Counterpunch Articles

Canada Trapped By Its Own Folly

Canada walked into a political and diplomatic trap of its own making when it took it upon itself to create a self-appointed busybody lobby called The Group of Lima.

The sole purpose of this group is to harass and discredit the government of Venezuela, alleging that they are thereby “defending democracy”. They do so by backing murderous illegal economic sanctions,[1] attempted coups, threats of military intervention, and thus openly and shamelessly are violating international laws of non-intervention. The Lima Group spouts propaganda about supposed human rights abuses and supposed humanitarian crisis. “We see the same smug lies and hypocrisy about the rule of law as they-the Lima Group- openly brag about their violation of international law with every step they take and talk as if they are gods ruling the world…They also make themselves world outlaws”.[2]

What Canada really wants is to get on the “right side” of that most erratic US president, Trump, because it wants the approval of the new NAFTA and it fears US tariffs or sanctions. In other words, Canada is paralyzed with fear of its southern neighbour and is willing to sacrifice – Venezuela. After all, what is Venezuela to Canada? Utterly dispensable. So Ottawa reasons: give Trump Venezuela and he may leave Canada alone.

The Group of Lima is an attack dog for USA foreign policy toward Latin America, which it still considers its “back yard”.

Let’s see who Canada’s is aligned with, the

governments that have taken upon themselves to judge and condemn the legitimate government of Venezuela. These supposed paragons of democracy are now Canada’s buddies in the task of trying to deliver to Trump the country with the largest petroleum reserves in the planet:[3]

It is a an astonishing fact that before the US economic sanctions Venezuela was rated as “High” Human Development Index (HDI), the second best in HDI’s rankings, 78th out of 189 countries, and outranked in HDI the majority of Lima Group countries including Colombia, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, St Lucia, Haiti, Bolivia.[4] And even now, despite economic sanctions it still outranks most.

Colombia

Colombia is the number one producer of cocaine in the world. Narco-traffic is rampant. In what has been called a continuous genocide, every 4 days a unionist is killed.[5] In 2019, there were 6,466-targeted assassinations. In the last 4 years, 555 women human rights defenders have been assassinated; in the first fifteen days of 2020 there were 20 women human rights defenders assassinated. Despite the Peace Pact, 170 former guerrillas who laid down their arms have been assassinated.[6]According to the Colombian Commissariat of Jurists, impunity for human rights abuses is around 90%. Between 2013 -16, 700,000 people were “displaced”. And malnutrition has killed 2000 children under the age of 5 in the last decade.[7]

Guatemala

According to Human Rights Watch, there is widespread impunity in this country. A major concern is violence against unionists, lawyers, and journalists.[8] Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the world; in 2018 there was an average of 101 murders per week, attributed in part to drug trafficking and gangs.[9]

Honduras

According to the UN Human Rights Commission, since the coup d’etat, in 9 years there have been 51,000 people assassinated, mostly young men between the ages of 14 and 30 years old. The Human Rights Watch (2018) states that violent crime is rampant and the country has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The November 2017 elections resulted in 22 deaths and 1,300 detentions. Between 2014 and 2016, there were 25 journalists killed; in 2016 there were 134 lawyers killed. The IACHR describes Honduras as “the most hostile and dangerous countries for human rights defenders in the Americas.”[10]

Guyana

Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the Americas where poverty is widespread. According to UNICEF, Indigenous communities have a poverty rate between 61% and 94%, and lack access to land, culture, medicines, food, education and safety.[11] According to the New York Times, “the civil service is corrupt”[12]. According to the US State Department, men, women and children are subject to human trafficking.[13]

Peru

Six of its former presidents are either in jail or in exile for corruption and the current president has not been elected. According to the Peruvian National Institute of Statistics and Information in 2016 the overall poverty rate was 20.7% of the general population, but the rural poverty was at 43.8% and 13.2% lived in extreme poverty. The malnutrition in children has reached an appalling 53%. According to Human Rights Watch, violence towards women is a significant problem in Peru; in 2017 there were 368 feminicides.[14] Amnesty International states that both state and non-state actors continue to threaten and harass human rights defenders, particularly those working on issues of land and environment. These defenders were criminalized through the courts with high penalties.[15]

Panama

The European Union has again listed Panama on its black list of fiscal paradises due to its lack of transparency. [16]The legal system is seriously challenged by widespread political interference in the appointment of judges, and there is no independent body to investigate corrupt public servants.[17] Discrimination against racial minorities is common; indigenous groups struggle to uphold their legal rights to land. Corruption and impunity are serious challenges affecting the justice system and highest levels of government.[18]There is widespread anger over brazen corruption in the last elections and anger over government malfeasance following the bribery revelations of the Panama Papers.[19] There is a large inequality gap between urban and rural population as the latter is the poorest, as 20% of the population enjoys 50% of the country’s wealth while 40% control only 12% of the wealth.[20]

Bolivia

The first indigenous president of the Americas, Evo Morales, was deposed on Oct. 31, 2019, in a bloody coup d’etat led by extremist, religious fanatic, right-wingers that have unleashed racist attacks on the indigenous peoples. An unelected, self-proclaimed usurper heads the government. There was a massacre of 34 indigenous leaders who resisted the coup and more than 700 injured. Up to now, 53 community radios have been closed.[21]

Brazil

President Bolosonaro repeatedly praises Brazil’s former 21year military dictatorship that killed more than 3,000 people. In 2019, the police killed 426 people in Sao Paulo and 881 in Rio de Janeiro.[22] Bolsonaro has threatened journalists, attacked universities with cutbacks, and replaced members of the Special Commission on Political Deaths and Disappearances with his party members nostalgic for the dictatorship. His government is characterized by religious fundamentalism, authoritarianism and cruelty especially towards minorities and the press. There is scant or no concern for liberal or democratic values. [23]The devastating Amazon fires took place on indigenous and conservation lands and attributed to developers. Bolsonaro has encouraged the fires and he is a climate change denier. Bolsonaro tried to hide the fires from the world scrutiny. [24]

Paraguay

The UN Human Rights Commission indicates that people, including children, have been poisoned through contaminated soil, land and water by widespread use of toxic agrochemicals. [25] According to Amnesty International, indigenous people continue to be denied their rights to land and free, prior and informed consent on projects affecting them. Human rights defenders and journalists have been persecuted amid violations of the right to freedom of expression. [26] And Democracy International has assessed that the country has serious corruption and impunity issues, which are undermining the rule of law and are the focus of citizen dissatisfaction.[27]

Chile

Since October 2019, Chile has experience the worst riots since the Pinochet era. Chilean youths started the protest over an untenable 3% raise in metro fares, which was the tip of the iceberg in decades of privatizations, increase of cost of living and marked inequality. President Piñera acted with undue force; in one weekend there were thousands of arrests and 10,000 troops on the street. Protesters are still demanding the president’s resignation and a new constitution. Nearly 2,500 have been injured and

2, 840 arrested (Dec. 2019). Human Rights violations include torture, sexual abuse and sexual assault of protestors, excess use of security forces that include 222 people whose eyes have been injured or blinded, all these abuses substantiated by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.[28]

Ecuador

There is a precarious political situation of underlying social conflict. There has been a wave of protests which reached unprecedented levels. The president, Lenin Moreno, declared a state of emergency for 60 days and even declared the city of Quito in a state of siege last October. The police and security forces have not been restrained; as there have been illegal detentions, hundreds of wounded and at least 7 killed by these forces. Citizens are protesting austerity measures demanded by the IMF and indigenous people in particular are being criminalized for their protests. [29]Moreno is being accused of corruption due to his links with an offshore company established by his brother, Investment Corp. of Belize.[30] The UN Special Rapporteur, Dainius Puras has declared that Ecuador suffers endemic violence and discriminations with violence against women and girls being endemic.[31]

Haiti

Haiti is one of the poorest and most unequal countries in the world, where 1 in 2 Haitians live in poverty.[32] There is widespread abuse of human rights and a resurgence of gang violence with involvement of police and other officials. Nearly 38,000 people, 70% who are women and children, still live in displacement camps after the 2010 earthquake. Cholera has infected more than 800,000 people and killed 10,000. Prisoners languish in inhumane and overcrowded jails. One half of Haitians over 15 years of age are illiterate. Violence against women is rampant. Between 225,000 and 300,000 children are used in child labour, denied education and abused. [33]After a delay of one year, finally elections were held and Jovenal Moise was elected but with a turnout of only 10% of registered voters. There is a profound disillusionment of the country’s political system, the elections becoming a theatrical performance to ensure international credibility.[34]

By contrast, in Venezuela, despite the vile US illegal economic sanctions that impede the sell of petroleum, despite the losses of over $130 billion, which include the US stealing Venezuelan assets, Venezuela has over 50,000 communes and collectives that are growing food, more than 6 million people receiving subsidized food baskets monthly, and 3 million housing units have been built. There is social peace and President Nicolás Maduro is recognized and respected by the great majority of the UN members, which have their diplomatic missions in Venezuela.

It is ironic that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be campaigning for a Canadian seat in the UN Security Council when Canada keeps company with a group such as Lima. And it is likely he will not succeed. Latin American and Caribbean public opinion has turned against Canada. What else would you expect?

A second obstacle to Canada’s ambitions, is the countrywide pipeline protest of the Wet’Suwet’En indigenous nation that has galvanized Canada, and of which the Americas and the broader world is very much aware.

The Group of Lima is due to meet in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2020. The best that Canada could do at the meeting is to follow the example of Mexico’s López Obrador and resign from this venal group.

Notes.

  1. Economic sanctions have directly killed 40,000 Venezuelans in 2017-18. Mark Weisbrot & Jeffrey Sachs, CEPR, 25 April 2019
  2. Christopher Black, “The Lima Group: International Outlaws and regime Change Conspirators”, Global Research, 6 Feb. 2019, https://globalresearch.ca/lima-group-international-outlaws/5667659
  3. Alex Ward, VOX, 20 Feb. 2019: “Andrew McCabe claims Trump wanted war in Venezuela because “they have all that oil.”” Rob Urie, “Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire”, COUNTERPUNCH, 20 May 2019:” John Bolton stated that the goal of regime change in Venezuela is to gain control of Venezuela’s oil.”
  4. Gregory Shupak, “US Media Erase Years of Chavismo’s gains”, FAIR.org, 2019
  5. Enrique Ortega Salinas, “The Most Difficult Time”, CubaGebate, 31 March 2019
  6. Yldefonso Finol, “Colombia: genocidio continuado en la dictadura de la muerte”, ensartaos, 17 Jan. 2020-02-17 https://www.ensartaos.com.ve/la-muerte-por-encargo-es-parte-ahora-y-desde-hace-decadas-de-la-vida-normal-en-el-vecino-pais/ 
  7. Colombia Report, 6 April 2018, https://colombiareports.com/colombia-systematically-violating-human-rights-report/
  8. Guatemala Profile, Human Rights Watch
  9. Wikipedia.org, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Guatemala
  10. Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/honduras
  11. UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/guyana/SitAn_on_Ameridian_Woman_and_Children_-_Final-web.pdf
  12. New York Times, Clifford Krauss, “The $20 Billion Question for Guyana”, 20 July 2018
  13. Guyana. Trafficking in Persons Report, 2010, US State Department, 14 July 2010
  14. Human Rights Watch Report, https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/peru/report-peru/
  15. Amnesty International, https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/peru/report-peru/
  16. TELESUR, 18 Feb. 2020
  17. Transparency International, Victoria Jennet, 2014, “Overview of Corruption in Judicial and Prosecution Services in Panama”
  18. Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/panama
  19. https://apnews.com/17247d859ec74adc851655a42e390319
  20. www.nationsencyclopedia.com
  21. TELESUR 18 Feb. 2020; https://jacobinmag.com/2019/11/coup-bolivia-history-evo-morales-jeanine-anez
  22. The Guardian, 4 September 2019 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/04/jair-bolsonaro-michelle-bachelet-brazil-police-killings
  23. NACLA, https://nacla.org/news/2019/08/21/bolsonaro-and-brazil-court-global-far-right
  24. The Guardian, 26 Aug. 2019 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/26/fires-are-devouring-the-amazon-and-jair-bolsonaro-is-to-blame
  25. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24890&LangID=E
  26. https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/paraguay/report-paraguay/
  27. http://democracyinternational.com/projects/paraguay-rule-of-law-assessment/
  28. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019–20_Chilean_protests
  29. “Social land Political Earthquake in Ecuador”, Democracia Abierta, 11 Oct. 2019, https://www.opendemocracy.net/es/democraciaabierta-es/terremoto-social-y-pol%C3%ADtico-en-ecuador/
  30. TELESUR, 20 Feb. 2020
  31. UN, 27 September 2019https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25065&LangID=E
  32. World Bank, https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/publication/beyond-poverty-haiti
  33. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/haiti
  34. Jake Johnson, ‘Haiti’s Eroding Democracy”, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/02/haiti-election-democracy-neoliberal-clinton-jovenel-moise-martelly-aristide-preval-duvalier/

 

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Pardoning Julian Assange: Trump, WikiLeaks and the DNC

The central pillar to Democratic paranoia and vengefulness regarding the loss of Hillary Clinton in 2016 was the link between Russian hacking, the servers of the Democratic National Committee and the release of emails via WikiLeaks. Over time, that account has become a matter of hagiography, an article of faith, with grave conclusions: WikiLeaks and Russia elected Donald Trump.

The Russia-DNC angle received another prod in pre-extradition hearings being conducted against Assange in the Westminster Magistrates Court, with his legal team disclosing details of the visit paid to the WikiLeaks publisher by former California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in 2017. The visit in question was not entirely a matter of surprise. The Wall Street Journal reported in September that year that Rohrabacher had contacted the White House in an attempt to broker a deal with Assange designed to alleviate his legal troubles. A conversation was said to have taken place between the Congressman and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, canvassing the possibility of ending the impasse in exchange for evidence that Russia was not behind the hacked emails.

Assange’s legal team, through Edward Fitzgerald, disclosed that President Trump had instructed Rohrabacher to discuss the possibility of a pardon for Assange provided he agreed to deny any Russian connection in the DNC hack. A statement produced by Assange’s personal lawyer, Jennifer Robison, included the following description: “Mr Rohrabacher going to see Mr Assange and saying, on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr Assange … said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks.”

For his part, former Congressman Rohrabacher is dissembling, claiming he had not discussed Assange with Trump prior to his “fact finding mission” to London. “At no time did I offer Julian Assange anything from the President because I had not spoken with the President about this issue at all.” Rohrabacher admitted to speaking with Kelly in a brief conversation after his trip to the Ecuadorean embassy in London. “No one followed up with me including Gen. Kelly and that was the last discussion I had on this subject with anyone representing Trump or his Administration.”

In 2018, Rohrabacher, in an interview with The Intercept, claimed that Kelly blocked him from briefing Trump about his London meeting with Assange. Both the congressman and his travel companion Charles Johnson had been shown “definitive proof [by Assange] that Russia was not the source of the Democratic Party communications that WikiLeaks published during the 2016 campaign.” The reason for Kelly’s obstruction lay with concerns that the special prosecutor might take an interest in Rohrabacher’s discussions about Russia, and how “that would appear to out-of-control prosecutors that that is where the collusion is.”

To keep matters interesting and mendacious, Trump now claims to “barely” know Rohrabacher while White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham insists that the allegations are “absolutely and completely false”, “a complete fabrication and a total lie. This is probably another never ending hoax and total lie from the DNC.”

In response, WikiLeaks has stressed that, “Chronology matters: The meeting and the offer were made ten months after Julian Assange had already independently stated Russia was not the source of the DNC publication. The witness statement is one of the many bombshells from the defence to come.”

The latest instalment in the case that keeps giving is a reminder of how trenchantly the Democrats have been seeking to link the DNC hack to Russia, WikiLeaks and their defeat. What Trump and Assange share, on some level, is the same tarnishing administered by the same brush.

In August 2017, Patrick Lawrence, writing in The Nation, suggested that the download of the relevant data from the DNC servers was most probably an internal job rather than an externally conducted operation. Reliance was made upon the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity memorandum to Trump claiming that, “Forensic studies of ‘Russian hacking’ into Democratic National Committee computers last year reveal that on July 5, 2016, data was leaked (not hacked) by a person with physical access to DNC computer.” An “insider” had “copied DNC data onto an external storage device.”

A storm ensued: the article had laid some considerable explosive material under the traditional DNC account, leading to editor Katrina vanden Heuvel to conduct a “post publication review”. In a modest mea culpa, the editorial board suggested that they “should have made certain that several of the article’s conclusions were presented as possibilities, not as certainties.”

Since then, the Mueller Report has sought to ensconce the Russia hack-DNC narrative, dismissing Assange’s inside job thesis with almost withering disdain. “As reports attributing the DNC and DCCC hacks to the Russian government emerged, WikiLeaks and Assange made several public statements apparently designed to obscure the source of the material that WikiLeaks was releasing. The file-transfer evidence … and other information uncovered during the investigation discredit WikiLeaks’s claims about the source of material that it posted.”

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser has yielded to Assange’s team on the material produced at the pre-extradition hearing, potentially linking WikiLeaks to the highest deliberations in the White House. The addition, along with the vast picture of surveillance targeting Assange, has the makings of a very compromising picture, indeed.

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Poor Bill Barr

Attorney General William Barr’s interview the other day in which he said Trump’s constant tweeting had made his job “impossible” has gotten mixed responses in the media. Some think the comment exposed a genuine rift between Barr and Trump, while others saw it as farce. I’m in the latter camp: I think the whole episode has been choreographed with specific aims in mind.

First, I think Barr, besieged by criticism of his department’s handling of Roger Stone’s sentencing, wanted to promote the pretense of his independence from Trump’s influence. I won’t be “bullied,” Barr proclaimed. Of course this is nonsense: Barr has been Trump’s most faithful follower, doing his bidding on the Mueller Report and much else besides. Barr needs no bullying, just a phone call. No sooner did Trump declare Stone’s sentencing “unfair” and a travesty than Barr jumped, intervening to order a re-do and prompting four of his prosecutors to resign in protest. (Barr’s insistence that he overruled the prosecutors prior to Trump’s outburst is not credible.)

Second, Barr was trying to let Trump know—but really to let outside opinion believe—that he, Barr, had the situation in hand and didn’t need presidential interference. “I’m doing exactly what you want, Mr. President,” Barr was saying; no need to keep tweeting, which is ruining my performance. (Trump got the message; his parrot, “press secretary” Stephanie Grisham, said Trump was entirely satisfied with Barr’s interview comments.)

Third, Barr made clear in the interview that there are grounds for a president to interfere in ongoing investigations—exactly as Trump has now declared, saying he has the “legal right” to intervene in criminal cases. Trump has compiled quite a history of doing just that—obstructing justice—and Barr has been entirely on board with such behavior. Some in the media made it seem as though Trump was taking issue with Barr on this issue. Not at all; Barr has consistently defended Trump’s interventions and obstructionism.

What about a president’s attempt to use the justice department to get dirt on a political opponent? No, that’s seeking personal gain and isn’t appropriate, said Barr. Yet if Lev Parnas is to be believed, Barr was in on Giuliani’s Ukraine mission, and was aware that Trump’s withholding of aid to Ukraine was linked to Ukraine’s promise to investigate the Bidens. Where was Barr then? And we know where Barr was on Russian interference in US elections—traveling around Europe in search of evidence to support the spurious alternative thesis that the FBI had wrongly investigated the Trump campaign in 2016. Not a personal mission to absolve Trump?

Lastly, there’s the “poor Bill” angle. Barr has been taking an awful lot of criticism since assuming his office. His image as a straight shooter has been badly tarnished. And now he’s the victim of Trump’s bad judgment, a sympathetic figure who needs support from an understanding public and Congress. Oh, my.

So the real problem here is what it has always been under Trump: defiance of democratic norms and the rule of law, central to which is the justice department’s subservience to an autocratic president. If Bill Barr had an ounce of integrity, he would follow his prosecutors out the door.

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Social Media: The New Grapevine Telegraph

Image Source: Paul Irish – CC By 2.0

I was attending the 30th annual PEN Oakland awards at the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library. The date was December 7th. It was about a half hour before the ceremonies would begin. I decided to walk across the street to the Hudson Bay Café to buy a double espresso. As soon as I entered the café, the young black woman who was managing the cash register became alert to my presence. Her eyes showed a tinge of fear. I stood in line. She and I were the only black people in the café. The white woman who was preparing the coffee called on someone in the kitchen. He emerged and stood at the entrance of the kitchen. He began to glare at me. When it came my turn to make an order, and I showed that I was able to pay for the coffee and wasn’t there to take hostages, they relaxed. But at least Hudson Bay sent a white man to stand his ground, were taking hostages my intention.

Others use minorities to do their racial profiling.

On the following Monday, I entered Walgreens on Shattuck Avenue across from the Berkeley Bowl, a grocery store. As soon as I entered, a blonde who was working at the cash register fixed her eyes on me. We exchanged glances. She yelled “aisle two,” which was the aisle in which I was walking. A diminutive Asian American woman rushed up and asked if she could help me. Turns out I had a better idea of the location of the product I intended to buy than she. I know my way around this store. I even have a rewards card.

This would be the third time that I have been profiled in this store. The white women call on Asian American women to assist in profiling, putting minority women at risk. On another occasion, they put a black kid out front. I was searching for a case of bottled water that was on sale. When I arrived at the cash register a whole delegation of profilers was waiting. But it was the black kid who followed me out of the store

At the Student Union store at UC Berkeley, where I taught for 36 years, it was a black man who followed me around when I purchased a sleeve for my computer and it was a black kid who followed me around when I attended a performance at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, even though I had been invited by one of the performers. They were sticking to me like wallpaper sticks to the wall or the lyrics from the song “Me and My Shadow.”

Though my resumé is about 20 pages, I have more in common with the profilers, the help, than the management which assigns them to do their dirty work. I grew up in the projects in Buffalo, New York. My stepfather worked on the assembly line at Chevrolet. My mother led a revolt at a department store where she was employed as a stock girl, based upon their only using black women as stock girls, instead of as saleswomen. During the ’40s, she led a strike against a supervisor at a hotel where she was employed as a maid, who, according to her, were treating her and the rest of the black housekeeping employees “like Hitler.” Though she wrote a well-received book, “Black Girl From Tannery Flats,” her organizing strikes and protests against unfair labor practices were her proudest moments. And so racial profiling pits me, whose roots are in the working class, against working class people.

This is the kind of divide-and-conquer strategy that is used by billionaires as a way of maintaining their privilege and distracting from their gluttony. Racial profiling hurts. These establishments are saying, yes, we will take your money but while doing so, we will insult you. Now there are those among whom James Baldwin calls “The Chorus of Innocents,” his phrase applied to liberals whom he, at that point in his career, sought to redeem, who would dismiss my experience. They will say, perhaps there was another reason for the treatment you received in these stores. The store managers will deny that they have such a policy.

While conducting research for my Audible book, “Malcolm and Me,” about my encounters with Malcolm X and his legacy, I ran across a 1961 debate between Malcolm X, James Baldwin and newspaper man George Schuyler. While the white host seemed fixed on whether Malcolm intended to harm whites, Baldwin and Schuyler scored points against the young minister. Malcolm dismissed the integrationists. Why would you want to force yourself into situations where you’re not wanted, he asked. Baldwin said that many white Mississippians would agree with Malcolm. When Malcolm said that blacks were dependent upon whites, George Schuyler pointed to over 100,000 independent black farmers.

George Schuyler represented The Pittsburgh Courier, a black newspaper with solid black grassroots footing. With the collapse of the black press, black pundits and black public intellectuals have become the proxies of others who get to “filter” their views. Move On.org, Politico, TheRoot, MSNBC, Axios and CNN create pundits whose opinions are patrolled by their employers like the billionaires at Comcast.

During the weekend of February 9th, MSNBC regular Tiffany Cross blurted out the conditions under which MSNBC black pundits work. She said, “If I said a lot of the things that I really think, I would get filtered–we just can’t say that, we have to filter our own voices.” This explains why the black women on Joy Reid’s show can weigh in on the stupid sexist brutish moves of some black athletes and entertainers, but can’t discuss the effect of Michael Bloomberg’s Stop and Frisk policy on black and brown women, who were humiliated by NYPD perverts, who used S. and F. as an excuse to molest and fondle.In fact, on February 12, The Washington Examiner reported that, Reid, a feminist, endorsed Michael Bloomberg. The headline read:” ‘Fight like a Republican’: MSNBC hosts pitch Bloomberg as best candidate to take down Trump.” Regardless of his sexist attitudes toward white, brown, and black women? This is bourgeois feminism at its most corrupt.

White women are also restricted. Mika Brezezinski can behave from time to time as the conscience of the Black Nation, weighing in on rap lyrics and supporting Gayle King whose defenders are uninformed about the details of the Kobe Bryant “rape” case,* but she dare not discuss the in-house predators at NBC. Rev. Sharpton, one of a handful of on-the-air black commentators with a following among black church goers, was right to condemn Snoop Dogg, who threatened Gayle King over her uninformed comments* about Kobe Bryant and his “victim,” Somebody should tell Mikka that blacks don’t have the power to create black celebrity Hip Hoppers. White kids do. And even with that The Rolling Stone hails Eminem as “The Emperor of Hip Hop.” Black Hip Hoppers can’t become emperors or empresses of forms that they created? The networks also have a bias against traditional African American commentators. They are cast by the billionaire owners as troublemakers. The same holds true for Hollywood and academia. Multiculturalism has come to mean, everybody but traditional African-Americans.

Social media has filled in the gap left by the Black press. With social media, blacks can tell their stories internationally and share their experience, and transcend the confining images of the corporate media which are based upon reinforcing the stereotypes accepted by those who buy their products. Blacks no longer have to be like the character in “The Invaders (a TV Series 1967–1968),” who tells people about an alien invasion and nobody believes him. People do not believe me when I say that often when I go for a walk at Golden Bear track, a UC Berkeley owned property, which is open to the public, the neighbors call the police, or that I was even profiled while walking through the landmark Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. The police were called. My spouse said that it might have been for another reason. I told her that when I leave, they’ll leave, which is what happened.

Booker T. Washington wrote of the “grape-vine telegraph.” He said that his mother and other slaves would whisper and mutter about great events. The news would travel swiftly from plantation to plantation. When, in 1791, Haitians revolted against French slaveholders, the news reached and worried Alexander Hamilton’s relatives, the Schuylers, who feared the Haitian revolt might inspire a revolt by their mistreated slaves. Both Hamilton and Jefferson supported the slave holders.

The protest one hears about social media is that it presents a threat to privacy. That might be a problem for some, but blacks have been under surveillance since even before arriving here. I grew up in the projects and so I knew at an early age that the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to me. Fourth Amendment rights? The police without warrants used to burst into people’s homes frequently.

While pundits are recalling the Nixon hearings, what I remember about the hearings is that Frank Wills, whose discovery of the burglary toppled the administration, was not called upon to testify because the Southerners who managed the hearings didn’t want to embarrass the administration. Segregationist Senator Herman Talmadge, who said that in Georgia a man’s home is his castle, is a pretty good principle. Except if you’re black and a mob often led by the police wants to drag you out of your house for a lynching.

The late Robert Maynard, publisher of The Oakland Tribune, challenged the media to diversify by 2000. It didn’t happen. It ain’t going to happen. As long as there are huge profits in presenting a one-sided view of black life. In the meantime we have social media. The new grapevine telegraph where I can read about the racial profiling that has been increased in the United States as a result of oligarchs dividing groups so as to distract from their gluttony. I can read about a book fair in Nigeria and black ghetto teenagers winning chess championships. I can read black intellectuals denouncing films like the one that mainstream critics are currently showering with praise and awards. A film in which Harriet Tubman wouldn’t recognize herself and the villain is a made-up black Bogeyman.

While The New York Times provides Scots Irish American, Charles Murray, considerable space to promote his Neo-Nazi ideas about black inferiority, I learned from social media that one of Charles Darwin’s professors was a black man. From social media, I can get an unfiltered and expanded view of black life that is absent from a corporate press that, in terms of diversity, is 50 years behind the South.

Notes.

* https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2004-nov-06-sp-bryant6-story.html?fbclid=IwAR3N1pSYzgTeinOFNTcBeG3OnY9Bb6jxKLbUpoHfPTH42tW39_nLNO5Duos

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Bernie Sanders and the Revenge of the Superdelegates

Photograph Source: Matt Johnson – CC BY 2.0

Unless Bernie Sanders wins enough delegates to capture the Democratic Party nomination on the first ballot, he is not going to be the nominee.  The reason will be that the superdelegates–those same people who were his wrath in 2016–will come back to deny him the nomination.

The Democratic Party’s superdelegates were a reaction to the 1970 McGovern-Fraser reforms that sought to open the party to the people.  Criticism after the 1968 Democratic Convention that party elites had too much control over the presidential nomination process–the proverbial smoke-filled backroom–led to a recommendation to create more political primaries. The goal was to let rank and file have more say on the party nominee.  Yet by 1980 party elites felt there was too much democracy within the Democratic Party; they, not the base, still knew best who the nominee should be and what the party should stand for.

In 1980 the Democratic Party’s Hunt Commission recommended that 30% of all the Democratic National Convention delegates be reserved for members of Congress and state party chairs and vice chairs.  These are the superdelegates.  That 30% figure was originally implemented at 14% but by 2008 the percentage rose to nearly 20%.  Their purpose was ostensibly to provide leadership, but in practice it was to maintain orthodoxy, serving as a check on primary voters who might make the wrong choice.

It was in 2008 that most Americans first heard of Democratic Party superdelegates.  When Hillary Clinton first ran for president in 2008 she was presumptively the presidential heir apparent, only to come in third in the Iowa caucuses and then fall behind Barack Obama in the delegate count.  Going into the Democratic National Convention she pulled one last move, convince the superdelegates to vote and throw the nomination to her.  She failed in that attempt.

Eight years later the ballot for the presidential nomination pitted again the presumptive presidential heir apparent Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders. As it was true in 2008, she was heavily favored to win the nomination, with initial polls giving her a 50%+ lead over Sanders.  She again floundered, with Sanders racking but victories and delegates.  While superdelegates were in theory supposed to be uncommitted until the convention, Clinton secured the support of many, included them in her delegate count, and encouraged the media to report them in her totals.  The purpose was to create the illusion that she had a bigger lead over Sanders than she did as part of her effort along with the Democratic leadership, as revealed in leaked emails, to make sure Sanders did not win.

Criticism from the left wing of the Democratic Party forced one change post 2016.  Superdelegates could no longer vote in the first round at the national convention unless a candidate had a majority of the delegates secured to win the nomination.  After the first round the superdelegates can vote.

In 2020 there will be 3,979 delegates to the Democratic National Convention who will be selected as a result of primaries and caucuses.    To win the nomination one needs 1,991 delegates.

If Bernie Sanders does not get to this number by the first round, the 771 Superdelegates will get to vote, and he will need 2,376 votes to win.  Fat chance!

Much in the same way that the Democratic Party and its leadership including Deborah Wasserman Schultz were stacked against Sanders in 2016, Tom Perez and much of the party leadership are opposed to him again.  Perhaps proof of this opposition is the disappointment in this year’s presumptive presidential heir apparent Joe Biden and the search for his moderate replacement in Peter Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bloomberg.

Despite coming behind Sanders twice in the popular vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, Buttigieg is seen in the media and party as the alternative to Sanders.  Despite fifth and third place finishes in these states, Klobuchar is seen as a winner and rising moderate alternative.  And without a delegate to his name but $400 million already spent, Bloomberg is the billionaire anthesis to Sanders who has pledged to take on the billionaires.  The moderate choice to Sanders is thus to vote for a billionaire or candidates who take money from billionaires.  In either case the message is clear, the Democratic Party establishment–one that has been pro-business, corporate, and complicit in shoving neo-liberalism down the throats of the American public and pushing white working class over to Trump and the Republicans—does not want Sanders.

By all accounts Sanders should be considered the populist frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.  Yet the plethora of candidates who are running and eating up delegates will make that hard.  Bloomberg on Super Tuesday when 34% of the pledged delegates are in play, stands a great chance of winning enough to reduce the mathematical probability that any candidates can get to 1,991 by the first round.  Should they happen, the superdelegates enter and they will no doubt cast the die against Sanders.

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Modi’s India

Photograph Source: Subhankar “Kenny” Sahu – CC BY 2.0

I am in New Delhi, attending a conference.

The conference was originally due to take place at the Muslim-majority Jamia Millia Islamia University. The university has been a centre of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which came into law in December last year.

The CAA grants a path to citizenship to refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, who sought refuge in India prior to 2015. The CAA does not however include Muslims, while including Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and Parsi refugees. It is obviously discriminatory—for instance, there was a Muslim presence in India at last a century before the first Parsis arrived from Persia.

The disturbances at Jamia prompted the conference organizers to change the conference venue to another location in the middle of Delhi, but shortly afterwards participants were informed that the conference would now be held at a location near the airport, some distance away from Delhi’s centre.

India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) of prime minister Narendra Modi (Trump’s “good friend”), has an openly Hindu nationalist agenda.

Shortly before I arrived elections for the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi were held.

The BJP ran a stridently fearmongering anti-Muslim campaign, and was trounced, winning just 8 seats in the 70-seat assembly. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, Common Man’s Party in English) won the remaining 62 seats. The Indian National Congress, India’s oldest party, which had ruled Delhi for 15 years until 2013, once again failed to win a single seat.

A taste of the BJP’s anti-Muslim campaign is provided by 2 episodes.

During the election campaign the BJP minister Giriraj Singh said the Muslim-majority Delhi suburb of Shaheen Bagh was a “breeding ground for suicide bombers”.

Campaigning for the BJP in Delhi, Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, well-known for stoking hatred and violence against India’s Muslims, cut to the factionalist chase by saying that (Muslim) “terrorists” should be fed with “bullets not biryani”.

BJP’s attempt to polarize the electorate obviously backfired, and the AAP returned to power in Delhi.

The AAP, led by Arvind Kejriwal, is probably the most left-wing political party in India apart from the Communist Party of India. It supports legalizing both homosexuality and same-sex marriage, has a significant anti-corruption agenda, and reduced the price of electricity when it came to power (by means of subsidies).

Kejriwal has been fighting legal battles recently over his request that AAP party members should offer bribes to BJP politicians and tape the encounters when this happened. His opponents sued, making the point that a blatant incitement to break the law is illegal. The case is continuing.

While Modi, who has been prime minister since 2014, was re-elected with a huge majority in the May 2019 national elections, at the state level the BJP has not done well in elections. Since December 2018, it has lost power in 5 states– Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand.

Modi is of humble origins, and worked at a tea stall early in his life instead of acquiring a formal education. If they seemed amenable to discussing politics, I asked some of the locals who attended the conference who typically belonged to Modi’s electoral base.

One graduate student said with a hint of exasperation: “his supporters come from the chaiwallah (street tea-seller) class”.

Ah, somewhat analogous, give or take a few obvious differences, to the demographic that supports Trump and Boris Johnson— that is, those who believed themselves to belong, probably correctly, to the “Left Behinds” created by neoliberalism and globalization.

Alas for these LBs, Modi, Trump, and BoJo Johnson are all members of neoliberalism’s executive committee, and so these LBs are the proverbial equivalent of foxes opposing a ban on fox hunting.

(OK, many Brits like me are obsessed, pro or con, about fox hunting. Tories tend to regard it as a quintessential emblem of “Britishness”, while the rest of us view it as a pursuit extraterritorial to one’s humanity.)

Trump is due to arrive in Delhi on 24th February for a state visit. Even though the orange-hued fellow is said to make fun of Modi by mimicking his accent, the visit should go well, despite the fact that negotiations between India and the US on a trade deal have run into choppy waters.

Modi and Trump form a mutual admiration society—if Trump respects a foreign leader, then Modi in all probability ranks just behind Putin, Netanyahu, and Mohammad bin Salman, probably in a tie for fourth place with Kim Jong-un.

The bar’s not high on such matters where Trump is concerned—in fact he’d probably show the door, any door, to a Nelson Mandela, Jawaharlal Nehru, Julius Nyerere, Bruno Kreisky, or Willy Brandt. And let’s not get started on Fidel or Ho Chi-minh!

The reporting here in India, on the front page of Hindustan Times (along with an item on 2 Indians on the cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama Harbour who had contracted the COVID-19 virus), is that signing the above-mentioned US-India trade deal was going to be the centerpiece of Trump’s visit. At least that seemed to be the Indian government’s hope.

At the last moment, the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he was “unable to travel indefinitely” to finalize the terms of the deal prior to Trump’s visit.

India with its growing economy wants shale-extracted or “fracked” gas from the US, while the US wants Mastercard and Visa to enter the Indian credit-card market on the same terms as the Indian government-backed credit card RuPay. If this happens, RuPay will be wiped out by Mastercard and Visa, who have global resources sufficient to undercut their Indian-confined competitor.

Should we look to see how much Visa and Mastercard donate to Trump’s re-election campaign?

At the same time there are cynics here who say the trade-deal “glitch” between the US and India is merely a smokescreen for Trump and Modi, arms linked aloft in triumph, to announce to an adoring crowd on Trump’s visit that they had managed somehow to resolve the deal’s impasses thanks to their “special relationship”.

Trump can then boast once again he is the master of the “art of the deal” (“I renegotiated NAFTA, blah blah—woo hoo!”), and Modi can say to Indian voters he plays in the same league as the really big hitters amongst the world’s politicians.

Watch this space to see if the Indian cynics are right.

And meanwhile Delhi continues to be, in the words of one of my Delhi friends, the world’s most polluted major metropolitan area (now that Beijing has managed to clean-up its act thanks to very firm and forthright measures adopted by the authoritarian Chinese government).

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Which Side Are You On?

Photograph Source: Jobs For Felons Hub – CC BY 2.0

My best friend from high school was in and out of the prison system the last two decades of his life. He was a drug addict. This was before the opioid epidemic; his poison was crack cocaine. His father had been a raging, violent alcoholic and his mother was a broken woman with chronic illnesses. My friend spent most of his adult life trying to take care of her.

His addiction put him in dire need of cash all the time, even as it made it impossible for him to hold a steady job. It drove him to do stupid things. He once stole my car and sold my son’s schoolbooks, which were in the back seat, to get some cash. He would bang on my door late at night, asking for some money to keep the dealers he owed from giving him a beat-down. He finally ended up stealing items from his mother’s house and pawning them. He went to jail for that, then for the next several years kept going back to jail for various probation violations: often for getting caught drinking in public somewhere.

He eventually did a 13-month stretch in state prison, where he danced a fine line between the violent, racially polarized gangs that the prison authorities allowed to run amok. He refused to join the white racists but was regarded warily by the black gangs. He got beatings from people on both sides but was also able, sometimes, to act as a peacemaker between them.

When he got out of the pen, his life continued largely as before. He tried to set himself up as an independent contractor, doing house repairs, roofing, carpet laying, yard work. His mother died. He had long lost custody of his only son. He still struggled with crack, but dulled his psychic pain mostly with alcohol. He died at some point in his fifties, found in his cheap apartment two or three days after his death, corpse bloated in the sweltering heat of a Tennessee summer.

That’s it. That was his life. That’s all he had. He was a dope addict. He was a convicted criminal. He was a repeat offender. He was a desperate liar and a thief. He was a lost soul of no use to the society he lived in and then he died. That’s it.

He was also — without exaggeration or nostalgic sentimentality — the kindest, most sweet-natured, open and gentle person you could ever meet. He loved music with a passion so deep it touched the core of the earth. His failings tormented him like hot coals. He couldn’t understand what had happened to him, why he couldn’t escape addiction, why his mind was so muddled, why it wouldn’t stop roaring long enough for him to ever gather himself and be real, be whole, be normal.

He was beaten and threatened all through his boyhood. Even in high school he was a nervous wreck. He used to sneak down to our house in the middle of the night after a row with his father and try to sleep in the hedgerow of our yard, or else on our back porch. Fortunately, the dogs would always alert us, and we’d find him and bring him in, make a bed for him on the couch. He loved my family with a searing love that never abated for the 50 years he knew us.

I think of my friend whenever I hear some bullshit-bloated politician or commentator dismissing the humanity and dignity of criminals and prisoners. I thought of my friend today, when I read a story about Jonathan Faircloth, a 33-year-old prisoner in Alabama dying of colon and liver cancer that’s being left untreated by the authorities. He too was back in prison for probation violations — another drug addict who, while trying to make a normal life for his wife and children, got slam-banged by his addiction again.

I thought of my friend when I read the reply of Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton after the Alabama media asked him about this human being left to die without treatment:

“He’s using his sickness as an excuse to get out of jail over and over again. In layman’s terms, he just ran out of his chances. So the judge revoked [his probation] and says he has to serve his days,” Horton said.

He is using his sickness — his Stage 4 colon cancer which has now spread to his liver and will kill him by next year if not before — as an “excuse.” An excuse. Stage 4 cancer as an excuse.

I read these words, and I think of the countless sons of bitches across the country — the dimwitted bulls in their stupid, prissy knit uniforms like this Etowah goober, the tee-shirted assholes pounding out inhumane bullshit on Twitter, the sleek politicians in designer suits, and the millions and millions of people committing spiritual suicide by attending to the brutal, barbaric blather of these walking, rotting husks.

I think of them, and I think of my friend — a parole-violating drug-addicted repeat-offending criminal of no use to the society he lived in — and I know — by God, I know! — which side I’m on.

The post Which Side Are You On? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Hysteria Isn’t Killing Nuclear Power

Photograph Source: Bjoern Schwarz – CC BY 2.0

Time was, that a woman suffering from menopause, pre-menstrual syndrome, a heightened libido or lack thereof,  was labeled “hysterical.” Her very real medical or psychological troubles were put down to an “emotional reaction.” For a while these symptoms were even attributed to a “wandering womb.” What? Yes, really.

For years, if you were a woman who opposed nuclear power, you were likely subjected to exactly the same treatment (although luckily not the one for the “wandering womb,” which I won’t go into here). How many of us were told, usually by men, that we were simply far too “emotional”? (Implication? We just didn’t understand the actual “science”.)

But as the long-term survival of nuclear power became ever more unlikely, the pro-nuclear forces ramped up their rhetoric to sweep everyone into the “hysteria” basket. That’s where you belonged if you dared to claim that nuclear power is too dangerous a technology to continue. A hysteric. A fear-mongerer. And, these days, a purveyor of “fake news.” You’ll find it everywhere.

“Let’s see if there are any countries out there that did not get entirely persuaded by the anti-nuclear hysteria, and how that affected their carbon emissions,” wrote somebody called Anthony Watts on his blog after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Under the headline “There’s No Good Reason For Anti-Nuclear Hysteria”, Veit Ringel wrote in the spooky sounding Executive Intelligence Review, “If we do not guard against ideologically driven hysteria against modern, advanced nuclear technology . . . we will see that one day our granddaughters will be sewing T-shirts for the Chinese market.”  That conclusion sounds pretty hysterical to me.

“A partial meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant as a result of the largest recorded earthquake to hit Japan has set off a renewed bout of nuclear hysteria,” wrote John Downs in Business Insider.

Those illustrious scientists Penn & Teller called their takedown show on Helen Caldicott — who has certainly borne the brunt of the “too emotional” slur in our movement — “Penn & Teller vs Dr. Helen Caldicott, Candles & Anti-Nuclear Fearmongering.”

And here’s what well known columnist, Fareed Zacharia, just wrote in a February 14 column in the Washington Post that appeared to have been cribbed from the cliff notes of any number of pro-nuclear front groups:

“Fears about nuclear power, which Sanders clearly shares, are largely based on emotional reactions to the few high-profile accidents that have taken place over the past few decades.”

But it’s not fear that has done in nuclear power. It’s the very real risks  — along with its exorbitant cost.

It’s the fact that it can poison people, animals, air, land and water for millennia.

It’s the fact that, despite their ivory tower pontificating, people like Zacharia have never met the mothers of children suffering as a result of the Fukushima disaster or even, still, Chernobyl. Those children may be immaterial statistics to lofty columnists and bloggers, but they aren’t immaterial to those mothers.

And it’s not fear that drives politicians like Bernie Sanders to oppose nuclear power. It’s that the subsidies we would squander, and the time we would waste on propping it up, costs us time we don’t have, and money we sorely need to fix climate change fast.

So, yes, Mr. Zacharia, I have an “emotional reaction” when I see small children who should be carefree and playing outside, confined indoors, or worse, coming down with thyroid cancer they would never have suffered without Fukushima.

I have  an “emotional reaction” when I see the sad faces of mentally and physically disabled children dumped into Belarusian orphanages, children harmed by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which happened long before they were born.

I even have an “emotional reaction” when I see the photos and videos of dead or dying cows abandoned in Fukushima, their bellowing cries echoing around cowsheds already strewn with the corpses of their herdmates.

And yes, I have an “emotional reaction” even when there isn’t an accident.

I am disturbed at the alarming increase in leukemias among children living close to nuclear power plants.

I get emotional hearing the stories of Navajo uranium miners and their families, who must battle radiation exposure-induced diseases along with deprivation and discrimination.

I am disturbed, emotionally, at the toll taken on endangered sea turtles, captured and killed at operating nuclear plants.

And I get upset when I see that, once again, the only plans for dealing with radioactive waste are to dump it on poor communities of color.

The nuclear lobby counters all this by telling us, as Zacharia did, that nuclear power is “300 times safer than coal”, according to an Oxford University study. Which is of course, irrelevant. When we make our “emotional” argument that nuclear power harms all living things, none of us is here to say that coal would be better. It’s an absurd allegation. There will be no return to coal.

We are here to say renewables are safer. But not safe. We have yet to discover a form of energy generation that leaves no footprint in nature.

We don’t have to face Sophie’s Choice. But we do have a choice to replace nuclear power with renewables. And where nuclear power is closing — in Germany, Switzerland, and even in Nebraska and California — that is what is happening.

The American Psychiatric Association dropped the term hysteria in 1952. The pro-nuclear lobby should stop using it to dismiss the very real, medical harms of nuclear power, which most often impact communities the least resourced to fight back.

If you don’t have an “emotional reaction” when confronted with the tragedies wrought by nuclear power, then you are the one who needs a doctor.

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Truly Remaking Social Security is the Key to Having a Livable Society in the US

Photograph Source: FDR Presidential Library & Museum – CC BY 2.0

Social Security is back in the news, as both Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg, two emblematic one-percenter oligarchs, raise the issue of its future as part of their campaign strategy.

Trump (a faux wannabe billionaire) has put Americans on notice that while he may have promised during his 2016 campaign “not to touch” the New Deal’s most lasting legacy program, on which some 70 million Americans –- the elderly and the disabled as well as dependent children of those dependent upon Social Security rely —  during his term of office as president, he is ready to start hacking away in a second term. His first target:  benefits for the disabled.

Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg, America’s eighth-richest man with $62 billion in assets at last count (minus the third of a billion has just spent so far on an ads-only campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination), is promising to “strengthen” and “improve” Social Security if he becomes the country’s first oligarch/president.

But before we get all excited about improved Social Security, let’s consider what that could mean.  First of all, most of the time when US politicians, like Bloomberg, talk about “strengthening” or “improving” social security, they are actually talking about making it harder to get, by for example raising the full-retirement age for receiving benefits, or adopting a cost-of-living metric that further reduces that adjustment made for inflation each year, so that actual benefits decline gradually over time with no actual numerical cut in the dollar amounts received.

As things stand the CPI measure used for adjusting Social Security benefits for inflation is an index designed to reflect the costs experienced by urban service workers, not the elderly. For the current year benefits were raised 1.6%, a ludicrously low amount by any standard, but wholly unlike the inflation that the elderly, whose major expenses are for food, housing and healthcare, have actually been hit with. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices rose 1.9% in that year, housing costs rose 2.9% and health care costs rose 2%.) Many politicians in Congress, especially Republicans (Bloomberg’s party of choice from 2000 until 2018) want to use something called a “chained CPI) which would vastly lower inflation adjustments by substituting a cheaper product whenever one included in the index rises substantially in price, the theory being that low-income consumers will shift to a cheaper product as prices rises — for example switching from beef to chicken as meat prices rise, or from a car to a bus if car prices and/or fuel prices rise.)

So beware of those talking of “strengthening” Social Security without reading all the fine print!

But beyond that, let’s consider how inadequate Social Security really is as things now stand.

So-called think tank “experts” and politicians, Republican and Democratic, are wont to remind us all the time that Social Security “was never intended to be a primary pension” for Americans. We poor schmucks were supposed to have employer-funded pensions and savings. But over the years, as unions have been deliberately crushed by state and federal laws making it easier and easier for companies to break unions and to keep them from winning contracts in the workplace (despite majority support among the American people for a union on their job), those pensions have practically vanished, replaced only by 401(k) plans and private IRA plans. But most employers don’t even contribute to, or contribute very little to the 401(k) tax-deferred plans they offer, and in fact the median size 401(k) for workers in the 60-69 age bracket where most people choose to or need to retire is just $62,000, hardly enough to get one through the next 10-20 years of life!

It’s fine to say that Social Security was “never intended” to be a complete retirement plan, but for a majority of Americans, these days it is their only retirement plan.

Things have only gotten worse over the years. Where once people at least had a paid-off house to live in when they retired, now college costs have gotten so high, even at so-called public universities, that many families have remortgaged their homes to pay for their kids’ college educations… or for needed medical care, which has also soared even as Medicare has covered less and less, especially when it comes to drugs and of course long-term care.

So what should be done?

Well, let’s look at Finland. I visited there a few years ago, and interviewed the Finnish Social Security Program’s chief actuary. He told me that back in the 1990s, the country, which has an older average population than even the US, realized they had a looming problem with the program’s funding. Instead of cutting back on benefits — the preferred US solution to date in Washington — the government conducted a study, first to determine how much of a benefit would be required to allow people to retire without taking a hit to their living standard, and then how to fund a program that could achieve that goal.

The study found that people needed replacement income of about 60% of their final year’s pre-retirement working income to continue with their existing lifestyle. This was based upon the fact that at retirement people in Finland typically expected to own their home free and clear, and of course knew that their healthcare in Finland, as in all the Nordic countries, would continue to be free.  They could own their own homes easily, since in Finland, education through college is free, and students also receive a $600 monthly living stipend, so children either leave high school and get a job, or go to college. Either way, they no longer cost their parents much if anything as they progress into independent adulthood.

Of course, here in the US, we don’t have free college, and we don’t have free health care, even in retirement. At present Social Security typically only replaces about 38% of a worker’s pre-retirement income, according to Social Security data, so Social Security benefit checks may be enough to keep a person or a couple from starving on the sidewalk, for more people they are not enough to allow anyone to live as they used to live as a working person. So if we’re talking about improving (as opposed to Bloomberg’s ambiguous strengthening) Social Security, as for example candidate Bernie Sanders is doing, we really have to look at how to make the program more like what they have in Finland or the other Nordic nations.

That’s why we need, as part of any reform, to have Medicare for All. Retiring parents cannot be expected to live decently if they have to subsidize private medical insurance premiums for their own care (Medicare Part B and D for example) or for their uninsured or typically underinsured kids and grandkids, as many find themselves having to do. We need to take those costs off the budget for retirees.

And we need to eliminate the burden of paying for higher education for current workers and for their children. Free public college, as they well understand in far more enlightened Finland, besides being good social and economic policy for a nation, is also a key part of making retirement affordable.

Put those two things in place, and we too, in the US, could look at making Social Security a true public retirement program for all. Instead of people (most of whom we know live from paycheck to paycheck) needing to have the sufficient income over expenses and the discipline to sock away millions of dollars in an IRA or 402(k) plan on their own, we need a Social Security program that will provide benefits of roughly 60% of what workers are earning right before they retire, at least up to a level of a decent middle-class living standard of say $70,000 for a married couple (roughly the median income for a couple in 2020). That would mean a Social Security benefit for two of about $42,000.  Since the median Social Security benefit amount for an individual who retires at age 67 is currently $15,000, assuming a couple with two workers, that would max out at $30,000 a year — about $1000 a month short. Obviously for people who were higher earners, living on $120,000 a year, the needed retirement benefit would need to be closer to $70,000 a year, but their Social Security benefit if they retired at 67 currently would be closer to $48,000 combined, or almost $2000 a month short or maintaining their standard of living in retirement.

We’re obviously talking about having to make a major adjustment of assets paid into the Social Security system to make it a genuine public retirement program, even after initiating a Medicare-for-All health system and free public higher education, but it can be done. What’s required is what was done in Finland and the other Nordic nations:  an increase in the retirement fund payroll tax, known as FICA, in this country, from its current 6.2% rate for employee and for employer, to perhaps 8 percent or more, and an end to the 50/50 split in that tax, so that employers, who would no longer need to voluntarily pay into 401(k) plans to attract workers, would instead be required to pay a higher share of the FICA tax for the people on their payroll. This is uneven split in taxation to fund retirement plans is common in Finland and other European countries that have such public retirement plans. (It’s odd that we find it quite logical for employers to voluntarily pay into 401(k) plans, but extortionate to make them do so through FICA, but that’s America for you.)

All of this can, and should be done as part of any genuine reform to make the US a decent place for all of us to live. It should no longer be a survival-of-the-fittest jungle in the US, as it has been increasingly becoming over recent decades of alternating conservative and neoliberal governments.

Of course, there’s one more issue that has to be dealt with if we’re going to accomplish all these critically important things, and that is ending the death grip of the Military Industrial Complex on the US economy and on our political system. No progressive change is really possible in this country if we continue to spend upwards of $1.3 trillion a year on wars and preparing for wars, occupation and intervention in the affairs of other nations.  We need to bring the half million or more troops stationed abroad or at sea home to the US and cashier them out into civilian life, to slash the US military payroll overall by perhaps 75-90 percent (especially the top-heavy officer corps), cancel the $1.3-trillion “modernization” program for the US nuclear arsenal, and eliminate the US standing army, against the existence of which the Founding Fathers rightly warned. If Russia can get by on a $66-billion annual military budget, and China, with its internal domestic occupation army alone of almost a million men, can get by on $200 billion a year, surely the US can get by on a military budget a tenth the size of what it is now. That would free up some $1 trillion a year for social spending.

So do you want to know what social democracy is? It’s a socio-political system and economy that has as its premise improving the lives of all, with a focus on those at the bottom economic rungs of the ladder. It’s not about how we organize the ownership of the means of production (that would be true socialism – – or even communism with a small “c”).  Rather, social democracy, as practiced by many of the nations of Europe, all of them still staunchly capitalist at their core, and in many ways more democratic and socially mobile than our own,  which is where Bernie Sanders says he wants this country to go, fundamentally means a system where the people of a country do not need to struggle to survive. Most Americans are clueless about this but they are countries where people have time for their children, six weeks or more per year of paid vacation, often higher standards of living than the US,  maternity/paternity leaves of as much as a year per child, and even, in Finland, sabbatical leaves every 10 years for all workers, not just academics!  We in the US can get there from here if we want to.

Truly remaking Social Security, and as part of achieving that worthy goal, establishing Medicare for All and free public college for all who want it, while slashing military spending, is something that all Americans — the elderly, the disabled, and the younger folks who care for those who need the program, and who want it for themselves when they get older or become disabled —  should be fighting for in this critical election year and beyond.

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Bloomberg on Bloomberg: The Selected Sayings of the Much-Awaited Establishment Messiah

“If you want to know if somebody’s a good salesman, give them the job of going to the Midwest, and picking a town, and selling to that town the concept that some man wearing a dress should be in a locker room with their daughter. If you can sell that, you can sell anything. They just look at you, and they say, What on earth are you talking about? And you say, Well, this person identifies his or her gender as different than what’s on their birth certificate. And they say, What do you mean? You’re either born this, or you’re born that. In our prison system in New York City, we have the policy, when you walk in, drop your trousers, you go this way, and you go that way, that’s it, because you can’t sit there and mix things in jail, that’s a practical case of where you have to make a decision.” (Against transgender bathrooms, 2016)

“The Harvard graduate on average will never catch up to a plumber. Partly because the first four years instead of spending $60,000 you make $60,000.” (A Harvard education versus being a plumber, 2015)

“If you want to drive out the 1 percent of the people that pay roughly 50 percent of the taxes, or the 10 percent of the people that pay 70-odd percent of the taxes, that’s as good a strategy as I know. We wouldn’t be able to have cops to keep us safe, firefighters to rescue us, teachers to educate our kids….You saw in France people moving out when they raised the tax rates. Whether you like it or not, the wealthy are mobile.” (Against raising taxes on the wealthy, 2012)

“What are we going to say in 10 years when we see all these kids whose IQs are 5 to 10 points lower than they would have been? I couldn’t feel more strongly about it, and my girlfriend says it’s no different than alcohol. It is different than alcohol. This is one of the stupider things that’s happening across our country.” (Against legalizing pot, 2015)

“What we really should have is fingerprinting to get in. And of course there’s an allegation that some of these apartments aren’t occupied by the people who originally have the lease.” (Fingerprinting public housing residents, 2013)

“The protesters are protesting against people who make $40–50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet….Those are the people that work on Wall Street or in the finance sector….We need the banks, if the banks don’t go out and make loans we will not come out of our economic problems, we will not have jobs….We always tend to blame the wrong people. We blame the banks.” (Against Occupy protestors, 2011)

“Complying with it is really impossible, which means you’re not going to comply with it. The world adjusts to stupid laws, they don’t pay any attention to them and you get burned later on, like a 25 mile per hour speed limit….Some of these fines are outrageous and shouldn’t be allowed to take place.” (Against banking fines and regulations, 2014)

“I want to thank President Bush for leading the global war on terrorism. The president deserves our support. We are here to support him. And I am here to support him.” (Supporting the Iraq War, 2004)

“Great, No. 16!” (Commenting on the number of pregnant employees in the company, upon hearing an employee tell him she was pregnant, 1995)

“I think the Fire Department union should probably step back and look in the mirror….We will not tolerate turning a firehouse into a brothel….We’re not going to tolerate firefighters drinking when they’re on the job. We absolutely will not let anybody who’s on drugs drive a fire engine.” (Attacking firefighters, 2004)

“Friday night when I was informed that, of the situation of this teacher saying that she had been a sex worker—I think was the term she might have used—I said, Well, you know, call her, tell her she is being removed from the classroom….We’re just not going to have this woman in front of a class.” (Firing a former sex worker from her teaching position)

“You don’t solve the problem, as the populists would argue, by taking things away from the rich. I, for example, am not in favor, have never been in favor, of raising the minimum wage.” (Opposing a rise in the minimum wage, 2015)

“So if that’s what you describe as income inequality—that’s just not an apt description. One of the things that’s different today is the poor—80 percent have air-conditioning. Seventy percent have cars. When we grew up we didn’t have air-conditioning. Air-conditioning in the schools, the subways. Are you crazy? Now, by most of the world’s standards, you ain’t poor.” (Denying income inequality, 2013)

“Who’s paying our taxes?….We want these people to come here, and it’s not our job to say that they’re over or underpaid….Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?” (Arguing against inequality in NYC, 2013)

“If New York City is a business, it isn’t Walmart—it isn’t trying to be the lowest-priced product in the market….It’s a high-end product, maybe even a luxury product. New York offers tremendous value, but only for those companies able to capitalize on it.” (Branding NYC, 2003)

“You can arrive in your private jet at Kennedy Airport, take a private limousine and go straight to the shelter system and walk in the door and we’ve got to give you shelter” (Deploring homeless shelters, 2013)

“Some people say, taxes are regressive. In this case, yes they are. That’s the good thing about them because the problem is in people that don’t have a lot of money. And so, higher taxes should have a bigger impact on their behavior and how they deal with themselves….And that’s why you do want to do exactly what a lot of people say you don’t want to do. (Justifying regressive taxes, 2018)

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Corporate Occupations: The UN Business “Black List” and Israel’s Settlements

Mikhail Bakunin, in that charming anarchist tradition, regarded the state as an evil to be done away with.  Such collective formations were criminal, oppressive, eviscerating to the individual.  The corporation might be regarded as a similar collective, adopting and aping elements of the state with, in some cases, greater latitude to achieve its object.  At times, they collude with states to advance their interests, which rarely deviate from the profit motive; in other cases, they seek to overthrow state regimes in favour of more compliant ones.

For that reason, bringing corporate behaviour within the realm of human rights can be a tad tricky.  You can take corporate managers to witness grave abuses, but you can’t make them feel.  The cynicism in this field is so profound that it produces such views as those of Milton Friedman, who suggested with monetarist glee that corporations are only burdened by one task in the field of social responsibility: using their “resources and engage in activities designed to increase [their] profits so long as it stays in the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.”

In his New York Times Magazine piece from 1970, he took issue with those businessmen who spoke of having a “social conscience”, or sought to achieve “social” ends, be it limiting pollution, ensuring secure employment or eliminating discrimination.

Friedman’s piece was as much a distillation of a business condition as a philosophy.  Invariably, the corporate condition is one-dimensional and bound to the aims of maximising share dividends and gaining market share.  Every other goal tends to be subordinated to that end.

Publishing the names of various companies reaping in proceeds from occupied Palestinian lands while supporting their structural integrity would hardly shock a follower of Friedman.  The follower would argue that such companies have only one moral, ethical purpose in mind, something which would preclude advancing a human rights agenda, or greater accommodation with Palestinians.  But a company operating on such soil cannot entirely escape the orbit of ethical implications.  The dispute hinges on the implicit assumption on Israel’s part that such businesses are, supposedly, legitimate in their operations; the counter to that is that the United Nations, and most of its members, see the settlements as illegal in international law.

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights office revealed a database of some 112 businesses connected with Israeli settlements, 94 of which are Israeli.  The report was a response to a 2016 UNHRC resolution (31/36) calling for a “database for all businesses engaged in specific activities related to Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.”  US companies include Airbnb, Trip Advisor, Expedia, Motorola and General Mills.  The UK’s Greenkote and France’s Alstom also feature in the list.  The special rapporteur Michael Lynk saw them as essential components of economic activity within the settlements.  “Without these investments, wineries, factories, corporate supply and purchase agreements, banking operations and support services, many of the settlements would not be financially and operationally sustainable.  And without the settlements, the five-decade-long Israeli occupation would lose its colonial raison d’être.”

Lynk felt that publishing details of those businesses did constitute some measure of rebuke, however small.  “While the release of the database will not, by itself, bring an end to the illegal settlements and their serious impact upon human rights, it does signal that sustained defiance by an occupying power will not go unanswered.”

One notable qualifier on the list has gone unnoticed.  In a statement from the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, the point was made that identifying the companies had not been a judicial or quasi-judicial exercise.  The settlements were illegal, but the report did not furnish a “legal characterization of the activities in question, or of business enterprises’ involvement in them.”  One senses that an opportunity might have gone begging there.

The response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one deviation and re-attribution.  The UN Human Rights Council, he charged, “is a biased and uninfluential body.”  Rather than dealing with human rights “this body is trying to blacken Israel’s name.  We reject any such attempt in the strongest terms and with disgust.”

Despite dismissing the Human Rights Council as uninfluential, Netanyahu took the matter seriously enough to suspend ties with the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.  The basis for doing so had nothing to do with addressing any criteria of human rights, but whether companies would be protected in conducting their business.  Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s office, Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused, had fallen into the service of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.

In a statement on the issue, Katz was keen to take a principled stance.  The Human Rights Council was ignorant of human rights.  “Since its establishment, the Council has not taken a single meaningful step towards the preservation of human rights, but has rather served to protect some of the most discriminatory regimes in the world.”  The Commissioner had “wasted an opportunity to preserve the dignity of the UN ad salvage what was left of the Council and the Commission’s integrity.”

President Reuven Rivlin, as if to prove the point made by special rapporteur Lynk, read out the names of those Israeli companies that had made the list in an address from his Jerusalem residence, calling them “patriots who contribute to Israeli society, to economy and to peace.”

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan even went so far as to claim that such lists violated the rights of those subjects living under occupation.  In the language befitting a colonial governor’s reproach to an independence activist, Erdan suggested that the UN publication “will hurt the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians who coexist and cooperate with Israelis on a daily basis in Judea and Samaria.”

Had Netanyahu simply claimed to be a Friedmanite, that might have made some brutal, if shallow sense.  But as occupations, territorial consolidation and Israeli identity remain ideological and religious matters, ethics becomes a matter of observance and abuse.  Occupations and matters of conquest tend to be disturbingly moral pursuits, pursued fanatically and with lethal resolve.  Best keep corporations on your side, if that is the case.

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Assange’s Extradition Case: Critical Moment for the Anti-war Movement

Earlier this week, Leader of the UK opposition Jeremy Corbyn challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons on the US extradition request for WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.

Corbyn stated that Assange had been charged by the US “for exposing war crimes, the murder of civilians and large-scale corruption”. Backing the Council of Europe, who warned that the prosecution of Assange sets a dangerous precedent for journalists and called for his immediate release, he asked:

“Will the Prime Minister agree with the Parliamentary report that’s going to the Council of Europe that this extradition should be opposed and the rights of journalists and whistleblowers upheld for the good of all of us?”

Corbyn has risen to political prominence for his lifelong activism against military action. He opposed the 2003 Iraq War and also voted against British military involvement in Afghanistan and Libya. The Labour leader, who is known for his staunch commitment to democratic rights and peace, understood very well the value of WikiLeaks’ disclosure of government secrets.

WikiLeaks’ publication of documents concerning US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was a major contribution to the anti-war movement. The release of the Collateral Murder video provided a rare window into modern asymmetric warfare, revealing the war crime of a US military airstrike killing innocent civilians in a suburb of Iraq.

Corbyn, who has not mentioned Assange’s plight over the last 10 months, and with now less than two weeks before his extradition hearing, finally broke his silence. In his question to the Prime Minister, he fiercely asserted the voice of the anti-war movement at the Parliamentary session.

The Fourth Estate as a vehicle for peace

This decisive action by Corbyn came shortly after Julian Assange was nominated for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, along with whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. The nomination letter stated that these three need to be recognized for their “unprecedented contributions to the pursuit of peace and their immense personal sacrifices to promote peace for all”. It acknowledged how they have “exposed the architecture of war and strengthened the architecture of peace”. In the following week, Assange also won the 2020 Gary Webb Freedom of the Press Award, adding another prize to his list of journalism awards.

Assange understood the critical role of media in keeping peace. He once noted: “Populations don’t like wars. They have to be lied into it. That means we can be ‘truthed’ into peace.” Speaking in defense of the disclosure of classified US military documents on the Iraq War, Assange pointed out how “most wars that are started by democracies involve lying” and described, “the start of the Iraq War involved very serious lies that were repeated and amplified by some parts of the press”.

The Iraq War is a good example of the massive failure of established media in the West. Colin Powell’s fabrication at the UN Security Council about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction was a particular low point for the US in its base war propaganda.

While media have become stenographers to power and have long betrayed ordinary people, WikiLeaks has defended the public’s right to know by publishing more than 10 million documents, with a pristine record of accuracy exposing human rights abuses, government spying and war crimes on an unprecedented scale. By bringing truth to the public, the whistleblowing site transformed the Fourth Estate into becoming a powerful vehicle for peace-making.

Australian MPs’ initiative

In the EU, the number of Parliament members, lawmakers and ministers in support of Assange is growing. In Assange’s home country, Australia, concern for one of the nation’s legendary journalists is becoming stronger. As more and more people voiced disappointment with the inaction of the Australian government, individuals inside the institution began to take action.

On February 10, Australian MP Andrew Wilkie tabled a historic petition in Australia’s Parliament calling for an end to the US extradition. As he urged the government to bring Assange back home, he added:

“That the perpetrator of those war crimes, America, is now seeking to extradite Mr Assange to face 17 counts of espionage and one of hacking is unjust in the extreme and arguably illegal under British law.”

Then, a day later, he announced that he would travel to London to visit Assange in Belmarsh prison, where he has been kept in complete isolation until recently. Another Australian MP George Christensen will also visit Assange in London and together they plan to lobby Britain for his freedom.

Momentum is now building up, with political figures demonstrating great leadership in urging their governments to do the right thing. In the US, during the lead-up to Mr Assange’s UK hearing, the Democratic Party’s primary nomination contest is intensifying. Candidates race to win the right to challenge Trump for the 2020 presidential election. 

Presidential race to rescue the free press?

Who among the US presidential candidates would be the next to follow Corbyn’s great lead to defend Assange, in order to rescue the free press that is now under attack by the Trump administration?

So far, strong support is shown by Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii’s congresswoman and the first female combat veteran to ever run for president. She indicated that, if elected President in 2020, she would drop all US charges against Julian Assange and pardon Edward Snowden.

What about the positions of other major candidates? Both the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren recognized the dangerous precedent that the Trump administration’s indictment against Assange poses for press freedom, yet they fall short in coming forward to strongly defend a journalist imprisoned in London’s HMP Belmarsh, who is now facing 175 years in a US prison for his publishing activities exposing US war crimes.

Will Sanders, who is viewed by many as America’s counterpart to UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, stand up for what has become the most essential media freedom issue of our time? Would Warren, who promises to take on Wall Street to protect economic opportunities for working families, show the same enthusiasm to protect media freedom? Will any of them challenge Joe Biden for the remarks he made while he was Vice-President to Barack Obama comparing Assange to a “high-tech terrorist”?

Bill Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, who now has become the only opponent to challenge Trump for the Republican ticket, indicated that his administration would not press Espionage Act charges against Julian Assange.

Grassroots action

While presidential candidates are lacking in their courage to defend Assange, support toward the WikiLeaks founder is growing at the grassroots level among the American people. Rick Sterling, the Bay Area-based investigative journalist, recently launched a new petition to intervene on behalf of Assange’s freedom. The petition, endorsed by the National Lawyers Guild and Veterans for Peace, is addressed to Vanessa Baraitser, who will be the presiding judge at Assange’s formal extradition hearing starting February 24, urging her to exercise judicial independence and reject the US extradition request.

Sterling, who is a member of Syria Solidarity Movement, has been critical of the US military invasion of the Middle East, and has traveled to London with other concerned friends to investigate Assange’s current situation. He said, “Once there, we were inspired by the dedication of activists who protest outside Belmarsh Prison every Saturday and in Trafalgar Square every Saturday night. People from around the world are coming to express their solidarity.”

He said that he initiated this petition because he wanted to make it known that  “there are informed American citizens who adamantly OPPOSE what our government is doing”. He added: “We want the judge to consider all the facts and not be pressured or bullied into extraditing Assange.”

In defense of peace

Assange’s US extradition hearing is set to start for five days on February 24, and will then resume on May 18 for three more weeks. His first day in the court is marked as a Global Day of Protests, where supporters around the world are organizing rallies and demonstrations. In the US, supporters across the country are planning to gather for solidarity actions planned in Washington DC throughout the first week of his hearing.

Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture who investigated Mr Assange’s situation, spoke at a recent public rally in London about how Julian Assange reported on torture conducted by the US government, but which has never been prosecuted. He reminded the audience that Assange has been and continues to be psychologically tortured, and that if he were to be extradited to the US he would be tortured until the day he dies.

The US government’s extradition and prosecution of Julian Assange is a critical moment for press freedom, but also for the anti-war movement. This aggressive government’s assault on journalists poses grave danger to peace, for without a press that is free and independent, truth that has the power to stop wars is defenseless.

If the Trump administration were to succeed in extraditing Assange to the US, where he will not receive a fair trial, it will be the death of investigative journalism and the victory of senseless wars. If this is ever allowed to happen, the murder of an innocent journalist will not be the end, but only the beginning: the unchecked power of the US Empire will bring misery and death to countless innocents around the world, and tyranny inevitably follow with wars without end. We need to solidify our opposition to the US extradition of Julian Assange, because peace needs a great public defense.

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The Wealth That’s Killing Us Will Save Us: Politics Through the Looking-Glass

The Bloomberg for President campaign office looks like a complete anachronism in the heart of Harlem in New York City. The office is located on Harlem’s famous 125th Street near the Metro North commuter railway station. The Bloomberg campaign office, a space that has the depth of a bowling alley, has a few campaign staffers working on computers at a table in the otherwise darkened space. The campaign office appears so out-of-place amid the fast food storefronts and comings and goings of the many people on the street. Bloomberg campaign signs cover much of the front window’s plate glass. The commuter trains make for constant background clatter and lurching sounds from the elevated tracks.

Around the corner on Madison Avenue, two men walk toward 125th Street and one man is wearing a Bloomberg campaign button. Bloomberg had a net “worth” of $40.7 billion as of January 2018, money that most people on the streets can’t even begin to imagine.

Here is the world that Michael Bloomberg inhabits and the environment he created in New York City. “The Corporate Media Is Directly Profiting from Mike Bloomberg’s Rise as He Spends Fortune on TV Ads,” (Democracy Now, February 14, 2020):

What he never talks about, though, is, he has apologized for his stop-and-frisk policies, but if you look deeper into what happened during that period of time, not only did Bloomberg systematically defend stop-and-frisk for all those years, but his people attempted to smear the judge, the federal judge, Scheindlin, who was on the case [stop and frisk case], and convinced all of the media, behind the scenes, to write articles that she was biased and that she was unhinged.

And the other policies of Bloomberg, whether it’s the privatization of the public parks in the city, the massive privatization of public schools through expansion of charter schools, massive subsidies for commercial development in the city while rents skyrocketed, this is classic neoliberalism. And the idea that Democrats and some progressives might actually rally behind him, I find astonishing.

And this latest issue of redlining, of saying that that was the cause of the — not redlining, but eliminating redlining, was the cause of the financial crisis.

Bloomberg and his immense fortune are so different from the people on the streets that his campaign office could be compared to an alien presence given his reactionary and deadly policies of stop and frisk and redlining that has furthered the expansion of the income gap to historic levels.

Here’s Michael Bloomberg in his own words (“Bloomberg, in 2008, said ending ‘redlining’ helped trigger financial crisis,” Fox News, February 13, 2020) on his take of the cause of the 2007-2008 Great Recession:

It all started back when there was a lot of pressure on banks to make loans to everyone, Bloomberg, now a Democratic presidential candidate, said at a forum that was hosted by Georgetown University in September 2008. Redlining, if you remember, was the term where banks took whole neighborhoods and said, ‘People in these neighborhoods are poor, they’re not going to be able to pay off their mortgages, tell your salesmen don’t go into those areas.’

The walk or bus ride to Riverside Drive, across Manhattan, is quite an affluent neighborhood, where Martin Luther King, Jr, gave his famous April 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech in which he highlighted the consumerist society whose government then waged a vicious and immoral war in Vietnam.  The site of King’s speech, Riverside Church, could not be a better backdrop for the immense wealth that those like Bloomberg have amassed in a nation with unfathomable discrepancies in assets and the well-being of ordinary people. It’s like being in two worlds at one time within the distance of just a few miles.  Many in the mass media are trying to convince voters not to vote for, at the very least, moderate change, when it’s the corrupting influence of obscene wealth that has brought the world to the brink of complete ruin. Somehow, the mass media wants to convince voters that immense wealth will somehow magically restore the Earth and ourselves. It’s the idea of tickle-down once again.

Just as the stop and frisk and redlining debacles have come to light from the former mayor’s past, now a “Wit and Wisdom [sic]” booklet from 1990 has surfaced in which alleged sexist remarks toward women on the part of Bloomberg are logged (“Michael Bloomberg rocked by re-emergence of sexist remarks,” Guardian, February 15, 2020).

The wealthy don’t play by the same rules as most people. Take a quick look at Trump for a sampling of not playing by any rules. They can buy their way into political campaigns and influence opinion in ways that twist reason to unfathomable extremes. And they (the mass media) call the most moderate of liberals in the 2020 presidential campaign extremists!

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Canada, Get Out of the Lima Group, Core Group and OAS

“Qui se ressemble, s’assemble.” The English saying is “birds of a feather flock together.” Translated from Spanish: “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” The folk wisdom that who we hang out with tells a lot about us is reflected in numerous proverbs.

Whatever the language, who Ottawa chooses to hang out with tells us a lot about who Canada is in the Americas. The coalitions/institutions Ottawa is part of in the Americas speak of siding with the rich and powerful, of being part of the US Empire, of imperialism.

Recently Haiti joined the Lima Group of governments seeking to overthrow the Venezuelan government. Instigated by Canada and Peru in mid 2017, the Lima Group has successfully corralled regional support for the US-led campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro. The coalition has gathered on a dozen occasions — including a third summit to be held in Canada on Thursday — to develop common positions and strategize on regime change.

President Jovenel Moïse’s decision to join the Lima Group highlights the influence of another Canadian-sponsored imperial group of friends. Unlike the Trudeau government’s anti-Venezuela positions, Moïse’s steps towards the Lima Group have been controversial in Haiti. When his government first voted against Venezuela at the Organization of American States (OAS) 13 months ago it stoked the fire of popular discontent that nearly toppled him. Until recently Haiti benefited from the discounted Venezuelan Petrocaribe oil program, which Moïse and his acolytes pilfered, spurring massive protests over the past 18 months. More generally, Haitians overwhelmingly view themselves as anti-imperialist and are proud their ancestors aided South American independence leaders Simon Bolivar and Miranda to defeat Spanish rule.

As popular discontent has grown, Moïse has become increasingly dependent on outside backing. The only reason Moïse is president is because of the so-called “Core Group” of “Friends of Haiti”, which comprises the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Brazil and Spain, as well as representatives of the EU and OAS. Core Group representatives meet regularly among themselves and with Haitian officials and periodically release collective statements on Haitian affairs.

Last month Radio Canada’s investigative programme Enquête pointed out that the Core Group was spawned at the “Ottawa initiative on Haiti”. Held at the Meech Lake Government Resort on January 31 and February 1, 2003, no Haitian officials were invited to the private gathering where US, French, OAS and Canadian officials discussed overthrowing Haiti’s elected government, putting the country under UN trusteeship and recreating the Haitian military.

Since the subsequent February 2004 coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide the Core Group has heavily influenced Haitian affairs. But, taking office two and a half years after the coup, René Préval succeeded in carving out some room to govern independently of the Core Group overseers — joining Venezuela’s Petrocaribe, for instance — but the January 2010 earthquake devastated the Haitian government. Taking advantage of its weakness, the Core Group pushed for elections to be held months after the earthquake and when their preferred candidate was in third place they dispatched an OAS “Expert Verification Mission” that determined (without offering proof) extreme right-wing candidate Michel Martelly deserved to be in the second round runoff. In effect, the Core Group employed the OAS to reassert their primacy over Haitian affairs.

Headquartered in the US capital, the OAS has long been a tool of Washington’s and capitalism’s dominance of the region. A few months ago OAS electoral observers played an important role in the overthrow of Evo Morales, prompting Bolivia’s first ever indigenous president to label the organization “in the service of the North American empire.”

The OAS receives between 44% and 57% of its budget from Washington. Responsible for as much as 12% of the organization’s budget, Canada is the second largest contributor to the 33-nation group.

Unfortunately, interventionist/imperialist alliances reinforce each other. A representative of the OAS is part of the Core Group while the Core Group has driven Haiti into joining the Lima Group. At the same time the Lima Group’s success in stoking regional opposition to Maduro has enabled the OAS to take ever more hostile positions towards Venezuela’s government. Like a teenager getting involved with the “wrong people” this circle of “friends” has been a very bad influence. It has encouraged bullying, bribery and other anti-social imperialist behaviour.

The Lima Group and Core Group are wholly illegitimate alliances. While the Organization of American States is slightly more complicated, progressives shouldn’t hesitate to proclaim, “Canada out of the Lima Group, Core Group and OAS.”

Protests are being organized for Thursday and Friday in a number of Canadian cities against the Lima Group.

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The Rule of Law Under Trump

William Galston, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said that “we are a government of men and not law.” It has no force until people enforce it. That is the underlying theme of Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig’s A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America. The test is how far can one person, in this case a self-declared stable genius who is the president of the world’s longest running democracy, repeatedly stretch or ignore the legal norms of a democratic government before a breaking point is reached? The current Republican controlled Senate Trial of President Donald J. Trump will answer that question.

Rucker and Leonnig interviewed more than 200 sources — most on condition of anonymity. Trump turned down their request to be interviewed. Their chronological account of his first term in office is an insider’s view of what they describe as his “vain glorious pursuit of power…”

The universal value of the Trump administration was loyalty…” According to the authors, not to the country or its laws but to him personally. Among multiple examples, one that stood out for me was his attack on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This law does not allow US companies, like real estate developers, such as himself, to bribe foreign governments to secure special services for their business. He asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “to get rid of that law”. Tillerson said he’d have to work with Congress. Unsatisfied, Trump turned to his senior policy advisor, Stephen Miller, to draft an Executive Order repealing the law.

Trump besides demanding loyalty, he delighted in abusing those whom he felt resisted to his proposals. For instance, he ridiculed national security advisor General H.R. McMaster’s work performance in front others White House staff for delivering boring briefings with too much detailed paperwork. McMaster’s aid said, “The president doesn’t fire people, he just tortures them until they’re willing to quit.” Both Tillerson and General McMaster were finally pushed out.

Trump wants loyalty to extended to his staff and federal executive agencies, like the Justice Department, which he referred to as “my” Trump Justice Department. He couldn’t understand why it would not release a pro-Trump memo to help him, saying “They are supposed to be my people.”

Trump is revealed to not understand or care how government works and is suspicious of all agencies as being part of the anti-Trump Deep State if they don’t agree with him. The authors show how Russia’s autocrat President Putin manipulated Trump by telling him that his ideas were brilliant warned that he couldn’t trust anyone in his administration to execute them. When the Justice Department indicted twelve Russian intelligence officers for hacking Democratic emails, Trump came to Russia’s defense after Putin personally told him that they didn’t.

Trump admires how other leaders can control their governments, like North Korea’s autocrat Kim Jong Un who got his people to “sit up at attention” when he spoke. Trump called Kim “very talented,” and “very smart,” and that Kim “felt very badly” about Otto Warmbier, the twenty-two year-old US college student who died following seventeen months in a Korean prison. Kim told Trump he didn’t know about Warmbier. Trump’s response, “I take him at his word.”

This book should be read by students in business management. It illustrates how a new company CEO with prior successes brings ideas that worked elsewhere but were not matched to the new one. Like Trump telling his generals, “We need to make a profit…” on US troops stationed around the world.

While Trump rightly boasted he was a megastar in the real estate and entertainment businesses, the authors declare that Trump is a chaotic, inconsistent and ignorant manager over this nation’s federal government. Some of his staff recognized these weaknesses and provided him ways that would limit his impulsive decisions, so laws were not broken. A Very Stable Genius repeatedly shows how these professionals were worn down by what they considered the inanity, impropriety and illegality of his ideas and directives.

One of his longtime friends defends Trump, saying that he “has genius characteristics… Like all savants he has edges… he has a kind of brilliance and charisma that is unique, rare and captivating, although at times misunderstood.” That would explain how he attracts new acolytes to replace those he tortured and then summarily dismissed.

Would this book’s possible wide circulation, which sketches out a damning portrait of Trump’s personal flaws, impact his reelection bid? Will the voters care? If not, then it provides a glimpse of what to expect in the next four years.

The post The Rule of Law Under Trump appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

A Treatise on Trinities

Back in the days of Thatcherism I watched a journalist interview a Conservative MP on British television. The MP had the wind in his sails and the journalist was decidedly in the doldrums. That was a scene often to be repeated.

With an arrogance which we became accustomed to the MP, I can’t recall his name, said, “Events happen in threes, don’t you know?” In my plebian ignorance I didn’t know that. But I had sussed out that of all the major political parties in the UK the Conservatives had the clearest understanding of class politics.

I’ve never voted for a Conservative in my life but this question of the “threes” has remained with me over the years.

The ancient Greeks had a word for it. Hecate, a goddess of intuition, stood at a fork in the road. With her ability to see three ways at once, to say nothing of the gift of knowing the past, present and future she was uniquely positioned to influence a traveller.

OK guys, she would say, you’ve come this far along that road, now which of these two paths are you going to take. A little sacrifice, a flask of retsina perhaps, and I can send you on the right way.

Centuries later the Christians were to take up a similar theme. They call it the Holy Trinity; the all-in-one Father, Son and Holy Spirit seems (or seem) to have been around for ages. As part of a Teaching English as a Second Language class I stumbled into this cultural domain with a group of Muslim students, some of whom were quite radical, i.e. fundamentalist. Never a great one for fundamentalism of any persuasion, nor teaching English as it happens, I’ve stayed away ever since.

For those with a thirst for such phenomena and knowledge there is a choice to be made. Forget fundamentalism, we’re back on the forked road again. Which way will it be? We’ve given up on the straight and narrow. So if we share a glass of retsina with Hecate it could well be the drinker’s trinity. Cold beer, hard liquor and plenty of both. If you Tee-total that it adds up to three.

That brings us nicely into the Enlightenment. Georg Ohm was born in Erlangen Bavaria in 1789 and went on to study at university there. But his first time round didn’t last long. He dropped out and it is said that drinking, probably beer and snaps and not retsina was a contributing factor.

However, being persistently diligent, he was German after all, he returned to the life of studies and left us with Ohm’s Law. This is the fundamental concept of electro technology. You’ve guessed it, the electrician’s trinity. This brings together the three essentials of an electrical circuit. The relationship of electrical potential, measured in volts, with the flow of electrical current measured in amps and what else? – resistance to the above, measured in ohms.

After that you probably want some light relief. Gone are Hecate and the glory that was Greece. The Bible Belt has limited appeal. The Enlightenment has blinded us with science and reason. But something is missing. Perhaps the 1970s rock musician Ian Drury brought us the trinity fix we had been craving.

Sex and drugs and rock and roll
Is all my brain and body need
Sex and drugs and rock and roll
Are very good indeed

We’ve touched on mythology and religion looked at science and rock’n’roll. What’s left? Indeed, what is Left? What about revolution?

Karl Marx left us with the almost unpronounceable trinity of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, an idea he picked up from Hegel. Take a proposition, test it by arguing against it and you end up with something different but influenced by both.

The interests of the class of labour challenge the interests of the class of capital. Then someday you end up with a classless society. Simple aint it ? Like mixing black paint with white paint and you get grey. Well, sort of.

Samir Amin was an Egyptian political economist and Marxist. While many well-meaning Marxists have sought to apply and indeed find Marx’s thoughts expressed in history and modern day life Amin went a step further.

He sought to adopt Marxism to the modern, unfolding, and can I say it, alienated world.

He identified a “triad” – not for him the trinity – of economies. These are the regions of North America, Europe and Japan. It is from here that the all-powerful oligarchies of the auto motive, Big Pharma and financial industries, to name but a few, exert influence and control over the lives of Planet Earth’s population.

With Amin you get two bites at the trinity cherry.

His second take on trinity brings together two essentials which have not always mixed well in the past. Social progress for workers, peasant and those, both in the North and the South, who have been left behind. Add to this, advances and expansions in democracy. Social progression and democratization must go hand in hand.

He had in mind a democracy, not regulated and drip fed from the triad but called for and constructed by the diverse groupings mentioned above. To make this work and the trinity complete, for Amin, a multi polar world system must be constructed.

One that takes into account and respects the differing political cultures each of us has experienced in our different communities of place and interest, country and world region. Who’s up for that?

The post A Treatise on Trinities appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Open Letter to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Lima Group Meeting

Re: “Lima Group” meeting of February 20, 2020 in Gatineau, Quebec

18 February 2020

Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

I am addressing you as a concerned Canadian regarding Canada’s foreign policy position vis-à-vis Venezuela.

Your government has announced a meeting of the so-called Lima Group on February 20, 2020 for the reported purpose of “build[ing] on [Juan] Guaido’s recent international travels.”

In fact, I have read with great distress about your meeting in Ottawa with Mr. Guaidó who many, including myself, regard as an impostor from Venezuela. Your government has recognised Juan Guaidó as the “interim president” of Venezuela, title that he unconstitutionally bestowed upon himself without ever participating in democratic presidential elections. At the same time, your government has declared as illegitimate the presidency of Nicolas Maduro who was elected in democratic elections as witnessed by international observers.

Can you tell Canadians why your government recognises a self-appointed “president”, contrary to Canada’s proclaimed principle of democratic and constitutional order and, more importantly, contrary to the UN recognition of the Maduro government together with 120 UN member States? Is Canada operating outside the global institution of the United Nations?

Mr. Guaidó has no legitimate claim to the presidency of Venezuela. He appointed himself on a street in Caracas. As I mentioned, he has never participated in presidential elections, and as an impostor he has made several coup attempts such as the one in April 2019 against the constitutional government of Venezuela. Those are the qualifications of your protégé.

Can you tell Canadians why your government tolerates undemocratic actions in other countries – including the recent military coup in Bolivia directed against the indigenous people of that country – while it represses legitimate protests of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations in Canada defending their ancestral land from threats of environmental devastation?

Only a small minority in Venezuela supports Mr. Guaidó. However, while Venezuelans have a sovereign right to resolve their differences based on their constitutionally granted freedoms and legal system, Canada – your government – has no business in interfering by any international standard except a bullying attitude.

Can you tell Canadians which international law gives your government the right to interfere in Venezuela?

I am sure that you would not conceive of any foreign country interfering or intervening in the internal affairs of Canada.

Can you tell Canadians the logic of your government’s blatant double standard?

As we all know, the OAS has not been able to gather the sufficient number of votes to condemn the legitimate government of Venezuela – when still an OAS member – because the majority of OAS member States correctly opted to abide by Article 19, Chapter IV of the OAS Charter that specifically states, “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State.” Nevertheless, your government has taken upon itself the role of co-opting a splinter group of about a dozen OAS countries called “Lima Group” with no other purpose than delegitimise the government of Nicolas Maduro.

Can you tell Canadians why your government has taken such a position – that knowingly breaks international law – to interfere in Venezuelan affairs?

Many in Canada question the close alignment of Canadian foreign policy with US foreign policy that is fully evident in the military interventions in the Middle East on the side of the US. In reference to Venezuela, I am aware that on September 5, 2017 the Canadian government formed a bilateral Association with the US government. The Association called on the two members to take “economic measures” against Venezuela and persons close to the Venezuelan government. To implement this decision, on September 22, 2017, Canada imposed its own unilateral sanctions against Venezuela, Venezuelan officials and other individuals. These were followed by further sanctions.

Can you tell Canadians why Canadian foreign policy is so aligned with US foreign policy whereby the two governments are imposing an economic and financial blockade against Venezuela in an attempt to paralyse its economy, and cause severe suffering and deaths among the civilian population?

I am aware that your government has developed a “Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration” with the US. The announcement of the Plan stated the importance of, “advancing our mutual interest in securing supply chains for the critical minerals needed for important manufacturing sectors, including communication technology, aerospace and defence, and clean technology.” Of particular concern is the statement, “The Action Plan will guide cooperation in areas such as industry engagement; efforts to secure critical minerals supply chains for strategic industries and defence.” It is well known that Venezuela holds the largest proven oil reserves as well as large reserves of minerals including gold. I am also aware of the Canadian corporate interest in Venezuelan gold that have enticed corporations like Crystallex to put legal claims in US courts against illegally seized Venezuelan-owned oil company Citgo.

Can you tell Canadians that your government is not pursuing a regime change in Venezuela guided by an imperialist agenda of “securing critical minerals supply chains”, which Mr. Guaidó seems more than willing to allow (without authority) contrary to the will of the majority of Venezuelans?

Finally, given Canada’s record of a foreign policy prone to involvements in wars like in the Middle East, and turning a blind eye to human rights violations for the sake of arms sale like in Saudi Arabia, I doubt Canada’s impartial role in global decisions based on sound principles of non-aggression, non-intervention, human security, and respect for human life and dignity. Certainly, your government’s association with countries of the “Lima Group” that have serious human rights records like Colombia does not lend your government much credibility.

Can you tell Canadians why Canada deserves a seat at the UN Security Council, as you are currently campaigning for?

Mr. Trudeau, I expect you to address explicitly all the questions I posed above for my sake and the sake of many in Canada who share my concerns.

I will continue to express my utmost rejection of your government interference in the domestic affairs of Venezuela based on principles of international law, on principles of democratic values that should not be biased and have double standards, as well as on principles of not causing harm and hardship to a population that has no ill intentions against Canada.

I urge the Canadian government to leave the “Lima Group”, end all sanctions against Venezuela and pursue a path of cooperation, dialogue and peace-building in the region. I assure you that it is possible to pursue respectful trade relationship while following different social path like in the case of Canada and Cuba.

Let it be known that it is not Venezuela that constitutes a danger to regional peace nor its socialist path, but rather the warfare, aggression, threats and siege of yours and the US government.

Venezuelans are a people with a resolve for self-determination and sovereignty.

Venezuelans are a peace-loving people that do not wish any harm to others.

I know this because I am a Venezuelan-Canadian pledging my loyalty to social justice.

Respectfully,

Nino Pagliccia

Vancouver, Canada

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Just Two Kings Talking

…[M]en should be treated in such a way that there’s no fear of their seeking revenge…

-Nicolai Machiavelli, “Mixed Principalities,” The Prince

“You come at the king, you bess not miss.”

– Omar, The Wire

Donald Trump sat with Recep “Cepi” Erdoğan
At a nez à nez cafe in the Golden Horn,
Fog over the Straits, fishmongers singing the blues,
Their little secret summit all over the news.
They gazed, they preened, with their fincan pinkies high,
Just two kings talking — evil eye to evil eye.
DJ flashed his grand, bizarre smile and sneered, “The Press
Is all over me and the country is a mess.
I fear some Lefty might impeach me with a gun
And I’ll find myself leaping in front of my son.”
Cepi laughed at that, and said, “Well, listen to this:
When they did Khashoggi — Oh, I watched with such bliss.
I jail journos, make them watch Midnight Express for fun.”
“Enemas of the State,” they harmonized, “Undone.”
They laughed about Idlib, and al-Baghdadi’s face
When he realized there was no escape cave in place.
Trump said, “He died like a dog and blew up the kids —
I lied,” he smirked, “Abbottabads Abbottobids.”
Cepi howled, “Badda bing bang boom — politics!
Nothing wrong with you a good hamamin’ can’t fix.”
The garcon brought the tab and DJ made a lunge —
He didn’t want Cepi to think he was a sponge.
But Cepi was quick and snatched the bill and snickered,
“Your money’s no good here,” said Cepi; they bickered.
“CNN’s the most phoney fakes of news,” Trump said.
“What about the Kurds?” he mimicked the talking head.
At that, Cepi gave the garson a second glance,
Took back his tip, and made the poor waiter’s eyes dance.
The two good buds arose, Cepi winked and they strolled.
DJ said, “Mohammad got back to me to scold.
He said sweetly, ‘Donald, that wasn’t very nice’
To treat my discombobulations as a vice.
What if I’d made fun of your curtsy and laughed
To your face?’” Cepi cracked up, thinking DJ gaffed.
“There goes that Trump tower in Riyadh,” howled Cepi,
And slapped DJ on the back, dancing, two-steppy.
DJ morosely followed his Turkish delight.
They strode through the twists and turns of the Taksim nigh
Down cobblestone streets, Cepi, like Virgil, leading —
Well, maybe if Virgil had had no real breeding —
And on the buds strode, ignoring the blood-kurdling screams,
Cepi saying, “Journos” (wink) “at work in their dreams.”
DJ pictured Maddow, with new bounce in his bones —
In fact, all the press! — and their screams became his koans.
After their purgatorial conversation,
They came to the Red Light D and knew their station.
They passed pervs, punks, pimps and glassed-in storefront cages
With dancing mannequin-like Beatrices of all ages.
Cepi said to DJ, “Go have a pussy grab.”
Trump groaned, “No can do, Cepi, my hand’s in rehab.
Until after November.” They left Paradise,
With the promise of pleasure still twinkling their eyes,
They giggled and goosed all the way to Taksim Square —
Pigeons out of control, broken heads strewn everywhere,
Tumbleweed tabloids, Atatürk’s pic on the ground,
Tarzan-like prayer calls, cab honks, and no other sound.
“DJ, you gotta break a few eggheads” (puffing)
“If you wanna make an Om.” But Trump’s mind was muffing
Back in the Red Light D. Cepi said, “Listen to this,
If you want to kill the king, you’d better not miss.”

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Julian Assange Must be Freed, Not Betrayed

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

On Saturday, there will be a march from Australia House in London to Parliament Square, the centre of British democracy. People will carry pictures of the Australian publisher and journalist Julian Assange who, on 24 February, faces a court that will decide whether or not he is to be extradited to the United States and a living death.

I know Australia House well. As an Australian myself, I used to go there in my early days in London to read the newspapers from home. Opened by King George V over a century ago, its vastness of marble and stone, chandeliers and solemn portraits, imported from Australia when Australian soldiers were dying in the slaughter of the First World War, have ensured its landmark as an imperial pile of monumental servility.

As one of the oldest “diplomatic missions” in the United Kingdom, this relic of empire provides a pleasurable sinecure for Antipodean politicians:  a “mate” rewarded or a troublemaker exiled.

Known as  High Commissioner, the equivalent of an ambassador, the current beneficiary is George Brandis, who as Attorney General tried to water down Australia’s Race Discrimination Act and approved raids on whistleblowers who had revealed the truth about Australia’s  illegal spying on East Timor during negotiations for the carve-up of that impoverished country’s oil and gas.

This led to the prosecution of whistleblowers Bernard Collaery and “Witness K”,  on bogus charges. Like Julian Assange, they are to be silenced in a Kafkaesque trial and put away.

Australia House is the ideal starting point for Saturday’s march.

“I confess,” wrote Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, in 1898, “that countries are pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world.””

We Australians have been in the service of the Great Game for a very long time. Having devastated our Indigenous people in an invasion and a war of attrition that continues to this day, we have spilt blood for our imperial masters in China, Africa, Russia, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. No imperial adventure against those with whom we have no quarrel has escaped our dedication.

Deception has been a feature. When Prime Minister Robert Menzies sent Australian soldiers to Vietnam in the 1960s, he described them as a training team, requested by a beleaguered government in Saigon. It was a lie. A senior official of the Department of External Affairs wrote secretly that “although we have stressed the fact publicly that our assistance was given in response to an invitation by the government of South Vietnam”, the order came from Washington.”

Two versions. The lie for us, the truth for them. As many as four million people died in the Vietnam war.

When Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, the Australian Ambassador, Richard Woolcott, secretly urged the government in Canberra to “act in a way which would be designed to minimise the public impact in Australia and show private understanding to Indonesia.”  In other words, to lie. He alluded to the beckoning spoils of oil and gas in the Timor Sea which, boasted Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, were worth “zillions”.

In the genocide that followed, at least 200,000 East Timorese died. Australia recognised, almost alone, the legitimacy of the occupation.

When Prime Minister John Howard sent Australian special forces to invade Iraq with America and Britain in 2003, he — like George W. Bush and Tony Blair — lied that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. More than a million people died in Iraq.

WikiLeaks was not the first to call out the pattern of criminal lying in democracies that remain every bit as rapacious as in Lord Curzon’s day. The achievement of the remarkable publishing organisation founded by Julian Assange has been to provide the proof.

WikiLeaks has informed us how illegal wars are fabricated, how governments are overthrown and violence is used in our name, how we are spied upon through our phones and screens. The true lies of presidents, ambassadors, political candidates, generals, proxies, political fraudsters have been exposed. One by one, these would-be emperors have realised they have no clothes.

It has been an unprecedented public service; above all, it is authentic journalism, whose value can be judged by the degree of apoplexy of the corrupt and their apologists.

For example, in 2016, WikiLeaks published the leaked emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta, which revealed a direct connection between Clinton, the foundation she shares with her husband and the funding of organised jihadism in the Middle East — terrorism.

One email disclosed that Islamic State (ISIS) was bankrolled by the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, from which Clinton accepted huge “donations”. Moreover, as US Secretary of State, she approved the world’s biggest ever arms sale to her Saudi benefactors, worth more than $80 billion. Thanks to her, US arms sales to the world — for use in stricken countries like Yemen — doubled.

Revealed by WikiLeaks and published in The New York Times, the Podesta emails triggered a vituperative campaign against editor-in-chief Julian Assange, bereft of evidence. He was an “agent of Russia working to elect Trump”; the nonsensical “Russiagate” followed. That WikiLeaks had also published more than 800,000 frequently damning documents from Russia was ignored.

On an Australian Broadcasting Corporation programme, Four Corners, in 2017, Clinton was interviewed by Sarah Ferguson, who began: “No one could fail to be moved by the pain on your face at [the moment of Donald Trump’s inauguration] … Do you remember how visceral it was for you?”

Having established Clinton’s visceral suffering, the fawning Ferguson described “Russia’s role” and the “damage done personally to you” by Julian Assange.

Clinton replied, “He [Assange] is very clearly a tool of Russian intelligence. And he has done their bidding.”

Ferguson said to Clinton, “Lots of people, including in Australia, think that Assange is a martyr of free speech and freedom of information. How would you describe him?”

Again, Clinton was allowed to defame Assange — a “nihilist” in the service of “dictators” — while Ferguson assured her interviewee she was “the icon of your generation”.

There was no mention of a leaked document, revealed by WikiLeaks, called Libya Tick Tock, prepared for Hillary Clinton, which described her as the central figure driving the destruction of the Libyan state in 2011. This resulted in 40,000 deaths, the arrival of ISIS in North Africa and the European refugee and migrant crisis.

For me, this episode of Clinton’s interview — and there are many others – vividly illustrates the division between false and true journalism. On 24 February, when Julian Assange steps into Woolwich Crown Court, true journalism will be the only crime on trial.

I am sometimes asked why I have championed Assange. For one thing, I like and I admire him. He is a friend with astonishing courage; and he has a finely honed, wicked sense of humour. He is the diametric opposite of the character invented then assassinated by his enemies.

As a reporter in places of upheaval all over the world, I have learned to compare the evidence I have witnessed with the words and actions of those with power. In this way, it is possible to get a sense of how our world is controlled and divided and manipulated, how language and debate are distorted to produce the propaganda of false consciousness.

When we speak about dictatorships, we call this brainwashing: the conquest of minds. It is a truth we rarely apply to our own societies, regardless of the trail of blood that leads back to us and which never dries.

WikiLeaks has exposed this. That is why Assange is in a maximum security prison in London facing concocted political charges in America, and why he has shamed so many of those paid to keep the record straight. Watch these journalists now look for cover as it dawns on them that the American fascists who have come for Assange may come for them, not least those on the Guardian who collaborated with WikiLeaks and won prizes and secured lucrative book and Hollywood deals based on his work, before turning on him.

In 2011, David Leigh, the Guardian’s  “investigations editor”, told journalism students at City University in London that Assange was “quite deranged”. When a puzzled student asked why, Leigh replied, “Because he doesn’t understand the parameters of conventional journalism”.

But it’s precisely because he did understand that the “parameters” of the media often shielded vested and political interests and had nothing to do with transparency that the idea of WikiLeaks was so appealing to many people, especially the young, rightly cynical about the so-called “mainstream”.

Leigh mocked the very idea that, once extradited, Assange would end up “wearing an orange jumpsuit”. These were things, he said, “that he and his lawyer are saying in order to feed his paranoia”.

The current US charges against Assange centre on the Afghan Logs and Iraq Logs, which the Guardian published and Leigh worked on, and on the Collateral Murder video showing an American helicopter crew gunning down civilians and celebrating the crime. For this journalism, Assange faces 17 charges of “espionage” which carry prison sentences totalling 175 years.

Whether or not his prison uniform will be an “orange jumpsuit”, US court files seen by Assange’s lawyers reveal that, once extradited, Assange will be subject to Special Administrative Measures, known as SAMS.  A 2017 report by Yale University Law School and the Center for Constitutional Rights described SAMS as “the darkest corner of the US federal prison system” combining “the brutality and isolation of maximum security units with additional restrictions that deny individuals almost any connection to the human world … The net effect is to shield this form of torture from any real public scrutiny.”

That Assange has been right all along, and getting him to Sweden was a fraud to cover an American plan to “render” him, is finally becoming clear to many who swallowed the incessant scuttlebutt of character assassination. “I speak fluent Swedish and was able to read all the original documents,” Nils Melzer, the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, said recently, “I could hardly believe my eyes. According to the testimony of the woman in question, a rape had never taken place at all. And not only that: the woman’s testimony was later changed by the Stockholm Police without her involvement in order to somehow make it sound like a possible rape. I have all the documents in my possession, the emails, the text messages.”

Keir Starmer is currently running for election as leader of the Labour Party in Britain. Between 2008 and 2013, he was Director of Public Prosecutions and responsible for the Crown Prosecution Service. According to Freedom of Information searches by the Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, Sweden tried to drop the Assange case in 2011, but a CPS official in London told the Swedish prosecutor not to treat it as “just another extradition”.

In 2012, she received an email from the CPS: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”  Other CPS emails were either deleted or redacted. Why? Keir Starmer needs to say why.

At the forefront of Saturday’s march will be John Shipton, Julian’s father, whose indefatigable support for his son is the antithesis of the collusion and cruelty of the governments of Australia, our homeland.

The roll call of shame begins with  Julia Gillard, the Australian Labor prime minister who, in 2010, wanted to criminalise WikiLeaks, arrest Assange and cancel his passport– until the Australian Federal Police pointed out that no law allowed this and that Assange had committed no crime.

While falsely claiming to give him consular assistance in London, it was the Gillard government’s shocking abandonment of its citizen that led to Ecuador granting political asylum to Assange in its London embassy.

In a subsequent speech before the US Congress, Gillard, a favourite of the US embassy in Canberra, broke records for sycophancy (according to the website Honest History) as she declared, over and again, the fidelity of America’s “mates Down Under”.

Today, while Assange waits in his cell, Gillard travels the world, promoting herself as a feminist concerned about “human rights”, often in tandem with that other right-on feminist Hillary Clinton.

The truth is that Australia could have rescued Julian Assange and can still rescue him.

In 2010, I arranged to meet a prominent Liberal (Conservative) Member of Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull. As a young barrister in the 1980s, Turnbull had successfully fought the British Government’s attempts to prevent the publication of the book, Spycatcher, whose author Peter Wright, a spy, had exposed Britain’s “deep state”.

We talked about his famous victory for free speech and publishing and I described the miscarriage of justice awaiting Assange — the fraud of his arrest in Sweden and its connection with an American indictment that tore up the US Constitution and the rule of international law.

Turnbull appeared to show genuine interest and an aide took extensive notes. I asked him to deliver a letter to the Australian government from Gareth Peirce, the renowned British human rights lawyer who represents Assange.

In the letter, Peirce wrote, “Given the extent of the public discussion, frequently on the basis of entirely false assumptions… it is very hard to attempt to preserve for [Julian Assange] any presumption of innocence. Mr. Assange has now hanging over him not one but two Damocles swords, of potential extradition to two different jurisdictions in turn for two different alleged crimes, neither of which are crimes in his own country, and that his personal safety has become at risk in circumstances that are highly politically charged.”

Turnbull promised to deliver the letter, follow it through and let me know. I subsequently wrote to him several times, waited and heard nothing.

In 2018, John Shipton wrote a deeply moving letter to the then prime minister of Australia asking him to exercise the diplomatic power at his government’s disposal and bring Julian home. He wrote that he feared that if Julian was not rescued, there would be a tragedy and his son would die in prison. He received no reply. The prime minister was Malcolm Turnbull.

Last year, when the current prime minister, Scott Morrison, a former public relations man, was asked about Assange, he replied in his customary way, “He should face the music!”

When Saturday’s march reaches the Houses of Parliament, said to be “the Mother of Parliaments”, Morrison and Gillard and Turnbull and all those who have betrayed Julian Assange should be called out; history and decency will not forget them or those who remain silent now.

And if there is any sense of justice left in the land of Magna Carta, the travesty that is the case against this heroic Australian must be thrown out. Or beware, all of us.

The march on Saturday, 22 February begins at Australia House in Aldwych, London WC2B 4LA, at 12.30pm: assemble at 11.30pm

 

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