Counterpunch Articles

Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

US president Donald Trump “elevated his political interest above the national interest and demanded foreign interference in an American election,” Peter Beinart asserts at The Atlantic. “What’s received less attention is what the scandal reveals about Joe Biden: He showed poor judgment because his staff shielded him from hard truths. If that sounds faintly familiar, it’s because that same tendency underlay Hillary Clinton’s email woes in 2016.”

Beinart admits that Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s service as a very well-paid member on the board of a Ukrainian energy company at the same time his father’s portfolio included “fighting corruption in the Ukrainian energy industry” was “a problem.”

But it’s not Joe’s fault, see? His staffers didn’t want to confront him about the conflict of interest. They “feared the vice president’s wrath,” and thought him “too fragile” after one son’s death to hear “upsetting news” about the other’s conduct.

Ditto Hillary Clinton. As Secretary of State, she was briefed on (and signed papers agreeing to abide by) State Department protocols on the handling of classified information and the use of non-government email systems.  But Beinart lets Clinton off the hook because her chief of staff and other aides failed to “forcefully convey” her obligations to her.

Here’s Beinart’s case — one also made by other Democratic partisans — boiled down to its essentials:

When Republicans act criminally and/or corruptly, it’s because they’re criminal and/or corrupt.

When Democrats act criminally and/or corruptly, it’s because they’re just poor, temperamental, out-of-their-element naifs who of course have no criminal or corrupt intent, but whose staffers — whether negligently, or out of concern for feelings or fear of offending — neglect to button their winter coats for them, take them by their little mittened hands, and carefully walk them across all those busy, dangerous legal/ethical streets.

There are two obvious problems with this double standard.

One is that for the last three years we’ve been told over and over (by, among others, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden) that Trump is a loose cannon, an eternal man-child who lacks “adults in the room” to help him navigate the intricacies of governing. So why shouldn’t Trump receive the same “Blame the Aides and Get Out of Jail Free Card” that Beinart tries to play on behalf of the other two?

The other is that in arguing that Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton aren’t responsible for their actions because they’re too stupid to discern right from wrong and too simultaneously mean and emotionally delicate to be TOLD right from wrong, Beinart is necessarily also arguing that Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton were and are, by definition, unfit to entrust with responsibilities as weighty as those that go with, say, the presidency of the United States.


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The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer

Photograph Source: Dave Hosford – CC BY 2.0

Dear Dreamer,

You may not even remember the journey across the border. Maybe you tracked through a desert.  Maybe you hid in a trunk. Maybe you arrived in an airport, your passport stamped with a visa. Maybe you came here all by yourself to reunite with your mom or dad. Maybe you were excited, maybe scared. And, in the end, you stayed.

You enrolled in an American school. You grew up eating Cheerios and grilled cheese, playing softball, listening to hip hop. Then one day you were told that you don’t belong. That you are illegal. You need to go.

But go where? This is the country you know. This is your home.

Culturally integrated but legally excluded, you are assimilated and alienated at once.

How daunting it must be to realize that once you graduate from high school, you will find yourself barred from government financial aid, student loans, and legal employment. How frightening, to contemplate the possibility of being forced into an underground economy of temporary jobs, unfair wages, unsafe working conditions. How hard, to watch your American-born classmates move on with their lives, while you watch over your shoulder for cop cars driving by. How exhausting to live in fear. Fear of arbitrary detention, deportation. Fear of being separated from your family. Fear of what the future may or may not hold.

How hurtful it must be to be taught the American Dream, yet told you are not to dream it. To be told that you are overcrowding the schools. That you are stealing jobs. That you are unwanted. That by the virtue of your existence here in this country, you are a criminal.

How infuriating it must be to see the politicians fuel the anti-immigrant rhetoric which denies your humanity and puts you at risk of hate crimes.

It’s difficult enough being a teenager, searching for yourself, coming to terms with your identity, clashing with the world around you. And you come of age to find your rite of passage interrupted, rights denied, life turned upside down.

You might see some of the young immigrants drop out of school, join gangs, abuse drugs. In their faces, you might recognize the feelings of inferiority, worthlessness, hopelessness. You may even resonate with their depression, anxiety, and anger. Yet you also know that these are not personal mental and behavioral health challenges alone. They are symptoms of systematic oppression and humiliation.

To protect yourself and your family you have been advised to remain small, submissive, resigned. To become invisible. When the system requires your self-negation in this manner, fatalism is only appropriate.

But no. You, dear Dreamer, have proved something else. Together with your fellow Dreamers—who are from all different regions of the world, all religions and races—you have risen to announce that you are “undocumented and unafraid.” Evoking the best of the Civil Rights Movement, you have boarded buses, gathered at sit-ins, marched to Washington, DC to speak to legislators. You have protested. You have resisted. You made it clear that you will not be shoved into the shadows, you will not be silenced.

You have risked deportation, you have risked everything, so that your presence could expose the invisible violence of intolerance, discrimination, oppression, exploitation—the deeply embedded systems and structures of xenophobia—in America.

And since you were told that the American Dream does not apply to you, you spelled out your own DREAM: Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. Introducing the DREAM Act to the Congress you asked for a chance to earn legal status by pursuing a college education or serving in the US military. You celebrated the progress the legislation made and grieved its setbacks. You must have been weary after all the appeals and denials over the years, but you carried on.

Though you knew that it was not a long-term solution with a path to citizenship, in 2012 you welcomed increased opportunities for social and economic incorporation with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). You trusted the government with your personal information and applied to be one of the 800,000 Dreamers to benefit from the program’s protection. Then you spent the past two years with the threat of its termination. And now you await its fate at the Supreme Court.

In the face of these challenges, you have proved to be a role model for all Americans with your demands for social justice and dignity.

The United States of America needs citizens like you, Dreamer. Citizens who are conscious of this country’s history of racial, ethnic, and economic struggles. Citizens who are committed to the democratic principles of freedom and equality. Citizens who are socially and politically responsible. Who are revolutionary. Resilient. Who believe in the power of community. Who invest in civic imagination. Citizens who stand in their power to keep this nation of immigrants honest and accountable.

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Fundamentalism as Speechlessness

Photograph Source: Taymaz Valley – CC BY 2.0

Our world is bent out of shape. It is all twisted and tangled like a bombed out bridge after an air raid. As we gaze out upon this mangled world, on a very bad day one can see apocalypse around every corner. This was the case in July 2011, when Anders Breivik systematically massacred 76 children at a Labour party youth camp, situated on an idyllic island, in Norway of all places. He imagined that these youth were being trained to respect all peoples in a multicultural world, including Muslims. When some of us in the West first heard this grizzly news, we immediately thought that this must be linked in some ghoulish way with Islamist terrorists. And that is just the problem, isn’t it? Since 9/11, we in the West can easily slip and slide into this quick judgment. Mention terrorism, think Muslim.

But Breivik is not linked with Al-Qaeda. He is a Norwegian who actually mixes “Christian” language in his perverse rambling manifesto of 1500 pages. Breivik’s own description of his attack provides some examples. “I’m pretty sure I will pray as I’m rushing through the city blazing, with 100 armed system protectors pursuing me with the intention to stop me and/or kill….It is likely that I will pray to God for strength at one point during the operation, as I think most people in that situation would…If praying will act as an additional mental boost/soothing it is the pragmatical [sic] thing to do. I guess I will find out….If there is a God I will be allowed to enter heaven as all other martyrs for the church in the past.”

This is surely disturbing (and evil), but it is strangely rational. He has a worked out framework. He is crazy, but a twisted logic courses through his words. He and his Knights of the Templar (sounds like a video game) want to purify the “Christian” (white?) world of its impure virus. He wants to defend “Christendom” against its Muslim enemies. This mentality is not unknown in the history of the troubled relationship of Islam and Christianity. In fact, using violence to cleanse and erase the other, who threatens a homogenous identity, is well known everywhere in the world, past and present. It has both religious and non-religious roots.

The bombings during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 were perpetrated by young men claiming allegiance to Islam who were foreign-born but apparently assimilated into American culture. Only two weeks earlier, three Canadian young men were linked with the jihadist bombing of an Algerian refinery. Their photographs speak of nothing out of the ordinary whatsoever. Were they hockey fans? The CBC (and other media) tracked their movements into the darkest corners of the desolate Mauritanian desert. These events trigger our memory of the violence perpetrated by British young men in July 2005 who, seemingly, loved soccer and beer, but chose out of misunderstood depths to bomb certain subways.

On May 22, 2013 our dinners were visited by horrendous television images of a Black man with a bloody cleaver who had just hacked a British soldier to death shouting: “We swear by Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. We must fight then as they fought us.” The exploding bomb and bloodied body is the dominant symbol of our age, the “war on terror” its dishonourable moniker of the times. And actions directed against the innocent citizen arise from inexplicable murky depths. One quickly reminds one’s self, however, of the Allied bombing of innocent citizens in WW II, and the notorious release of the atomic bomb on Japanese innocents.

All the major religions have experienced fundamentalist movements and tendencies. Violent speechlessness lives at the edges of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. In Muslim countries, minority religions such as the Copts of Egypt have experienced repression, imprisonment, death and oppression from that states. On January 1, 2011 in Alexandria, the Two Saints Coptic Church was bombed killing 20 Copts. On Tuesday, March 8th, 2011, thirteen people were killed and 140 injured in an attack on St. Mina and St. George Church in the village of Sol. The church was burnt to the ground and Copt homes attacked. The attack against Christian Copts in Sol was precipitated, it seems, by a relationship between Ashraf Iskander, a 40-year old married Christian and a married Muslim women. This tense situation exploded into heated fights within the Muslim family, leading to two deaths.

In the southern Sudan and Northern Nigeria, Christians have been attacked and massacred. Tyrannical dictatorships such as Egypt and Libya long relied on the West to keep the lid on “Muslim extremists” (in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood primarily). With the fall of the dictators Ben Ali, Gadhafi and Mubarek, the Arab Spring erupted with its agonized cry and action for human dignity. Now in the disenchanted aftermath, the idea of putting a constitutional democratic, secular state in place is very much in question.

Elsewhere, in India and Pakistan, Muslims and Hindus battle each other; in Sri Lanka, it’s the Buddhists and the Hindus. Ethnic suffering and threatened identity—all coalesce to create speechlessness before the other. In Europe and North America, incidents of aggressive and hostile reactions to Muslims—in particular—have flared up in troubling ways. Some think Trump was elected for publicly declaring his opposition to Muslim immigrants. Even the staid CBC has featured documentaries exploring the possible roots of the radicalization of Muslim youths (which includes the actions of some Muslim activists to inoculate youth against extremist choices and, ultimately, speechless acts of violence against the innocent).

Fundamentalism is itself a product of modernity; modernity (or the failure of modernization) is perceived as a threat to religious identity (or, the unsettling of one’s lifeworld and meaning structures). With the onset of modernity, those adhering to the teachings of the world religions, which make universal claims, have been challenged to let go of their alleged universally binding character and political acceptance of their doctrine to co-exist with others in a pluralistic world.

But in many countries, particularly Islamic ones, there has been deep resistance to co-existing with the religiously other. As well, considerable segments of the American “Christian right” are profoundly and disturbingly resistant to Islam and secular humanism. One can always count on some small Protestant sect to throw up some self-proclaimed parson to burn the Qur’an. Or, conversely, for Muslim fanatics to want bloody vengeance for a cartoon mocking the Prophet.

Globalization has intensified the “defensive reaction” to modernity—with its “violent uprooting of traditional ways of life.” Globalization produces winners, beneficiaries and losers. Thus, within the Arab world (but not there alone), the “West” becomes a scapegoat for the Arab’s perceived (and real) losses. This creates a “psychologically favourable situation” for the acceptance of polarized world-views. Religious sources are drawn upon in order to resist the secularizing force of western influence, and even re-assert ethnic or national identity. Once world-views (which include self-understanding) are polarized, communication is distorted.

Within Habermas’ world-understanding, the “spiral of violence begins as a spiral of distorted communication that leads through the spiral of uncontrolled reciprocal mistrust, to the breakdown of communication.” Terrorism becomes a communicative pathology. The world is ripped apart. The act of stopping speaking lies mainly in the abysmal life-situations of the mute. But not there only. We must try with delicacy and humility to examine the maladies of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in our world today (the sickness that creeps into the centre of monotheistic religions and pushes violent actions against perceived enemies).

In inter-cultural forms of communication, those who refuse to speak to the other must recognize “each other as participating members of a community.” The act of taking the gag out of the mouth is one step toward mutual trust. But building a culture of trust cannot take place while oppression and fear dominate. Improvement of material conditions and a political culture where each can engage in mutual perspective-taking underpins a culture of trust. Fundamentalism, then, is not about the holding of dogmatic or orthodox viewpoints. All the world religions have dogma. But orthodoxy veers toward fundamentalism when “representatives of the true faith ignore the epistemic situation of a pluralistic society and insist—even to the point of violence—on the universally binding character and political acceptance of their doctrine.” This statement from Habermas characterizes Islamist, Jewish and Christian forms of fundamentalism.

In our shattered and deaf world, Habermas wonders if the conception of communicative action has been brought into disrepute. He thinks that the West has gotten used to structural violence—the “unconscionable social inequality, degrading discrimination, pauperization, and marginalization” (both within its own countries in in the global community). However, he adds this caveat: “But our social relations are not totally governed by violence, strategic action and manipulation. The praxis of our daily living rests on a solid base of common background convictions, self-evident cultural truths, and reciprocal expectations. If violence thus begins with a distortion in communication, after it has disrupted it is possible to know what has gone wrong and what needs to be repaired.” This is the foundation, if you like, of Habermasian cultural vision and hope in hopeless times.

Martha Nussbaum, writing in The New Religious Intolerance (2012), speaks of the “cultivation of the ‘inner eyes,’ the capacity to see the world from the perspective of minority experience” (p. 59). This cultivating process is at the heart of the pedagogics of mutual tolerance and respect. We must find the appropriate forms of conversing across difference, how we might understand toleration and reasonable accommodation in a multi-cultural world. Moreover, we should analyze instances of reconciliatory pedagogies in a world without apparent foundations or metaphysical certainty. Where are the “centres of light and reflection” in our incredible world?


Sources for Habermas citations: “Faith and knowledge,” in E. Mendietta (Ed.), The Frankfurt School on Religion: key writings by the major thinkers (2005) and “Fundamentalism and terror—A dialogue with Jurgen Habermas,” in G. Borradori, Philosophy in a time of terror (2003).


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A Century of Prohibition

Photograph Source: Removal of liquor during Prohibition – Public Domain

We live in the shadow of the past; it haunts the present like the memory of a dead relative who can’t be forgotten or forgiven.  Prohibition is a dead historically moment that can’t be forgotten.

Prohibition was established with the adoption of the 18th Amendment on January 16, 1919, and was implemented through the National Prohibition Act, popularly known as the Volstead Act.  It was first implemented when the so-called “Wartime Prohibition” took effect in May 1919 and took effect nationally with the adoption of the National Prohibition Act, popularly known as the Volstead Act. It went into effect on January 16, 1920 and remained the law-of-the-land until it was repealed 13 years with the adoption of the 21st Amendment – the only Amendment to be overturned.

Prohibition grew out of a century-long campaign to contain the forces that were perceived as threats to the nation’s moral order. It railed against vice in every form, be it alcohol consumption, gambling, prostitution, birth control or obscenity in the arts. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and the Women’s Christian Temperance Alliance (WCTA), among others, championed this movement. The Prohibition Party was founded in 1869 and was the first political party to accept women as members; the male-only Anti-Saloon League (ASL) was established in 1898. Anti-immigration proponents assailed Irish and German immigrants due to their alleged abuse of alcohol.

The temperance campaign gained legitimacy during World War I and in its aftermath.  It was one aspect of a deeper social crisis that culminated in not only the establishment of Prohibition but the adoption of the 19th Amendment giving women the vote.  Often forgotten, the period witnessed social disruption amidst a wave of strikes, political bombings and what became known as the first Red Scare, one marked by the Palmer Raids and the deportation of nearly 300 “aliens,” including anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.

Prohibition was in force from 1920 to 1933 and evolved through three overlapping phases. The first ran from 1920 to 1923, from the imposition of the 18th Amendment until New York State repealed the Mullan-Gage Act, the state’s concurrent legislation.  The second phase was Prohibition’s glory days and lasted from 1923 to 1928, with innumerable swank speaks, celebrity culture and the wide-scale flaunting of the temperance law.  On the night of June 28, 1928, the third phase of Prohibition commenced and lasted until it was repealed on December 5, 1933. Each phase was characterized by a distinct speakeasy scene, attendant popular culture, gangster activities and the failed enforcement practices.  Taken together, speakeasies defined American nightlife during the Roaring ‘20s and speaks were the place to be.

There were two fundamental developments that resulted from Prohibition and its repeal.  First, the old-fashioned gangs of the 1920s morphed into organized crime syndicates that rule today’s underworld.  Anyone whose seen Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy or Terence Winter’s Boardwalk Empire can glimpse the structural changes that came to redefine organized crime. Second, four years after the 18th Amendment was repealed and Prohibition ended, Congress adopted the Marihuana Tax Act on August 2, 1937; in the 1930s, marijuana was spelled “marihuana.”  It made the possession and sale of marijuana illegal.

A half-century later, Nancy Reagan launched the postmodern prohibition movement.  In 1982, she gave her infamous “Just Say No” speech at the Longfellow Elementary School in Oakland, CA.  In a 1986 speech, she declared: “Today there’s a drug and alcohol abuse epidemic in this country, and no one is safe from it – not you, not me, and certainly not our children, because this epidemic has their names written on it.”

Mrs. Reagan’s original campaign sought to address an assortment of alleged youthful vices, including alcohol and drug abuse, peer violence and premarital sex.  Seeing an opportunity, a cabal of shrewd moralists, clever politicians and innovative entrepreneurs used the speech to formally launch the nation’s war on drugs.  They forged the new the police-corporate repression system, the domestic corollary to Pres. Dwight Eisenhower’s identified military-industrial complex.

Jeffrey Miron and Katherine Waldock, two academic analysts, estimate that legalizing currently illegal drugs would save Americans approximately $41 billion a year in federal and state government expenditures relating to drug enforcement. In the three decades since Mrs. Reagan uttered her dubious words of warning, the total costs of the war on drugs is estimated at $1 trillion.

The war on drugs proved as successful as the original campaign against alcohol.  Both were failures.  In similar fashion, comparable “wars” to suppress still other transgressive activities — including gambling, pornography and adult “consensual” sex work — proved far less then successful.  Still other battles against race mixing, erotic music and dance, abortion and homosexuality have been fought.  These diverse issues have defined the culture wars that, over the last half-century, deeply influenced American politics … and still do.


In the 80 years since the passage of the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition lives on and has taken new forms.  U.S. federal, state and local regulators have embraced a mixed program of prohibition and/or regulation of what was consider unacceptable practices.  Such practices range from who — and how — people can drink alcoholic beverages to how and where one can gamble, which drugs one can imbibe and if one can engage in commercial sex.

During the ‘30s, hemp was popular and profitable, used for a variety of commercial purposes, including the smoking kind.  The Act sought to garner the federal government much needed tax revenues without outlawing marihuana production or consumption.  In 1970, President Richard Nixon championed the Controlled Substances Act that superseded Marihuana Act and launched the war on drugs — a decade before Mrs. Reagan’s speech.  In the decades since the adoption of the Marihuana Act and the Pres. Nixon and Mrs. Reagan, the war on drugs has dragged on and on and on. Today, marijuana for medical purposes is legal in 33 states and for recreational purposes in 14 states.

As marijuana consumption has been normalized, gambling and commercial sex have been mainstreamed. Gambling, one of the well-established rackets of Prohibition-era gangsters, has become a major commercial enterprise. In 1976, the federal Commission on the Review of National Policy toward Gambling recognized that gaming, like alcohol consumption, “is inevitable.  No matter what is said or done by advocates or opponents of gambling in all its various forms, it is an activity that is practiced, or tacitly endorsed, by a substantial majority of Americans.”  Such activities include state lotteries for every conceivable hustle; pari-mutuel betting on horses, greyhounds and jai-alai; sports bookmaking for every sport, from ping-pong to the Olympics; card games, keno and bingo; slot machines; and video poker, keno, blackjack and roulette machines. Casinos revenues were nearly $42 billion in 2018.  The rackets are big business; Al Capone and Owner Madden must be spinning in their graves.

Gambling might be a victimless crime; commercial sex is not.  As the old adage states, prostitution is the oldest profession and, sadly, it is still alive and well in the 21st century.  Sex work is contradiction: morally, sex work is a sin because no one should sell their sexual being; socially, under capitalism, sex – the human body – is a commodity and people sell their sexual selves to survive

Since the nation’s founding, females (and sometimes males) have been selling their sexual labor for what is perceived to have value, be it money, food, trinkets or social opportunities.  Today, commercial sex is regulated in only one state, Nevada, and restricted to mostly rural areas.  Not surprising, prostitution takes place throughout the country and operates under various names.  Streetwalkers persist but are relegated to the poorest exchanges. Ever innovative, prostitution has long adopted to the latest technology.  In the ‘20s, the telephone refashioned the bordello into the call house.  In the 21st century, the digital revolution is helping to mainstream commercial sex work.  In addition, commercial sex is also facilitated through massage parlors and “gentlemen’s” or strip clubs.  The dark side of prostitution is the recruitment of young girls (and some boys) and the forced sex slavery of foreign women that characterizes much of the commercial sex throughout the world.

Ongoing battles over “obscene” or indecent materials continue, promoted by the widespread availability risqué materials available through cable television and the Internet.  Efforts to limit “porn” through the 1996 Communications Decency Act have been repeatedly rejected by the courts.  Recent federal court decisions against the FCC relating to Janet Jackson’s “costume malfunction” and speaking the “F” word by Cher and Nicole Richie put such regulation in question.  However, one area of content suppression that continues to find widespread legal and popular support is the restriction of child pornography and the arrest of those caught either distributing or receiving such material.

Abortion and homosexuality, along with interracial sex and erotic music and dance, are very different kinds of “transgressions.”  They have each long been areas of bitter contestation, pitting moral conservatives and religious traditionalists against cultural secularist and political progressives.  A combination of personal valor (i.e., a willingness to challenge accepted moral or social conventions) and market forces (i.e., amoral cultural innovation) has redefined modern America cultural values.  In essence, these “wars,” whether fought over alcohol consumption or the latest sexy fashion, mark the shifting boundaries of acceptable individual conduct.


A century ago, Prohibition transformed alcohol consumption from an immoral practice into an illegal act, fostering the speakeasy and the reconfiguration of American moral values.  With the repeal of Prohibition, alcohol consumption became a regulated adult indulgence, illegal if it violated a local convention but nonetheless an all-American pleasure.  The original Roaring ‘20’s speak was a unique, unprecedented innovation of American entrepreneurialism, an iconic expression of popular culture.  During its short 13-year existence, it cultivated the full gamut of personal and social expressions that would come to define post-WW-II life, let alone 21st century post-modernity.

America in 2019 is not what it was in 1919.  The new woman of old is the every-woman of today; the New Negro is today’s every American of color; the “pansy” of yesterday is just another person; the gangster persists along with the underground economy; and the cocktail continues to represent the radical sense of sensual pleasure that defines post-modern America.

Since the country’s founding four centuries ago, Americans have fought over what is acceptable moral conduct.  Some have battled to preserve traditional, to repress notions of radical erotic experience and expression; others have pushed the boundaries of acceptable pleasure.  This battle continues, continually reshaped by history and changes in moral values.  Today, the meaning of transgression is in flux, buffeted by differences between the legal and the popular notions of what is acceptable behavior.

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Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People

As the military coup continues to entrench itself in Bolivia, the first goal of the perpetrators is to appear to be following the constitutional process. But the façade is not enough to hide the real disaster of yet another self-proclaimed president in Latin America. When you thought that the Juan Guaido experiment in Venezuela was a total failure in every respect, Bolivia repeats the same pathetic tragedy.

The main character is Jeanine Añez, the second vice-president of the Bolivian Senate who proclaimed herself to be the “president” of Bolivia supposedly according to the constitution. She declared, “I immediately take the presidency of the State.” She is a senator for the rightwing party Democratic Unity and has been an adamant opponent of Evo Morales who was forced into exile in Mexico by the Bolivian armed forces top brass, who now have enthusiastically recognised the new “president”.

A couple of farcical moments maybe first, when Añez stood in the middle of an almost empty Senate hall. At least Juan Guaido had a small crowd when he self proclaimed in January 23. The second moment may have been when she walked into the presidential palace barely able to carry up high an oversized bible and declaring, “The bible returns to the [presidential] palace”. Later she added, “our power is God, the power is God.” Her religiosity is apparently very prominent.

But more seriously, what makes this a tragedy is that she appointed herself “president” in an almost empty Senate because the majority of senators are members of the government party, Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS), and they were not present. Consequently there was no required quorum for the “vote” to take place. Prior to that, she quickly had to appoint herself president of the Senate because the MAS president and first vice-president were not present. So she skipped quite a few steps of the hierarchy breaking the constitution in order to appear to be entitled to the presidency…according to the constitution.

Evo Morales from Mexico twitted: “This self-proclamation is against articles 161, 169 and 410 of the State Political Constitution [Constitución Política del Estado – CPE] that determine the approval or rejection of a presidential resignation, the constitutional succession from the Senate or Deputy [Assembly] presidents and the higher authority of the CPE. Bolivia suffers an assault to the power of the people.”

In fact, Article 161 has two functions relevant in this case, one is “accept or deny the resignation of the President and of the Vice President of the State.” This has not been done. And secondly, “receive the oath of the President and the Vice President of the State.” We have not heard if the new “president” has done so, but regardless, all has to take place when “The [Senate and Deputy] Chambers will meet in Plurinational Legislative Assembly.” As we know, no such assembly is functioning.

Article 169 is crucial: “In case of impediment or definitive absence of the President of the State, the Vice President will replace him/her, and in case of his/her absence [in turn] the President of the Senate will replace him/her, and in case of his/her absence, the President of the Chamber of Deputies will replace him/her. In the latter case, new elections will be called within the maximum deadline of ninety days.” We have just indicated that this process has not been followed because the presidents of the two Chambers were not even present.

Article 410 states who will have to abide by the constitution. “All people, natural and legal, as well

as public bodies, public functionaries and institutions, are all subject to this Constitution.” This clearly applies to all the coup perpetrators without exception. But they have not.

To invalidate even more this absurd unconstitutional scenario is that when the legitimate president of the Senate, Adriana Salvatierra, representing the MAS government Party, attempted to enter into the Senate to claim to be elected president of Bolivia according to the constitution she was not even allowed to enter. Admittedly she had resigned but her resignation was never formally accepted.

To conclude, we have to note that constitutions are written to lay down basic fundamental rights, guarantees and rules of the State. Everything else, including clarifications of any constitutional matter, is the attribution, in the case of Bolivia, of the Plurinational Constitutional Court. But this court in turn is composed of elected members who are now literally dysfunctional or disbanded, or nor legitimate.

But what is really important to note is that constitutions are written assuming normal circumstances in the country and that those normal circumstances will continue indefinitely. The reality is that there is nothing normal following a coup. All standard basic definitions and notions of democracy, independence, sovereignty and foreign intervention break down creating a vacuum that is immediately filled with ideology and interests. What really makes the whole event in Bolivia tragic is that it is triggered by a foreign induced Hybrid War not for the benefit of Bolivians.

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When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role

When it comes to politics in Latin America, what initially seems clear is usually anything but.

And when that some complicated political event happens and is reported about in the US, the last place to look for clarity is the US media, which almost universally parrots the Washington line — an imperialist one that takes as it’s premise the so-called Monroe Doctrine that all of Latin America is “the US backyard.”

For well over a century or more, the US has played a corrupting hand throughout Latin America, often well hidden, sometimes in a hard-fisted manner.  The military juntas in Brazil, in Argentina, in Chile and in Nicaragua, the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Honduras, in Nicaragua, in Guatemala, in Haiti, in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, the failed invasion attempt in Cuba shortly after the successful Cuban Revolution, the brutal civil war in El Salvador and the Contra War against the Sandinista revolutionary government in Nicaragua, the hunt and eventual murder of Che Guevara in Peru, Operation Condor, which tracked and murdered thousands of revolutionaries as the CIA coordinated the reactionary forces of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay…

It’s an almost endless list, behind which one always finds the US Counter Intelligence Agency, US AID, the State Department and of course, the US military and its School  of the Americas—still a training ground for South American fascist military leaders ready to do the bidding of the region’s fascist tyrants, or to help overthrow democratically elected leaders unwilling to kowtow to US empire.

So it has been of late as the failed US attempted to crudely overturn the last re-election of President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, even to the absurd extent of Washington’s ludicrous promotion of Juan Guaidó, a young nobody groomed at Georgetown University, as the “real” president of the country.

And so it surely is in the latest coup by the military and police of Bolivia who have succeeded in driving out of office and into Mexican exile the hugely popular Presidente Evo Morales of Bolivia, after he had just won re-election to a fourth term.

The US media are quick to call Morales a corrupt tyrant, but the former labor leader and first native American to win a presidency in Latin America is far more of an honest politician than at least 90 percent of the politicians in our own national capital, who rarely get called out for their reliance on the legal bribes they get from the wealthy and corporations looking for access and favorable legislation.

Morales has for 15 years been a breath of fresh air in a continent where the poor have generally been held down and forced to live on starvation incomes while their leaders vacation in Miami or New York City — a leader who pushed away the corporate interests, who spoke forcefully for real action on climate change, and who made huge strides to improve the lives of his long-suffering people.

It was Morales who, last year at a September session of the UN Security Council, on which Bolivia at the time held a temporary seat, blasted President Trump, who had come there in person to push for stiffer sanctions on Iran, claiming it was “promoting terrorism.”

“Bolivia categorically condemns the unilateral actions imposed by the government of the United States of America against Iran,” Morales said. The Bolivian president went on tr say of Trump that under his administration the US “could not care less about human rights of justice. If this were the case, it would have signed the international conventions and treaties that have protected human rights. It would not have threatened the investigation mechanism of the International Criminal Court, more would it promote the use of torture, now would it have walked away from the Human Rights Council. And nor would it have separated migrant children from their families nor put them in cages.”

All true, and something we don’t hear from our own news media, which is content to echo official Washington in calling Morales a tyrant or dictator, even though there is no evidence of this and in portraying the US as a paragon of democratic virtue and as a champion of human rights.  Morales in fact just won an at least 40 percent plurality of the vote in a multi-party election for a fourth term, he hasn’t been arresting opponents and jailing them, and he has significantly improved the lives of Bolivia’s poorest people during his 15 years in office. (Maybe that last bit is his problem?)

Those words he spoke at the UN just over a year ago are fighting words for Trump as they have been for other US leaders who in the past have been denounced by democratic leaders in Latin America like Hugo Chavez and Salvador Allende and then faced US-orchestrated coups.

History shows us that US antipathy towards independent progressive leaders generally results in US-sponsored subversion and military coups.

I don’t pretend to know at this point what happened in Bolivia this past week or so, but I have no trouble predicting that as the days go by, we will gradually learn, though not from our complicit, imperialist national media organization, that the black hand of the CIA was behind the Bolivian military’s decision to drive Morales from power.

It has always been thus. It’s why the US Congress so lavishly funds the National Endowment for Democracy, the CIA, the School of the Americas, USAID and other such subversive outfits.

Viva Evo! Bolivia Libre!

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Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America

A couple Saturdays ago I attended the monthly protest near the drone base located on what used to be the Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Horsham, PA, outside Philadelphia. The vigil has been going on monthly for a number of years, peopled by some of the most spiritual, peace-loving people I know. I’d say many of them also qualify as Cassandras, people who have consistently spoken out in an ethical and reasonable manner against the morally confusing reality of our imperial wars. Cassandra was a mythic Greek figure who spurned Apollo and was, thus, doomed to prophesize correctly; the catch was no one would listen to her. Marginalization with a mythic spin.

When all the protesters wrapped up their signs and bullhorns, I left the Horsham intersection where we had proselytized passing motorists for a few hours. On the way home, as I often do, I stopped at the gun shop down the road from the protest. It was jammed with people looking over the guns in glass cases and on a wall jammed five or six deep with every sort of hunting rifle, shotgun and semi-automatic combat weapon imaginable. Dozens of companies make some variant of the M16/AR15, and each month in slick magazines like Recoil and Ballistic, they advertise more and more nifty accessories. You leaf through these “gun porn” magazines and you realize why it’s impossible to effectively regulate military-style semi-automatic weapons.

Potential customers were fondling and sighting pistols and long guns and getting the latest info on the latest guns from a handful of salesmen. If someone sees you fondling a gun they like, they might say: “That’s a really nice gun!” At the end of the counter, a clerk was explaining to two black women in their 30s how a 9mm automatic pistol worked; what they lacked in experience, they made up in being ready to buy a gun.

One of the clerks had a .45 caliber big-animal hunting rifle in a vice on the counter and was working with a precision, torque screwdriver on a telescopic sight attached to the rifle. I asked him some questions I’ve always had about how such a delicate thing as a telescopic sight can remain accurate under rough conditions. It would seem the slightest jiggle could put it way off. He tried to explain it to me; in the end, the conclusion seemed to be: “you get what you pay for.” The better the equipment, the tighter and more secure a scope will be from getting knocked off alignment.

I was wearing a Veterans For Peace sweatshirt, which triggered another clerk to come over and join our chat; he was an ex cop. We chatted guns and war for a while; then I smiled and asked: “OK. What do you guys think? Are we at civil war yet?” The man working on the gun-sight said nothing, while the ex-cop said: “Yeh, we’re in a civil war. Now.” Sensing what was in the air, the clerk working the rifle sight volunteered that he was a Democrat who’d voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but because of how Trump had just screwed the Kurds he was now opposed to Trump. The way Trump did it was just too much.

I hung around a while longer, myself fondling and sighting various guns. I hefted a few small, concealable 9mm pistols. I gripped a compact, metal 9mm semi-automatic affair with a 35-round banana clip, a 21st century version of the WWII grease gun. I hefted a shotgun and jacked the cocking mechanism back just to hear that daunting sound. As I left, I was intensely eyeballed by a large pit bull nesting near the door.

That evening, I went to see the film Joker. It had ironically been recommended to me by one of those spiritual peace-movement Cassandras at the drone protest. Joker is derived from the Batman comic-book narrative, but in this case, the story focuses not on the hero, but on the villain. The film Joker is nothing like a Batman movie; it’s not a superhero movie at all and it’s the anti-thesis of a vacuous piece of crap like AquamanJoker is art. We do meet Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne as a kid and see his ultra-rich parents killed, all part of the Batman origin story. One review nailed it as “a mash-up of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy”. It did remind me of Taxi Driver and other realistic dark narratives that deal with male alienation and violence. The film is the top box-office R-rated film ever, and it won a big prize at the Venice Film Festival in Italy. Variety film critic Owen Glieberman called it “the rare comic-book movie that expresses what’s happening in the real world.” The film works for a moment in history when a cartoon-scale president dominates center stage like a larger-than-life character in a mythic city like the one in Joker.

Michael Andre Bernstein wrote a book of literary criticism back in 1992 called Bitter Carnival: Ressentiment and the Abject Hero. It’s a great book about all those dark, European novels many of us love. My dictionary defines ressentiment as “a psychological state arising from suppressed feelings of envy and hatred that cannot be acted upon, frequently resulting in some form of self-abasement.” I think of the psychiatrist I read who said when one is in-extremis and at the end of one’s rope one can react in two ways: Strike outward. Strike inward. Or some degree of both.

Bernstein discusses a range of real and literary characters, including K in Kafka’s The Trial, Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment, even Charles Manson, who he quotes as saying: “I do not think like you people. You people put importance on your lives. Well, my life has never been important to anyone. I haven’t got any guilt about anything.” Bernstein’s puts his abject hero  in the tradition of the “Saturnalian dialogue” between masters and slaves, which goes back to Roman times when a day or a festival was designated for slaves to let off steam and send up their masters. Bernstein writes that these “dialogues” could be “optimistic and celebratory.” Think Carnival or Mardi Gras. But Bernstein’s concern is how the Abject Hero turns the Saturnalian dialogue into something very dark and violent. His ideas of ressentiment and the abject hero seem to me rooted in European history and literature, which may explain why Europeans at the Venice Film Festival loved the movie.

Here’s Bernstein on the abject hero:

“[I]t is their bitter commentary on the society in which they have been unable to secure a place commensurate with their intelligence and vanity that makes them such powerful satiric voices. Yet, the fact that they are speaking from a position of rejection and humiliation distorts their sharpest insights and distances both the reader and their fictional antagonists at the instant their embittered eloquence should be most convincing.”

That describes the ironies of Arthur Fleck’s mythic tale quite nicely. The film’s dark brilliance is in taking a case of male alienation relevant to the current loose-lunatic, corrupt world we live in and, then, enhance the tale with the mythic narrative juices inherent in the superhero comic book genre, while keeping the tale grounded in human grit. Arthur Fleck’s transition into the demonic Joker works as a narrative metaphor for today’s archetypal loser/mass-shooter. I’d even argue Joker works as a metaphor for understanding the rise of ISIS out of the brutal US invasion/occupation of Anbar Province in Iraq.

The movie is no more violent than the run-of-the-mill action-hero movie. Joker is controversial because it humanizes sadism, especially the life of someone who’s sadistically abused to the point he’s fed up absorbing it and mirrors the sadism outward back at society as an act of survival. It made me think of the French writer/convict Jean Genet, a prime example of ressentiment. Genet is the product of a cruel French social underbelly who became a cause-celebre after he was written about by the famous philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. Genet wrote somewhere that he had been brutalized and demonized by society so thoroughly and was seen as such a violent pariah that he decided, if you can’t see me as I am and insist on seeing me as a monster, then that’s who I’m gonna be. So beware.

Joaquin Phoenix became Auschwitz-thin for the Joker role. His Arthur Fleck lives with his mother and works as a low-rent clown. As in the famous opera Pagliacci, where the clown protagonist must perform as a funny clown after killing his beloved wife, the Joker’s forced, demonic laugh becomes a signature for the character’s deep-rooted psychic pain. In the final scene, the Joker is surrounded by wreckage and fire and thousands of other abject heroes, all in clown masks and ready for mayhem. Joker dances a goofy, mad jig on the hood of a wrecked NYPD patrol car. It’s the culmination of all the sadistic humiliations, abuses and pain suffered by the Fleck character from childhood into adulthood. The character’s future? Will there be a sequel? It’s all left in images and sounds of anarchy in the streets.

That Saturday that began protesting drone warfare and ended with sadistic Joker madness left me pondering the state of things. Why has our culture’s narrative and mythic inclinations gravitated to such a film drenched in inner psychic pain and sadism, while our government is gearing up to kill more people 12,000 miles away by flying robots? I see it all as symptoms of imperial decline. On one hand, the society is threatened within from an implosion of self-destructive, polarizing forces; while on the other, thanks to a faltering consensus for military interventions abroad, the government is relying more and more on remotely operated machines to kill its enemies beyond its borders — machines that don’t entail dead American servicemen and -women. It’s a case of technological progress contributing to, and exacerbating, decadence and decline. As all the Cassandras at Horsham would tell us: The real problem is the aggressive Militarism. How you invade, kill and destroy is a detail.

There’s all that Freudian writing from between the world wars about the life- and death-instincts and how cultures can become self-destructively saturated with death-oriented art and entertainment. Freud, of course, had no clue how his concept of a death-instinct might be manifested in an internet and social-media enhanced culture. Money — who has it and who doesn’t? — always matters in a capitalist culture like ours; but at what point does simple, human decency become a balancing value? Or do they take it to it’s logical extreme and start legislating the creation of camps. Of course, simple, human decency (sometimes a conservative talking point) was the question that broke Joe McCarthy’s back. “Sir, have you no decency?”

Then there’s Rodney King in his press conference after his beating at the hands of the LAPD stirred up a riot. He stumbles as he presents what is a nice counter to the Arthur Fleck/Joker reaction to abuse. King seems astonished at the rioting his suffering has set off.

“Can we all just get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?”


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Bolivia and the Loud Silence

The lack of criticism about the destruction of democracy in Bolivia from the presidential candidates in the so-called democratic party of the faking United States of America is possibly the single most revealing non-event in the charade of the 2020 electoral scheming. It is more telling than all of their words. The only one of this group who has so far made a statement about the military pushed resurgence of fascist impunity in Bolivia is Bernie Sanders. His tepid expression of concern included an avoidance of saying this was a coup (he said it “appears to be” a coup) and he made an appeal to peaceful and democratic processes in Bolivia (as if the reality of the violent destruction of democratic processes had not just happened!). So, a mealy-mouthed concern is the best the would-be presidents who call themselves democrats could muster to supposedly counterbalance the enthusiastic and deceitful endorsements of fascism by the republicans and Trump administration. The fact that Morales still had a couple of months left in his term as president of Bolivia as he was removed under the threat of greater violence definitely makes this a coup. It “appears to be a coup” because it is a coup. Saying it only “appears to be” something is a way of possibly later backtracking and is suspiciously unnecessary.

The silence over this latest display of international fascism by those who would lead the government of the faking USA can only be heard as a silent affirmation of what has transpired in Bolivia. This silence is NOT part of a counterbalance at all. The silence and the tepidity of these democrat would-be presidents is a bland, blank backdrop upon which the smug privatization and militarized cruelties of fascists can be be displayed and celebrated while the so-called democrats may appear to be “very concerned” about democratic processes.

A very interesting component of this fascist coup is that it clearly shows that Trump and Canada’s Trudeau are openly seeking the same results. No wonder Barack Obama tried to manipulate the voters in Canada recently to keep Trudeau in power. In a very real sense, the democrat’s darlings are in the same corporate capitalist church as the Trumpians. Throughout the Bush II and Obama administrations, Bolivia’s Morales was held in contempt because of his lack of fealty to internationally predatory corporatists. It is no wonder Trump and Trudeau are celebrating this fascist destruction of democracy. Trump’s presidency has helped finally achieve (through the manipulations of the Organization of American States – which is largely funded by the faking USA and the faking Canada) the Hope and Change which the Bush and Obama presidency were seeking.

The faking democrats in the faking USA are notorious for their ability to say one thing and then do the opposite, just like their partners who call themselves republicans. Neither of these corporately controlled militaristic organizations really believe in a republic which has boundaries or in democracy. They both believe that capital worshipping domination of life and private power are the pragmatic attributes of freedom.

Private capitalist impunity is in the process of disemboweling Bolivia under the encouragement of elitist bible-waving fascists and the closest any prominent presidential candidate (Sanders) in the faking USA can get to addressing this assault on democracy is to promote the idea that the assaulted and crippled democracy will be allowed to challenge or (even less likely) resolve any part of this coup. Bolivia is in a process of being returned to its pre-Morales status as an internationally driven poverty state of detrimental extraction and the first thing being removed by this fascist corporatism – which is overwhelmingly being given silent approval by democrats – is democracy.

If there was “fraudulence” in the recent Bolivian elections (as was claimed by the OAS tool of privatizing capital), it was of an extremely minor sort when compared with the mountainous amounts of fraudulence which are throughout the electoral systems and international manipulations of the faking USA and Canada. Also, the fact that Russian interests are not served by this Trump supported coup in Bolivia (as was also the case in the coup attempt in Venezuela and the offensive against Cuba) is another indicator that the years of obsessing and pouring energies into trying to portray Trump as a Russian asset was a phony ploy by the democrat wing of this predatory corporate bipartisanship.

As of this writing, two congressional democrats have definitively called this a “coup.” Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Unlike Sanders, they are not hedging their description of events and together they represent just over 1/3rd of 1% of the 535 members of both “houses” of the congress. They are clearly out of step with the preferred bipartisan corruptions of the congress. I can only imagine the crap they are getting from their own party.

The calls for democratic process in Bolivia are, at this point, delusional. That avenue has just been ripped apart by internationally supported, liberally deceitful fascists and rendered a desolate arena for displaying greater injustices by predatory corporate pirates.

The silence of the democrats is part of an endorsement by the congress toward the events in Bolivia and is of the same arrogance as the approval of this coup by Trump and the republicans.

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The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming

An omniscient individual on my electronic social media splattergram expressed skepticism that the 0.04% of the atmosphere made up of CO2 could possibly have any responsibility for causing global warming, now also known as climate change. It seems clear to me now that with each passing day more people will stumble upon this startling insight, and the whole carefully constructed edifice of climate change ideological mass conditioning for social control might suddenly crack apart, and our civilization fall into ruins. So, I have decided here to break with my scientifical colleagues and to finally reveal the heretofore hidden truth of the matter, the truth behind the truth, in essence: the truthiest reality of global warming.

The true cause of global warming is: the reductio ad absurdum electro cyber auto savanting effect, or RAAECASE. This amazing and complicated effect unfolds as follows.

Popular fascination with the agnotological euphoria — also known as “brain wiping” — induced by the Internet has led to a rapid and vast expansion of viewing on the world-wide-web, and as a result of meeting this demand a rapid and vast expansion of banks and banks of electronic data machines — “computer servers” — continues to be assembled to maintain and transmit that voluminous cyber traffic. These machines are electrically gluttonous and energetically inefficient and so expel copious amounts of waste heat that is increasingly warming the atmosphere. The energy for cranking the electric generators that in turn power our modern pyramids of Internet computer banks is being supplied by fossil-fueled combustion (with a tickle or two of nuclear power), and some of that furnace heats adds to this Internet heating of the atmosphere.

As more and more people — billions and billions — fixate on their electronic telescreens, and for longer and longer periods of time, their evolutionarily atypical indolence in combination with their marked preference for junk beefish burger consumption so as not to interrupt telescreen viewing with old-fashioned knife-spoon-and-fork dining rituals has led to an explosive popular fattening known as gluteo-lipid maximization, more commonly know as maxipratty.

To feed that maxipratty-inducing Internet mass fixation there has been a massive worldwide expansion of the junk beefish burger cattle processing industry, requiring vast clear-cutting of jungles and forests to accommodate sprawling cattle feedlots from which increasing quantities of anally emitted intestinal methane bubbles (known as AEIMBs in the technical literature) are released into the atmosphere, and warming it by adding cattle gut heat (CGH) to it: billions and billions of cows producing gazillions and gazillions of CGH bubbles.

With the double metabolic explosion of a maxiprattizing world population growing by 200,000 people every day there are gazillions of new human cells added to the human biome every minute of every day, and each of those cells is a metabolic engine that needs energy to sustain itself, and thus is also a heat radiator, and all that human body heat soaks into the atmosphere to heat it up.

So, to put it bluntly, global warming is caused by fat asses getting fatter worldwide and billowing off heat because the eyeballs associated with them have glued the wiped brains they sprout from to the artificial unreality onlining across their telescreen portals to higher levels of dumbfoundlessness. The Internet is causing global warming: the reductio ad absurdum electro cyber auto savanting effect. And this is NOT man-made climate change because the Internet isn’t human! Ipso facto truthiation exacto.

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A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri

The release on November 6 of two Jordanian nationals, Heba al-Labadi and Abdul Rahman Mi’ri from Israeli prisons was a bittersweet moment. The pair were finally reunited with their families after harrowing experiences in Israel. Sadly, thousands of Palestinian prisoners are still denied their freedom, still subjected to all sorts of hardships at the hands of their Israeli jailers.

Despite the jubilant return of the two prisoners, celebrated in Jordan, Palestine and throughout the Arab world, several compelling questions remain unanswered: why were they held in the first place? Why were they released and what can their experience teach Palestinians under Israeli occupation?

Throughout the whole ordeal, Israel failed to produce any evidence to indict Labadi and Mi’ri for any wrongdoing. In fact, it was this lack of evidence that made Israel hold the two Jordanian nationals in Administrative Detention, without any judicial process whatsoever.

Oddly, days before the release of the two Jordanians, an official Israeli government statement praised the special relationship between Amman and Tel Aviv, describing it as “a cornerstone of stability in the Middle East”.

The reality is that the relationship between the two countries has hit rock bottom in recent years, especially following US President Donald Trump’s advent to the White House and the subsequent, systematic dismantling of the “peace process” by Trump and the Israeli government.

Not only did Washington and Tel Aviv demolish the region’s political status quo, one in which Jordan featured as a key player, top US diplomats also tried to barter with King Abdullah II so that Jordan would settle millions of Palestinian refugees in the country in exchange for large sums of money.

Jordan vehemently rejected US offers and attempts at isolating the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

On October 21, 2018, Jordan went even further, by rejecting an Israeli offer to renew a 25-year lease on two enclaves in the Jordan Valley, Al-Baqura and Al-Ghamar. The government’s decision was a response to protests by Jordanians and elected parliamentarians, who insist on Jordan’s complete sovereignty over all of its territories.

This particular issue goes back years. Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994. An additional annex in the treaty allowed Israel to lease part of the Jordan Valley for 25 years. A quarter of a century later, the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty failed to achieve any degree of meaningful normalization between both countries, especially as neighboring Palestine remains under Israeli occupation. The stumbling block of that coveted normalization was – and remains – the Jordanian people, who strongly rejected a renewed Israeli lease over Jordanian territories.

Israeli negotiators must have been surprised by Jordan’s refusal to accommodate Israeli interests. With the US removing itself, at least publicly, from the brewing conflict, Israel resorted to its typical bullying, by holding two Jordanians hostage, hoping to force the government to reconsider its decision regarding the Jordan Valley.

The Israeli strategy backfired. The arrest of Labadi – who started a hunger strike that lasted for over 40 days – and Mi’ri, a cancer survivor, was a major PR disaster for Israel. Not only did the tactic fail to deliver any results, it further galvanized the Jordanian people, and government regarding the decision to reclaim Al-Baqura and al-Ghamar.

Labadi and Mi’ri were released on November 6. The following day, the Jordanian government informed Israel that its farmers will be banned from entering Al-Baqura area. This way, Jordan retrieved its citizens and its territories within the course of 24 hours.

Three main reasons allowed Jordan to prevail in its confrontation with Israel. First, the steadfastness of the prisoners themselves; second, the unity and mobilization of the Jordanian street, civil society organizations and elected legislators; and third, the Jordanian government responding positively to the unified voice of the street.

This compels the question: what is the Palestinian strategy regarding the nearly 5,000 Palestinian prisoners held unlawfully in Israel?

While the prisoners themselves continue to serve as a model of unity and courage, the other factors fundamental to any meaningful strategy aimed at releasing all Palestinian prisoners remain absent.

Although factionalism continues to undermine the Palestinian fight for freedom, prisoners are fighting the same common enemy. The famed “National Conciliation Document”, composed by the unified leadership of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in 2006, is considered the most articulate vision for Palestinian unity and liberation.

For ordinary Palestinians, the prisoners remain an emotive subject, but political disunity is making it nearly impossible for the energies of the Palestinian street to be harnessed in a politically meaningful way. Despite much lip service paid to freeing the prisoners, efforts aimed at achieving this goal are hopelessly splintered and agonizingly factionalized.

As for the Palestinian leadership, the strategy championed by Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is more focused on propping up Abbas’ own image than alleviating the suffering of the prisoners and their families. Brazenly, Abbas exploits the emotional aspect of the prisoners’ tragedy to gain political capital, while punishing the families of Palestinian prisoners in order to pursue his own self-serving political agenda.

“Even if I had only one penny, I would’ve given it to the families of the martyrs, prisoners and heroes,” Abbas said in a theatrical way during his United Nations General Assembly speech last September.

Abbas, of course, has more than one penny. In fact, he has withheld badly needed funds from the families of the “martyrs, prisoners and heroes.” On April 2018, Abbas cut the salaries of government employees in Gaza, along with the money received by the families of Gaza prisoners held inside Israeli jails.

Heba al-Labadi and Abdul Rahman Mi’ri were released because of their own resolve, coupled with strong solidarity exhibited by ordinary Jordanians. These two factors allowed the Jordanian government to publicly challenge Israel, leading to the unconditional release of the two Jordanian prisoners.

Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinian prisoners, including 500 administrative detainees continue to languish in Israeli prisons. Without united and sustained popular, non-factional mobilization, along with the full backing of the Palestinian leadership, the prisoners are likely to carry on with their fight, alone and unaided.

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The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds

The annual vote on the Cuban resolution at the UN General Assembly on “the need to end the economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” is a time of celebration in Cuba, for it is a time in which the governments of the world nearly unanimously support the Cuban demand for the United States to cease its long-standing blockade. The first vote on the resolution was held in 1992, and it was approved with 59 votes in favor, 3 opposed, and 71 abstentions. For the next seventeen years, the annual vote saw a steady increase of votes in favor and a corresponding decrease in abstentions, arriving in 2000 to 167 votes in favor, 3 opposed, and 4 abstentions. Since 2005, there have been only five countries or less that have opposed or abstained. In the vote 2019 this past week, there were 187 votes in favor of the Cuban resolution, three opposed (the United States, Israel, and Brazil), and two abstentions (Colombia and Ukraine).

In a brief discourse of seven minutes, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, displayed a remarkable contempt for the opinion of the international community. She did not feel it necessary to defend her government with respect to the crimes with which it is accused by humanity. In response to the accusation that her government is using economic measures against the population in order to promote political change in Cuba, in violation of the UN Charter and international law, she merely asserted that all nations have the sovereign right to choose with which nations they trade. She ignores the fact that the United States attempts to stop all Cuban commercial and financial transactions, including those with third countries, for the purpose of suffocating the Cuban economy and provoking political instability.

Her government is accused of violating the human rights of the Cuban people through the blockade. Rather than responding to the accusation, she twists the debate, maintaining that her government is not responsible for human rights violations in Cuba. The U.S. embargo, she maintains, does not force what she calls “the Cuban regime” to violate the human rights of its own people. She names human rights abuses endured by the people, without feeling it necessary to provide documentation. She asserts that journalists and human rights advocates are arbitrarily arrested; doctors are forced to work without rest and with low wages in other countries; and business properties are seized and business licenses are suspended. She maintains that “the regime” is unwilling to import agricultural and medical goods authorized by the United States, without mentioning the imposed crediting and financial arrangements that create obstacles for the practical implementation of the authorized purchases. In this characterization of Cuban reality, she does what typically is done in the counterrevolutionary construction of socially disseminated distortions of reality: the formulation of lies and inventions, combined with omission of relevant, significant facts. The result is an image of a supposed reality that simply does not exist.

She claims that the Cuban people have no voice; she apparently is unaware of the Cuban political structures of popular power and mass organizations that not only give voice to the concerns and aspirations of the people, but also ensure that political authority is in the hands of elected deputies of the people, quite unlike her own country, in which the political process is controlled by professional politicians skilled at pretending to respond to the needs of the people as they actually respond to elite corporate interests. She laments that all political parties are outlawed in Cuba, except for the Communist Party; there is no indication that she understands that the Communist Party is a vanguard party and not an electoral political party. She demonstrates no understanding of how the vanguard party and the delegates and deputies of the people arrive to be aware of the opinions, concerns, and hopes of the people. She laments that the Cuban media “is entirely controlled by the state.” She apparently does not know that some newspapers and magazines are managed by non-governmental mass organizations and organizations of civil society; and she evidently lacks appreciation of the virtues of public media as against media owned by international corporations. She blames material shortcomings in Cuba on “destructive economic decisions” of the Cuban government; she does not recognize the destructive consequences of the U.S. blockade on the economic and social development of the country, nor does she demonstrate consciousness of the historic role of colonialism and neocolonialism in creating the underdevelopment that the triumphant revolution inherited in 1959. She asserts that all must be committed to speak the truth, without recognizing that the political discourse of the United States is founded in false premises that obscure the role of conquest, colonialism, slavery, and imperialism in promoting the spectacular ascent of the United States from 1776 to 1968.

It is difficult to imagine a voice so lame for an empire so powerful. One would have thought that great universities like Harvard and Georgetown would be able to produce more formidable imperialist spokespersons, even if not necessarily formed with a commitment to social justice and to the principle of the sovereignty of nations.

In his address to the General Assembly a short time later, Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations Bruno Rodríguez responded to the theme of the U.S. ambassador that the U.S. embargo is not responsible for human rights violations in Cuba. He referred to a number of specific cases of persons with needs for medicines and medical services that are not available to them because of the restrictions of the blockade, repeating, “Her government indeed is responsible.”

The Cuban Minister also criticized the U.S. political manipulation of the theme of human rights, which results in double standards. In this regard, he cited a number of articles in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concerning which well-known facts and statistics with respect to the United States show clear violations.

Bruno Rodríguez declared that “the government of the United States uses lies and slander as pretexts for intensifying its aggression against Cuba. I reiterate that neither threats nor blackmail will extract the least political concession.” He cited Raúl Castro, who observed on April 10 that “in spite of its immense power, imperialism does not possess the capacity to break the dignity of a united people, proud of its history and of its freedom, attained through the force of much sacrifice.”

The Cuban Minister concluded, “In the name of the heroic, self-denying, and fraternal people of Cuba, I once again ask you to vote in favor of the resolution, ‘the need to put an end to the economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America on Cuba.’”

The November 8 headline of the newspaper Granma expressed the spirit of the day in Cuba: “Truth and justice triumph.”

A version of this article first appeared on Radio Havana Cuba.

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Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend

For all of the opprobrium Facebook deserves, it is still essential for building ties on the left when there are so few opportunities for networking in real space as opposed to cyberspace. Just checking now, it seems that I became a FB friend with Noel Ignatiev sometime in 2015. It was worth it to me to make such a connection, even if it meant putting up with all the ads and heavy-handed automated interference into saying what was on my mind. (I lost FB posting privileges twice for no good reason.)

Back in the mid-nineties, when I was working at Columbia University, I used to make frequent stops during lunchtime at Bookforum, an excellent source of scholarly literature, including that written by Marxists. One day I spotted a new book by Noel Ignatiev titled “How the Irish Became White” that stopped me in my tracks. I had dispensed with the notion long ago that white workers would join a Marxist group just by selling them copies of the Militant newspaper. Even if the book focused on the Irish, it might offer insights into the question of American political backwardness.

Despite being based on Ignatiev’s Ph.D., it read nothing like a dissertation. It was a politically engaged attack on white privilege supported by in-depth research. It also demonstrated a grasp of the broad contours of American culture that suggested the author’s ability to think outside the box. For example, Ignatiev made the case that Huckleberry Finn was Irish based not only on his last name but what Mark Twain wrote in a May 7, 1884 letter: “I returned the book-back [book cover for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn]. All right and good, and will answer, although the boy’s mouth is a trifle more Irishy than necessary.”

A race-traitor like Huckleberry Finn was not typical, unfortunately. Most Irish became pillars of reactionary values. No better contemporary example of that is Long Island Republican Congressman Peter King, who recently retired. Ignoring King’s open racism and Islamophobia, Senator Schumer tweeted how he “stood head and shoulders above everyone else.” Like many other Irish-Americans, King was also a supporter of the I.R.A. The Secret Service even regarded him as a security risk in the 1980s. King’s double-dealing, of course, was not the only instance of a member of a once-oppressed group siding with the oppressor. Before the Civil War, Cherokees owned slaves. After it ended, emancipated African-American Buffalo Soldiers then killed Indians. Sorting out and resolving these contradictions has challenged the American left since the dawn of the Republic. Recognizing this, Noel Ignatiev devoted his entire political career to uniting the oppressed across the racial, religious and ethnic lines that divide us.

With a Harvard Ph.D., Noel could have settled into a comfortable career as a Marxist academic, attending conferences and writing articles for peer-reviewed journals behind JSTOR’s paywall. Instead, he wrote for an activist readership in Race Traitor and his most recent magazine Hard Crackers. It is just out of such an activist base that Noel emerged. For the better part of sixty-one years, starting with the Communist Party, he tried to build a revolutionary movement in the U.S.A. Unlike the conditions faced by Third World revolutionaries, the American left has had to contend with indifference rather than repression for the most part. To maintain one’s revolutionary fiber in such a politically backward country requires an almost superhuman belief while putting up with ingratitude and disgrace, as Max Horkheimer once put it. Even so, again in Horkheimer’s words, it was preferable to an inconsequential career that led to banquets, honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages.

Coming from a Jewish and Communist family, Neil took the bold step of joining the C.P. at the tender age of 18 in January 1958. Showing a rebellious streak at an early age, he hooked up with an “ultraleft” (his word) split from the party seven months later called the Provisional Organizing Committee to Reconstitute the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (POC). Like the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), it took its cues from Mao Zedong rather than Gus Hall. Also like PLP, the POC viewed Black nationalism as reactionary. In the crisis provoked by this and other sectarian positions, the POC began expelling dissidents just as was the case in any other “Leninist” formation going back to the 1920s. They booted Noel in 1962, giving him the freedom to explore the molecular changes that would culminate in The New Left and SDS.

Two years after his expulsion, Noel went to work for a steel mill in Chicago, where he would engage in trade union struggles and socialist outreach until he was laid off in 1984. Taking a job in a factory was not common in those days. It was a throwback to the “colonization” strategy of the Stalinist and Trotskyist left in the 1930s, when workers were open to socialist ideas. Born in 1940, Noel was in a milieu where many CP’ers still held out hope that the workers could become a revolutionary subject and acted on that belief.

In his introduction to C.L.R. James’s “Modern Politics”, Noel discussed his relationship with the author, who remained one of his primary influences, as is also the case with me. When James asked him what he did for a living, he replied that he was a factory worker. James told him that he regretted never having the opportunity to do so.

Noel operated a horizontal boring mill in a plant that made machine tools. After working as a spot welder for one morning, I remain in awe of anybody who can get through the day doing repetitive and muscle-straining tasks, let alone twenty years like him.

In a surprising take on life inside the factory, one you would never have heard from an SWP leader, Noel describes an exchange he had with a well-known leftwing trade unionist in Chicago. Asking him about the movement of workers in the area, the man replied, “What movement? There is no movement.” To which Noel replied that in the man’s factory, it was well-known that they completed their work at noon and spent the rest of the day in a nearby tavern. He argued: “That’s not a movement. They’ve been doing that for years. It doesn’t mean anything.” Noel’s commentary on this dialog is classic:

To him, “movement” meant the number of workers who attended union meetings, voted for the resolutions introduced by his caucus and supported his slate at election time. The accumulation of shop-floor battles that had ripped half the day out of the hands of capital was not part of the class struggle as it existed in his mind.

C.L.R. James taught otherwise. So did Marx, who devoted a chapter in Capital to the struggle over the length of the working day. Of all the dogmas that hold sway among leftists, the most widespread and pernicious is the dogma of the backwardness of the working class. To adhere to it is to reject Marxism root and branch, for Marxism holds that the capitalist system revolutionizes the forces of production and that the working class is foremost among the forces of production.

Armed with many ideas he absorbed from James, Noel and like-minded comrades founded the Sojourner Truth Organization in 1970. An archive of the STO’s magazine Urgent Tasks  will show you the breadth and depth of its Marxism that departed from the sort of dogma I was spouting at the time.

Consistent with the analysis above, Noel wrote an article in the Spring 1981 issue titled “Backward Worker”. In taking up the question of working-class passivity, he referred to different historical examples that would lead you to believe that revolutionary change was impossible:

For civilized peoples, that is, those who have come to treasure existence for its own sake and have lost all sense of the value of life, there is a connection between what is possible and what is tolerable. To survive, they invent mechanisms for blocking the reality from their consciousness. There are always consolations, if not in this world, then in the next. One can easily imagine galley slaves on a Roman ship comforting themselves with the knowledge that fresh air was one of their job benefits!

When a relatively rapid deterioration of conditions cracks the effectiveness of the denial mechanism at a time when no way out has yet become apparent, there follows the appearance, on a mass scale, symptoms of mental illness. Such is the case in the US today.

Now what does all of this have to do with politics? Just this: it is an attempt to explain why the most common approach of the Left to workers doesn’t work and can’t work. Of all the dogma that pervades the Left, the most pervasive is the dogma of the backwardness of the working class.

The STO dissolved in 1985, the same year that Noel entered Harvard. Ten years later, he wrote “How the Irish Became White” and consequently a well-known writer and political leader. The next phase of his revolutionary career was devoted to a new magazine titled Race Traitor that is archived just like Urgent Tasks.

Many of the contributors are well-known, including David Roediger, who along with Ted Allen wrote about white privilege and the need to abolish it. One particularly interesting issue was titled “Surrealism: Revolution Against Whiteness.” The Chicago Surrealist Group wrote the introduction, while its founder Franklin Rosemont wrote an article sharing the same title as the issue title. Rosemont, who was a colleague of David Roediger, was no doubt responsible for lining up Philip Lamantia to write a surrealist poem titled “The Days Fall Asleep With Riddles”.

Philip Lamantia was a leading figure of the new poetry of the 1940s and 50s that included the beats and the San Francisco Renaissance writers. He joined the editorial board of VVV in the 1960s, a magazine Rosemont launched. VVV constituted a link between the 1960s radicalization and the surrealist movement of the 1930s that was sympathetic to Trotskyism. Through its ties to the Chicago Surrealist Group, Race Traitor demonstrated the continuity between the artistic and political avant-garde that has been a red thread in American history going back to Victoria Woodhull’s attempts to unite the oppressed across racial and ethnic lines. As opposed to Frederick Sorge, an “orthodox” Marxist who decried Chinese immigrants taking jobs from Americans, Woodhull, a certified Bohemian, was always exploring ways to build a united movement.

In her time, Black militias were a fixture of northern urban politics. When black men donned uniforms and marched in formation, they were making a statement not only about their full rights as citizens but their determination to back these rights by any means necessary. The black Eighty-Fifth Regiment in New York was one of the more radical and internationalist militias in the city. They had marched alongside Irish New Yorkers in honor of Fenian heroes and gave their units names like the “[Crispus] Attucks Guards” and “Free Soil Guards.” This regiment decided to name Tennessee Claflin, Victoria Woodhull’s sister, their commander and supplied her with a uniform. Woodhull had become the presidential candidate of the Equal Rights Party in 1872 and her vice-presidential running mate was none other than Frederick Douglass. Who knows? If Marx and Engels had thrown their weight behind Woodhull instead of Sorge, the American left would be a lot stronger today. (It’s never too late.)

Hard Crackers was Noel’s last major project. Launched in 2016 just a year after I hooked up with him, I did everything possible to support it politically and financially.

Hard Crackers is not your typical leftist magazine (thank god). Instead of writing abstract treatises on racism, it passed along the everyday stories of ordinary Americans. On the back cover of each issue and in the “about” page on the magazine’s website, you can read about its orientation:

Hard Crackers focuses on people like the ones Mitchell profiled. It does not seek to compete with publications that analyze world developments, nor with groups formed on the basis of things their members oppose and advocate; still less does it consider itself a substitute for political activity. It is guided by one principle: that in the ordinary people of this country (and the world) there resides the capacity to escape from the mess we are in, and a commitment to documenting and examining their strivings to do so.

The Mitchell referred to above was Joseph Mitchell, who profiled different people in The New Yorker during the 40s and 50s. Although I’d never read Mitchell, he seems to have something in common with Harvey Pekar, who, when he wasn’t writing about his own mundane life in “American Splendor”, gravitated to the same sort of eccentrics about whom Mitchell wrote. Before I lost contact with Harvey before he became sick with the lymphoma that would kill him, he told me that his dream was to carry on in the tradition of Studs Terkel, who was to Chicago that Mitchell was to New York and Harvey was to Cleveland. You might say that Hard Crackers covers the same beat. What makes it must-reading in this period is that it puts a spotlight on the red state boondocks whose long-suffering working class will be the first to struggle uncompromisingly just as they did when they voted for Eugene V. Debs a century or so ago.

In September 2018, I finally had a chance to meet Noel in person. He came up to my place on the Upper East Side and I took him out to lunch at a nearby bistro, where we spent about three hours chatting about all sorts of things, including working in factories, being Jewish, the problem of “Leninism”, and most of all the prospects for an American revolution. I only wish that he could have lived for another ten years or so because I loved him. About a month after our meeting, he sent me a copy of Joseph Mitchell’s “Up in the Old Hotel”. It will remain with me as long as I live as a token of the friendship we enjoyed all too briefly.

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Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded

Come you masters of war
You that build the big guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs

You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks….

You fasten all the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you sit back and watch
When the death count gets higher

You hide in your mansion
While the young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud.

— Bob Dylan, “Masters of War”

War drives the American police state.

The military-industrial complex is the world’s largest employer.

War sustains our way of life while killing us at the same time. As Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent and author Chris Hedges observes:

War is like a poison. And just as a cancer patient must at times ingest a poison to fight off a disease, so there are times in a society when we must ingest the poison of war to survive. But what we must understand is that just as the disease can kill us, so can the poison. If we don’t understand what war is, how it perverts us, how it corrupts us, how it dehumanizes us, how it ultimately invites us to our own self-annihilation, then we can become the victim of war itself.

War also entertains us with its carnage, its killing fields, its thrills and chills and bloodied battles set to music and memorialized in books, on television, in video games, and in superhero films and blockbuster Hollywood movies financed in part by the military.

Americans are fed a steady diet of pro-war propaganda that keeps them content to wave flags with patriotic fervor and less inclined to look too closely at the mounting body counts, the ruined lives, the ravaged countries, the blowback arising from ill-advised targeted-drone killings and bombing campaigns in foreign lands, or the transformation of our own homeland into a warzone.

Nowhere is this double-edged irony more apparent than during military holidays, when we get treated to a generous serving of praise and grandstanding by politicians, corporations and others with similarly self-serving motives eager to go on record as being pro-military.

Yet war is a grisly business, a horror of epic proportions.

In terms of human carnage alone, war’s devastation is staggering. For example, it is estimated that approximately 231 million people died worldwide during the wars of the 20th century. This figure does not take into account the walking wounded—both physically and psychologically—who “survive” war.

Many of those who have served in the military are among America’s walking wounded.

Despite the fact that the U.S. boasts more than 20 million veterans who have served in World War II through the present day, the plight of veterans today has become America’s badge of shame, with large numbers of veterans impoverished, unemployed, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, suicide, and marital stress, homeless, subjected to sub-par treatment at clinics and hospitals, and left to molder while their paperwork piles up within Veterans Administration offices.

According to a recent report by the Department of Veterans Affairs, at least 60,000 veterans died by suicidebetween 2008 and 2017.

On average, 6,000 veterans kill themselves every year, and the numbers are on the rise.

As Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, observed, “For soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, coming home is more lethal than being in combat.”

Unfortunately, it’s the U.S. government that poses the greater threat to America’s military veterans, especially if they are among that portion of the population that exercises their First Amendment right to speak out against government wrongdoing.

Consider: we raise our young people on a steady diet of militarism and war, sell them on the idea that defending freedom abroad by serving in the military is their patriotic duty, then when they return home, bruised and battle-scarred and committed to defending their freedoms at home, we often treat them like criminals merely for exercising those rights they risked their lives to defend.

The government even has a name for its war on America’s veterans: Operation Vigilant Eagle.

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, this Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program tracks military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and characterizes them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”

Coupled with the DHS’ dual reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” which broadly define extremists as individuals, military veterans and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics bode ill for anyone seen as opposing the government.

Yet the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is taking aim at individuals trained in military warfare.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that the DHS has gone extremely quiet about Operation Vigilant Eagle.

Where there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire.

And the government’s efforts to target military veterans whose views may be perceived as “anti-government” make clear that something is afoot.

In recent years, military servicemen and women have found themselves increasingly targeted for surveillance, censorship, threatened with incarceration or involuntary commitment, labeled as extremists and/or mentally ill, and stripped of their Second Amendment rights.

An important point to consider, however, is that under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as threats to national security.

In light of the government’s efforts to lay the groundwork to weaponize the public’s biomedical data and predict who might pose a threat to public safety based on mental health sensor data (a convenient means by which to penalize certain “unacceptable” social behaviors), encounters with the police could get even more deadly, especially if those involved have a mental illness or disability coupled with a military background.

Incredibly, as part of a proposal being considered by the Trump Administration, a new government agency HARPA (a healthcare counterpart to the Pentagon’s research and development arm DARPA) will take the lead in identifying and targeting “signs” of mental illness or violent inclinations among the populace by using artificial intelligence to collect data from Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo and Google Home.

These tactics are not really new.

Many times throughout history in totalitarian regimes, such governments have declared dissidents mentally ill and unfit for society as a means of disempowering them.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum observes in Gulag: A History: “The exile of prisoners to a distant place, where they can ‘pay their debt to society,’ make themselves useful, and not contaminate others with their ideas or their criminal acts, is a practice as old as civilization itself. The rulers of ancient Rome and Greece sent their dissidents off to distant colonies. Socrates chose death over the torment of exile from Athens. The poet Ovid was exiled to a fetid port on the Black Sea.”

For example, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union often used psychiatric hospitals as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners from the rest of society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally through the use of electric shocks, drugs and various medical procedures.

Insisting that “ideas about a struggle for truth and justice are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure,” the psychiatric community actually went so far as to provide the government with a diagnosis suitable for locking up such freedom-oriented activists.

In addition to declaring political dissidents mentally unsound, Russian officials also made use of an administrative process for dealing with individuals who were considered a bad influence on others or troublemakers.

Author George Kennan describes a process in which:

The obnoxious person may not be guilty of any crime . . . but if, in the opinion of the local authorities, his presence in a particular place is “prejudicial to public order” or “incompatible with public tranquility,” he may be arrested without warrant, may be held from two weeks to two years in prison, and may then be removed by force to any other place within the limits of the empire and there be put under police surveillance for a period of from one to ten years. Administrative exile–which required no trial and no sentencing procedure–was an ideal punishment not only for troublemakers as such, but also for political opponents of the regime.

Sound familiar?

This age-old practice by which despotic regimes eliminate their critics or potential adversaries by declaring them mentally ill and locking them up in psychiatric wards for extended periods of time is a common practice in present-day China.

What is particularly unnerving, however, is how this practice of eliminating or undermining potential critics, including military veterans, is happening with increasing frequency in the United States.

Remember, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) opened the door for the government to detain as a threat to national security anyone viewed as a troublemaker. According to government guidelines for identifying domestic extremists—a word used interchangeably with terrorists—technically, anyone exercising their First Amendment rights in order to criticize the government qualifies.

It doesn’t take much anymore to be flagged as potentially anti-government in a government database somewhere—Main Core, for example—that identifies and tracks individuals who aren’t inclined to march in lockstep to the government’s dictates.

In fact, as the Washington Post reports, communities are being mapped and residents assigned a color-coded threat score—green, yellow or red—so police are forewarned about a person’s potential inclination to be a troublemaker depending on whether they’ve had a career in the military, posted a comment perceived as threatening on Facebook, suffer from a particular medical condition, or know someone who knows someone who might have committed a crime.

The case of Brandon Raub is a prime example of Operation Vigilant Eagle in action.

Raub, a 26-year-old decorated Marine, actually found himself interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.

On August 16, 2012, a swarm of local police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s Virginia home, asking to speak with him about posts he had made on his Facebook page made up of song lyrics, political opinions and dialogue used in a political thriller virtual card game.

Among the posts cited as troublesome were lyrics to a song by a rap group and Raub’s views, shared increasingly by a number of Americans, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.

After a brief conversation and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, Raub was then handcuffed and transported to police headquarters, then to a medical center, where he was held against his will due to alleged concerns that his Facebook posts were “terrorist in nature.”

Outraged onlookers filmed the arrest and posted the footage to YouTube, where it quickly went viral. Meanwhile, in a kangaroo court hearing that turned a deaf ear to Raub’s explanations about the fact that his Facebook posts were being read out of context, Raub was sentenced to up to 30 days’ further confinement in a psychiatric ward.

Thankfully, The Rutherford Institute came to Raub’s assistance, which combined with heightened media attention, brought about his release and may have helped prevent Raub from being successfully “disappeared” by the government.

Even so, within days of Raub being seized and forcibly held in a VA psych ward, news reports started surfacing of other veterans having similar experiences.

“Oppositional defiance disorder” (ODD) is another diagnosis being used against veterans who challenge the status quo. As journalist Anthony Martin explains, an ODD diagnosis

“denotes that the person exhibits ‘symptoms’ such as the questioning of authority, the refusal to follow directions, stubbornness, the unwillingness to go along with the crowd, and the practice of disobeying or ignoring orders. Persons may also receive such a label if they are considered free thinkers, nonconformists, or individuals who are suspicious of large, centralized government… At one time the accepted protocol among mental health professionals was to reserve the diagnosis of oppositional defiance disorder for children or adolescents who exhibited uncontrollable defiance toward their parents and teachers.”

Frankly, based on how well my personality and my military service in the U.S. Armed Forces fit with this description of “oppositional defiance disorder,” I’m sure there’s a file somewhere with my name on it.

That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) these veterans is diabolical. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these veterans are being declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights.

If it were just being classified as “anti-government,” that would be one thing.

Unfortunately, anyone with a military background and training is also now being viewed as a heightened security threat by police who are trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

Feeding this perception of veterans as ticking time bombs in need of intervention, the Justice Department launched a pilot program in 2012 aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.

The result?

Police encounters with military veterans often escalate very quickly into an explosive and deadly situation, especially when SWAT teams are involved.

For example, Jose Guerena, a Marine who served in two tours in Iraq, was killed after an Arizona SWAT team kicked open the door of his home during a mistaken drug raid and opened fire. Thinking his home was being invaded by criminals, Guerena told his wife and child to hide in a closet, grabbed a gun and waited in the hallway to confront the intruders. He never fired his weapon. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. The SWAT officers, however, not as restrained, fired 70 rounds of ammunition at Guerena—23 of those bullets made contact. Apart from his military background, Guerena had had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

John Edward Chesney, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, was killed by a SWAT team allegedly responding to a call that the Army veteran was standing in his San Diego apartment window waving what looked like a semi-automatic rifle. SWAT officers locked down Chesney’s street, took up positions around his home, and fired 12 rounds into Chesney’s apartment window. It turned out that the gun Chesney reportedly pointed at police from three stories up was a “realistic-looking mock assault rifle.”

Ramon Hooks’ encounter with a Houston SWAT team did not end as tragically, but it very easily could have. Hooks, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, was using an air rifle gun for target practice outside when a Homeland Security Agent, allegedly house shopping in the area, reported him as an active shooter. It wasn’t long before the quiet neighborhood was transformed into a war zone, with dozens of cop cars, an armored vehicle and heavily armed police. Hooks was arrested, his air rifle pellets and toy gun confiscated, and charges filed against him for “criminal mischief.”

Given the government’s increasing view of veterans as potential domestic terrorists, it makes one think twice about government programs encouraging veterans to include a veterans designation on their drivers’ licenses and ID cards.

Hailed by politicians as a way to “make it easier for military veterans to access discounts from retailers, restaurants, hotels and vendors across the state,” it will also make it that much easier for the government to identify and target veterans who dare to challenge the status quo.

After all, no one is spared in a police state.

Eventually, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we all suffer the same fate.

It stands to reason that if the government can’t be bothered to abide by its constitutional mandate to respect the citizenry’s rights—whether it’s the right to be free from government surveillance and censorship, the right to due process and fair hearings, the right to be free from roadside strip searches and militarized police, or the right to peacefully assemble and protest and exercise our right to free speech—then why should anyone expect the government to treat our nation’s veterans with respect and dignity?

Here’s a suggestion: if you really want to do something to show your respect and appreciation for the nation’s veterans, why not skip the parades and the flag-waving and instead go exercise your rights—the freedoms that those veterans swore to protect—by pushing back against the government’s tyranny.

It’s time the rest of the nation did its part to safeguard the freedoms we too often take for granted.

Freedom is not free.

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As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?

Just as Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) heads of state prepared to meet in Brasilia on November 13-14, hosted by Jair Bolsonaro, a double political earthquake hit: Lula’s freedom from prison on November 8, followed by a coup against Bolivian president Evo Morales on November 11.

Lula was central to BRICS’ establishment a decade ago. Details about the profound injustices and indignities suffered by Brazil’s 2003-10 president – who was jailed in April 2018 on (illegitimate, frame-up) corruption charges – and the potential for a Workers Party (PT) resurgence can reliably be found (in the English language) at Brasilwire. The situation remains fluid because the 74 year-old former president has more trials pending and is technically not allowed to return to politics due to his earlier bogus conviction, but appeals are underway.

Regardless of how lawfare plays out, Lula has created socio-political-economic schizophrenia: what Brazilian journalist Pepe Escobar describes as the contrast between social democracy and neo-fascism. More power to Lula and a resurgent Brazilian left – with all due caution about whether the balance of forces justify such hopefulness based upon the fate of a single politician, no matter how superlative his skills.

Certainly when, in early 1989, I interviewed him on the U.S. Pacifica radio network, his answer to my question was stunning: “You just came from the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce, so what did you tell them?”

Lula: “If they don’t give up their rings, we’ll chop off their fingers.”

But that radical Lula changed dramatically in the period since, after repeated runs for the presidency. His political agenda moderated and his hunt for allies among a supposedly patriotic bourgeoisie quickened, especially during the 2002-11 commodity super-cycle. But he also doubled the minimum wage and, with rising cash transfers to the masses, he cut sharply into Brazil’s notorious inequality. He left office with the world’s highest presidential approval polling: 80 percent.

Scenarios of fear and fantasy

Lula’s release leaves capitalists annoyed and nervous. Immediately after his release, wrote a Forbes correspondent, “Brazil was the worst performing emerging market thanks to that Supreme Court ruling. The Brazilian real weakened to its lowest level since September 14, 2018, hitting R$4.17 to the dollar. Wall Street may be right to view Lula as a has-been, with little ability to rabble rouse beyond his traditional union-base, a base that saw many vote Bolsonaro in 2018. However, no one should doubt Lula’s connections within the left-wing activist movements of South America like Grupo de Puebla and their ability to agitate against the right-leaning governments.”

Here’s the frightened Forbes correspondent’s scenario: “Lula gains some surprising traction and manages to get people out into the streets waving their red PT and Communist Party flags. Bank windows are smashed. Brazil’s stock market crashes by a good 10,000 points, and the Brazilian real goes to R$4.25 to the dollar in a heartbeat.”

From a different direction, Escobar expresses the hope that at least two of the other BRICS visitors, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, will stage a secret meeting: “Putin and Xi are Lula’s real top allies on the global stage. They have been literally waiting for Lula, as diplomats have confirmed to me over and over again.”

Wishful thinking, this nevertheless requires a follow-up question: what legacies from Lula’s rule – and perhaps revival – can we derive for fighting neoliberal hegemony at this critical moment in history, just in advance of another world economic meltdown?

And as for the BRICS, a further controversy was articulated by Landless Workers Movement leader João Pedro Stedile in Brasil de Fato: “We fear that their agenda will only be commercial agreements and financial articulation of projects to be financed by the BRICS New Development Bank. The BRICS are a proposal for regional articulation aimed precisely at denouncing US imperialism for economic domination, the dollar and the manipulation of other international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation.”

Is that true, or to the contrary, aren’t BRICS repeatedly relegitimising these institutions? (This is the premise of a new co-edited book, BRICS and Resistance in Africa, just published by Zed Books.)

These disputes – both historical and contemporary – are worth more reflection, no matter the immediate distractions created by Lula’s current vitally-needed return to Brazilian politics.

‘God was Brazilian’ (at least in 2006-10)

My last visit to Brazil, in December 2018, allowed a chance to debate with a centrist supporter of Lula, former finance minister Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira. Certainly not a PT supporter at first, he then not only came around to strongly endorse Lula’s political economy, but worked it into his own theory: ‘New Developmentalism.’

In the second Lula administration (2006-10), said Bresser-Pereira, “God was Brazilian.” Thanks to the commodity super-cycle and his Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento, Lula “did not bring inflation nor adversely affect growth,” Bresser-Pereira recalled. The PT “did not fear to displease the rich,” but nevertheless “was fiscally responsible” and “reacted well to the 2008 global financial crisis,” in part by “lowering the real interest rate by nearly half” and imposing “controls over capital inflow.”

Lula as leader, gushed Bresser-Pereira in a 2011 article, “remembered that there is such a thing as the entrepreneur and the national enterprise, or, in other words, that there is a nation, whose strength and ability to compete with the other nations will depend on the clarity and cohesiveness of the political coalition between entrepreneurs, public bureaucracy and workers.”

The Bolsonaro regime has since destroyed any such ‘nation,’ and is correctly accused of returning Brazil to a stooping stance, especially in relation to Washington, so is best termed ‘sub-imperialist’ (as Brazilian dependencia theorist Ruy Mauro Marini described the posture a half-century ago). Thanks partly to Donald Trump’s rise, extraordinary geopolitical problems are unfolding across the world, and Lula’s grasp of these, during a long interview with Escobar two months ago, reveals his unequaled seniority and confidence.

But there are longer-term lessons of Lula’s era to contemplate. Was his social-democratic but also quasi-neoliberal ideology a genuine alternative for global progressives to ponder now, as much as we (naively) did, for example in South Africa, during the so-called ‘Lula Moment’? As Escobar put it this week, “At least now the die is cast – and crystal clear: It’s social democracy against neo-fascism. Socially inclusive programs, civil society involved in setting public policy, the fight for  equality versus autocracy, state institutions linked to militias, racism and hate against all minorities.”

Brazil’s New Developmentalism against Washington’s imperial under-developmentalism

The tri-continental wave of anti-austerity protests over the last two months must chill the spine of neoliberal ideologues. The IMF and World Bank turned 75 years old this year, long past a reasonable retirement age. For the sake of global financial management, most reformers’ hopes rest in changing the character of the Bretton Woods Institutions, including the nationality of their leadership, their loan conditionality, the character of bailouts, and Third World countries’ ‘voice’ and voting power.

As part of that process, the BRICS network was expected to support a more balanced, ‘polyarchic’ division of international financial power and responsibility, thanks to the large emerging-market surpluses and what some see as a developmental ideology. To that end, in 2014, the New Development Bank (NDB) and Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) were born at the BRICS’ Fortaleza summit, hosted by Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff.

Frustrations had mounted about multilateral financial institutions responsible for both balance-of-payments support (the IMF) and project finance (the World Bank and its regional cousins). The hopes of New Developmentalism spreading globally included the supply of credit for both macro- and micro-economic strategies similar to the strategy adopted by Brasilia’s PT government, and the CRA and NDB were considered vital pilot projects.

However, five years later, as Brazil again hosts the BRICS leaders, these hopes have been dashed – a problem that dates to well before Bolsonaro came to power. In retrospect, today, the BRICS’ efforts to reform and relegitimize the Bretton Woods Institutions appear not only fruitless but dangerous.

Instead, a different, more ambitious approach consistent with an older philosophy, the dependencia critique, is now much more appropriate, even if it’s obvious that the adverse balance of forces within the BRICS, makes this extremely unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Do the BRICS and the West struggle, or snuggle?

By the time of the 2014 Fortaleza summit, the New Developmentalism identified by Bresser-Pereira was fraying, as Dilma faced mass protests. But the logic was nevertheless compelling to reformers: much more active management of international economic relations, including financial and monetary matters, drawn in part from Brazil’s successful strategy during the late 1990s and 2000s.

One critical aspect was the sense of not only the BRICS’ ascendance, but the decline of Western power and legitimacy, which in turn was reflected in how the Bretton Woods Institutions imposed conditionality-heavy credits and reproduced leadership unfairly: always a U.S. citizen leading the Bank, and a European heading the IMF.

Partly for that reason, and partly because of a gap in the sustainability financing marketplace, the BRICS’ strategy for global financial reform was identified with two former World Bank chief economists – Joseph Stiglitz and Nicolas Stern – who wrote the original concept paper for what became the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) in 2011.

This supposedly new approach was possible, Bresser-Pereira explained in a 2018 technical paper, because the World Bank fell “into an identity crisis when, in the early 1980s, the American government constrained it to change from a developmental multilateral bank whose policies were oriented by development economics to be the agency charged with making the neoliberal reforms to advance in the developing countries – to change their economic policy regimes from developmental to liberal.”

What might replace them? The NDB has a notional capitalization of an impressive $50 billion (though only $10 billion is, by 2021, required from BRICS taxpayers as paid-in capital, equally divided among the five members). The CRA’s capitalization is $100 billion, consisting of countries’ foreign currency reserves which are dedicated to on-lending in the case of a member’s balance-of-payments emergency.

Reflecting power relations within the BRICS, both new institutions have vital Chinese influences, not least in Shanghai’s headquarters role for the NDB, and Beijing’s outsized 41 percent financial contribution to the CRA, followed by Brazil, Russia and India with 18 percent of the shares each, and South Africa with 10 percent.

But Western-oriented banksters are thick on the ground within the NDB. For example, the president K.V. Kamath had earlier privatized India’s main state industrial bank. The South African chosen as Vice President, Leslie Maasdorp, previously worked at Goldman Sachs, Barclays and Bank of America – as well as leading Pretoria’s internal privatization office. From July 2015 through August 2017, the South African non-executive director serving the NDB was Tito Mboweni, then based at Goldman Sachs, and also a former Reserve Bank governor (and from October 2018, South Africa’s finance minister) best remembered for maintaining extremely high interest rates during his 1999-2009 tenure.

Such orthodoxy is important at a time the West’s self-interested financial agenda parallels its utterly chaotic, self-destructive roles in other vital areas, e.g. global climate governance, geopolitics and macro-economic management. The suicidal tendencies only intensified under Trump’s influence. Yet he was offered the uncontested appointment of David Malpass as World Bank president in early 2019, which confirmed the West’s durable power to not only manage multilateral finance and its institutions (including leadership), but also set the agenda for an era of increased West-BRICS conflict, given Malpass’ well-known hostility to China.

Or perhaps not, since Malpass has backed away from his earlier Sinophobia. According to the Bank’s former China director, Yukon Huang, “China is doing the World Bank a favor by borrowing, because people realize it’s not going to default on those loans.” He does not expect Malpass to make major changes in relation to China during an era of economic turmoil, because “America always goes for a solution which strengthens the global financial system, because that’s America’s strength. The global financial system is essentially America’s financial system.” And bizarrely, for now, that suits Beijing.

The power and arrogance of the Malpass appointment is not surprising. As another example of Western malevolence within global financial management, former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern bragged to a 2013 London conference that he co-instigated the very idea of a BRICS Bank, for reasons that had nothing to do with alleged sustainability and climate financing (as claimed by Stern and Stiglitz in their 2011 NDB paper). Instead, he desired an institutional lock-in between business deal-makers and a dependable cohort of BRICS national officials who would respect their states’ contracts with such corporations.

Stern specifically sought ways to avoid policies that adversely affected those corporations: “If you have a development bank that is part of a [major business] deal then it makes it more difficult for governments to be unreliable… What you had was the presence of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) reducing the potential for government-induced policy risk, and the presence of the EBRD in the deal making the government of the host country more confident about accepting that investment. And that is why Meles Zenawi, Joe Stiglitz and myself, nearly three years ago now, started the idea. And are there any press here, by the way? Ok, so this bit’s off the record” (Stern 2013). (Actually, it’s on record, on youtube.)

As for the $100 billion CRA fund, it may one day become relevant in the event of financial meltdowns and contagion similar to 1998 and 2008, especially in South Africa. But at that stage, the IMF is likely to be even more important, if repayment of Pretoria’s now-unprecedented $180 billion foreign debt is in question. After South Africa borrows its first $3 billion from the CRA, its rules require that before the next $7 billion is released, the IMF must implement structural adjustment on the borrower.

These and many other features represent the South-North snuggle, not struggle. The BRICS have retained a certain credibility as ‘middle power’ accompaniments to multilateralism.

However, with Bolsonaro’s new rightwing agenda coming into focus (including his appointment of the next BRICS NDB president), the situation is unpredictable. His ultra-neoliberal finance minister Paulo Guedes was named NDB chair at the April 2019 Annual General Meeting in Cape Town, at a time Guedes’ own role in pension-related corruption was becoming more explicit.

But macroeconomic trends will likely be decisive, and here – just as in the institutional arena that Stern (2013) explained – it again appears that the BRICS are no alternative, but instead an amplifier, of contradictions created within Western-centric capitalism (Bond and Garcia 2015). In that context, not only is New Developmentalism no antidote to these trends, it is revealing to consider the broader lessons of Lula’s rule.

Difficult developmentalism and the elusive ‘Lula Moment’

The 2014 Fortaleza founding of the NDB raised expectations that the BRICS could generate an exciting new potential: to break the grip on multilateral financial governance by the neoliberal Bretton Woods Institutions, whose conditionality-riddled credit control grew after the 2008 financial crisis. The Western-backed banks came to rule not just impoverished but also emerging economies (e.g., Argentina recently) – just as in the 1980s – and even a few wealthier countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) that recently fell into crisis.

Brazil’s New Developmentalism, in contrast, consisted of rising levels of social inclusion and lower inequality, coinciding with successful export orientation. The New Developmentalism’s promotion of manufactured exports is closely associated with four macro-economic, monetary and fiscal policy factors:

+ falling exchange rates, given the bias is to undervalue the local currency and thus keep relative wage rates low;

+ a shrinking state deficit on current (not capital) spending so as to avoid crowding out financing for private sector investment;

+ a commitment to establishing new infrastructure; and

+ a relatively low real interest rate.

In South Africa and a few other emerging-market countries, these ideals motivated debates over needed policy shifts, especially where the early 2000s boom provided sufficient macro-economic space to attempt aspects of New Developmentalism.

In Johannesburg phraseology, during the height of Worker Party power in 2013-14, the desire for a ‘Lula Moment’ was expressed by leading centre-left policy academics and trade unionists from South Africa and Brazil alike, led by the Communist Party’s Chris Hani Institute. To be sure, Lula Moment advocacy also attracted criticism, especially insofar as it was a strategy encumbered by unsustainable ‘corporatist’ philosophical underpinnings. Comparing Brazil with South Africa’s potential, scholar-activist Ben Fogel complained, Lula “failed to build a new political culture through constitutional and political reforms or by tackling an institutionally hostile media” and instead, made “alliances with corrupt and reactionary regional power brokers, embracing Brazil’s traditional patronage political culture to gain institutional power at the expense of trade union and social movement allies.”

The South African debate coincided with the expulsion of the largest trade union – the 350,000-member National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) – from the country’s main union federation because it was too leftwing. So the contrast was with a potential ‘Numsa moment’ that would have much more radically changed ownership of the economy’s commanding heights.

In 2014, Brazilian political economist Alfredo Saad-Filho argued that contextual differences between the two countries require more nuance in analysis: “The attempt to build a ‘Numsa moment’ in South Africa will face much greater difficulties than those that confronted the PT and trade unions (CUT) in Brazil, back in the early 1980s. South Africa has already gone through the transitions to democracy and to neoliberalism, while the PT and CUT emerged before these two transitions. Political democracy and neoliberalism have had very adverse implications for the composition, organic unity and capacity of mobilization of the working class almost everywhere. So the challenge is now greater, but the working class movement and the left in South Africa are also much stronger than they ever were in Brazil. The point, then, is to build a political left with working class hegemony, rather than under the intellectual leadership of sections of the middle class, or the economic hegemony of the domestic bourgeoisie, as was the case in the ‘Lula Moment’ in Brazil.”

However, regardless of whether South Africa should have pursued this approach, especially in macro-economic terms, by the mid-2010s there was little left to hope for, in either country. South Africa suffered a kleptocracy from 2009-18 under Jacob Zuma’s leadership, combining talk-left populist-developmentalist rhetoric with walk-right neoliberalism and prolific corruption.

Ironically, in Brazil, the 2013 turn to neoliberalism by Lula’s successor, Rousseff, meant the domestic bourgeoisie’s support for the PT evaporated, once the 2013-16 protests damaged her legitimacy and lowered public approval to single digits. The dissent was originally catalysed by leftists furious with public transport price rises. But progressive activism was soon smothered by wealthy right-wing elements which by mid-2016 resulted in a parliamentary coup against Rousseff by her right-wing vice-president Michael Temer and his sleazy congressional allies.

It was evident by the peak of the commodity super-cycle in 2011 that the era of globalization and rising commodity prices could only deliver so much to Brazil. While in the 1998-2004 period, mostly under Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s centrist rule, Brazil drove its trade/GDP ratio from 15 up to 30 percent, this measure of integration subsequently fell to 24 percent by 2017. (The rest of the BRICS countries’ trade/GDP ratios also dropped markedly, after peaking during the 2000-08 period, falling even further than the world’s drop, from 61 to 56 percent.)

Globalization is now deteriorating further, what with Trump’s U.S. protectionism. The World Trade Organization (2019) recorded dramatic declines in the 2018 WTO Index of trade, including a fall in that index of 6.3 percent (year-on-year from December 2017), as well as -7.9 percent on export orders, and double digit crashes in demand for automobiles (-10.3 percent) and electronics (-12.9 percent).

The Workers Party era gave Brazil relatively more inclusive and (briefly) rising export-led growth, which follow Bresser-Pereira’s New Developmentalism framing. But this was not the only Latin American country offering lessons for development. In addition, there were successful – and far more radical – approaches to global-national-local interfaces especially in relation to finance.

Currency-conscious finance

Radical alternatives included default on Odious Debts (e.g. by Ecuador in 2009, thanks to Norway’s confession that shipping loans were corrupt) and tighter exchange controls to halt illicit financial flows (e.g. Venezuela in 2003). There was also the (stillborn) proposal for a Bank of the South by Hugo Chavez that would have injected a strong developmental and environmental agenda into South-South cooperation. All these radical strategies emerged with one overarching concern: acute consciousness of how foreign indebtedness would derail developmental ambitions, as Latin Americans and all other Third World countries recalled from the 1980s-90s era.

Last year, Bresser-Pereira remarked on one of the most crucial features of new, alternative financing strategies, which is to match assets to liabilities when it comes to the currency in which lending occurs: “The NDB, the bank governed by BRICS countries, spelt out the proposal to follow this line of action. Some multilateral banks, particularly the Asian Development Bank, the International Finance Corporation and even the World Bank are already lending in local currency. Why? Would it be the new concern with currency mismatches and the development of local capital markets?… the Multilateral Banks are turning to domestic currencies because their customers are most of the time private companies that resist to take loans in hard currency to avoid foreign exchange risks.”

He continued, “Second, because after the Asian 1997 financial crisis, many countries, particularly the Asian countries, realized the financial crisis risk involved in getting indebted into foreign money and began to accumulate large international reserves. Third, because, after the disastrous attempt to grow with foreign indebtedness (foreign savings) that the Washington Consensus proposed from the early 1990s (just after the major 1980s’ foreign debt crisis was overcome), the governments of the developing countries went back to the policy of keeping the current account balanced or with a surplus, as China has been doing for long.”

But the vision of Bresser-Pereira was never realized through the NDB. One leading Asian advocate of the developmental state, Jomo KS, was wistful when recently asked about the NDB: “I wish the new multilateral development banks would be bolder, but thus far, they have largely chosen to work within the dominant framework shaped by the Washington Consensus, probably to secure market confidence.”

Genuine development?

None of this would have surprised seasoned observers of the divergence between BRICS elites and the needs of their societies and environment. As Delhi-based political economist Prabhat Patnaik predicted in 2014, “The question of the BRICS Bank cannot be analyzed without reference to the big bourgeoisie of the BRICS countries, as the commentators have almost universally done. In other words the class nature of these regimes has a crucial bearing on the direction that the BRICS Bank will take: whether the BRICS Bank and the CRA will become mere replicas of the World Bank and the IMF with some delegation of authority from the “top” to the BRICS powers, or whether they will expand the elbow room of the countries of the South.”

Patnaik continued, “Several BRICS countries in short had connived with the US-led imperialist bloc to sabotage a proposal to bring countries of the South to the forefront of “global economic governance”, and had even resuscitated a near-defunct IMF for this purpose. To imagine that the same countries are now going to stand with the South, through the BRICS Bank, to loosen the hold of imperialism, is utterly fanciful.”

Assuming the BRICS and global elites can one day be dislodged, is a different philosophical approach possible? John Maynard Keynes offered one of the most generous of formulas: “I sympathize with those who would minimize, rather than with those who would maximize, economic entanglement among nations. Ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel – these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible and, above all, let finance be primarily national.”

That approach implies an older form of developmentalism, one that applies tight exchange controls, that balances an economy’s various sectors through import-substitution industrialization, that therefore has a great chance to meet society’s basic needs in an environmentally-conscious way, and that welcomes skilled and unskilled labor to its shores.

None of the BRICS are following this strategy at present, but at some stage in future, their countries’ progressive politicians will recognize the need to move in a genuinely developmentalist direction. The reactionary, failing characteristics of the BRICS global financial governance reform agenda and institutions will then fade into history, where they belong.

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Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members

As popular support grows for replacing private insurance plans with Medicare for All, critics of the single-payer approach have been playing up the fact that some top union officials, and their political allies, don’t want to do away with job-based medical coverage.

“There’s no question that ultimately we need to establish a single payer system,” says national AFL-CIO President Richard  Trumka. “But there has to be a role for those hard-fought-for, high-quality plans that we’ve negotiated.” Echoing Trumka in Democratic primary debates, former Vice-President Joe Biden, tells labor audiences that, “if you have a generous union-backed plan and you have given up union wages to get that plan, you can keep it.”

Harold Schaitberger,  leader of the International Association of Fire Fighters, has even suggested that his union, which backs Biden now, might not support a Democratic presidential candidate who favors Medicare for All. Says Shaitberger: “We’d be very troubled with any nominee who advocates for the elimination of private employer or negotiated plans.”

Maybe these statements do reflect the concerns of some higher paid workers with more “generous union-backed plans.” But they are out of touch with the needs of lower-wage workers whose employers offer health insurance plans that are completely unaffordable and inadequate.

I can personally attest that the union I work for is constantly waging “hard fought” battles to secure “high quality plans” at several Bay Area nursing homes and hospitals. At these workplaces, our members, unlike most American workers, can collectively bargain about the amount of premium contributions, co-pays, and deductibles they are required to pay for doctor visits or hospital stays.

Bargaining Table Reality Check

For example I was recently in a contract bargaining session with members who work at a small nursing home  in San Francisco. A Certified Nursing Assistant told the management bargaining team about her struggles to get care with their current health insurance plan. “Because of the $6000 deductible it’s as if we have no health insurance at all,” she said. “When I injured my leg a few weeks ago, the doctor wanted me to get an MRI. I told them I couldn’t do it. I can’t pay $1000 for an MRI, when I’m making only like $18 an hour. Every time I have to go to physical therapy it costs $70. Sometimes I cancel the appointments because I can’t afford them. I am afraid that they are going to tell me I need surgery, because I just don’t know how I’ll be able to pay for it.”

One of the company’s executives, who had flown in from their regional office in Southern California that morning, tried to look sympathetic. “Thank you for sharing,” he said, “I know how hard it is to share something like that. I’m just paying off a debt from a medical procedure myself.” But he went on to say that our proposal for fully employer-paid health insurance with no deductible was “ridiculous and unrealistic.” We pointed out that workers used to have this kind of health insurance plan before his company took over their nursing home, and that the company’s profits had tripled since that take-over. He explained matter of factly that profitability has nothing to do with how the company compensates its employees.

After this informative exchange, management left the room so that the workers and I could caucus privately. Another member of our bargaining team, a housekeeper in his late fifties who has worked at the nursing home for over 20 years, was furious. He and his wife, employed in the kitchen at the same facility, often have to go to the hospital for different healthcare services.  Every time they are shocked by the costs, which all have to be paid out of pocket.

Costly Struggle for Job-Based Benefits

We know that it may take months of further bargaining, probably even informational picketing and strike activity, along with support from community leaders and elected public officials to get an affordable healthcare plan for these workers who have dedicated their lives to providing quality healthcare to their patients.

But that won’t stop the owners of this and other for-profit health care facilities from putting workers’ benefits on the chopping block again, at the earliest possible opportunity. Even the much higher-paid health care professionals I represent at reputable “not for profit” institutions like Marin General Hospital must struggle, in every round of contract bargaining, to maintain decent health care benefits.

At a big Medicare for All Rally in downtown San Francisco on Nov. 2, Unite Here Local 2 President Anand Singh voiced his support for the reform, noting how his members at the Marriot hotel chain had to go on strike last year for 61 days to secure fair wages and affordable health insurance. Like Singh, I believe that affordable health care is a human right, whether you’re a firefighter, a housekeeper, or even the executive of nursing home chain. Workers should not have to strike for something that is a basic human right. It is heartening that union’s like Local 2, that National Union of Healthcare Workers, the California Nurses Association and many others see that union members and their families would all benefit from a system providing comprehensive, high quality care no longer tied to anyone’s age or employment.

If there’s any politician out there – particularly a candidate for president, like Joe Biden – who believes that Medicare for All is too costly or that we aren’t “ready” for such a profound reform–I want to personally invite them to our union’s next bargaining session over health benefits, or even better, out to our next picket line. They will quickly discover what a high price workers already pay to maintain job-based medical coverage, even when they can organize and bargain for the best possible “union-backed plan.”

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Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio

The counter-narratives about the recent takeover, and restoration, of New York City’s Pacifica radio station, WBAI, have apparently begun. Thus far we have no new offerings but rather restatements of previously given excuses, ones that wilt in the face of reasoned critique.

Here I am referring specifically to Akio Tanaka’s November 12 article in CounterPunch. Mr. Tanaka leads off by repeating the claim that “The reason Pacifica National Office intervened at WBAI was because the station was not able to make payroll, and there was no further money to give to the station.” He was nonetheless honest enough to not lay all blame at the feet of WBAI by also writing “The reason for this is the lack of competent financial oversight and planning for many years at the very top of our governance structure.”

I don’t disagree with the assessment that Pacifica has been poorly managed in recent years. But the assertion that WBAI could not make its payroll can be challenged on two counts. One, WBAI managers have repeatedly said the station had already raised enough money to make all of the month’s expenses in the October fund drive that was barely a week old when the station was forced off the air. Two, it would seem rather counter-intuitive to believe that the solution to a shortage of funds is to cut off all means of collecting funds.

Let’s review what happened during the October 7 coup: The station’s bank account was frozen (actually done two days earlier but that was not known beforehand); all local programming was taken off the air, ending the ability of WBAI to continue fundraising; the station’s main website and its website specifically set up to accept donations were removed from the internet; the call center that took phone pledges was summarily dismissed; and the station’s landlord was told to find a new tenant and rent payments to her terminated.

I do not have a degree in finance, but it doesn’t take a specialist to see the absurdity of this situation. If WBAI was in such dire straits, wouldn’t the solution be to allow it to continue its fund drive in order to secure needed funds? Instead, similar to the logic of the Pentagon that “saved” Vietnamese villages by burning them to the ground and killing the villagers, the Pacifica National Board rogue minority faction attempted to “save” WBAI by destroying its ability to survive.

Berthold Reimers, WBAI’s general manager, reports that the aborted October fund drive exceeded the results of the year’s earlier fund drives, taking in about $10,000 per day. Further, in a report to station staff and hosts, he wrote, “As of September 30, 2019 WBAI borrowed $37,000 from Pacifica to make its payroll. Septembers are always rough on all stations. WBAI always catches up in October and we would have caught up and paid all expenses” expected to be incurred before the next fund drive, including immediately paying back the September loan. He added, “If Pacifica was really broke they should have at least waited for WBAI to bring in all the cash during the October drive.”

It can more than reasonably be argued that a radio station, or any other entity, shouldn’t be that close to financial danger. But when it comes to Pacifica, that is not a problem specific to New York. WBAI’s projected cash-flow deficit for 2020 is nearly identical to that of California stations KPFA and KPFK. Further, according to a paper prepared by three Pacifica National Board directors, a report used as the rationale for the coup against WBAI used dubious accounting to inflate the deficit of WBAI and still assigned only 26 percent of Pacifica’s total operating deficit to the station.

Mr. Tanaka’s other primary statement is that “the current Bylaws preclude sale of any station without a membership vote.” Well, yes, and that is why there is a push to change the bylaws. Mr. Tanaka points out, correctly, that bylaws can’t be changed without a vote of the members of Pacifica’s five stations. Further, he notes that there would be five elected directors, one from each station, along with the six appointed directors under the proposed amendment. I acknowledge that I should have been more precise in explicating the composition of the board should the proposed bylaws be adopted. But critical here is that the self-selected directors would have a permanent majority. The larger point — that the new board would constitute an undemocratic structure — stands.

And, as I previously wrote, the contesting of a likely member referendum is the next front in an ongoing struggle to maintain democratic accountability and local control. Once again, the last time a Pacifica board of directors could self-select its members, the result was a lack of accountability, dictatorial leadership, a lockout at KPFA and the Christmas Coup at WBAI. A lawyer at a corporate law firm specializing in union busting was sadly representative of the people who were selected to be on the board back then. A Citibank executive was also selected to be on the board, and did not take his seat only because of a phone campaign by listeners that resulted in the executive being told by his bosses to not accept the post. No, that was not a board representative of community concerns.

This time around, those advocating a return to undemocratic governance structures have carefully pre-selected people with strong credentials for their proposed board. The pre-democratic board contained some people with community credentials, yet that did not save Pacifica from years of unnecessary strife, lockouts and firings, nor did it stop some of the people with those credentials from becoming the authors of draconian acts. That is why a democratic structure became the solution.

Supporters of the coup have yet to explain how removing WBAI from the air, chasing away listeners with irrelevant programming, disabling its ability to raise funds, taking steps to have its offices taken away and attempting to wipe away its archives is consistent with a supposed “plan” to “rebuild” it. The supposed “plan” by coup leader John Vernile had glaring holes in it. Having examined the proposed budget attached to Mr. Vernile’s “plan,” I’ll highlight two problems. The first is that the “plan” lists “0” for severance expenses at the same time as “all staff remain laid off.” Severance expenses, especially in light of the fact that legally mandated time notices were not given, can’t be zero.

Further, Mr. Vernile’s “rebuild budget” assumes unrealistic on-air fundraising revenue. WBAI listeners willingly support local programming. There can be no reason to expect that listeners would have continued to donate to a station offering only syndicated programming with no local content. Thus the pious claims of an intervention to restore fiscal responsibility melt in the sunshine of examination. This was not a case of “adults” restoring order as the coupsters tried to imply; the “rebuild” plan has the appearance of something hastily thrown together to justify an action.

One last point. The “plan” was to “introduce content that has a local focus.” How was this to be accomplished? By deigning to allow local hosts to pre-record programs and have an imposed “program coordinator” decide if they can be aired or not. A single person with no accountability to paid and unpaid staff, listeners or communities cannot be said to constitute a fulfillment of Pacifica’s mission of serving its communities and opens the gates for censorship. Even if such a person were truly well-meaning, he or she couldn’t possibly substitute for the combined knowledge of local community members and broadcasters.

Whether the intention was truly to sell off WBAI and use the proceeds to benefit other Pacifica stations (as been openly discussed for years), to impose censorship for the purpose of converting WBAI into an NPR-style broadcaster or some other reason, there has been no refutation of the arguments put forth by WBAI personnel and listeners. The most coherent counter-argument offered is that the proposed bylaw changes would allegedly still require membership approval for the selling of any station. Even if true (the language of the proposed changes doesn’t explicitly address that), the lack of democracy inherent with appointed directors is compounded by the fact that a campaign scapegoating WBAI has been conducted for years, potentially inculcating a mindset among some listeners of the California and Houston stations that WBAI should be sold.

Listeners of Pacifica stations who wish for them to retain democratic accountability remain advised to vote against the bylaw changes.

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It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava

As Turkey continues its devastating military assault on Rojava, the Kurdish-led region of northeastern Syria, officials in Washington are facing a critical decision: allow Turkey to prevail in its campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Kurds or take action to protect them.

The Turkish invasion, which began on October 9, has been devastating for Rojava. According to the United Nations, nearly 180,000 people, including 80,000 children, have been displaced. At the start of the attack, Turkish officials announced that Turkish-led forces had killed more than 200 Kurdish militants. About a week later, Kurdish officials said that more than 200 civilians had been killed.

After gathering witness testimony, Amnesty International reported that Turkish forces and allied militias had committed war crimes. They “have displayed a shameful disregard for civilian life, carrying out serious violations and war crimes, including summary killings and unlawful attacks that have killed and injured civilians,” the human rights organization said.

Speaking before Congress, James Jeffrey, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Syria, acknowledged that “we’ve seen several incidents which we consider war crimes.” He cited the killing of Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf and the killings of several defenseless Kurdish prisoners by Turkish-allied militias.

When the Turkish-led forces began their invasion, it was clear that they intended to cleanse the area of its Kurdish population. For years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening to drive the Kurdish people out of the area, having directed a similar campaign in Afrin in early 2018.

“We are witnessing ethnic cleansing in Syria by Turkey, the destruction of a reliable ally in the Kurds, and the reemergence of ISIS,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tweeted days into the invasion.

U.S. Betrayal

What has made the attack particularly egregious is the fact that the Kurds are allies of the United States. For years, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been working with the U.S. military to fight and defeat the Islamic State in Syria. According to U.S. officials, the Kurdish-led forces have been the most effective fighters on the ground in Syria.

“These were an ally and a very good ally against ISIS, a very effective ally that lost over 10,000 people killed,” Jeffrey noted.

President Trump, who endorsed and facilitated the Turkish attack by withdrawing U.S. forces, defended Turkey’s actions, arguing that the country faced a terrorist threat from the Kurds. Turkey “had to have it cleaned out,” Trump said, referring to the Kurdish-led area along the Turkish border.

Democratic and Republican leaders strongly condemned Trump’s actions, accusing the president of betraying U.S. partners. In several congressional hearings, multiple officials from both political parties blasted the president for opening the door to Turkey’s ethnic cleansing of the Kurds.

“The president of the United States gave a thumbs up to an act of ethnic cleansing,” Congressman Andy Levin (D-MI) said.

Gerry Connolly (D-VA) commented that “the abandonment of the Kurds is one of the most shameful things I’ve seen in over 40 years of association with American foreign policy.”

Although U.S. officials are correct to condemn Trump for betraying the Kurds, they have been downplaying several additional factors that led to the crisis. Since March 2018, when Trump first attemptedto abandon the Kurds, the U.S. foreign policy establishment has been trying to appease the Turks and exploit the Kurds in the Syrian Civil War. The U.S. foreign policy establishment did not prepare to keep the Kurds safe, as several officials promised to do.

U.S. attempts to appease the Turks have been a complete failure. In the months before the Turks invaded, U.S. officials encouraged the Kurds to remove their defensive weapons and fortifications from the Turkish border. These actions cleared the way for the Turkish invasion.

“In tearing down those defenses, it left the Kurds much more susceptible to the inevitable attack that came,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-T) said.

Nor did U.S. officials devise a plan to protect the Kurds. They remained focused on exploiting Kurdish control of northeastern Syria as leverage in political negotiations with the Syrian government over the future of Syria.

The month before Turkey launched its invasion, the Syria Study Group (SSG), a special study group convened by Congress, issued a report arguing that “the United States can still influence the outcome of the Syrian war,” in part by maintaining U.S. forces in northeastern Syria and leveraging Kurdish control of Rojava.

“The reason the Syria Study Group talked about needing to retain a U.S. military presence in that one third of Syria was not only about completing the anti-ISIS fight, it was about the broader leverage of that one-third of Syria,” SSG Co-Chair Dana Stroul told Congress. That “is the resource rich part of Syria, which provided us leverage to influence a political outcome in Syria.”

These moves have proven disastrous to the Kurds. Not only has the U.S. foreign policy establishment failed to deter a Turkish attack, but it has created a situation in which the Kurds sought help from the Syrian government. As the Turks began their attack, the Kurds invited Syrian government forces into Rojava, working with them to deter additional attacks.

Perhaps most remarkable, the U.S. foreign policy establishment has not changed its strategy. Despite the fact that Turkish forces are now occupying parts of Rojava and Kurdish allies have turned to Syria for protection, U.S. officials still think they can use the Kurds as leverage against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“My instructions from Secretary Pompeo from day one…was to act to counter Russia’s effort in the Syrian conflict to obtain a military victory for Assad and his Iranian henchmen,” Jeffrey explained. “And that’s what I was doing every day and that’s what my orders remain to do, at least on the Syrian account.”

To prevent the Russians from helping Assad exert additional control over Rojava, the Trump administration is moving hundreds of U.S. military forces into its oil-rich areas, trying to use them as leverage.

According to Gen. Joseph Votel, the former commander of U.S. Central Command, U.S. control provides “a good negotiating leverage point” for future negotiations with the Syrian government.

Supporting the Kurds

Certainly, there are alternatives to these imperial tactics. The simplest and most obvious thing would be for U.S. officials to take into account Kurdish preferences.

At the most basic level, U.S. officials should support the political aspirations of the Kurds, who are trying to create an autonomous region inside Syria. Over the past several years, the Kurds have been leading a leftist social revolution in Rojava, creating a society of “democratic federalism” rooted in the values of ecology, feminism, and direct democracy.

According to Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), there has been “a lot of implicit support for supporting the Kurds in the vision that they were carrying,” but U.S. officials have yet to publicly endorse the Kurdish project.

A related option would be for U.S. officials to fulfill their promises to allow the Kurds to participate in negotiations with the Syrian government. Kurdish participation would enable the Kurds to make their case for creating an autonomous region inside Syria.

Another option would be for international forces to work with the Kurds to deter future attacks. U.S. military forces already maintain control of the airspace over northeastern Syria. U.S. forces could enforce a no-fly zone, preventing the Turks from launching aerial attacks. At the same time, international peacekeepers could replace U.S. forces on the ground, patrolling the region to deter future attacks.

Finally, global leaders should take action to hold Turkey accountable by investigating charges of ethnic cleansing and war crimes.

“Let’s be clear: this is intentioned-laced [sic] ethnic cleansing,” U.S. diplomat William Roebuck, the top U.S. diplomat on the ground in Syria, noted in an internal memo. “It is a war crime, when proven.”

Ultimately, the Turkish attack on Rojava should have never happened. The U.S. foreign policy establishment knew all along that Trump would betray the Kurds, that Turkey would not be appeased, and that the Kurds would turn to Assad out of desperation.

“We had long known that Turkey was preparing for this thing,” Jeffrey acknowledged. “Turkey had had troops in place actually for almost a year and had been threatening to do this.”

Fortunately, there is time to turn things around. The Kurds lost over 10,000 people in the war against the Islamic State and still manged to create one of the most promising democratic experiments in the Middle East. They deserve U.S. support.

This first appeared on FPIF.

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Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?

The waves of protests breaking out in country after country around the world beg the question: Why aren’t Americans rising up like our neighbors? We live at the very heart of this neoliberal system that is force-feeding the systemic injustice and inequality of 19th-century laissez-faire capitalism to the people of the 21st century. So we are subject to many of the same abuses that have fueled mass protest movements in other countries, including high rents, stagnant wages, cradle-to-grave debt, ever-rising economic inequality, privatized healthcare, a shredded social safety net, abysmal public transportation, systemic political corruption and endless war.

We also have a corrupt, racist billionaire as president, who Congress may soon impeach, but where are the masses outside the White House, banging pots and pans to drive Trump out? Why aren’t people crashing the offices of their congresspeople, demanding that they represent the people or resign? If none of these conditions has so far provoked a new American revolution, what will it take to trigger one?

In the 1960s and 1970s, the senseless Vietnam War provoked a serious, well-organized antiwar movement. But today the U.S.’s endless wars just rage on in the background of our lives, as the U.S. and its allies kill and mutilate men, women and children in distant countries, day after day, year after year. Our history has also witnessed inspiring mass movements for civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights, but these movements are much tamer today.

The Occupy Movement in 2011 came closest to challenging the entire neoliberal system. It awakened a new generation to the reality of government of, by, and for the corrupt 1%, and built a powerful basis for solidarity among the marginalized 99%. But Occupy lost momentum because it failed to transition from a rallying point and a decentralized, democratic forum to a cohesive movement that could impact the existing power structure.

The climate movement is starting to mobilize a new generation, and groups like School Strike for the Climate and Extinction Rebellion take direct aim at this destructive economic system that prioritizes corporate growth and profits over the very survival of life on Earth. But while climate protests have shut down parts of London and other cities around the world, the scale of climate protests in the U.S. does not yet match the urgency of the crisis.

So why is the American public so passive?

Americans pour their energy and hopes into electoral campaigns. Election campaigns in most countries last only a few months, with strict limits on financing and advertising to try to ensure fair elections. But Americans pour millions of hours and billions of dollars into multi-year election campaigns run by an ever-growing sector of the commercial advertising industry, which even awarded Barack Obama its “Marketer of the Year” award for 2008. (The other finalists were not John McCain or the Republicans but Apple, Nike and Coors beer.)

When U.S. elections are finally over, thousands of exhausted volunteers sweep up the bunting and go home, believing their work is done. While electoral politics should be a vehicle for change, this neoliberal model of corporate “center-right” and “center-left” politics ensures that congresspeople and presidents of both parties are primarily accountable to the ruling 1% who “pay to play.”

Former President Jimmy Carter has bluntly described what Americans euphemistically call “campaign finance” as a system of legalized bribery. Transparency International (TI) ranks the U.S. 22nd on its political corruption index, identifying it as more corrupt than any other wealthy, developed country.

Without a mass movement continually pushing and prodding for real change and holding politicians accountable – for their policies as well as their words – our neoliberal rulers assume that they can safely ignore the concerns and interests of ordinary people as they make the critical decisions that shape the world we live in. As Frederick Douglass observed in 1857, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”

Millions of Americans have internalized the myth of  the “American dream,” believing they have exceptional chances for social and economic mobility compared with their peers in other countries. If they aren’t successful, it must be their own fault – either they’re not smart enough or they don’t work hard enough.

The American Dream is not just elusive – it’s a complete fantasy. In reality, the U.S. has the greatest income inequality of any wealthy, developed country. Of the 39 developed countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), only South Africa and Costa Rica exceed the U.S.’s 18% poverty rate. The United States is an anomaly: a very wealthy country suffering from exceptional poverty. To make matters worse, children born into poor families in the U.S. are more likely to remain poor as adults than poor children in other wealthy countries. But the American dream ideology keeps people struggling and competing to improve their lives on a strictly individual basis, instead of demanding a fairer society and the healthcare, education and public services we all need and deserve.

The corporate media keeps Americans uninformed and docile. The U.S.’s corporate media system is also unique, both in its consolidated corporate ownership and in its limited news coverage, endlessly downsized newsrooms and narrow range of viewpoints. Its economics reporting reflects the interests of its corporate owners and advertisers; its domestic reporting and debate is strictly framed and limited by the prevailing rhetoric of Democratic and Republican leaders; its anemic foreign policy coverage is editorially dictated by the State Department and Pentagon.

This closed media system wraps the public in a cocoon of myths, euphemisms and propaganda to leave us exceptionally ignorant about our own country and the world we live in. Reporters Without Borders ranks the U.S. 48th out of 180 countries on its Press Freedom Index, once again making the U.S. an exceptional outlier among wealthy countries.

It’s true people can search for their own truth on social media to counter the corporate babble, but social media is itself a distraction. People spend countless hours on facebook, twitter, instagram and other platforms venting their anger and frustration without getting up off the couch to actually do something—except perhaps sign a petition. “Clicktivism” will not change the world.

Add to this the endless distractions of Hollywood, video games, sports and consumerism, and the exhaustion that comes with working several jobs to make ends meet. The resulting political passivity of Americans is not some strange accident of American culture but the intended product of a mutually reinforcing web of economic, political and media systems that keep the American public confused, distracted and convinced of our own powerlessness.

The political docility of the American public does not mean that Americans are happy with the way things are, and the unique challenges this induced docility poses for American political activists and organizers surely cannot be more daunting than the life-threatening repression faced by activists in Chile, Haiti or Iraq.

So how can we liberate ourselves from our assigned roles as passive spectators and mindless cheerleaders for a venal ruling class that is laughing all the way to the bank and through the halls of power as it grabs ever more concentrated wealth and power at our expense?

Few expected a year ago that 2019 would be a year of global uprising against the neoliberal economic and political system that has dominated the world for forty years. Few predicted new revolutions in Chile or Iraq or Algeria. But popular uprisings have a way of confounding conventional wisdom.

The catalysts for each of these uprisings have also been surprising. The protests in Chile began over an increase in subway fares. In Lebanon, the spark was a proposed tax on WhatsApp and other social media accounts. Hikes in fuel tax triggered the yellow vest protests in France, while the ending of fuel subsidies was a catalyst in both Ecuador and Sudan.

The common factor in all these movements is the outrage of ordinary people at systems and laws that reward corruption, oligarchy and plutocracy at the expense of their own quality of life. In each country, these catalysts were the final straws that broke the camel’s back, but once people were in the street, protests quickly turned into more general uprisings demanding the resignation of leaders and governments.

They have the guns but we have the numbers. State repression and violence have only fueled greater popular demands for more fundamental change, and millions of protesters in country after country have remained committed to non-violence and peaceful protest – in stark contrast to the rampant violence of the right-wing coup in Bolivia

While these uprisings seem spontaneous, in every country where ordinary people have risen up in 2019, activists have been working for years to build the movements that eventually brought large numbers of people onto the streets and into the headlines.

Erica Chenoweth’s research on the history of nonviolent protest movements found that whenever at least 3.5% of a population have taken to the streets to demand political change, governments have been unable to resist their demands. Here in the U.S., Transparency International found that the number of Americans who see “direct action,” including street protests, as the antidote to our corrupt political system has risen from 17% to 25% since Trump took office, far more than Chenoweth’s 3.5%. Only 28% still see simply “voting for a clean candidate” as the answer. So maybe we are just waiting for the right catalyst to strike a chord with the American public.

In fact, the work of progressive activists in the U.S. is already upsetting the neoliberal status quo. Without the movement-building work of thousands of Americans, Bernie Sanders would still be a little-known Senator from Vermont, largely ignored by the corporate media and the Democratic Party. Sanders’ wildly successful first presidential campaign in 2016 pushed a new generation of American politicians to commit to real policy solutions to real problems instead of the vague promises and applause lines that serve as smokescreens for the corrupt agendas of neoliberal politicians like Trump and Biden.

We can’t predict exactly what catalyst will trigger a mass movement in the U.S. like the ones we are seeing overseas, but with more and more Americans, especially young people, demanding an alternative to a system that doesn’t serve their needs, the tinder for a revolutionary movement is everywhere. We just have to keep kicking up sparks until one catches fire.

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Voting on the Future of Life on Earth

One of the key research facilities leading the discussion on the climate crisis is the National Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne, Australia, whose work is arguably a major plank underpinning the Extinction Rebellion mindset. Over the last few years, the team there has been analyzing a lot of the leading climate research and issuing reports based on their meta-analyses of these studies.

Among the various criticisms of the Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were allegations that it had “systematically and grossly underestimated the risks.” One of the foundations for this criticism was that the IPCC had framed the likelihood of an outcome occurring as “unlikely” if it fell outside the central 67 percent probability distribution.

One of the difficulties facing the IPCC is that from the outset it has been required to reach a consensus before reporting, which, as anyone who has tried to build a consensus across multiple parties knows, invariably leads to conservative agreements. This isn’t helped by the neoliberal politicians who have been largely working on behalf of the carbon profiteers. At the 2015 Paris conference on climate change, in response to the cautious tone of the IPCC, the world’s political leaders agreed that they would try very hard to hold the average global temperature increase to below 1.5°C or at the most 2°C.

In the immediate aftermath of Paris, many argued that the agreement was likely to fail on two key points. Firstly, that the agreed course of action would not achieve the targets set, but were more likely to result in a 3-5°C increase. But even if they did achieve the target of 1.5-2°C, that wouldn’t be enough to stop certain climate processes from crossing the safe thresholds into irreversible trajectories anyway.

And it is easy to lose sight of what the implications of an increase of a few degrees in the global average actually means. As early as 2011, leading climate scientist Professor Kevin Anderson warned that if global temperatures were to rise by between 4-6°C, which is quite possible once you start factoring in feedback loops, then it is likely that by 2050 we could be facing a climate-related death toll in the region of 8.5 billion people out of a total global population of nine billion. The IPCC’s own studies argue that a 4°C increase will lead to the extinction of between 40-70 percent of all plant and animal species on earth.

One of the more interesting groups working on the impacts of climate change has been a highly influential US military think tank called the CNA Military Advisory Board, made up of retired three and four-star officers from across the US armed forces. In 2014, it issued a report arguing that a fall in the availability of freshwater would significantly decrease the availability of food and energy, which in turn would increase conflicts around the world, both within nations and between nations. A report issued by the US National Intelligence Council in 2017 argued that, based on current trends, over 30 countries would be experiencing this sort of water supply deficit by 2035.

As early as 2007, two different national security think tanks in the US were arguing that even an increase of only 3°C and a 0.5-meter rise in sea levels would lead to “outright chaos” and an increased threat of nuclear war. This is an entirely possible outcome, considering that the European Parliament has already issued briefing documents of the role that water plays in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while in India and Pakistan water has arguably been one of the key flashpoints for decades.

And the route from climate crisis to civil conflict is just as easily mapped out. One of the many triggers for the Arab Spring was the food riots that occurred after a sudden and sharp increase in the price of bread in Egypt, at a time when 30 percent of household budgets were already being spent on food. The rise in the price of bread came about because of an increase in the price of wheat on global markets, which was triggered by the 2010 heatwave and wildfires in Russia and Ukraine and the winter drought in China.

But the real threat of the climate crisis is the compounding nature of multiple interrelated forces at play. One of the most obvious and large-scale predictable climate events will be rising sea levels, caused by the expansion of water as it heats up and the melting of the polar ice caps. Increased sea levels and violent storm swells will cause more severe and regular coastal flooding. And because many of our major cities and urban areas are built along coastlines, this flooding will displace hundreds of millions of people. The IPCC currently estimates that just under 10 per cent of the global population live less than 10 meters above the current sea level.

We are now seeing large sections of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) beginning to show signs of breaking up and melting into the sea. When this occurs, it will release up to two million cubic kilometers of melted ice, raising global sea levels by three to five meters. Scientists currently studying the East Antarctic Ice Sheet are beginning to report similar patterns to the WAIS, which if it melts would raise sea levels by close to 50 meters.

China is a perfect example of how these multiple threats combine. While it has been estimated that the country’s fast-growing coastal megacities are putting 145 million people in the direct path of the rising sea levels, large sections of inland China have already experienced devastating, sustained and widespread droughts. Some 24,000 villages have been overrun by the desert and abandoned and the Gobi desert is fast encroaching on Beijing, with many of the displaced fleeing to the safety of the growing coastal cities. Already 300 million Chinese don’t have access to safe drinking water, and with the country having 20 percent of the global population but only 7 percent of the accessible freshwater, the situation is only set to get worse. The World Bank has warned of “catastrophic consequences” stemming from China’s water crisis.

But there are viable solutions. In 2014, the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) issued a report entitled One Million Climate Jobs. This was produced by a collaboration between the CACC Trade Union Group, eight major trade unions, seven universities and several climate activist groups and has arguably driven much of the thinking around the Green New Deal being proposed in the US and by the Labour Party here in Britain.

The foundation of the CACC plan was that, while we can all make changes to our own behavior that will help and must happen, to change the path that an entire nation is on will take an organized nationwide response much like the postwar rebuilding plan that brought the NHS into existence.

The CACC plan was to build a national climate service that would employ one million people directly, and increase employment indirectly via the supply chain by a further 0.5 million people. This plan argues that a decrease in CO2 emissions in Britain by 86 percent is achievable within two decades. I would argue that this could be achieved significantly quicker if, for instance, the campaign to recognise ecocide as a crime against humanity were successful.

The CACC plan is based on transitioning the energy sector away from fossil fuels and over to wind, solar, wave and tidal, to insulate and retrofit all existing buildings to better conserve and use energy, and to shift transport to a public system powered by renewable energy. The report estimates the total cost of doing this would be around £66 billion.

For any new government to correct the course of the British economy will require the renationalization of large parts of the infrastructure, specifically the energy and transport sectors. This the Labour Party has proposed. Of course, this would be made markedly easier if the threat of being marched into The Hague in handcuffs hung over the heads of the major shareholders of the transnational corporations that will undoubtedly fight such measures.

The CACC plan argues that the government could generate an income stream of around £25bn from energy bills and public transport fares. Employing 1.5 million people would generate a further £21.5bn in taxes raised and benefits saved. So the net cost to the British exchequer would be around £19bn.

This is not a huge amount when one considers that in Britain alone it is estimated that the exchequer is having to going without about £25bn per year because of legal tax avoidance and £74bn per year because of illegal tax evasion.

If in the upcoming general election, a government is voted in that is willing to make the super-rich and the multinationals pay their fair share, the CACC plan would not only be achievable but would probably be the first of many steps towards ensuring that there will be a future for us and the generations to come.

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The EPA’s War on Science Continues

The Trump EPA wants to introduce a new rule: Its scientists can only use studies that make all of their data public.

The new proposal is crafted to sound like a win for transparency, which is supposed to be a good thing. In reality, the rule will significantly harm public health — and loosen the reins on polluters.

And that, of course, is the idea.

Let me explain. I am a graduate student in sociology, a social science. I study people, which means I collect some kind of data about them. For any scientist who studies people, transparency is important — but so is confidentiality.

Any basic research ethics class includes famous cases of unethical research on people that occurred in the not too distant past. So now, our institutions carefully review each study on people to ensure they are ethical.

Ethical research requires providing participants with enough information that they can give informed consent to participate. It means not taking advantage of vulnerable populations (like prison inmates or mental health patients), minimizing any risk of harm that might come to the people you are studying as much as possible, and disclosing any risk before they agree to participate.

In my case, that means that in any study I’ve done, I’ve promised my participants confidentiality.

With their permission, I might quote them in a publication using a fake name, but only if I can do so in a way that won’t allow anyone to identify them. I don’t want anything they tell me to be used to harm them back in their communities.

In the case of the new EPA rules, the information collected in public health studies can be even more intimate. When scientists study the effects of pollution on people’s health, they may confidentially review people’s private medical records. Obviously, these records should not be made public.

When a researcher cannot promise confidentiality, the quality of their research suffers. Fewer people may be willing to participate, which might harm the reliability of the results. Those who do will be less open.

How can we trust studies in which all of the data is not made public? Often, some of the data is made public, or at least made available to others in certain circumstances (such as by request).

Additionally, science is not an individual endeavor. Communities of scientists in each field work together to advance the knowledge within that field. Any new study will be picked apart by everyone who reads it, because that’s what we do to each other. Others will try to replicate your findings — and if they can’t, your conclusions will be called into question.

It’s rough on the ego, but it’s good for science.

Dismissing any study that does not make its data public, on the other hand — particularly when that data has a good reason to remain confidential, like medical data — serves to harm science, not help it.

And when you can’t do good science, you can’t base your public health regulations — your pesticide bans, your pollution controls, your clean water rules, and whatever else — on good science.

Given the track record of the Trump administration on the environment so far, it’s far more plausible that this proposal is intended to eliminate necessary public health regulations, not to promote transparency.

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