribers who used to be (and in many ways remain) the primary funders of CounterPunch. Everywhere, print is in decline, even here at CounterPunch. So we’re depending more and more on the community of online readers who utilize CounterPunch for free: no clickbait, no ads, no paywalls. I remember a conversation Alex and I had on the night before the last fundraiser we did together in October 2011. He was sick then, sicker than any of us knew, but not showing it. He was impish, excited and anxious, as he always was this time of year. “Are you ready for another shot in the dark, Jeffrey?” he asked. “What if we fail this time?” “Well, we can always do something else.” “Do we know how to do anything else?” “Of course, we do. We know how to make cider, go trout-fishing and listen to Chuck Berry. What more do we need?” And now another October has rolled around and the old wolf, perhaps loping past the spirit of Cockburn in the pepperwood grove in the Mattole Valley, is back at our door. We humbly put forth our begging bowl, confident that CounterPunchers will once again pony up… Onward, Jeffrey St. Clair Donate today (PayPal accepted) or mail a check/call us at: (707) 629-3683 PO Box 228 Petrolia, CA 95558

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Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

It’s a nice story if you don’t think beyond it: former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, sitting in the Cowboys’ owner’s luxury suite with Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi at a Dallas Cowboys/Green Bay Packers NFL game. “People were upset,” DeGeneres was quoted as saying. “They thought, why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president. . . . A lot of people were mad . And they did what people do when they’re mad . . . they tweet.” Rather than sharing any negative tweets, DeGeneres offered a positive one: “ ‘Ellen and George Bush together makes me have faith in America again.’” DeGeneres then made an observation that also was enthusiastically applauded by her television audience: “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them . . . When I say, ‘be kind to one another,’ I don’t only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.” (“Ellen DeGeneres explains hanging out with her friend George W. Bush,” By Lisa Respers France, CNN, Oct. 8, 2019)

There was a time when people were not kind to Ellen DeGeneres. In 1997, she was the first leading sitcom actress to come out of the closet and embrace her homosexuality on the air. As reported, her show, Ellen, “faced strong criticism . . . an ABC affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama, refused to air the landmark episode.” And “some of the show’s sponsors, Daimler Chrysler among them, withdrew advertisements.” Her show was cancelled the following year. People were very unkind to her: “She recalled the humiliating feeling of being the subject of late-night talk show jokes, while rejecting the premise that she was an LGBTQ ‘leader’ simply because she didn’t want to keep the secret anymore.” (“Ellen DeGeneres,” www.biography.com)

At the time, I recall mentioning Ellen DeGeneres’ name to a student of a Veterans Upward Bound class I taught at the University of Massachusetts/Boston. His smiling response surprised me: “Oh, you mean Ellen ‘Degenerate,’” I replied, “No. I mean Ellen DeGeneres.” He was expressing the widespread, biblically-based, belief that homosexuals were debased.

Times have changed for Ellen DeGeneres. She is reported to be “obscenely wealthy (according to Forbes, Ellen is the 15th-highest-paid celebrity in the world.”) (“Ellen DeGeneres And the Limits of Relatability.” by Shannon Keating, www.buzzfeednews.com, Jan. 10, 2019) She is now among the rich and famous and powerful.

Constance Grady exposes the limitations, and especially the evasiveness, of Ellen DeGeneres’ admonition to be “kind to one another.” In a Vox piece called “Ellen DeGeneres, George W. Bush and the death of uncritical niceness,” Grady writes, “The niceness that Ellen DeGeneres is celebrating in her friendship with George W. Bush . . . is not about kindness for the powerless. It is about kindness for the powerful, for the people who helped to set in place the problems the rest of us are currently living in.” Grady adds, “It’s about avoiding the messy social confrontations and awkwardness by being nice to those who have made the world a worse place.” (October 9, 2019) As will be seen, Grady’s last statement has wide implications.

“Why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?” That “conservative Republican president” committed far more transgressions than calling for an Amendment to the U. S. Constitution banning same-sex marriage during his successful 2004 re-election campaign.

More accurately: Why is a “gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to” the worst war criminal of the 21st Century? [Noam Chomsky has said the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq was the worst war crime of the 21st Century] President Bush lied about Saddam Hussein having threatening weapons of mass destruction to justify invading defenseless Iraq. “Be kind to everyone?” President Bush’s unnecessary war against Iraq resulted in a reported “1 million dead” Iraqis, “4.5 million displaced, 1 million to 2 million widows, 5 million orphans.” (“Bush’s War Totals,” By John Tirman, The Nation, Jan. 28, 2009) On the American side: some 4,550 military persons have been killed and over 33,000 wounded. (See “Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency,” Watson Institute, Brown University, Nov. 2018)

After invading Iraq, President Bush said, “Freedom is on the march in the world. . . . I believe women in the Middle East want to live in a free society.” Also, “I believe mothers and fathers want to raise their children in a free and peaceful world.” And most importantly, he said, “I believe all these things because freedom is not America’s gift to the world, freedom is the almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in the world.” “George W. Bush on Faith,” www.beliefnet.com/politics)

A morally myopic Ellen DeGeneres said, “When I say, ‘be kind to each other . . . I mean be kind to everyone.” Does that mean that she would have shared a luxury suite with and been kind to Hitler at the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany when black American athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals?

Some may believe it is most inappropriate to compare George W. Bush with Adolf Hitler. I assume that is because most mainstream media have avoided dealing with former President Bush’s horrible war crimes, along with continuing to rehabilitate his legacy. And it is not just Bush. What Americans would, in any way, want to compare democratic America with Nazi Germany?

Nevertheless, George W. Bush’s god is as imperialistic as Hitler’s Master Race. Bush and his god should both be tried for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

There is an abundance of evidence to convict President Bush of war crimes. Raina Khalek provided such evidence in a commentary on a speech Bush gave to “250 women from around the world to commemorate International Women’s Day.” She wrote that he “focused on the women of Iraq and Afghanistan who he proudly proclaimed were ‘learning the blessings of freedom’ thanks to the United States.” He said, “Every woman in Iraq is better off because the rape rooms and torture chambers of Saddam Hussein are forever closed.” (“Was Life for Iraqi Women Better Uner Saddam?” By Raina Khalek, Facebook. March 19, 2013)

Raina Khalek continued, “Women are anything but ‘liberated.’ . . . Contrary to popular imagination, Iraqi women enjoyed far more freedom under Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist government than women in other Middle Eastern countries.” She stated that the rights women enjoyed under Saddam Hussein – “the right to vote, run for political office, access to education and own property . . . are all but absent under the U. S.-backed government of Nouri al-Maliki.” She also said that “prior to the [UN’s] devastating economic sanctions in the 1990s, Iraq’s education system was top notch and female literacy rates were the highest in the region, reaching 87 percent in 1985.” (Ibid)

“Every woman in Iraq is better off because the rape rooms and torture chambers of Saddam Hussein are forever closed.” Not really. Raina Khalek said that “Human Rights Watch (HRW) declared in a 2011 report that ‘life in Iraq is actually getting worse for women,’” as “the torture and rape of women detainees in pre-trial detention has continued with impunity under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, but the United States is partly responsible.” (Ibid)

Iraqi-American writer Zainab Salbi described just how worse off Iraqi women became after being “liberated” by President Bush. “There are now more destitute women in Iraq than ever before,” she wrote in 2011. “Estimates of the number of war widows range from one to three million, which is the result of Bush’s war. “These and other socially and economically marginalized women are vulnerable and at high risk of trafficking, organized and forced prostitution, polygamy, domestic violence, and being recruited as suicide bombers, something that the society is still trying to process and understand.” (“Where Are Iraqi Women Today?,” wwwhuffpost.com, May 25, 2011)

The “torture chambers of Saddam Hussein are forever closed.” They were replaced by U.S. military-operated torture chambers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Reported were “photos depicting the humiliation, torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi detainees by their U.S. captors in Abu Ghraib in 2003.” (“Photos: Looking Back at the War in Iraq, 15 years After the U.S. Invaded,” By Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, Mar. 20, 2018)

There is more. Journalist and historian Andy Worthington wanted to “nip this idea ‘that Bush wasn’t so bad’ in the bud.” He stated, “Unless you’ve been away from the planet for the last twenty years, you must be aware that it was George W. Bush who initiated the US’s brutal and thoroughly counter-productive ‘war on terror’ in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which involved authorizing the CIA to set up a secret detention and torture program, establishing a prison outside the law at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, establishing deportation and surveillance programs within the US, invading one country (Afghanistan) in response to the attacks, where US troops remain to this day . . . and invading another country (Iraq) that had nothing to do with 9/11 or al-Qaeda, but which was nevertheless destroyed, along the way serving as the crucible for the creation of a newer threat, Daesh, or Islamic State . . .” “Exactly 16 Years Ago, George W. Bush Opened the Floodgates to Torture at Guantanamo,” Common Dreams, Feb. 7, 2018)

“When I said be kind to each other . . . I mean be kind to everyone.”

It’s unfortunate that Ellen DeGeneres was not inspired by Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi. When President Bush secretly flew into “liberated” Iraq in 2008 and held a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, al-Zaidi was not kind to Bush. As reported, “He threw both of his shoes at Bush, shouting ‘this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog,’ and ‘this is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq.’” (“Photos” Looking Back on the War in Iraq, 15 Years After the U.S. Invaded,” Ibid)

President Bush dodged journalist al- Zaidi’s shoes – and, so far, is doing a good job dodging moral reality. He has help from much of mainstream media, who often describe the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a “mistake” or ”strategic blunder,” not a war crime. In addition Bush is now even providing moral commentary on President Donald Trump, which is prominently covered by the media. His implied criticism of Trump received significant coverage. The Los Angeles Times, for example, reported on Bush’s speech “at a policy seminar in New York”: “ ‘We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty . . . We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism,’ “ Bush said, adding. “ ‘Forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.’ ” (“In stunning attack, George W. Bush rebukes Trump, suggesting he promotes falsehoods and prejudice,” By Mark Z. Barabak, Oct, 19, 2017)

Former President Bush’s rehabilitation has also been blessed with a hug from Michelle Obama, wife of former president Barack Obama. She is quoted as calling Bush a “beautiful, funny, kind, sweet man.” And shades of Ellen DeGeneres: Mrs. Obama said to Bush’s daughter Jenna Bush Hager, ‘ “I’d love if we as a country could get back to the place where we didn’t demonize people who disagreed with us.’ “
(“Kindness Is Not Enough,” By Shannon Keating, BuzzFeedNews, Oct. 10, 2019 Another example of myopic morality.

“When I say, ‘Be kind to each other’ . . . I mean be kind to everyone.” George W. Bush was not kind to Karla Faye Tucker, who killed two people with an axe in a burglary. On death row for 14 years, she underwent a Christian conversion. Protesters asked then Governor Bush to give her clemency by turning her death sentence into life imprisonment. She was even interviewed by Larry King, who asked, “What would you say to Governor Bush?” Bush reportedly watched the interview, and derisively mimicked her: “ ‘Please,’ Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, ‘don’t kill me.’ “ He did not show her clemency. This “compassionate conservative” is reported to have “presided over 152 executions while governor of Texas, more than any other modern era American governor.” (“W The Merciless: What We’ll Remember Most About George W. Bush,” Frank Schaeffer, Contributor, HuffPost, May 25, 2011)

Then there is Cindy Sheehan, whose son, Casey Sheehan was killed fighting in the Iraq War. This grieving mother spent a month camped near President Bush’s ranch in Texas, in an attempt to meet with him, and ask him to explain, “Why did my son die? What was this noble cause you talk about? And,” she continued, “If the cause is so noble, when are you going to send your daughters over there and let somebody else’s son come home?” (“Bereaved mother camps outside Bush ranch,” By Gary Younge in Crawford, Texas, The Guardian, Aug. 10, 2005)

Five days into Cindy Sheehan’s encampment, Bush reportedly expressed his “sympathy,” saying, “This is America. She has the right to her position.” He added, “I thought long and hard about her position . . . which is ‘get out of Iraq now.’” And, he continued, “It would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so.” (“Cindy Sheehan: ‘Bush Was No Better’ Than Donald Trump,” By Matt Lewis, DAILYBEAST, Oct. 23, 2017) Actually Sheehan was asking, “Why did he get America into Iraq.

For George W. Bush, “peace in the long run” (italics added) involves starting forever wars. Tragically, today a “liberated” Iraq is now reported to be erupting in mass protests, “as demonstrators poured into the streets, embittered about poor public services, corruption and unemployment.” (“ ‘Just Give Us a Country’: Thousands in Iraq Protest Corruption,” By Falih Hassan and Alissa J. Rubin, The New York Times, Oct.2, 2019)

Myopic morality is especially seen in The United Methodist Church erecting a monument to the worst war criminal of the 21st Century, who is one of their own members I’m referring to the George W. Bush Presidential Library, museum and policy institute on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU). Controlled by the Bush Foundation and not the university, the policy institute’s mission includes “further[ing] the domestic and international goals of the Bush administration, including ‘compassionate conservatism’ and ‘defeating terrorism.’” (“Methodists Against Bush Library Lobby for Vote,” By Gretel C. Kovach and Ralph Blumenthal, The New York Times, Jan. 30, 2018)

In a television interview, former President Bush himself addressed concerns about naming a library after him at SMU. “I understand there are some who have reservations, and my advice to them is understand that a library and institution would enhance education, be a place for interesting discussion and be a place for people to express their views and write and think, and these universities I think understand that and are excited about the prospects, and so am I.” (“Methodists: No Bush Library at SMU,” ANGELA K. BROWN, Associated Press, The Washington Post, Jan. 18, 2007)

The South Central Jurisdiction’s Mission Council of The United Methodist Church and the Jurisdiction’s Council of Bishops approved the building of the Bush Library at SMU, the Bishops reported as voting “10 to 0, with one abstention.” (“Methodists Against Library Lobby for Vote,” (Ibid) While the Bush Presidential Library will attract researchers and tourists alike, it will be a symbol of myopic morality.

Conversely, there are other United Methodists whose morality embraces all people. Among them is the Rev. Dr. Andrew J. Weaver, now deceased, who led the unsuccessful effort to prevent the Bush Presidential Library and Museum and Policy Institute from desecrating Southern Methodist University. Weaver said, “We’ve had an outpouring of support . . . from those who don’t wish to have their beloved church associated with a man who had authorized torture and a lie-based war of aggression against the people of Iraq.” (“Methodists Opposing Bush Library and Think Tank at SMU,” By Frederick Clarkson, www.politicalcortex.com, Feb. 1, 2007)

Rev. Weaver and others dared to engage in what Constance Grady calls “messy social confrontations” in speaking reality and moral truth to political and ecclesiastical power. Weaver was joined by 14 Bishops, more than 600 ministers and over nine thousand church members. They were no match for those United Methodists committed to the privileged and powerful status quo. But they model a gospel of truth and justice – which is the purest form of kindness.

—————————————————————————————————————————————— Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian

Universalist and United Methodist minister. His book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.

 

 

 

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Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain

Photograph Source: diario fotográfico ‘desde Palestina’, photographer – CC BY-SA 3.0

I don’t know how many times I heard that if we don’t stand by Israel, the victims of the Nazi Judeocide will have died in vain. I knew something was wrong with that claim, but for the longest time I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now I think I can.

The claim is peculiar right off the bat. How would backing an Israeli regime that systematically and indiscriminately oppresses an entire non-European population in the 21st century possibly honor the victims of the Nazis, who were in power in Germany from 1933 to 1945? It makes no sense.

But that’s not all. To die in vain means that to die in the futile pursuit of a cause that remains unfulfilled even posthumously. This can include suicide as well as death at the hands of murderers. But someone who is killed while simply living dies neither in vain nor (perhaps eventually) triumphantly. A “passive” murder victim just dies, no matter what the killer intended. (No disrespect whatever is intended by the word passive here. I mean the death was not in a cause pursued by the victim.) It’s a tragedy, but nothing more — as though that were not enough.

The victims of the Holocaust did not see themselves as dying for a cause and were not expecting their deaths to accomplish anything on their part. They certainly did not think of themselves as dying for the future establishment of a chauvinist Jewish state in Palestine, although a small number might have been Zionists.

They died merely because their Nazi killers viewed them in a particular way. Indeed, most German Jews were surprised at being regarded as Jews rather than as Germans. In Nazi Germany one did not have to be a believing and practicing Jew to be targeted because the anti-Semites subscribed to the once-a-Jew-forever-a-Jew philosophy; having a Jewish mother was enough. (The philosopher Spinoza, who was excommunicated by the Jewish community of Amsterdam in 1656, would have been branded a Jew, although he rejected religion and changed his first name from the Hebrew Baruch to the Latin Benedictus.)

I note that today’s Jewish nationalists, that is, Zionists, take the same essentialist position. In their eyes (and unfortunately in the eyes of many non-Jews), one can never stop being a Jew. For them, Judaism is not a matter of religion but of blood. (They too regard Spinoza as a Jew.)

This is utter rubbish: there is no Jewish gene, despite the shameful Israeli search. Moreover, Jews do not constitute a single distinct ethnic group: Jews are found among many ethnic, racial, and national groups. There is no universal Jewish language, food, theater, music, etc. — that is, no worldwide secular Jewish culture. The dominant culture in Israel is not Jewish; it’s Israeli. Judaism represents a worldwide religious community with common beliefs and rites. Why isn’t that enough? (See Shlomo Sand’s How I Stopped Being a Jew, which eloquently defends a position I wish to associate myself with.)

So here we are: no matter what I and others do, the victims of the Holocaust cannot have died in vain or not died in vain. People who talk in such terms commit a category mistake.

I could leave the matter there, but I can take this a step further. While nothing we can do will determine whether the Jewish victims of the Nazis died or did not die in vain, all of us — Jew and non-Jew — can work to guarantee that the Nazis killed in vain. That’s what we should want for any homicidal and tyrannical regime. The best thing to be said about a despot is that he lived in vain.

Now the question is: how can we best guarantee that the Nazis killed in vain? Jewish nationalists (including the ill-defined secularists among them) would give the same answer to other Jews as before: embrace Jewish identify, with Israel, the self-described “nation-state of the Jewish People [everywhere],” at the center of that identity.

I say that’s not a good answer. For one thing, as Shlomo Sand writes, to the extent that Jews and non-Jews embrace an ethnic/racial/genetic notion of “the Jewish People,” the Nazis are awarded a major ideological goal — and that would mean their killing was not entirely in vain. I want no part of it.

For another, a Jewish national identity necessarily comes at the expense of millions of Palestinian Arab Muslims, Christians, and secularists, who are thrown a few crumbs but have no real rights in Israel itself and have even less than that in the apartheid occupied West Bank and the concentration camp — some Israelis use that term — known as the Gaza Strip.

A far more promising way to make sure the Nazis killed in vain is to work overtime for individual freedom and toleration in all spheres, which means minimal — zero would be better — political power. That is: embrace radical liberalism, otherwise known as the libertarian philosophy, to combat oppression and bigotry. How many Jews could Hitler have killed had he remained a failed artist and paperhanger in Austria because no state was available? None, I’d guess: the creep probably would have had the crap kicked out of him on his first try. Power is poison, and we must work to eliminate it — and the myth-based nationalism that it fuels — in favor of voluntary peaceful social cooperation.

Once we see things that way, we will be equally appalled by all genocides and lesser forms of oppression. (One, of course, is especially horrified by the sheer scale and methodical nature of the Nazi killing machine, but that should be true no matter the victimized group.) No special consideration can be accorded to Jewish tragedies — no “hierarchies of suffering,” to use Haaretz writer Amira Hess’s phrase, can be accepted — without preventing the Nazis from having killed in vain.

With all its splendid ethnic, cultural, and individual variations, the human race is one people with one proper code of justice for all. Invidious divisions undermine justice, liberty, peace, and cooperation by fragmenting and weakening the oppressed before their oppressors.

The post Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?

Photograph Source: 邹健东 – Public Domain

Introduction

On October 1, 2019 the peoples of China celebrated 70 years of the rule of China by the Communist Party (CPC). There was much to celebrate in so far as over the seventy year period the Chinese society had risen from a poor, underdeveloped society to be the second most important economy in the world, in the process lifting the living standards and confidence of hundreds of millions. Central to the transformation of Chinese society were the sacrifices made by the Chinese people to overcome warlords, exploitation, economic backwardness and imperial domination. In period since 1949, the state squeezed more work out of the workers and peasants in order to accumulate surpluses that could be invested for the diversification of the economy. The economic and political choices over this seventy year period produced many twists and turns, ups and downs in the process of unleashing a great leap forward, a cultural revolution and then a ‘reform ‘ agenda. It is in this fourth stage after the ‘reforms’ where the challenges of militarism, financialization and environmental degradation will test the mettle of Chinese socialism.

The choice of the label of socialist to mark the nature of the Republic was made in October 1949 by the political leadership when they seized power and announced the formation of the People’s Republic of China at Tiananmen Square on October 1, 1949. In order to penetrate the social content of this declaration towards socialist construction, it will always be necessary to understand the survival of the CPC in relation to the internal and external contexts. Today, in the midst of a prolonged capitalist crisis and a collision course with the military management of the international system, the working peoples of China are now confronted with a new stage of the struggle for a new order. This commentary seeks to place the celebration of 70 years of the socialist revolution in the context of the rise of a social stratum in China whose intellectual and ideological subservience to neo liberalism is laying the foundations to the erosion of the positive gains of the Chinese people since 1949.

Emerging from the Long March – Coming to Power of the Chinese Communist Party

On October 1, 1949, the People’s Republic of China was formally established, with its national capital at Beijing. Standing before the people at the gates of the old imperial palace Mao, Chairperson of the CPC had declared that, ‘the Chinese People have stood up.’ The Chinese peoples had been humiliated by western imperialists from the middle of the 19th century when Britain, France, Germany, the USA and Japan extracted concessions from the Chinese imperial state and occupied Chinese territory. The leaders of the decaying Qing ruler ship had to open the port cities to the monopoly capitalists and also granted them legal and territorial concessions. It was in the period of the first Opium War, in 1842, when the Chinese emperor ceded Hong Kong to the British.[1] Chinese youths, students and workers opposed imperial domination and formed organizations imbued with ideas of the self-determination of China. One such organ was the small party that was started in Shanghai in 1921 and called itself a Communist Party. Influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin and the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Great October Revolution of 1917 in the USSR, the Communist Party of China set about unifying with other anti-colonial forces. One of these forces was the nationalist elements of the Guomindang, led by Chiang Kai-shek. Urged on by the Soviet Union to form an anti-colonial alliance with the Guomindang, the Communist Party had worked with national capitalists, but by 1927 the stark differences in objectives were clear with the contradictions between the comprador classes and the masses. In 1927, the Guomindang massacred hundreds of Communists in Shanghai and the surviving leaders fled to the rural areas of China rooting themselves among the peasantry.

After crushing the Communist Party in Shanghai, between 1930 and 1934 Chiang Kai-shek launched a series of military encirclement campaigns against the Chinese communists in an attempt to annihilate (them politically and militarily) especially in their base area in southeastern China. The Communists successfully fought off major campaigns using tactics of mobile infiltration and guerrilla warfare developed by Mao. In the fifth campaign, Chiang mustered about 700,000 troops and established a series of cement blockhouses around the communist positions. The Chinese communist Central Committee, which had removed Mao from the leadership early in 1934, abandoned his guerrilla warfare strategy and used regular positional warfare tactics against the better-armed and more-numerous Nationalist forces. As a result, the communists suffered heavy losses and were nearly crushed. It was in 1934 when surviving communists now under Mao’s leadership embarked on the Long March (1934–35). This historic 6,000-mile (10,000-km) trek of the Chinese freedom fighters, which resulted in the relocation of the communist revolutionary base from southeastern to northwestern China and in the emergence of Mao Zedong as the undisputed party leader. Fighting Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek throughout their journey, the communist troops crossed 18 mountain ranges and 24 rivers to reach the northwestern province of Shaanxi. The heroism attributed to the Long March inspired many young Chinese to join the Chinese Communist Party during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Mao’s base in Yunan became a center of resistance to the Nationalists and the Long March decisively established Mao’s leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. It was under the leadership of Mao where the Party organized poor farmers and peasants in the countryside.

By 1937 when the Japanese carried out genocide in Nanking and occupied most of China, the communists led the fight for Chinese sovereignty. Mao Zedong had emerged as the theoretician of the Chinese path to socialism by developing new ideas about revolution. Where in the classical Marxist texts, the vanguard of socialist change was supposed to be the workers, Mao studied the Chinese reality and set about the building of peasant soviets. It was from these social forces that Mao and the communists forged a Red Army that fought a long and brutal battle for power. [2] Emerging from a long march in the late thirties, the Maoists had fought the Japanese and the Goumindang and emerged victorious in 1949. From their base at Yunan, the communists grew in strength and eventually defeated the Nationalists in the struggle to control mainland China.

There was no blueprint to build socialism.

When the Communist Party acceded to power in 1949 there was very little industry left after foreign occupation and Civil War. The new Chinese state looked to Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union for assistance but even before there was any agreement, about socialist planning, the Chinese society was thrust into another war in Korea in June 1950 less than one year after assuming power. The United States had opposed the Communists and even after the victory in 1949 had recognized the exiled Republic of China government in Taipei as the ‘legitimate’ government of China. Anti- communists in the USA and their allies kept up this farce from 1949 until 1973 when the nonaligned movement forced the acceptance of China as the legitimate representative of the Chinese people at the United Nations. During this period of anticommunist provocations, the United States aggressively opposed the People’s Republic of China. China was sucked into the Korean War when the aggressive strategy of the Eisenhower administration pushed the western forces (fighting under the flag of the United Nations and the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur) right up to the border of China. The Communist Party of China and its leadership mobilized millions of Chinese workers and peasants in the Chinese People’s Volunteers Force (CPVF) to repel the US occupation of Korea. After more than a million combat casualties had been suffered on both sides, the fighting ended and in a stalemate in July 1953. Negotiations in 1954 produced no further agreement, and the front line has been accepted ever since as the de facto boundary between North and South Korea.

It was in the midst of this war situation when the leaders of the CPC launched the period of the ‘transition to socialism’ with the announcement of the First Five Year Plan (1953-1957) with the goal of achieving industrialization, collectivization of agriculture and political cohesion of the state. In 1949, 89% of China’s population lived in the countryside, with agriculture accounting for about 60% of total economic output. The backbone of China’s economy, agriculture and industry together employed more than 70% of the China’s labor force and accounted for over 60% of the country’s GDP. By 1956, over 90 per cent of the land had been collectivized and the government nationalized banking, industry and trade. Private capitalism was virtually demolished and the leading capitalists sought refuge in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Great Leap Forward _ First Major twist

The next period of the Chinese revolution is one that has been the most controversial; this was the period when the Party launched the Great Leap Forward. It was from this era where the state developed planning at the national level and key to this were measures to keep consumption down among the producers in order to amass surpluses for investment. With rising tensions between the Soviet Union and China in the late fifties, the political leadership had calculated that it would be optimum to put their large rural population to work to hasten the transition to socialism. Building on the experiences of the soviet communes of the period of the Long March, the party undertook a new campaign called the Great leap Forward between 1958 and early 1960 to organize its vast population, especially in large-scale rural communes, to meet China’s industrial and agricultural problems. The plan was to develop labor-intensive methods of industrialization, which would emphasize human power rather than machines and capital expenditure. The Great Leap Forward approach was epitomized by the development of small backyard steel furnaces in every village and urban neighborhood, which were intended to accelerate the industrialization process.

Politically, the Great Leap Forward strengthened the Communist Party in robbing the landlord class of social power in the rural areas and strengthening the collective ownership of land. Under the commune system, agricultural and political decisions were decentralized and a commitment to socialism rather than expertise was emphasized. The peasants were organized into brigade teams, and communal kitchens were established so that women could be freed for work. Millions of women were freed from domestic work and joined agricultural fieldwork, pasturage, mining, foundry, irrigation, communication, transportation, all kinds of factories, commerce, shop work, and various other public services. One other great achievement of this period was the integration of modern medicine with Chinese traditional medicine (TCM). “Due to the call by Mao Zedong, as well as the practice of the combination of Western medicine and TCM by the first group of Western doctors with a training in TCM, medical circles paid more attention to integrating Western medicine and TCM. It became more popular among doctors of Western medicine to study TCM.” [3]

From the many scholarly reports from sources that were not influenced by the Cold War, the program for socialization in the rural areas was implemented with such haste by overzealous cadres that implements were often melted to make steel in the backyard furnaces, and discontented peasants slaughtered many farm animals. The challenges in the implementation of the Great Leap Forward were compounded by drought, natural disasters and the withdrawal of Soviet technical support. The social and economic dislocation led to inefficiency, sabotage and internal struggles within the party. With the disruption of agriculture where peasants were exhorted based on moral incentives, diversion of farm labour into small-scale industry disrupted China’s agriculture seriously, and three consecutive years of natural calamities added to what quickly turned into a national disaster. There are diverging estimates on how many peasants perished during the period of the Great Leap Forward and one of the tasks of a future socialist regime in China will be to develop clear records on what happened during these years. This period coincided with hunger, famine and the deaths of millions. Since that time, the debates have not been able to separate the truth from the anticommunist claims that Mao oversaw the death of millions of Chinese peasants. [4]

Joseph Ball and Samir Amin in separate commentaries have been able to locate the challenges of the Chinese society at that period within the context of the agrarian question in semi colonial societies. Both have been able to analyze the goals of achieving the economic and technical transformation of the society. Both acknowledged the successes and setbacks of the process of transformation underlining the reality that transformation in a society never proceeds in a linear process, or in liberal terms, clear ‘progress.’[5] Joseph Ball’s essay in Monthly Review on “Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward” has added to the debates on the complexities of this bold attempt by the Chinese Communist Party. He had noted that,

‘the approach of modern writers to the Great Leap Forward is absurdly one-sided. They are unable to grasp the relationship between its failures and successes. They can only grasp that serious problems occurred during the years 1959-1961. They cannot grasp that the work that was done in these years also laid the groundwork for the continuing overall success of Chinese socialism in improving the lives of its people. They fail to seriously consider evidence that indicates that most of the deaths that occurred in the Great Leap Forward were due to natural disasters not policy errors. Besides, the deaths that occurred in the Great Leap Forward have to be set against the Chinese people’s success in preventing many other deaths throughout the Maoist period. Improvements in life expectancy saved the lives of many millions. [6]

The Great Cultural Revolution and the Left Turn

The struggles within the Communist Party of China in the first twenty years of the revolution were compounded by imperial encirclement and differences with the USSR over the paths to socialist reconstruction. Inner party struggles had led to Mao stepping down in 1959, but by 1966, Mao had recovered his position within the party by launching a movement to rejuvenate the party. Identifying himself with the ‘left’ trend within the Communist Party, Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in May 1966, soon calling on young people called the Red Guards to ‘bombard the headquarters’ and proclaiming ‘to rebel is justified.’ Mao charged that bourgeois elements had infiltrated the government and society and that they aimed to restore capitalism. The Red Guards were directed to root out those among the country’s population who were not ‘sufficiently revolutionary’ and those suspected of being ‘bourgeois.’ In the process of this revolutionary upsurge there was the humiliation and shaming of those leaders in the Party who had been designated as ‘rightists’ and capitalist roaders.

The Cultural Revolution in China had coincided with the international left wave of 1968 when youths in all parts of the globe were protesting for better conditions. In the case of France and Germany, the convergence of the cultural revolution and worker protests had been a high point in anti-capitalist activities with demonstrations, major general strikes, and occupations of universities and factories. In the USA, the struggles for Black liberation had reached a new high and in response even nonviolent leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. In China Mao had proclaimed, that, ‘revolution is not a dinner party. Revolution means rebellion. It means violent action with one class overthrowing another.’ The Maoist faction of the Communist Party compared the Cultural Revolution armed struggles to war between the Chinese Communist Party and the Goumindang.

The Red Guards had little oversight, and their actions led to anarchy and terror, as ‘suspect’ individuals—traditionalists, educators, and intellectuals, for example—were persecuted and killed. The Red Guards were soon reined in by officials, although the brutality of the revolution continued. In a sympathetic assessment of the Cultural Revolution, Amin noted,

‘while the Cultural Revolution met Mao’s expectations during the first two years of its existence, it subsequently deviated into anarchy, linked to the loss of control by Mao and the left in the party over the sequence of events. This deviation led to the state and party taking things in hand again, which gave the right its opportunity. Since then, the right has remained a strong part of all leadership bodies. Yet the left is present on the ground, restricting the supreme leadership to compromises of the “center”—but is that center right or center left? [7]

Within China, the limited summing up of the twists and turns of the revolution has led to the formulation that the Great Cultural Revolution and the Greta Leap Forward were mistakes of Mao. Yet, the same analysis that designated Mao’s mistakes have not yet acknowledged the reversal for progressive politics in the Sino Soviet rift during this period.

Errors of analysis of Soviet Social Imperialism

The Chinese peoples were alert to imperial provocations from 1949. At the end of the Korean War, the skirmishes between Beijing and Taiwan over the Quemoy and Matsu islands had seen the threats of the United States that it was considering using nuclear weapons to defend the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek. After negotiations that threat receded, but provocations in Tibet were only compounded by the Sino Indian War of 1959 and the withdrawal of Soviet Advisors in 1960. For the Chinese revolutionaries, Nikita Khrushchev and the leaders of the USSR had embarked on a ‘capitalist road’ and the radicals in China designated the USSR as a social imperial state. In this analysis, the Maoists declared that social imperialism was a bigger threat to socialism than US imperialism and in the process; Moscow replaced Washington as China’s biggest threat.

This line of the Chinese leadership proved disastrous for those fighting wars of national liberation. There were many liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America that came to adopt the tactics and strategies of peoples war as advocated by the thoughts of Mao. From Nepal to India (Naxalites) and from Peru to Zimbabwe, freedom fighters adopted the ideas of Mao. In practice, the Chinese leaders decided that any liberation movement that received assistance from the USSR or COMECON countries was a lackey of social imperialism. The Sino Soviet spilt fostered opportunism among Third World Leaders who were anti communist. A leader such as Mobutu Sese Seko of the Congo who had been complicit in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba was received with pomp by the Chinese leadership. Similarly, opportunists such as Jonas Savimbi of Angola represented himself as a Maoist fighting against Soviet imperialism and her ’Cuban’ lackeys. This position of China was manipulated by the United States and Henry Kissinger openly boasted of the intrigue involved in this manipulation in his book, On China. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security advisor of President Jimmy Carter, went one better and mobilized over 80,000 tons of weapons for the apartheid regime via Jonas Savimbi in this period of the rhetoric of Soviet Social imperialism. This period is so shameful in the annals of the Chinese revolution that in 2013, when Nelson Mandela joined the ancestors, the leader of China was the only significant head of state absent at the celebration. The Chinese Leaders had erroneously branded the African National Congress of South Africa as a puppet of the Soviet Union.

One of the continuing mysteries of the Chinese revolution is the extent to which many Chinese intellectuals and communist party leaders view Henry Kissinger as a friend of the revolution. In the past, the Chinese had been astute in working with sections of the US state machinery to end political isolation. In July of 1971, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had made a secret trip to China. With pressures from the nonaligned movement for the USA and the UN to recognize the government in Beijing as the legitimate representative of over a billion people, the US opened diplomatic relations after President Nixon travelled to China in 1972. Nixon who had been a staunch opponent of China spent eight days in China in February 1972, during which he met with Chairman Mao Zedong and signed the Shanghai Communiqué with Premier Zhou Enlai. The communiqué had set the stage for improved U.S.-Sino relations by allowing China and the United States to normalize relations.

This normalization of state-to-state relations confused the political leadership in China and has become a consistent source of contradictions within China’s leadership class. For example, after the brutal assault against the Chilean peoples in 1973 and the massive bombing of the Vietnamese peoples, the leadership embraced Henry Kissinger as a friend. This embrace was to reach its most obscene position when under the banner of combatting social imperialism, China fought a brief war with Vietnam in 1979.  In the brief border war fought between China and Vietnam in early 1979. China launched a punitive expedition in response to Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia in 1978 (which ended the rule of the Khmer Rouge). Similarly, the initial inability of China’s political and economic leadership to deal with President Trump was a result of their failure to fully understand the shift which had taken place in how America’s political, economic and defense elites viewed China, from a strategic competitor to a strategic national security threat. This failure was partially a product of China’s gradual adoption of neo-liberal financial liberalization reforms in the early 2000’s and the strong friendships between China’s capitalists and government with the leaders of Wall Street (Black Stone,  Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, etc.) and subsequent over reliance on their views and lobbying influence over the USG’s economic policies towards China.  But this is to anticipate.

The Reform Period and pragmatism in China

After the death of Mao in September 1976, the Cultural Revolution was brought to an end by the removal of the allies of Mao from the leadership of the Party. The faction of the Communist Party led by Deng Xiaoping emerged as the driving force of the Chinese revolution. It was in this period after 1978 when China embarked on the era of ‘reforms.’ The first stage of this process involved the relaxation of the state centered approach to agriculture with the de-collectivization of agriculture, the opening up of the country to foreign investment, and permission for unleashing the capitalists who had been underground inside China since 1949. These reforms did not minimize the central role of the state in the economy. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the reform twist involved the privatization and contracting out of much state-owned industry and the lifting of price controls, protectionist policies, and regulations, although state monopolies in sectors such as banking and petroleum remained. The private sector grew remarkably, accounting for as much as 70 percent of China’s gross domestic product by 2005. From 1978 until 2013, unprecedented growth occurred, with the economy increasing by 9.5% a year.

Western social scientists, international financial institutions and pundits attributed the phenomenal growth in China to the opening to the West and adoption of “free market forces.” For no society which has been universally acknowledged for lifting more human beings out of poverty in human history and which helped sustain the global economy following the last two capitalist financial crises, could have done so via socialism. However, Samir Amin noted that one cannot understand the massive growth in the economy without grasping the transition and changes that were laid in the period of the Great Leap Forward. In short, ‘lifting 600 million human beings out of poverty cannot be attributed to the market but to socialization of the society’ and the fact that the commanding heights of the economy were still in the hands of the state. In Amin’s words,

“The results of this choice are, once again, simply amazing. In a few decades, China has built a productive, industrial urbanization that brings together 600 million human beings, two-thirds of whom were urbanized over the last two decades (almost equal to Europe’s population!). This is due to the Plan and not to the market. China now has a truly sovereign productive system. No other country in the South (except for Korea and Taiwan) has succeeded in doing this. In India and Brazil there are only a few disparate elements of a sovereign project of the same kind, nothing more.

He continued

To say, as one hears ad nauseam, that China’s success should be attributed to the abandonment of Maoism (whose “failure” was obvious), the opening to the outside, and the entry of foreign capital is quite simply idiotic. The Maoist construction put in place the foundations without which the opening would not have achieved its well-known success. A comparison with India, which has not made a comparable revolution, demonstrates this. To say that China’s success is mainly (even “completely”) attributable to the initiatives of foreign capital is no less idiotic. It is not multinational capital that built the Chinese industrial system and achieved the objectives of urbanization and the construction of infrastructure. The success is 90 percent attributable to the sovereign Chinese project. Certainly, the opening to foreign capital has fulfilled useful functions: it has increased the import of modern technologies. However, because of its partnership methods, China absorbed these technologies and has now mastered their development. There is nothing similar elsewhere, even in India or Brazil, a fortiori in Thailand, Malaysia, South Africa, and other places.[8]

Lin Chun’s work on the changes in Chinese society since 1978 takes the same position as Amin. In the book, the Transformation of Chinese Socialism, the question was posed thus, Were the seeds of the present planted long ago, only germinating so slowly that at the time it was difficult to see or imagine the shape of things to come? [9] The answer of Lin Chun was that in order to understand what is happening in China forty years after the ‘reform’ period it is necessary to go further back in history than 1978 and the pragmatism of Deng Xiaoping. In 1949, the decision had been made that the political leadership of the CPC would rationally coordinate the planning of an entire national economy of China in such a way as to transform the major economic choices of the society into political choices, responsive to the will of the people. Central to this process were the sacrifices made by the Chinese people to overcome economic backwardness. In that period the state squeezed more work out of the workers and peasants in order to accumulate a surplus that could be reinvested for the diversification of the economy.

Future of socialist transformation or the recomposition of capitalism in China

One of the outcomes of the emphasis on the ‘development of the productive forces’ has been the massive increase in the industrialization without regard to the health and wellbeing of the population. The levels of ecological degradation in China as a result of a form of industrialization without regard for the population has led to China having one of the worst air qualities in the world. In all major industrial areas of China, the quality of the lives of the peoples have been impaired by pollution. Beijing and industrial areas of northern China have the worst levels of Sulphur dioxide pollution on the planet earth. China is home to 16 of the world’s 20 cities with the worst air pollution. The drive to urbanize and industrialize had been so intense that in the three-year period 2011 to 2014, China poured more concrete in three years than the UUS did in the entire 20th century. [10] Research by the Chinese Academy on Environmental Planning, revealed that 100 million people live in cities where the pollution reaches “very dangerous” levels.

This level of pollution is most extreme is a city such as Shijianzhuang, in Hebei province where the coal barons have a base in the Communist party. The environmental crisis in China is also an expression of the alliance of capitalists in China with international capitalists. Since 1978, the leaders of China marketed the society as a space of cheap labor and a society where environmental standards were ignored. There is enough scholarship on the environmental crisis in China that outlined how western capitalists located polluting industries in China. [11] Many of the polluting factories sell their cheap goods to richer nations. Throughout the reform period (1978 to present), local officials have been evaluated and promoted primarily based on their ability to meet economic development and family planning.[12] In 2011, the Party launched National “12th Five-Year Plan” for Environmental Protection with ambitious targets to reverse environmental degradation. That plan has been caught in the class struggles in the party between the coal barons and other sections of Chinese capital and by 2016 the Party announced th13th Five year plan announcing that the old forms of industrialization had run its course..

The leadership in China launched another plan to transcend the old polluting industries with the China 2025 project. Labelled as Made in China 2025, this new turn seeks to engineer a shift for China from being a low-end manufacturer to becoming a high-end producer of goods. To centralize this vision, the government’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released a Made in China (MIC) 2025 document in 2015 – pushing for leadership in robotics, information technology, and clean energy, among other sectors. These sectors are central to the so-called next generation technologies (nexgen), which refers to the integration of big data, cloud computing, and other emerging technologies into global manufacturing supply chains. “Chief among these are electric cars and other new energy vehicles, next-generation information technology (IT) and telecommunications, and advanced robotics and artificial intelligence. Other major sectors include agricultural technology; aerospace engineering; new synthetic materials; advanced electrical equipment; emerging bio-medicine; high-end rail infrastructure; and high-tech maritime engineering.”[13] The foundations for this pace of scientific transformation had been laid in the seventies when there was the project of science walking on two legs.[14] In terms of science policy, it referred mainly to the balance China has sought to achieve between “pure” science and applied technology.

The China 2025 program has since become a bone of contention for US capitalist’s administration, and has partly been responsible for the increased competition between the US and China. The US policy leaders have been alarmed by this new turn in China and the current tensions in the trade war is linked to the threats that sections of the US military industrial complex sees from this new direction of China. Presenting this new direction of China as a threat to global trade, the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) of the USA and other think tanks have been effusive in outlining the dangers to US hegemony from this new direction in China. Anticommunist scholars of the USA such as Peter Navarro who made a name out of China bashing rose to the position of being an adviser to President Trump on trade. His coauthored book Death by China: Confronting the Dragon – A Global Call to Action, had been a staple among those in the US policy circles who carried forth the old anti-communism of the Cold War era. His assessment on China is that “China is basically trying to steal the future of Japan, the U.S. and Europe, by going after our technology.” Of course such a paradigm also conveniently obscures the myriad of political, social, and economic impacts causing a decline in the structural competitiveness of the US in numerous ‘nexgen’ industries and sectors which is being produced by the increasing financialization of capitalism in the US.

The so called Thucydides Trap.

Realist scholars in the USA have also been raising the ‘alarm’ about the rise of China. John Mearsheimer in his 2014 book, The Tragedy of the Great Power Politics, argued in the last chapter, ‘Great Power Politics in the twenty first century,’ that, if the China continues growing rapidly, the US will once again face a potential peer competitor, and great-power politics will return in full force. Trapped by the history of realism, and visions of hegemony, Mearsheimer argued China cannot rise peacefully. In this understanding, there can only be one major power and the emergence of alternative centers of economic and political power will inevitably lead to warfare. Professor Graham Allison of Harvard University has added to this militaristic understanding of history with the study, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?[15] In this book, Allison argued that in 12 of 16 past cases in which a rising power has confronted a ruling power, the result has been bloodshed. This kind of rhetoric has been backed up by a new direction of the planning for war against China. The 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States has been explicit that the US needs to be prepared for war with China. [16] Mainstream scholars of International Relations have not yet fully grasped the Meaning of the Second World War and the argument made that capitalist competition will lead to war. The more developed the capitalist state, the more deadly the competition. Historical materialism and an understanding of imperialism will reveal the impulse of capital to seek to resolve economic challenges by military means. Since the end of the Cold War the western leaders have attempted a military management of the international system with implications for West Asia in the invasion of Iraq and war drums against Iran, and in Africa in the creation of the US Africa Command. In Asia, this militarism over the past decade has been manifested under President Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ and currently under President Trump’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’.[17]

When Thucydides was writing about the Peloponnesian War, he was writing about small societies that were not enmeshed in global value chains. Moreover, these wars were limited in geographical scope and did not arise out of competition between capitalist powers. Nuclear power, the rise of the Global South and the tremendous importance of the rising states renders the kind of analysis that refer back to 19th century imperial rivalries, out of date. The political leader of China communicated this reality to the leaders of the USA in 2015 when he noted,

“There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides Trap in the world. But should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves.”

Imperial Two Track Strategy on the Chinese Revolution

While one section of the US bourgeois is planning for war with China, the other section is working hard to strengthen the capitalist classes in China so that they can become fully compliant and subservient allies of international capital. Since the ‘reform’ era, thousands of western corporations have invested in China to profit from the cheap labor and absence of environmental regulation. Whether it is companies (such as Walmart and Apple) who profit from the cheap labor conditions or General Motors, Boeing, Microsoft and Google, western capitalists operating in China have developed a strong alliance with Chinese capitalists. The leaders of the US-Chinese business Council have been most aggressive in strengthening the Chinese capitalist class. The Officers and Directors of the US-China business Council reads like a who’s who of corporate America. [18]

While one faction of international capital complain of theft of intellectual property and piracy of Chinese state corporations, another faction has set about strengthening neo liberal capitalist ideas among the Chinese intelligentsia. This has become most evident with the activities of private capitalists such as Stephen A. Schwarzman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone group of Wall Street. In 2013, Schwarzman founded an international scholarship program, “Schwarzman Scholars,” at Tsinghua University in Beijing to educate future leaders about China. The US$350 million program is modeled on the Rhodes scholarship that had been started by Cecil Rhodes at the start of the twentieth century to train loyal servants of empire. It is one indication on the ideological subservience of the top intellectuals in China as to the operations of the world system that they would agree to work with known international capitalists in their premier university such as Henry Paulson and Stephen Schwarzman. It means that the Chinese do not care that they will be training their future leaders to be imperialists such as Cecil Rhodes.

Chinese education and imperialism

J P Morgan and Blackstone are the ones with the money they will finance institutions to promote individualism and the accumulation of capital for a few. These Wall Street magnates invest in University education in all parts of the world to reproduce the most conservative ideas about society. The current Chinese political leadership at all levels see the training of their children in the USA and capitalist Europe as the basis of the future ideological and intellectual development of China. Very rich Chinese donate to keep top Ivy League colleges in North America as thriving centers of capitalist scholarship at precisely the moment when a generation of youth are looking for resources to redirect education and social planning.

From the most recent reports in the financial papers, there are close to 300,000 Chinese students in higher education in the USA, this does not include Community colleges. In the spirit of internationalism, it will be important for Chinese students to study in all parts of the world, but the question, is, what do they study? Which Professors do they gravitate towards? Do they study imperialism, contemporary class struggles, reparative justice, environmental science to support environmental repair in China or the physics of the future to alleviate the suffering of workers everywhere?

The reality is that many Chinese students overseas see themselves as being apolitical, while the 70 per cent that study economics, business, entrepreneurship or the other offerings of schools funded by the bankers, they study and internalize the most conservative brand of neo-liberal capitalism. This training of neo conservatives for China has been supported by the new foreign policy of China based on ‘harmony’ that promotes Confucius Institutes in all parts of the world. The Confucius Institutes are the embryo of the 21st century Chinese imperial project that stands against the rights of workers, women and oppressed nationalities. Ironically, conservative elements of the USG are leading efforts to close these institutes in the United States, along with prohibiting investments into the United States by Chinese private capitalists, because both have been labeled as new threats to America’s national security.

Side by side with these Confucius institutes, the current Chinese state has unleashed hundreds of thousands of rapacious capitalists (and would be capitalists) to Third World societies. The very negative social impact of these ‘investors’ has led some western commentators to label China as the new imperialist state.[19] Some in the left have offered a specious thesis of China as a ‘sub imperial state’ [20] while some former Marxists pontificate When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. [21]

Whither the Chinese Revolution?

The capitalists from North America have used their military power to dominate the global trading, currency and financial system. In the last capitalist depression and subsequent war 1929-1945, one of the triggers of war was the competitive devaluations. Today the devaluations and currency wars have been accompanied by trade wars, information warfare and cyberwarfare. The Chinese peoples are trapped in the old international trading system and currently the state of China holds more that US3 trillion outside China, mostly in US Treasury. Paul Craig Roberts suggested that China simply pull out their money from western securities. This is not a realistic alternative in the short run. The alternatives must be internationalist and rooted in what is good for everyone, especially in the Global South. Unfortunately, projects of the political leadership in China to diversify their holdings of US Treasury point to building One Belt One Road to Europe.

In the throes of the financial crisis, the leadership pivoted to the Global South with the initiative called Brazil, Russia, India China and South Africa (BRICS). However, the underdevelopment of the study of capitalism influenced the thinkers behind the BRICS bank to accept neo-liberal principles of economics while US imperialists sought to suborn Brazil and India out of the new initiative for South -South Cooperation. It is in the spirit of 1949 where there is now another opportunity for Chinese society to come up with real alternatives that are protracted and will avoid outright warfare. In this delicate balancing, the Chinese leadership can either be socialist and internationalist or based on strategic planning and alliances for China to be the co imperialists with the USA in the so called G2 as proposed by Zbigniew Brzezinski among others. In the short run, the ASEAN plan for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is proposing a form of economic partnership that can neutralize the plans of the US capitalists for war in Asia. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS bank can carry out aggressive swap arrangements to support Iran, Russia and Venezuela in this current geo-political and economic war.

Socialist reconstruction and transformation

It was within the womb of capitalism in Britain and Germany where Karl Marx developed a critique of capital. Vladimir Lenin of Russia deepened this initial study of capital with his grasp of the changes from industrial capital to monopoly capital or the era of imperialism. The important contribution of Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg was to grasp the centrality of militarism in modern imperialism. The attempt to build socialism in the USSR imploded after 74 years. Western triumphalism after the fall of the Soviet model proclaimed that there was no alternative to capitalism. However, workers and poor people in all parts of the world are revolting against the oppressive conditions of Financialization, the new era of imperialism. Three hundred million workers in China trapped by the Hukou system want freedom of movement and the ‘right to the city.’ From Egypt to Ecuador and from Wukan in China to Iraq, workers, students, poor farmers, oppressed women and unemployed are in combat against capitalism. Many Chinese youth agree with the global youth movement for a clean environment.

Capitalism is a global system and we know that the transition to a new system will be long. However, while those opposed to capital are on this road, they will have to clean up the environment. This is the number one task so that the workers and small farmers can have a good quality of life. We have to have clean water and food that does not kill children. These are basic rights of humans in all parts of the world. Those who believe in the linear conception of socialist transformation argue that China will have to industrialize and urbanize further in order to move to a true socialist path. Linearity in thought in China from the ‘reformers’ merge with the plans of those who promote the silencing of the workers and peasants.

Imperial intellectual cultures serviced by corporations provide information and organization for the capitalist classes using the moribund Breton Woods Institutions to enforce onerous conditionalities on working peoples. World Bank and western concepts of democracy, human rights and governance reinforce western liberalism and cannot serve the interests of Chinese peoples. It is for this reason why many progressive scholars are confounded when they hear the formulation of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ When one conceptualize 21st century socialism, the progressive forces of the world are excited by the prospects for socialist reconstruction and a new science that supports research to strengthen the organization of workers and to build a new internationalism.

We are in the midst of a very exciting future. New technologies in solar, biotechnology, robotics and information technology opens up vast opportunities for the socialist project. Instead of promoting Henry Paulson, Henry Kissinger, Stephen Schwarzman and titans of empire, Chinese communists should be energized by the anti-capitalist project in a way that inspires the Chinese youth to be self-confident and be internationalists. The project of western capital in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong is to propagandize the Chinese youth to strengthen international forces and the local real estate capitalists who are called ‘developers.’

The task of building internationalism in the social sciences is also linked to building an anti-racist curriculum in China. This will have to be carefully thought out to avoid the excesses of the past. Intellectual and ideological struggles are deadly and those with power will not give up power easily.

In the celebration of the 70 years after coming to power, China can be constructive by working directly with Cuba to halt the counter revolutionary forces in Venezuela. This will entail an even bigger social investment in education and social questions in a place such as Venezuela. The future cooperation between Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina and Bolivia will give the socialist forces internationally the intellectual, financial and political leverage in a moment when imperial intervention will get desperate.

Internationalism will require solidarity with the most oppressed. I will again draw from Samir Amin’s analysis when he noted,

“My central question is this: is China evolving toward a stabilized form of capitalism? Or is China’s perspective still one of a possible transition to socialism? I am not asking this question in terms of the most likely “prediction.” I am asking it in altogether different terms: what inconsistencies and struggles have emerged in China today? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the approach adapted (to a large extent capitalist in fact)? What advantages do the (at least potentially socialist) anticapitalist forces have? Under what conditions can the capitalist approach triumph and what form of more or less stabilized capitalism could it produce? Under what conditions could the current moment be deflected in directions that would become a (long) stage in the (even longer) transition to socialism?

The fact that the Chinese project is not capitalist does not mean that it “is” socialist, only that it makes it possible to advance on the long road to socialism. Nevertheless, it is also still threatened with a drift that moves it off that road and ends up with a return, pure and simple, to capitalism.”

Notes.

1. Orville Schell and John Delury, Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century, Random House , New York 2013

2. One of the most sympathetic noncommunist account of the Long march is in the book, by Edgar Snow, Red Star over China: The Classic Account of the Birth of Chinese Communism, Grove Press, New York 1994

3. H E N K E J I a n d XU HAO, “The integration of traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine,” European Review; Cambridge Vol. 11, Iss. 2, (May 2003): 225-235

4. Joseph Ball, “Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?” Monthly Review, September 21, 2006

5. https://monthlyreview.org/commentary/did-mao-really-kill-millions-in-the-great-leap-forward/#en10

6. Samir Amin, “China 2013,” Monthly Review, https://monthlyreview.org/2013/03/01/china-2013/

7. Ball ibid. See also the analysis of Lin Chun, The Transformation of Chinese Socialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996).

8. Samir Amin, Theory is History, Springer, 2013, page 126

9. Samir Amin, China 2013, https://monthlyreview.org/2013/03/01/china-2013/

10. Lin Chun, The Transformation of Chinese Socialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996).

11. Figures are to be found in the article by Bill Gates, “Have You Hugged a Concrete Pillar Today?” Gates Notes, June 12, 2014 https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Making-the-Modern-World

12. Jim Watson and Tao Wang, “Who Owns China’s Carbon Emissions,” (Sussex: Tyndall Centre, 2007)

13. Darrin Mage, “China is my Backyard: China’s environmental degradation in a global context, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Summer/Fall 2011),pp. 120-128

14. James McBride and Andrew Chatzky, “Is ‘Made in China 2025’ a Threat to Global Trade?” Council on Foreign Relations, May 2019 https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/made-china-2025-threat-global-trade

15. Dan Connell and Dan Gover , eds, China: Science Walk on two legs Avon Books, 1974

16. Graham Allison, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? Mariner Books, New York 2018

16. National Defense Strategy of the United States, 2018, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf

17. Kurt Campbell and Brian Andrews, Explaining the US “Pivot to Asia,” Chatham House, London, 2013, http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/public/Research/Americas/0813pp_pivottoasia.pdf

18. US- Chinese Business Council, https://www.uschina.org/about/board-of-directors

19. Howard French, China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa, Random House, New York, 2015

20. Patrick Bond, ‘The Rise of Sub imperialism,’ Counterpunch, 2012, https://www.counterpunch.org/2012/11/23/the-rise-of-sub-imperialism/

21. Martin Jacques, When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, Penguin Books, London, 2012

 

The post Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Empire Steps Back

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

What everyone is most upset about with regard to Syria isn’t the bloodshed or anything having [to] do with human rights. It’s the decline in American control of the Middle East. This is 100% about US imperialism taking a hit.

— Rania Khalek, (@RaniaKhalek) October 14, 2019

A series of Donald Trump’s decisions, culminating in the decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, has set off a cascade of effects that are dramatically changing the geopolitics of the Middle East and the internal politics of the United States.

Two months ago, I wrote an article opposing the impeachment drive and stating that Donald Trump is not going to be removed from office by impeachment proceedings. I said: “Donald Trump will be removed from office one way: by an election.”

At that time, in the wake of the fizzling out of the Mueller Report and testimony on Russian “collusion,” the new smoking gun was “obstruction of justice.” “The evidence is overwhelming,” Jamie Raskin said, echoing more than 90 of his Democratic colleagues, “10 different episodes of presidential obstruction of justice.” Walls closing in.

Somehow, even after Mueller’s “very, very painfultestimony, the impeachment drive by the Democrats had intensified to the point that it was de rigueur for every major Democratic presidential candidate, and for anyone calling themselves “progressive,” to demand impeachment proceedings. Because “obstruction of justice.”

Of course, the Democrats were not going to create an irresistible political tide that would get enough Republican senators to vote to oust Trump with that “obstruction of justice” issue, and they knew it. The chance of that was effectively zero.

The odds on that are now changing significantly. What happened to change the impeachment calculus? That might move enough Republicans?

The answer is nothing that’s in the Ukrainegate smokingburger, which replaced the obstruction-of-justice smokingburger, which replaced the Russiagate smokingburger. Interpretations of the Zelensky phone call are just that—interpretations. Stipulate the worst: Trump tried to wheedle some personal political benefit from a foreign leader. Shocked! Shocked! Are we?

Really? Does anybody think that, if we read through the transcripts of every conversation between US presidents and foreign leaders over the last fifty years, we wouldn’t find scores of such transactions? And, uh, Hunter Biden, not to mention the Clinton campaign and Foundation. The Republicans can bat that phone call away, and they will face no political groundswell among their voters, or even the general public, to take sides in a family feud among different corrupt factions of a corrupt political elite.

To say nothing of the most outrageous examples of using foreign leaders to political advantage. Richard Nixon conspired with the leaders of South Vietnam to prolong the Vietnam War, and LBJ knew it. Ronald Reagan conspired with the leaders of Iran to prolong the confinement of American hostages, and a bipartisan commission covered it up. But they weren’t presidents at the time? Really, that’s an argument for dismissing these cases? What do you think these guys did when they were presidents? No, Nancy, now that I’m president I cannot seek a political benefit from a foreign leader! And why were these cases ignored and actively covered up, except because they were considered—even if a little extreme—SOP in US politics?

The success of the Democrats’ impeachment drive depends on one thing: getting enough Republican senators to vote for conviction. No, nothing in the Trump-Zelensky phone call or anything like it is going to move Republicans to temper their defenses against the Democratic onslaught, let alone move enough of them in the Senate to vote to remove him from office.

If Republicans do stop defending him against that, it will be because they have become radically disaffected with him about something else.

That something else is real, though it probably will not be explicitly stated in impeachment charges. It’s the simmering bipartisan concern about Trump that has been brought to a boil by recent series of events and decisions: his unreliability as a trigger-puller, his aversion to ordering big military attacks. This is certainly a damning fault in the eyes of most Republicans (as well as Democrats), a disqualifying failure or responsibility from the warden of the US empire. That’s the impeachable offense that could well get enough Republican votes to convict him.

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump expressed his opposition to wasteful foreign interventions clearly and repeatedly enough, and was skewered by the Democrats whenever he did, as they promoted lies and war and lies about war (specifically about Ukraine, as I noted) for their political benefit.

He also expressed his disdain for the obligatory nod to US sanctimony, when he responded to Joe Scarborough’s complaint about Putin killing people: “I think our country does plenty of killing also,” and when he pushed back on George Stephanopoulos regarding Ukraine: “The people of Crimea…would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

These kinds of thoughts are anathema to hawkish Republicans. They could only be ignored because they assumed: 1) he wasn’t going to win, 2) it was empty campaign rhetoric, and 3) as President, he would be boxed in and managed by the shepherds of the national-security state. Only one of those assumptions turned out to be entirely false, and it’s the uncertainty about how the other two are now playing out that might undermine his support among Senate Republicans.

In the last few months, Trump has made decisions either to reduce US military presence or explicitly not to take military action that was expected and planned. These were rhetorically and substantively anti-interventionist positions that are anathema to imperialist Republicans. The most consequent of these in the impeachment context are those regarding Iran, and, relatedly, Syria.

The dangerous fuse of Republican discontent with Trump was lit with Trump’s decision in June to call off the military strike on Iran, after Iran’s downing of a US drone. That event followed attacks on Norwegian and Japanese tankers in the Persian Gulf that the US government blamed on Iran. A narrative had been established for US politicians and media: Every nasty thing that happens in the Middle East is to be blamed on Iran. It’s a narrative with a specific target and a specific goal: to manufacture consent for a military attack on that target—Iran—when a good opportunity was either concocted or presented itself.

Iran’s acknowledged destruction of a valuable US military asset provided that opportunity. Trump’s decision—on the profound advice of Bolton, Pompeo, et. al.—to launch an attack on Iran was the inevitable next scene in the script. His decision, made a few hours later, to cancel the attack was something else again. It was a decision made “without consulting his vice president, secretary of state or national security adviser,” with “forces… already in motion… more than 10,000 sailors and airmen….on the move,” and with “only 10 minutes to go.” Per the NYT, that decision “stunned,” ”flabbergasted,” and outraged his closest advisers and key Republican allies. It was an unprecedented deus ex machina, an impermissible interruption that, especially for Republicans, just doesn’t fit in the epic story of American “presidentialness.”

Leftish Trump opponents have not, I think, recognized what an extraordinary important, and praiseworthy decision this was by Trump. Has there been a more positive decision of such consequence made by any president in the last thirty years?

Yes, it was the reversal of a prior, terrible decision of his. And, yes, it’s subject to reversal again because of his inconsistency and his many other terrible decisions regarding Iran and the region. But on its own, it stopped an onslaught of immense destruction. That it was a reversal of something he had set in motion only makes it more extraordinary as a presidential act.

Moreover, Trump was not alone in the process of re-thinking his decision. The Washington Post tells us that, from the get-go, the decision to strike Iran had “divided his top advisers, with senior Pentagon officials opposing the decision to strike and national security adviser John Bolton strongly supporting it.” And during those hours of reconsideration, as the NYT reports: “there continued to be pushback from Pentagon civilians and General Dunford.”

In other words, this wasn’t just a matter of peripatetic Trump; it was a matter of an ongoing tension between the fervently Zionist neocons, represented by the likes of Bolton and Pompeo, and the military realists, as represented by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dunford. Let’s not—as hawkish Republicans and Democrats certainly will try to—hide that tension in the tale of Trump’s personal inconsistency.

That tension defines something that Trump and every American president is inconsistent about. In the US context, that Trump changed his mind in the direction he did at the last minute is, again, extraordinary—one might even say “courageous.”

Sure, better not to have ordered the attack in the first place, but, in such circumstances, I’ll take reconsideration and second thoughts to sticking to one’s guns.

What we see here is that, for all his bluster, Trump knows when to be scared of a fight that will certainly hurt and not benefit the US, unlike the missionary (whether Zionist, Christian, or secular “humanitarian”) interventionists—including past presidents Obama and Bush, the man “progressive” impeachers would have president, Mike Pence, and every one of the present Democratic contenders, with the possible exception of Sanders or Gabbard. Certainly, in the same circumstances (having decided for the neocons, still getting pushback from the military), none of those Democrats, with the noted exceptions, would have made the re-consideration Trump did, and we would be at war with Iran now.

Anti-Trump lefties may not want to recognize how radical Trump’s decision to call off the Iran strike was, but senior Republicans sure do.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a not unimportant player in the unfolding impeachment drama, said Trump’s decision to cancel the Iran strike “was clearly seen by the Iranian regime as a sign of weakness.” To which Trump responded, in tones matching Obama’s best anti-stupid-interventionist campaign rhetoric: “No Lindsey, it was a sign of strength that some people just don’t understand!” Republicans were likening Trump’s refusal to strike Iran over the drone downing to Obama not striking Syria over the chemical weapons “red line” pretext. Having Republicans and his own advisors see him as “all too reminiscent … of Mr. Obama” is not a look that will help Trump among imperialist Republican senators.

Indeed, that remark of Graham’s was made after Trump’s second dramatic failure to respond with military action—this time to the September 14th Houthi attack on Saudi oilfields, which was framed by neocon Pompeo as an “act of war” by Iran and, implicitly, against the United States. Even the liberal NYT accepted the framing that Trump “let down his Arab partners by failing to respond more forcefully to Iranian aggressions.” quoting one Gulf political scientist that: “Trump, in his response to Iran, is even worse than Obama.”

What’s important for the purposes of impeachment possibility, of course, is whether Trump’s Republicans allies see it that way. And they do. Here’s Graham again: “This is literally an act of war and the goal should be to restore deterrence against Iranian aggression which has clearly been lost.” There it is: Trump “lost” deterrence against, is “losing” the Middle East to, Iran.

Former C.I.A. official Reuel Marc Gerecht echoes and amplifies the line to NYT reporters at the ultra-neocon Foundation for Defense of Democracies: “The president’s repeated failure to militarily respond to Iranian actions has been a serious mistake.”

It was a week after this putative “act of war” by Iran and non-military response by Trump, on September 23rd, that a group of “moderate” freshmen Democratic congresswomen who had “formed a bond over their national security background,” joined by two freshmen male colleagues, also military veterans, wrote a Washington Post (WaPo) op-ed that, as CNN puts it: “changed the dynamic for House Democrats, and indeed — the course of history.”

These women call themselves the “badasses,” a name that one of them, Chrissy Houlahan, says, “came organically from the group since we all had either served in the military or in the CIA.”

So, it was no squad of “progressives,” but a cohort of Democrats bound by national-security/intelligence “service” that “opened the floodgates,” and persuaded Nancy Pelosi to move with them “from hard no to hell yes on starting an impeachment inquiry.”

They say their position changed so suddenly and dramatically that week in September because, as CIA veterans and all, they were shocked, shocked that POTUS “may have used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent.” Reading their op-ed, you’ll find no hint that they share their colleague Gerecht’s concern about “the president’s repeated failure to militarily respond to Iranian actions.” No, no, these military and CIA badasses keep their “steadfast focus” on “health care [and] infrastructure.” Sure.

Now, making things worse for himself, Trump “Throws Middle East Policy Into Turmoil” by announcing a “withdrawal” of US troops from northeast Syria. This “touched off a broad rebuke by Republicans, including some of his staunchest allies,” whose response has been apoplectic: “some of the sharpest language they have leveled” against him. Here are the leaders of the Senate Republican caucus that will vote on any impeachment referral:

Liz Cheney: It’s a “catastrophic mistake that … threatens America’s national security”

Marco Rubio: Trump’s decision “is a grave mistake that will have severe consequences beyond Syria. It risks encouraging the Iranian regime [and]… will imperil other U.S. national security interests in the region

Lindsey Graham: “if he follows through with this, it’d be the biggest mistake of his presidency.” And: “This to me is an Obama-like decision” and “if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President Obama’s decision to leave Iraq.”

Their ostensible outrage is that Trump’s decision “betrays our Kurdish allies,” since it opens the way for a Turkish invasion to subdue Kurdish forces who aligned with the US. And the decision was impulsive, throwing “supporters, foreign leaders, military officers and his own aides off balance,” and does effectively greenlight what is an outrageous offensive by Turkey to steal Syrian territory and ethnically cleanse Kurdish areas.

But Turkey has already invaded Syria with US blessing, under the Obama administration, betraying the same Kurdish allies. As I wrote in a 2016 essay: “Vice-President Joe Biden stood beside Turkish President Erdogan and commanded the Kurds to back off and let Turkey have its way—to actually surrender territory they had won from ISIS to Turkey, and to the Free Syrian Army, Faylaq Al-Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, and re-costumed-ISIS jihadis who follow in the wake of Turkish tanks.”

“We have made it absolutely clear to . . . the YPG that participated” in the taking of Manbij and other towns “that they must move back across the river,” Biden said. “They cannot, will not, and under no circumstances will get American support if they do not keep that commitment. Period.”

Tough love Joe, who at the time was trying to reassure Erdogan that the US was not complicit in the coup attempt against him. The US government was always going to accede to its NATO ally over its more-dispensable Kurdish “partners.”

My point above about the jihadis coming in Turkey’s wake is still quite relevant and undermines the whole “protection from ISIS” narrative. The US itself cheered ISIS on, as Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry admitted. Turkey supported ISIS and trafficked ISIS soldiers, arms, and oil across its border with Syria throughout the conflict. That 2016 Turkish invasion made liberal use of jihadi proxies, including ISIS, which calmly turned territory over to Turkish-backed forces, with some ISIS fighters just changing their uniforms to join them.

In the current invasion, Erdogan is playing the same game. He explicitly says, for example, that “The Turkish army won’t enter Manbij. We’ll be content with providing assistance to Syrian opposition and tribal forces.” Erdogan wants to avoid a direct conflict with the Syrian Army (SAA) and its Russian allies, so those “forces”—now branded the “Syrian National Army” or the “Turkey-Supported Opposition” (TSO)—will be the ground-level fighters of Turkish attacks. They include the various jihadi factions within the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that the US created, any ISIS cadres who wish to join as the TSO deliberately releases them, and some angry Syrian Arabs who were thrown out of their homes by Kurd militias (who have been no angels in seeking to establish their ethno-state). You know, the kinds of “forces” that the US government and media insisted for years were “moderate rebels,” and are now acknowledging are ruthless killers who are executing captured Kurd fighters as well as civilian political leaders.

Incredible: US officials are now admitting “rebels” from the “Free Syrian Army” that are embedded with the Turkish army are intentionally freeing ISIS prisoners, while massacring civilians These are some of the “moderate rebels” the CIA armed and trained https://t.co/x5389IgVNx — Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) October 15, 2019

It’s the SAA and its allies that were the most effective at destroying ISIS and jihadi “forces” over the last eight years. For neither Turkey nor the US was ISIS ever anything other than a weapon against the Syrian government and a convenient pretext for “protective” intervention. And the Kurds were always more pawns than “partners.”

And the spectacle of countries/actors like the EU, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, all of whom financed and armed an invasion of Syria by foreign jihadis for 8 years, now objecting to Turkey violating the “territorial sovereignty” of Syria demonstrates the death of irony.

Turkey is illegally extending its prior illegal invasion of Syria into sovereign Syrian territory that the US had illegally taken control of. Mark Sleboda puts it well: “Turkey is invading the US invasion of Syria.”

Neither Trump’s staunch Republican allies, nor his Democratic opponents, nor any of those countries give two hoots about the Kurds, let alone Syria’s “territorial integrity.” They are not upset and outraged at Trump because he opened the possibility of Turkey repressing the Kurds; they are upset and outraged because he made the Kurds finally see what fools they were to ally with the US and to turn instead to an alliance with the Syrian government. US politicians’ crocodile tears for the Syrian Kurds are really rage at losing their allegiance.

The Kurdish commander of the US-created Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Gen. Mazloum Kobani Abdi, is now saying: “if you’re not [protecting my people], I need to make a deal with Russia and the regime now and invite their planes to protect this region,” and writing in Foreign Policy that “The Russians and the Syrian regime have made proposals that could save the lives of millions of people who live under our protection.” He may also say: “We do not trust their promises,” but he knows very well that some kind of autonomy agreement with Damascus is preferable for Syrian Kurds to Turkish occupation and ethnic cleansing.

So, the SDF has formally “agreed to the deployment of the SAA” throughout the group’s ‘self-administration’ area (“to all areas starting East from Ain Dawar to Jarablus in the north”), calling on the SAA to do its “duty to protect the country’s borders and preserve Syrian sovereignty.”

As I write, the SAA and allied forces have already, often greeted with celebration, entered the towns of Ain Issa, Tel Tamer, Qamishli, Kobani, Raqqah, and Manbij—where they’ve taken over a US base.

As the NYT reports: “If Syrian government forces can reach the Turkish border to the north and the Iraqi border to the east, it would be a major breakthrough in Mr. Assad’s quest to re-establish his control over the whole country.”

The problem now isn’t that the Kurds no longer have any allies; it’s that the Americans don’t.

The Kurds have now recognized and joined the alliance that really is capable of preserving their own lives and Syria’s “territorial sovereignty”—which is precisely what the US, NATO/EU, Israel, the Gulf monarchies, and Turkey, have been trying to destroy for eight years.

This is what Trump’s McCain-Republican frenemies are pissed-off at. Led by Lindsey Graham, they’re pissed-off at Erdogan—not for killing Kurds, but for disrupting the game which used protection of the Kurds as a “humanitarian” alibi for dividing Syria and overthrowing its government.

The American troops that Trump moved out of the way were not protecting the Kurds from Turkey, they were protecting Turkey from itself—from Erdogan’s hubris in overplaying his hand and entering into what at best will be a quagmire of occupation and resistance from Syrian Kurds, and at worst a direct conflict with the Syrian army and its Russian ally, which Erdogan definitely does not want.

But most of all, those US troops were protecting the ongoing, long-term project of state-destruction in the region on behalf of Israel. The splitting off of a Kurdish area and the presence of US troops in it—under the pretext of a protective force, but really as a constant dagger pointed at Damascus and maintaining the threat of US-led regime change—were lynchpins of that project, which was supposed to culminate in a state-destroying military attack on Iran.

The McCain Republicans are pissed-off at Trump for completely upending—perhaps even finally ending!—that project.

The suite of decisions Trump has made, starting with the decision to cancel the strike on Iran, were accompanied by rhetoric that gets him into even more trouble, especially with those McCain Republicans.

“I campaigned on the fact that I was going to bring our soldiers home and bring them home as quickly as possible.”

“I held off this fight for almost 3 years, but it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars.”

[Regarding Turkey and Syria] “That has nothing to do with us,” he said. He said he could understand if Syria and Turkey want territory. “But what does that have to do with the United States of America if they’re fighting over Syria’s land?”

[Regarding whether his decision to pull back from Syria had opened the way for Russia and the Syrian government] “I wish them all a lot of luck. If Russia wants to get involved with Syria, that’s really up to them,” he added.

[Responding to Lindsey Graham’s criticisms] “The people of South Carolina don’t want us to get into a war with Turkey, a NATO member, or with Syria.”

“Let them fight their own wars.”

“Ridiculous endless wars,” “Let them fight their own wars”—anathema for a serving president to say. Acceptable as campaign rhetoric, but never to be said for real by a president in office—especially a president attacked for his “repeated failure[s] to militarily respond” to designated enemies.

All of this marks a new and real danger for Trump in the impeachment process. When Graham, “usually one of the president’s most vocal backers,” warns that unless Trump reverses (!) his decision, it “will be the biggest mistake of his presidency,” that sounds a lot like a threat.

There’s another element that appears in all the neocon, McCain-Republican (as well as McCain-Democrat) objections, which can be seen, for example, in Lindsey Graham’s remark that Trump’s decision is: “a big win for Iran and Assad, a big win for ISIS.”

Note the logic here: Turkey disappears as the enemy, and ISIS gets added at the end for the scare factor, but it’s the “win” for Syria, which in his view also means a win for Iran, that’s the real problem. It always goes to Iran.

It’s crucial to understand all the implications that underlie and make sense of such a statement. After all, there’s no “win” for Syria in the Turkish invasion of its territory unless it results in the Kurds turning to Damascus and the SAA for their protection. If Graham’s professed interest in protecting the Kurds were real, that would be a good thing. But it also brings Syria closer to finally winning against the eight-year US-sponsored regime-change and state-destroying operation, which is Graham’s and the US’s real agenda, so it therefore becomes a bad thing. This discourse reveals that Graham, like the rest of his colleagues, is not worried about whether the Kurds will be protected from Turkey, but whether they will reconcile with Damascus.

And how can the Turkish invasion of Syria possibly be construed as a “win” for Iran, which has “warned its neighbor not to move forward with its military operation” and held unannounced military drills near its border with Turkey? Only if everything that’s happening in Syria is a function of a project directed against Iran. Only if Syria’s winning back the allegiance of the Kurds as well as its actual territorial integrity is a “loss” for the US in an offensive against Iran.

It always goes to Iran.

Graham is here expressing what’s actually behind the growing urgency of the neocon national-security apparatus to replace Donald Trump with Mike Pence—‘cause, you know, that is what impeaching and convicting Trump will do—and why it may adversely affect Trump’s chances with Republican senators.

One cannot understand what’s happening in Syria, or what’s happening in impeachment, or the relation between the two unless one understands the role of Israel in determining US policy and influencing US politics in general. US policy in the Middle East is completely incoherent until one understands the extent to which it’s Israeli policy.

One cannot complain that Trump’s Syria decision caused “chaos” without recognizing the chaos that US intervention throughout the Middle East since 2001—in Iraq, Libya, and Syria—has already caused, and was designed to cause, for the sake of Israel. Because, as Middle East Monitor reports: “the [former] chief of Israel’s military intelligence, General Aviv Kochav, has said that the chaos in the Arab world favours Israel and is something that he believes should continue.”

And one cannot understand what’s happened and happening in Syria, and what the US politicians really think is “wrong” with Trump’s decision, without placing it in the context of the US-Israeli strategy that was famously revealed by Wesley Clark (and studiously ignored by US media), to “take out seven countries… starting with Iraq and Syria and ending with Iran.”

Iran has always been the ultimate target. Syria was a stepping-stone, the part of what Israel saw as the “Tehran-Damascus-Hizbullah alliance” that became ripe for removing in 2011-2. This was made explicit in a State Department report, authored by James Rubin (Christine Amanpour’s husband), that appeared in a Hillary Clinton email chain: “The best way to help Israel deal with Iran’s growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad.” Or, as high-ranking Israeli officials gleefully foresaw: “Syria’s fragmentation into provinces, … the formation of an Alawite district in the coastal region… a Sunni province …and …a Kurdish province in northern Syria.”

That Iran has been the ultimate target is also made clear in an exceptionally important and detailed NYT report, “The Secret History of the Push to Strike Iran” (published before the Syria decision), which I urge everyone to read. It chronicles how “Hawks in Israel and America have spent more than a decade agitating for war against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program,” and asks “Will Trump finally deliver?” It details Benjamin Netanyahu’s obsessive “personal crusade” against Iran, and his attempts to cajole, browbeat, and bluff the US into attacking Iran for the Jewish state—to the point that the US ambassador to Israel thought: “Israel might consider it an advantage to strike in the final phase of the [2012] election,” believing it “could force the United States’ hand to be supportive or to come in behind Israel and assist. Because otherwise, President Obama could be accused of abandoning Israel in its moment of need.”

Israel used this “can’t refuse Israel” ideology to make sure the Obama administration “meticulously refined” “military plans for an Iran strike” that, if he didn’t use, would be a “loaded gun,” “inherited” by the next president.

But Trump hasn’t picked up that gun. Despite his embrace of so many aspects of Netanyahu’s agenda, Israelis now fear that “the American president in whom they had invested so much hope has gone wobbly.” Why? Because of his “last-minute decision to abort the attack in June,” which has “led to a concern among Iran hawks in both Israel and the United States: that the president ultimately might not have the resolve to confront the threat with military force.”

As Haaretz reports, in a more recent editorial “Netanyahu’s Iran Policy Has Collapsed”: “Trump’s putting up with the attack on Saudi Arabia and leaving the Kurds high and dry are warning signs to Israel, that it cannot count on Netanyahu’s friend in the White House.”

And the BBC: Netanyahu’s “signature Iran policy … was rocked by the president’s reluctance to flex US military muscle in response to an apparent Iranian attack on Saudi oil installations….[which] evinces the utter collapse of the security doctrine that has been advanced by Netanyahu, [and] has been compounded by Mr. Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of north-eastern Syria.” Israel is now “facing the reality of an unpredictable and transactional president who has deep reservations about using US military might, is afraid of getting involved in another Middle East conflict.”

Those hawks in Israel and the United States may be giving up on Trump, but one would be a fool to think they are giving up. They’re just looking for another “friend in the White House”—and right quick. The election is too far away, and its results too unpredictable.

Trump is slithering filth and dangerously mercurial and random. But the recurring liberal bashing of him for non- and reduced military intervention and for not loving bad guys like the CIA and FBI and John McCain truly is knee-jerk. https://t.co/rQT2KOj1qg — vastleft (@vastleft) October 9, 2019

Leftists may be loath to acknowledge it, but, for whatever reasons he made it, Trump’s decision on Syria—the culmination of a series of non-interventionist decisions—has “marked a major turning point in Syria’s long war” and has, indeed, “upended decades” of imperialist and Zionist plans for the Middle East It deserves to be recognized and supported as such by all leftist anti-imperialists as much as it is recognized and denounced as such by the entire spectrum of US-imperialist politics and media. It’s a very good thing, a positive aspect of the Trump-effect I’ve written about previously.

We leftists can point out that Trump’s non-interventionist rhetoric, and even decisions, do not always translate into reality. All US troops have not yet been withdrawn from Syria. US troop presence in the Middle East increased by 14,000 since May. He just sent another 2,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia. His policies on Palestine, Venezuela, and even Iran are criminally aggressive, even if they have not yet involved a military attack. We know that he’s impulsive and changeable, and, most importantly, weak. Even if he has a sincere desire to end ridiculous, endless, and wasteful wars, it’s a shallow impulse, ungrounded in anything but self- and US-centered principle. That makes him weak, and it’s why he surrounds himself with neocon deep-state actors on whom he depends and who often ignore or actively oppose him—especially when it comes to his non-interventionist instincts. He is certainly as much of, if more erratic, an imperialist/American-exceptionalist and world bully as any US politician.

That’s the dangerous aspect of Trump’s incoherence that we leftists, for good reason, focus on. But his right-wing critics, and would-be and erstwhile neocon advisors like Bolton (“the whistleblower’s Deep Throat”?) see and fear the other side of his “unpredictable and transactional” character—his call for better relations with Russia, his desire for a deal with Kim Jong-Un, etc.

But most of all, and most importantly in relation to the Middle East and the sacred imperatives of Israel, they see that one big flashing yellow light that they despise: he’s reluctant to pull the trigger on a big attack on the principal enemy. They can maneuver around him, and push him largely where they want him to go, but when it comes to a decisive strike, he’s the commander-in-chief; he needs to give the order. In a series of what for them are crucial moments, Trump has shown himself to be unreliable for that. They want a commander-in-chief on whom they can rely to pull the trigger. Like Mike Pence.

And in this Syria decision they see, correctly, that, no matter how many troops and ships he is moving around the Middle East, Trump has effectively collapsed a longstanding imperialist and Zionist project for Syria and possibly Iran that neocon policy makers had no intention of giving up on. They may yet get him to reverse that or over-compensate for it with some worse aggression, but he seems to be “undeterred,” and “doubling down” on it, “despite vociferous pushback from congressional Republicans” and “top advisers.”

The Democrats need at least 20 Republican senators to convict Trump and throw him out of office. That is no longer impossible. Many McCain Republicans are now on record as seeing Trump’s policy decisions as a threat to “national security” and to fundamental US and “allied” interests, especially in the Middle East.

A “veteran political consultant,” cited by a conservative blogger, made it specific: “The price of Graham’s support… would be an eventual military strike on Iran.”

Impeachment and conviction are still unlikely. Perhaps because Trump will pay Graham’s price—in which case, watch the pressure dissipate. Or, in the better case, and the one Trump seems to be sticking with, precisely because ending ridiculous, wasteful wars and keeping campaign promises and “Let them fight their own wars” are very popular pitches with the Republican (and not only Republican!) electorate. That might well prevent too many Republican defections.

So, the Republican politicians who want to vote against Trump for his aversion to military strikes (and their allied media—watch how FOX and Breitbart coverage evolves) will have to go along with the Democrats and the media fronting other issues. They’ll have to subtly soften their defense of Trump against Ukrainegate charges, starting even during formal impeachment hearings in the House. Unlikely, but no longer impossible. Fundamental imperialist and Zionist policies are at stake.

Kid yourself not. No matter what the formal articles of impeachment say, if Donald Trump is removed from office by impeachment, if more than twenty Republican senators vote to convict him, it will not be because of Russiagate or Ukrainegate of Bidengate or any other ruse issues bleated about constantly in the media, but because he is just too “unpredictable and transactional” to be counted on to pull the trigger when it counts. 100%.

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