Counterpunch Articles

The Case Against the Zionist “left”

Zionist historical revisionism constructs an erroneous presentation of Israel as accommodating a left-to-right political milieu, the left-flank of which amenable to a peaceful resolution of “the conflict”, instead of recognizing the entirety of Zionism, including its “liberal” faction, as inherently white supremacist, settler colonialist and genocidal.

The supposed left, “liberal” wing of Zionism, comprising Israeli political parties, non-profit organizations and media organs in Israel and outside it, serves to promote Zionist propaganda, which renders occupation, apartheid and genocide of Indigenous Palestinian people palatable to audiences in Israel and worldwide.

Liberal Zionism intrinsically promotes reactionary regimes and interest groups, which share Zionism’s ethnocentric, xenophobic, misogynistic and hyper-capitalist worldviews, including Trump’s United States, Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Duterte’s Philippines, Orban’s Hungary and Modi’s India, among others.

Why is it important to recognize and dismantle liberal Zionist propaganda?

The Zionist “left” in Britain

The corruption of the Zionist “left”, i.e. liberal Zionism, and its ensuing damage to democracy is evident in the UK Labour Party.

Electronic Intifada’s Asa Winstanley has reported extensively on the development of this manufactured crisis, which exemplifies the dangers of a major anti-Semitic Zionist propaganda fallacy – the conflation of Zionism with Judaism and its effectiveness in torpedoing social justice.

In fact, a recent Al-Jazeera documentary – The Lobby – exposed the extent to which the Labour Party has been infiltrated by Israeli/Zionist interests via The Labour Friends of Israel.

Jackie Walker, an anti-Zionist, Black Jewish ex-Labour Party member and vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn was recently expelled as a result of this fallacious campaign on trumped up charges of “anti-Semitism”. Chris Williamson is the most recent example. Additionally, in a blatant attack on press freedom, Labour revoked Winstanley’s press pass for its upcoming conference.

The Zionist “left” in the US

The fiasco involving Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib has become a teaching moment for pro-Palestinian activists.

An important lesson from the campaign, outlined by Noura Erakat and Fadi Quran in their recent article, is the evident lack of Palestinian sovereignty both in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in spite of Israel’s claims to the contrary.

Thus, Israel’s self-aggrandizing, manufactured image as “the only democracy in the Middle East” is once again rendered null and void, in line with its crimes and long list of discriminatory laws.

Similarly, the banning of Omar and Tlaib has exposed once again Israel’s white supremacist nature, consequent to its Christian Evangelical, anti-Semitic origins and supporters.

Further, the targeting of Omar and Tlaib demonstrates the powerful threat of intersectional politics to reactionary regimes. In fact, the Zionist Reut Institute and the US-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs quickly recognized the danger intersectionality poses to their discriminatory colonial agendas.

However, no less important than these, is a crucial lesson quickly whitewashed – the campaign against Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib was instigated by a liberal Zionist editor at The Forward – Batya Ungar-Sargon – opportunistically picked up by corporate Democrats, and unsurprisingly adopted by Republicans, including President Donald Trump and a host of American-Zionist lackeys as a wedge issue to split their opposition.

It is all too easy to blame Trump and his racist supporters, including within the Israeli government, for the campaign against Omar and Tlaib. Yet whitewashing liberal Zionist culpability sets the stage for additional smears instrumentalizing the “new anti-Semitism”, i.e. the canard that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, including against progressive front-runner for the Democratic nomination for President – Senator Bernie Sanders.

Notably, Sanders is a liberal Zionist himself, yet has conveyed support for Omar and Tlaib, as well as harsh criticism against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli apartheid policies. The UK example suggests Sanders’ surge in the race and his (relatively) pro-Palestinian rhetoric will likely lead to an increase in Zionist-led attacks on his intersectional campaign, including against grassroots supporters. In fact, concurrent to Sanders’ recent rise in the polls, liberal Zionist Haaretz published an anti-Semitic opinion piece echoing fascistic propaganda, calling Sanders “the last Jewish Bolshevik”. Sanders, of course. is a Democratic Socialist far closer to an FDR-style, new deal Democrat.

The Forward has played a major role in the smear campaign against progressive Democrats Omar and Tlaib. In addition to its initiation by opinion editor Ungar-Sargon, who has been working assiduously to jam Zionism down the left’s throat, or else, senior columnist Peter Beinart whitewashed the outlet’s culpability.

Beinart blamed Omar for being “wrong”, “inaccurate” and “irresponsible” for her accurate tweet describing the corrupting influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on politics in Washington, and praised her for her unnecessary apology, while conveniently shifting blame from The Forward’s dishonest liberal Zionism and its allegiance with corporate Democrats to Trump’s grotesque anti-Semitism and Republicans such as Lee Zeldin. Remarkably, in a masterful display of false equivalencies and straw man fallacies, Beinart did not mention Zionism at all, a likely prerequisite for safeguarding his position as a CNN commentator. Just ask Marc Lamont Hill. Unfortunately, Omar decided to promote Beinart on her Twitter feed.

Beinart’s column also demonstrates what is perhaps the most egregious of liberal Zionist contortions – the promotion of the fallacy of “the occupation” existing since 1967, not 1948, i.e limited to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. This false assertion, also echoed by the American Jewish progressive group IfNotNow, erases the rights of millions of Palestinians in the shattat, including their right to return home.

The Zionist “left” in Israel

A careful examination of the Zionist/Israeli political spectrum leading up to parliamentary elections on September 17th, including the “opposition”, reveals an assortment of reactionary parties seeking power without providing any hope for equality and justice for Palestinians. Even the anti/non-Zionist Joint List, recently showed a desperate interest in working with the Zionist “left”, to the dismay of many.

To quote Israeli dissident Ronnie Barkan:

While a so-called leftist discourse in Israel is usually perceived as revolving around liberal and humanistic values, no discussion exists concerning the deeply-rooted supremacist character of the state, its inherent anti-democratic nature, nor the fate of those who have been disenfranchised, oppressed, subjugated and terrorized for the past seven decades by Israel — the Palestinians.

In an article for (wait for it) The Forward, Stav Shaffir – previously of the liberal Zionist Labor Party, now of the Democratic Union Party – engaged in some break-neck political yoga in an effort to smear the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, while attempting to maintain her faux-left cred.

In another recent piece, Yossi Gurvitz accurately demonstrates the inherent contradictory nature of “left” and “Zionism”. Here, Gurvitz laments the deal brokered between the liberal Zionist Meretz party and corrupt war criminal and ex-PM Ehud Barak to form the Democratic Union Party, which also includes BDS-bashing Shaffir. Gurvitz’s impressive survey of Barak’s crimes falls short when he attributes Meretz’s selling out as a “wish to be, for once, on the winning side”. Gurvitz correctly identifies the reasoning as flawed yet does not lay out the hard truth, in which liberal Zionists opt habitually for apartheid over equality and naturally assume their role as propagandists while lambasting the adoption of an ideologically consistent, left-wing, anti-Zionist stance.

Significantly, the anti-Zionist, anti-racist framework intrinsic to the BDS movement and other campaigns, has yielded far more impressive gains for Palestinians than any collaboration with white saviors and/or liberal Zionist entities.  In fact, a principled anti-Zionism, with a focus on BDS provides real hope for Palestinians, Jews and others seeking an end to the ongoing injustice between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.

An intersectional alliance between all victims of white supremacy, including Palestinians, Black and Brown people, women, Indigenous groups, immigrants, the disabled and others, effectively exposes and dismantles all Zionist propaganda, en route to the promotion of equality and justice for all.

The post The Case Against the Zionist “left” appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Axis of Atrocity

If daymare isn’t a word, it should be.  We’re living one.  And the shameless,  infantile ugliness that rules America today was predicted by visionaries and poets long ago.  H.L. Mencken nailed it nearly a century back:

“Before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying the mob with him by force of personality. But when the field is nationwide all odds are on the man most devious and mediocre—who can most easily disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.  The Presidency tends to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.  On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Ecce homo.  So much for our “democracy”.  But this plague is not confined to The Empire.  The blood-dimmed tide Yeats felt coming has inundated the world.  Three Cynosures of Psychosis suggest themselves aggressively today, each a match in his way for our Cretin Caligula who thought he’d snag Greenland on the cheap, as if it were a trashed Bronx tenement.

Bolsonaro, Reichsmarshall of Brazil, in recent frothing fury, blamed his own Neronian burning of the Amazon on NGOs, lying about his direct pitch to scofflaw ranchers to turn it, once burnt off, into a Confined Animal Feeding Operation.  Gringo beef dollars matter, nao?; rainforest, not so much.

Then, there’s Modi–the Hindu Ubermensch–who, having presided over a massacre in Gujarat that elevated him to racist icon status, has spiked both the laws of Jammu and Kashmir and his own nation in a brutal anschluss that made a bullied territory into a free fire zone and Moslem dungeon.

Of course, neither of these Sturmbahnfuhrers can claim parity with the past master of venomous race hatred, that brazen liar, shameless provocateur, and criminal fabulist, Netanyahu, regent of the Fascist State of Israel.  This clinical embodiment of the abused become abuser, in exacerbating the worst elements of Israeli character–bone deep racism and paranoia; the arrogant claim to superiority that’s the warp and weft of its religion; the babaric cruelty urged by its gruesome, twisted, medieval rabbinical voices–has goaded Israel to embrace and celebrate its most hideous attributes and flaunt them in the face of an increasingly appalled world.

How is it these four sick horsemen of the coming apocalypse have clotted together now like a rancid, congealing gravy of dead tissue?  Serendipity wouldn’t account for it.  Nor probability predict it… What if  emergence of such pure evil simultaneously results from peer group patterning in which the rabidity of the top dog sets a template others are then induced to emulate?  There is precedence for the idea.  When Stalin ran the Soviet world, he and his system were replicated across it.  When JFK flashed his Camelot style, “Free World” leaders strove to mimic his elegant finesse.

Having been pretty much gifted with the Presidency–because of wholesale abandonment by the Democratic Party of anyone who ever had to earn a living and obliteration of all concern for ordinary citizenry–Trump set the tone for his solipsistic funhouse from day one, sending his twitter yawp of vulgarity, dishonesty and cruelty out to a gobsmacked world, while these sociopaths watched, pondered, and then acted.  Could it be clearer that the key enabling factor for the rise of this set of human monsters was our morally null, ethically vacant, childishly vindictive Pathogen-in-Chief?

The supreme tragedy of our age–for us and the world–is that there is no countervailing force in our country, no powerful, principled dynamic the sheer gravitational force of which might coalesce what exists of the vast hunger for wisdom, justice and decency latent in a majority of our people.  America is full of conned, tranquilized, intimidated folk who nevertheless have a strong residual inclination toward fairness and honor and humanity, and who are deeply offended, saddened, and ashamed that our country has become the most viciously murderous engine of evil on the planet.

Due to the fact that the Democratic Party has repudiated and betrayed the principle that made it a compelling, dominant social and political force–its core pledge to represent reliably, and legislate predictably, for the good of a citizenry of all colors and conditions–it represents no refuge at all to an electorate finally fully aware of its callous indifference to their well-being.

For most adults’ lifetime experience–say, from the JFK/LBJ era on–the Democratic Party has done nothing to advance the general welfare and economic security of the great majority of working Americans, while deceiving them endlessly with cynical, rhetorical jive.  Their cop-out from Obama back to the 60s has been that Republicans blocked every effort, that their good ideas and benevolent plans were killed, that they failed in spite of good intentions, but this is just dishonest.  The fact is that even when they had power and numbers in Congress, they never rose up, took a stand, and fought hard for legislation to advance the common good.  All their defeats have been essentially capitulations, and self-inflicted.

When Lew Powell issued his warning Bull to Capitalists in the 70s about the frightful danger that The People, aroused and militant, represented to Omnicratic Capitalism, Big Corporate Money began to flow lavishly to reactionary Republicans.  Democrats, outfunded, outspent, took shocking electoral hits that terrified their politburo and convinced them that politics was only about money and that they had to get a lot of it, whatever it took to do it.  What they decided it took was to abandon their traditional support base in the vast Middle and Under classes, and to seek the dollars where they lived, with Corporate Capitalist elites.  This turn was completed under Clinton, who concluded that to stand for anything beneficial for The People was to risk status and office.  Hence, his dropping the fight for decent health care legisation, among other spineless and disgraceful retreats.

In that decision the Democrats blew it. They failed to make the choice that could have empowered them and would have consolidated progressive politics far into the future: to champion The People.  Of course, there would have been grave risk.  It would have taken great resolve and courage, but more importantly, the element that was completely absent in them: intent.

Politics is only about money when it is not substantively about anything else.  The fierce passion and phenomenal power of a people, when they know their leaders are truly committed to vigorously champion their welfare, is a force that no amount of private wealth can obstruct, let alone defeat.

America was at a crisis, when what was to be determined was whether the country would be run in the interests of its citizens or in that of its Capitalist masters.  Official Democrats, intellectually co-opted already, elected to represent the giants.  In that action, they walked away from a path that would have enabled them to remake the world in justice, and sank to the sorry, contemptible nullity they are today.  Rejecting their way to greatness, they condemned themselves to extinction.

And, in the long run, may have done the same for us all.

The post The Axis of Atrocity appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Chuck Todd, Labor Day, and Getting Serious

Labor Day has come and gone. To most people it’s a day off and a splash of sales. The symbolism and meaning that inspired this national holiday back in 1894 has long since dissipated. Labor Day parades are affairs of the past, with very few exceptions, and those that still exist are facing dwindling participation – in the era of Donald the corporatist, no less.

Part of this neglect stems from major unions and their large locals. Labor leaders, year after year, miss the opportunity to speak through the local and national media about what’s on their mind regarding the state of workers today. I have urged labor leaders to develop a media strategy for Labor Day, since it is their one big day to give interviews and submit op-eds. Having major events or demonstrations on the needs of working families would invite coverage.

Even the usual excuse that the corporate press is not that interested goes away on Labor Day. The major labor chiefs just don’t take advantage of this yearly opportunity. That is one reason why over the years, raising the minimum wage; adopting card checks for union-desiring workers; pressing for full Medicare for All; and repealing the notorious, anti-union Taft Hartley Act of 1947 have remained at such low visibility.

On the other hand, the editors and reporters are not exactly reaching out for, say, interviews of Richard Trumka, the former coal miner who rose through the ranks and became the head of the AFL-CIO labor federation in Washington, DC. Trumka vs. Trump has a nice ring to it, but someone has to hit the bell.

This Labor Day, The Washington Post and the New York Times had touching stories of workers in various jobs from a human interest point of view. There was little space devoted to labor policies, labor reforms, worker safety, the persistent private pension crisis, and the huge power imbalance in labor/management relations.

NBC’s Meet the Press, anchored by Chuck Todd, is symptomatic of the media’s indifference to showcasing Labor leaders on Labor Day.

Chuck Todd, the quick witted former citizen organizer, has lost control of his show to his corporate masters in New York City. He cannot even stop them from replacing his show entirely on the few Sundays when the NBC profiteers think there are more profits showing a major tennis, golf, or soccer tournament. My repeated complaints about this blackout to NBC chief, Andrew Lack, or to the corporatist chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, have received no reply.

Obviously, Chuck is working in a tough environment for any self-respecting journalist. But this past Sunday, Meet the Press reached a new low from its beginnings under the news-savvy Lawrence Spivak over 70 years ago. Meet the Press has become a ditto-head to the regular news shows’ saturation coverage. Todd covered Hurricane Dorian and the shootout in Texas, along with whether Joe Biden is too old for the Presidency. Repetitious and dull – he added nothing new for the audience.

The shrinking range of Meet the Press has been going on for some years. It focuses, with other network shows, on questioning politicians or their surrogates – sometimes the same guests on multiple shows – about inconsistencies, gaffes, thoughtless statements, or current political controversies. We don’t need to see yet another round with Trump’s Kellyanne Conway, who plays with Todd’s sharp questions.

The NBC corporate masters tell or signal to Todd who he can invite for his roundtable. He should never have corporatists from the American Enterprise Institute without having people from the Economic Policy Institute, Public Citizen, or Common Cause.

Brit Hume, before he went over to Fox, once told me that the real purpose of the Sunday shows was to let the Washington politicians have their say so they stay off the back of the networks. That was his way of explaining why the questions put to them were not as tough or deep as they could be.

Todd can be a tough questioner, but he is trapped in a cul-de-sac of predictability, trivia, and redundancy that demeans his talents.

Along with the other Sunday morning network news shows, Todd stays away from the all-important civic community – historically and presently the fountainhead for our democratic society. It is hard to name any blessing of America, great or small, that did not start with the work or demands of citizens. Improved civil rights and liberties, safer consumer products, workplace conditions and environments, nuclear arms treaties, and much more began this way. Citizen groups continue as watchdogs, documenting, litigating, lobbying, and pushing the powers that be on behalf of the American people.

In 1966, I was invited on Meet the Press by the legendary Lawrence Spivak to first highlight, on Sunday national TV, what needs to be done about unsafe cars. That helped auto safety action to move faster in Congress. The civic leaders of today are largely shut out from these forums. Civic startups cannot reach larger audiences and shape the politics of the day.

None of this is unknown to Chuck Todd. He has allowed his hands to be tied with golden handcuffs. One can almost sense his impatience with his roundtable guests spouting guarded opinions or conventional speculations suited to their current careers. But Chuck is very polite with them and his interviewees. As he has said, if you really go after these guests, they won’t come back next time. But why such a small pool? There are plenty of other fresh, courageous, accurate voices he can invite “next time.” It’s that his corporate bosses won’t let him.

Todd has much more potential than to continue his increasingly trivialized, though sometimes temporarily sensationalized, role as an anchor of a withering show “brought to you by Boeing.” He should request reassignment or resign for more significant journalistic challenges. He really doesn’t need the money anymore.

The post Chuck Todd, Labor Day, and Getting Serious appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Billionaires Who Promise to Save Journalism

Let’s talk about fraud: “a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities,” the dictionary calls it.

Let’s also discuss breach of contract. “A breach of contract occurs when the promise of the contract is not kept, because one party has failed to fulfill their agreed-upon obligations, according to the terms of the contract. Breaching can occur when one party fails to deliver in the appropriate time frame, does not meet the terms of the agreement, or fails perform at all,” says a random legal website I googled. Sounds right.

Pierre Omidyar cofounded eBay. He became a billionaire at age 31 when eBay went public. Forbes says he’s now worth $12.8 billion.

As you know, journalism is in trouble. So it sounded almost too good to be true when Omidyar lured Glenn Greenwald, who famously received the Edward Snowden stash of secret documents that proved the U.S. government is spying on us, away from the UK Guardian in order to helm a new, fearless, left-leaning journalism organization by the name of First Look Media.

Best of all, Omidyar promised to fix the biggest problem faced by 21st century journalists: shrinking budgets. First Look Media, Omidyar said, would get a whopping $250 million in order to support “independent journalists in a way that leverages their work to the greatest extent possible, all in support of the public interest.”

Geld macht frei.

Watch this crazy announcement video from 2013. No, really, watch.

First Look Media, Omidyar promises in his video, would feature a “flagship” online magazine—The Intercept, edited by Greenwald—that would “cover news and stories from entertainment and sports to politics and business.” In addition, he pledged, there would be “a family of digital magazines.” (Spoiler: the sports, business and entertainment stuff never materialized.)

One of First Look’s “verticals,” in publishing vernacular, was to be called Racket, “a hard-hitting, satirical magazine in the style of the old Spy” to be edited by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. (Disclosure: I met with Taibbi to discuss the possibility of working for him. Another disclosure: I talked to a reporter at The Intercept about covering my lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times. He was excited but went cold after he pitched it to his editors.)

According to Taibbi and also Greenwald, Taibbi chafed under Omidyar’s incessant micromanaging on everything from whom he could hire to where they would sit. Taibbi quit and returned to Rolling Stone. That was the end of Racket.

Then the fickle billionaire pulled the plug on his other playthings. “Omidyar made clear that there were no plans to launch any more digital magazines in the near term,” Greenwald wrote in 2014. First Look did pick up the cartoon site The Nib in 2016 and added the nonfiction storytelling publication Topic in 2017, only to cancel both and fire their staffs as part of “cost-cutting moves” in 2019.

Omidyar did not explain why an organization backed by a man worth $12.8 billion needs to cut costs, nor how he reconciles his fickleness with that I’ve-got-your-back video. Really, watch it! (To put this in terms a normal person can understand, if you’re worth $500,000, Omidyar’s $250 million pledge is equivalent to $9,000. If you have $500,000 and you can’t spare $9,000 you’re doing something wrong.)

Earlier this year, Omidyar decided to shut down First Look’s maintenance of the Snowden archive. Given that that trove was the company’s original raison d’être, alongside its dedication to investigative journalism, it left loyalists like First Look cofounder Laura Poitras scratching their heads. In March the company laid off its team of researchers.

The point of First Look, remember, was to give good reporters plenty of cash so they could focus on writing and research.

According to Columbia Journalism Review Omidyar has made good on just $90 million of his $250 million commitment. Which is still a lot of money, but it won’t last forever when you’re burning up cash paying exorbitant wages to editors like Greenwald. He collected $1.6 million between 2014 and 2017 while entry-level grunts are making do with $55,000 in a Manhattan where one-bedroom apartments go for $3,500 a month.

Left-leaning journalism types have been whispering about the shenanigans at First Look for years. But few are willing to speak out in public. Omidyar is powerful and wealthy. What if you might want to work for him someday?

Billionaires are purchasing social good will in the hope that they will be “credited with the accomplishments or qualities” of contributing to the “public good,” as Omidyar says in his over-the-top video.

And I’m fine with that—as long as they don’t breach their contract with the public. Omidyar promised us a passel of verticals/online magazines. Where are they? He promised journalists virtually unlimited freedom to investigate, travel, whatever it takes to do their jobs. Budget cuts and mass layoffs are a clear violation of that pledge. He cheated us. He should be held accountable.

Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong is another billionaire, this one from biotech, who has burnished his image as a savior of American journalism by purchasing The Los Angeles Times, the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper. Soon-Shiong is purportedly worth $7.1 billion.

But there’s already a stink, and I’m not talking about the smell of jet fuel raining down on the Times’ new low-budget office building in El Segundo, directly under the flight approach to LAX. The Times previous home was an art deco gem downtown on Times-Mirror Square. Why, one wonders, can’t a man worth $7.1 billion shell out the $50 million-ish cost of a downtown office building rather than move reporters a three-hour drive away from some parts of the city they’re supposed to be covering? (That’s $3,500 for someone worth $500,000.) Why do so many of his new hires skew so young, Millennial and thus so cheaply five-digit?

Despite slavishly sucking up to him in public statements, the union representing Times employees has been rewarded with contempt by Soon-Shiong, who refuses to negotiate in good faith.

Jeff Bezos, self-proclaimed savior of The Washington Post, has a similar attitude toward workers at his newspaper.

I don’t have a problem with derps derping, even when they’re running major news outlets. What seriously pisses me off is when those derps are billionaires who market themselves as saviors to be admired, when they’re anything but.

The post Billionaires Who Promise to Save Journalism appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Why Hong Kong Should Have Self-Rule

Hong Kongers have earned the right to genuine self-rule. This could still happen even within the framework of “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong police have now shot real as well as rubber bullets and used water cannon against demonstrators. People’s Liberation Army forces have been reinforced in Hong Kong.

Even as threats from Beijing and Hong Kong authorities mount, pro-democracy demonstrations continue. Why? The Hong Kong journalist Thomas Hon Wing Polin writes (CounterPunch, September 2, 2019) that the root problem is the “enemy within”—large swathes of the Hong Kong civil service “attached to Western values” and not to the rightful “sovereign,” i.e., Chjna. Indeed, some 80 percent of Hong Kong judges, Polin laments, are “pro-democracy.” How horrific!

In the same vein as Mr. Polin, former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa asserted last July that the civics class mandatory in high school since 2009 is “one of the reasons behind the youths’ problems today.” The “liberal studies curriculum is a failure,” he said. According to Tiffany May and Amy Qin (New York Times, September 2, 2019), liberal studies was introduced by British colonial authorities as an elective in 1992 Its advocates now say the course teaches students to be analytical and objective, even when it comes to examining the Communist Party’s flaws. In mainland schools, by contrast, children as young as age seven are taught to love the party and embrace “Xi Jinping Thought.” Ideological purity—not truth—is the priority. Authorities in Beijing and in Hong Kong are discussing how to reshape Hong Kong education. The city’s education bureau has told teachers that if asked “difficult questions” about current events, they should reply, “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand it either.’ But the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union declared its support this summer for students participating in peaceful protests.

Jonathan Power offers a very different explanation of Hong Kong unrest. The British gave China too good a deal “in accepting limits on Hong Kong’s democracy.” Indeed, they should have given Hong Kongers more self-role before departing as they did in India and Nigeria. Still, Power concedes, British governor-negotiator Chris Patten probably did all that he could to protect Hong Kong’s fledgling democracy (CounterPunch, August 30, 2019).

Like many Western leaders and observers, Patten had some grounds to hope that mainland China would gradually become more liberal or, even if this did not happen, Beijing would not smash the golden egg of a rather independent Hong Kong. Since 2012, however, Xi Jinping has tightened the screws within Han China, in Tibet and Xinjiang, and also in Hong Kong. All this adds to the reasons why Hong Kongers want guarantees against Being’s interventions.

While pro-Chinese and critics of China take sides, the reality is that Hong Kongers—the general public, civil service, educators, and business tycoons have produced an astonishing societal and commercial success. They have distinguished themselves from the “sovereign” in many profound dimensions. Hong Kong has skyrocketed to 7th in the world in “human development,” according to the UN Human Development Programme–far ahead of the United States at 13th and China at 84th. Hong Kong has the world’s highest expected life expectancy, 84.1–much higher than the USA, 79.5, and China, 76.4. Per capita income in Hong Kong is $58,420, again much better than the USA at $54,941 or China with $15,270.

Wealth gaps and high housing costs are serious problems, but Hong Kong has the means and brains to ameliorate them. The World Economic Forum says Hong Kong is the 7th most competitive economy in a world where the USA is still number one; where the United Kingdom ranks 8th and China is 28th. Hong Kong’s skill base is strong. Expected years of schooling in Hong Kong is 16.3 years, nearly equal to the USA at 16.5, and far ahead of China at 13.8. For its 7.4 million people Hong Kong has seven universities, available at low cost.

Unlike most Chinese, Hong Kongers have full access to the world. Some 88% of Hong Kongers use the Internet, far above the 76% in the USA or the 53% in China, where a great wall blocks access to many sites. There are 240 cell phone subscriptions for every 100 persons in Hong Kong versus 123 in the United States and 97 in China.

Freedom House ranks Hong Kong as partly free—strong in civil liberties but weak in political rights, while China is quite unfree in both domains. Transparency International says Hong Kong is the world’s 14th least corrupt country; China, the 87th.

Just over half of Hong Kongers (and mainland Chinese) in 2017 said they were overall satisfied with life compared to 70% of Americans. In 2019, however, as central authorities tighten their grip across all of China, large numbers of Hong Kongers have for months defied official admonitions, police tear gas and bullets, white shirted mercenary thugs, and military threats from Beijing. Hong Kong civil servants and other professionals have joined students to demand withdrawal of the notorious extradition bill. Whereas protests of just 2.5 percent of the population achieved major political change in Algeria and Sudan more than one in five or six Hong Kongers have taken part in pro-democracy demonstrations. They have done so with minimal support from Western governments, not even from Great Britain, whose 1984 joint declaration with China, according to Beijing, is now a non-binding historical document “lacking any practical significance.“

Hong Kong protests go far beyond the extradition bill. They challenge the premise that Hong Kong’s way of life can continue when subject to an increasingly repressive totalitarian dictatorship in Beijing. Like the American colonials who defied King George in the 1770s, Hong Kongers demand self-government. Like Americans then, Hong Kongers share much of the oppressor’s culture. Unlike the Americans, Hong Kongers speak a language, Cantonese, incomprehensible to most authorities in Beijing, and dislike being forced to learn and communicate in Mandarin. Unlike the Americans, Hong Kongers are too small in number and too close to the “sovereign” oppressor to fight for their freedom. But they are demonstrating their solidarity in ways that trouble Chinese authorities concerned for their reputation and image.

Americans won their freedom not just by arms but also by the moral appeal of their demand for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They claimed that if government undermines these goals, people have a right to alter/abolish it and institute a new government. It is nearly unthinkable that Beijing would countenance independent statehood for Hong Kong. But authorities in Beijing could compromise with guarantees of real self-rule in Hong Kong. The “one country, two systems” principle would be modified to reserve all powers to Hong Kong except those specifically allotted to the central government in Beijing. It would ban all dictates and controls from the mainland on Hong Kong’s government, educational system, business practices, or way of life.

The post Why Hong Kong Should Have Self-Rule appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Concealing the Truth

Concealing the truth from the people is not unusual in politics. It is perhaps more pronounced in global politics partly because it is more difficult to hold powerful global actors accountable. That might is right is an adage that rings true at the international level more than in the domestic arena.

There are currently a number of international issues where the truth is concealed or camouflaged. The demonstrations in Hong Kong for instance which have gone on for weeks are perceived by a lot of people as a struggle for freedom and democracy against an authoritarian government in Beijing. The truth may be a little more complex. It may be in the interest of certain elements in some Western capitals to encourage mass protests in Hong Kong as part of their larger agenda to create instability in China. This in turn may be aimed at curbing China’s rise as a global power which its adversaries perceive as a challenge to their hegemony of the planet.

The crisis in Kashmir is another example of an issue where the entire story may not be known to the people. While changes made to the Indian Constitution have been presented by the government in New Delhi as an attempt to integrate the disputed territory into the national structure, the real reason may be more closely aligned to the ideological orientation of the present BJP leadership. This is why it may have serious repercussions for India’s religious diversity which has been its civilizational hallmark.

A third region in crisis may also reveal that the underlying causes may be quite different from what has been portrayed in the media. Iran has been depicted as the country that is responsible for the present tensions in West Asia. Even if we confined our observation to the immediate circumstance, it is obvious that it is the United States’ decision to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal of July 2015 that is the real reason for the tensions. Why President Trump moved in that direction has a lot to do with increased Israeli and Saudi influence over the White House and their misperception of the power dynamics in West Asia.

Perhaps an even more blatant instance of concealing the truth is the continuing crisis in Venezuela. The US and some of its allies are trying to convey the impression that if the oil-rich state is grappling with serious economic challenges it is due entirely to an oppressive leadership pursuing socialist policies. The truth is that unending schemes and ploys by the US since the presidency of Hugo Chavez which even witnessed a failed coup against him in April 2002 are the main cause of Venezuela’s woes.

If the truth about what is happening in relation to Venezuela, Iran, Kashmir and Hong Kong is not widely known it is largely because the media, old and new, serve the interests of the powerful. This may not be obvious to many of us because these are on-going crises in constant flux. A quick look at some past episodes may be useful.

In August 1964, the US leadership alleged that North Vietnamese ships had fired at US ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The allegation provided the justification for the US to intensify its aggression against North Vietnam. The truth is there was no North Vietnamese attack against US ships. The incident was invented as the US Secretary of Defence at that time Robert McNamara admitted years later.

To justify US military action against Iraq when the latter invaded Kuwait in August 1990, a story was concocted that accused Iraqi soldiers of plucking babies out of their incubators and throwing them onto the floor of a hospital in Kuwait. The fabrication was designed to incite public anger against an “utterly brutal and inhuman regime” in Baghdad. A few years later a monstrous lie was invented about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in order to convince the world that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was totally justified.

A more recent example of political lying was the accusation that Bashar Al-Assad of Syria was responsible for a chemical gas attack in Eastern Ghouta on the 21st of August 2013. It was the celebrated investigative journalist Seymour Hersh who revealed the truth: that the Western backed rebels were behind the chemical attack.

More than any country in West Asia it is tiny Cuba that has borne the brunt of its huge neighbour’s lies and distortions. Since its Revolution in 1959, it has been constantly accused of fomenting instability and violence in Latin America. And yet, it is the US through its agents and proxies that has orchestrated acts of terror against Cuba the most infamous of which was the downing of a Cuban commercial plane on the 6th of October 1976 that killed 73 people including a number of children. The mastermind of that heinous crime Posada Carilles was given protection in the US until his death in May 2018.

Why lies are propagated so frequently and the truth sacrificed so easily, it is not difficult to understand. It is because the powerful want to protect their power at all costs. Sometimes this would require targeting their foes without proof.

This may be true of two final episodes which I have kept to the end because both have not been investigated thoroughly and therefore one cannot draw definite conclusions. The 9-11 tragedy and the MH 17 disaster though different in many ways are similar in some respects. In both cases, a certain party pointed fingers at the “culprits” almost immediately without presenting an iota of evidence. US officials and the media accused Osama bin Laden of planning 9-11 within hours of the attacks upon the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Similarly, the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry stated that “There is overwhelming evidence of Russia complicity in the downing of a Malaysia airline plane,” as quoted in the BBC on the 21st of July 2014, 4 days after the disaster. Kerry did not bother to provide any evidence.

It is equally significant that in both cases important questions about the actual episodes have remained unanswered. In the 9-11 episode, it is still unclear what caused the collapse of a third tower in the vicinity of the Twin Towers and what exactly hit the Pentagon. Likewise, in the case of MH 17, the official version of what had caused the downing of the plane does not blend with some eye-witness accounts or with expert analysis of the nature of the damage to the cockpit.

9-11 was the raison d’etre for the US led onslaught on Afghanistan on the 7th of October 2001. More important, it ignited the US led War on Terror that lasted more than a decade and was seen by many Muslims as an affront to their identity and their dignity. Is it a coincidence that after the July 17th air disaster — the overwhelming majority killed were Europeans —- European governments were more supportive of severe economic sanctions against Russia proposed by the US some months before? Did the disaster unwittingly achieve some geopolitical objective?

It is only if we continue to ask probing questions that the truth that is concealed will be revealed for the good of everyone.

The post Concealing the Truth appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Predator of Our Public Lands

Joshua Tree National Park. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

For generations, our country has been Mother Nature’s steward, setting aside and protecting important expanses of public lands for posterity. But what if these lands and natural resources suddenly got a “steward” who was a predator, rather than a protector?

Meet William Perry Pendley. For more than 40 years, he’s been a fringe political operative and lawyer for a network of loopy, anti-environmental extremists intent on helping corporate predators grab and plunder our national assets for their private profit.

And now — Holy Teddy Roosevelt! — developer-in-chief Donald Trump has named Pendley to be acting head of the Bureau of Land Management.

Yes, a guy who favors the wholesale privatization of your and my public lands is to oversee the future of America’s public lands. Indeed, Pendley has been lost in the ultra-right-wing weeds for years, screeching that the “Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.”

That’s nuts, but nuttier yet is Pendley’s listing of a sextet of demons he believes are “at war” with western civilization: radical environmentalists, federal bureaucrats, the media, academia, Hollywood, and “ignorant” Americans who are “easily panicked” into believing in things like climate change.

But this caped corporate crusader saves most of his manic fury for the environmental movement, bizarrely proclaiming that its millions of adherents “don’t believe in human beings.”

Also, with funding from the Koch brothers and Big Oil, Pendley has been a fanatical fossil fuel proselytizer, even declaring in a moment of rapture that fracking is “an energy, economic, and environmental miracle!”

Don’t just keep an eye on this corporate extremist — don’t even blink! For updates, contact Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility at peer.org.

The post Predator of Our Public Lands appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

War in All But Name as US State Department Offers Bribes to Pirates of Iranian Ships

If at first you don’t succeed, spread some money around. The Financial Times reports that the US State Department is offering cash bribes to captains of Iranian ships if they sail those ships into ports where the US government can seize them.

The offers are funded from a “Rewards for Justice” program authorizing payouts of up to $15 million for “counter-terrorism” purposes. It’s  not about counter-terrorism, though. It’s about doubling down on US President Donald Trump’s decision to violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, usually called the “Iran Nuclear Deal.”

The other parties to the deal –especially France, the UK, and Germany — don’t want to let the deal go, but also don’t want to enrage Trump by violating the unilateral sanctions he’s imposed on Iran. The Iranians, on the other hand, have made it clear that unless those other countries find ways to deliver meaningful sanctions relief, they’re abandoning the deal too. They’ve started taking concrete steps in that direction.

On July 4 — Independence Day in the United States — members of the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines boarded an Iranian oil tanker, the Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar. They seized ship, crew, and cargo in an act of open piracy.

The pretext for the seizure was that selling oil to Syria violates European Union sanctions. But neither Iran nor Syria are EU member states, and the tanker was taken in international “transit passage” waters. That’s like giving a speeding ticket to a driver in Hungary for violating  Kazakhstan’s speed limits.

Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, plausibly asserted that the seizure was requested by the US government. The ship was released after Iran agreed that the oil would not go to Syria (its whereabouts and destination remain unknown as of this writing).

In the meantime, a US court had issued a seizure warrant — for an Iranian vessel, carrying Iranian oil, to a non-US destination, clearly outside any reasonable definition of US jurisdiction. And the Iranians had hijacked a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in reprisal for the taking of Grace 1.

So now the US State Department is reduced to simple bribery in its attempts to clean up after Trump’s 2016 campaign promise to get the US out of the “nuclear deal.”

Under the deal, the Iranians went beyond their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to “end” a nuclear weapons program which the US intelligence community didn’t even believe existed. All they got out of it was some relief from sanctions that should never have been imposed, and the return of some money stolen by the US government decades ago. All the US got out of it was an empty propaganda victory.

But electoral politics required Trump to throw even that tiny trophy away. He had to either promise foreign policy belligerence SOMEWHERE or risk establishment mockery as a peacenik. Enter the Israeli lobby and Sheldon Adelson’s millions. Iran drew the short straw.

So did we. This is war in all but name and only likely to escalate as Election 2020 draws nigh.

The post War in All But Name as US State Department Offers Bribes to Pirates of Iranian Ships appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Any War on Terror is Bullshit

The saying goes that the greatest trick the devil ever played was fooling the world that he doesn’t exist. I’ve long said that the greatest trick the state ever played was fooling the world that only its existence could keep the devil at bay. The devil in this case being a constantly evolving crop of scapegoats often labeled terrorists. Then again the Old Testament interpretation of the devil has always been the ultimate scapegoat. Lucifer’s great crime was trying to mimic god’s omnipotence with a failed coup. God cast the rebellious angel out of heaven but allowed him to continue to play god in hell because his existence served as the ultimate excuse for god’s unlimited power. My childhood priest, Father Foster, probably wouldn’t agree with this interpretation, but as a budding young anarchist, this is the way the tale sounded to me. The devil’s very existence was defined by god and god in turn needed the devil to justify his power. And this is what I see when I look at the issue of terrorism.

Terrorist attacks aren’t prevalent in peaceful nations. No one’s blowing up Lichtenstein. It’s violence that perpetuates violence. So it only seems natural to me that America, a state with an epic reputation for violence, both at home and abroad, should become a magnet for copycat killers. The United States makes over a hundred attempts to wack Fidel Castro and Lee Harvey Oswald guns down the president. The United States turns the jungles of Vietnam into a massive killing field and Charles Whitman turns the University of Texas into a free fire zone. The United States burns a compound full of women and children alive in Waco and Timothy McVeigh blows the Murray Building to smithereens. The United States hollows out a skyscraper in Serbia with hellfire missiles and our former client in the Balkans, Osama bin Laden, takes down two towers with hijacked commercial airliners. The United States wipes out an entire village in Yemen with a Navy Seal death squad and a white nationalist dressed in Navy Seal cosplay turns himself into a one man death squad and wipes out a bustling Walmart full of brown civilians.

I may be something of a wonk when it comes to mass violence, it’s a peculiar hobby that goes back to my peculiar Catholic childhood, but I take very little pride when I tell you that I could quite literally go on like this all fucking day. As Malcolm X astutely observed about the Kennedy Assassination, these are all simply tragic cases of the chickens coming home to roost.

It’s amazing to me how many scapegoats the mainstream media can drum up for these atrocities, from Grand Theft Auto to Marilyn Manson, without drawing the most blatantly obvious conclusion that those living beneath the yoke of the most violent empire on earth might be a bit more susceptible to becoming copycats of state violence than most. It’s less amazing to me that the agents of this state fail to make this same conclusion once you realize that their very existence relies upon this demonic proliferation of mass violence. This becomes a sort of twisted self-fulfilling prophecy machine that the state inspires terrorism with acts of terrorism launched to combat terrorism. But with the very American reaction to the latest spree of mass killings, we see a new and dangerous trend. The state has finally given birth to the ultimate scapegoat, the Alt-Right lone wolf.

In the past twenty years, America has used its reactionary War on Terror to rapidly expand the police-warfare state by scapegoating the world’s fastest growing religion of Islam. They skillfully used the attack that their own barbaric foreign policy invited on 9/11 to justify an endless forever war across the ever-expanding Muslim world. Perhaps even scarier is the Orwellian nightmare state created on the home front, which subjects us all to near full spectrum surveillance 24/7. While the FBI kept up a steady quota of Muslim headhunting by entrapping mentally feeble brown kids online, most of the police state’s attention was directed towards the existential threat of radical tree-huggers and wily peace activists. But in our PC age of racial sensitivity, this brown-baiting bait and switch has become an increasingly tough sell even for the most prudent statist lunkhead. The specter of the white nationalist is the perfect upgrade. After all, even child pornographers are sickened by Nazis.

But the mainstream interpretation of this right-wing radicalism is recklessly vague. With every virtue signalling call from Time Magazine to Elizabeth Warren to declare all out war on the radical right there is often a half-whispered addendum of “…and other anti-government extremists.” But what constitutes an anti-government extremist? Well, dearest motherfuckers, whoever the fuck you want, or rather whoever the fuck our lethal executive office wants. Me, you, Ilhan Omar, Black Lives Matter, with a thin skinned lunatic like Trump in the White House, whoever criticizes his tie or suggests he pees sitting down. The Resistance clamoring for these knee-jerk state reactions to state inspired violence seem to be totally oblivious to the fact that they’re merrily building their own fucking caskets. Just as Obama’s hope-and-change posse handed an orangutan an Uzi by allowing Barack to turn the Oval Office into a drone-strike internet cafe, today’s self-proclaimed leftists are pushing for sharper fangs on the state without even considering the possibility that they could get bit.

But what is even more terrifying than further empowering our hollow-point presidency is the fortification of the permanent state in the police/intelligence community. According to disturbingly influential Russophobic crowd exciters like Rachel Maddow and Alexander Reid Ross (no relation, thank Christ), the entire spectrum of the anti-authoritarian fringe from left to right is part of one big John Nash-style spiderweb of red-brown Putin puppets. Everyone from Ron Paul to Jill Stein is a part of this neo-McCarthyite orbit and we’re all connected by dots to angry white men in white sheets. You don’t have to be an Alt-Right nut-job to recognize how dangerous this philosophy has become, especially once it’s made official state policy. After all, according to this increasingly mainstream conspiracy theory, anybody who doesn’t vote for a Bush or a Clinton is now an honorary Alt-Right nut-job anyway. See you at the next cross burning.

At the end of the day, all acts of mass violence are acts of terrorism, regardless of whether they’re committed by skinheads or cops, and the last time I checked, the cops have a way bigger body count of brown and queer civilians. Do we really wan’t to give them Bazookas to chase after their own shadows? Does anybody honestly believe that they would even be the primary targets? I ain’t biting, dearest motherfuckers and neither should you. In our current national hell, all non-state terrorists are convenient scapegoats for the state that births them. And any war on terror is bullshit.

The post Any War on Terror is Bullshit appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Inevitable Withdrawal: The US-Taliban Deal

It took gallons and flagons of blood, but it eventuated, a squeeze of history into a parchment of possibility: the Taliban eventually pushed the sole superpower on this expiring earth to a deal of some consequence. (The stress is on the some – the consequence is almost always unknown.) “In principle, on paper, yes we have reached an agreement,” claimed the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on the Afghan channel ToloNews. “But it is not final until the president of the United States also agrees to it.”

The agreement entails the withdrawal (the public relations feature of the exercise teasingly calls this “pulling out”) of 5,400 troops from the current complement of 14,000 within 135 days of signature. Five military bases will close or be transferred to the Afghan government. In return, the Taliban has given an undertaking never to host forces with the intention of attacking the US and its interests.

Exactitude, however, is eluding the press and those keen to get to the marrow. Word on the policy grapevine is that this is part of an inexorable process that will see a full evacuation within 16 months, though this remains gossip.

The entire process has its exclusions, qualifications and mutual deceptions. In it is a concession, reluctant but ultimately accepted, that the Taliban was a credible power that could never be ignored. To date, the US has held nine rounds of talks, a seemingly dragged out process with one ultimate outcome: a reduction, and ultimate exit of combat forces.

The Taliban was not, as the thesis of certain US strategists, a foreign bacillus moving its way through the Afghan body politic, the imposition of a global fundamentalist corporation. Corrupt local officials of the second rank, however, were also very much part and parcel of the effort, rendering any containment strategy meaningless.

A narrative popular and equally fallacious was the notion that the Taliban had suffered defeat and would miraculously move into the back pages of history. Similar views were expressed during the failed effort by the United States to combat the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. An elaborate calculus was created, a mirage facilitated through language: the body count became a means of confusing numbers with political effect.

Time and time again, the Taliban demonstrated that B52s, well-equipped foreign forces and cruise missiles could not extricate them from the land that has claimed so many empires. Politics can only ever be the realisation of tribes, collectives, peoples; weapons and material are unkind and useful companions, but never viable electors or officials.

Even now, the desire to remain from those in overfunded think tanks and well-furnished boardrooms, namely former diplomats engaged on the Afghan project, is stubborn and delusionary. If withdrawal is to take place, goes that tune, it should hinge on a pre-existing peace agreement. An open letter published by the Atlantic Council by nine former US State Department officials previously connected with the country is a babbling affair. “If a peace agreement is going to succeed, we and others need to be committed to continued support for peace consolidation. This will require monitoring compliance, tamping down of those extremists opposed to peace, and supporting good governance and economic growth with international assistance.”

The presumptuousness of this tone is remarkable, heavy with work planning jargon and spread sheet nonsense. There is no peace to keep, nor governance worth preserving. Instead, the authors of the note, including such failed bureaucratic luminaries as John Negroponte, Robert P. Finn and Ronald E. Neumann, opt for the imperial line: the US can afford staying in Afghanistan because the Afghans are the ones fighting and dying. (Again, this is Vietnam redux, an Afghan equivalent of Vietnamisation.) In their words, “US fatalities are tragic, but the number of those killed in combat make up less than 20 percent of the US troops who died in non-combat training incidents.” All good, then.

In a sign of ruthless bargaining, the Taliban continued the bloodletting even as the deal was being ironed of evident wrinkles. This movement knows nothing of peace but all about the life of war: death is its sovereign; corpses, its crop. On Monday, the Green Village in Kabul was targeted by a truck bomb, leaving 16 dead (this toll being bound to rise). It was a reminder that the Taliban, masters of whole swathes of the countryside, can also strike deep in the capital itself. The killings also supplied the Afghan government a salutary reminder of its impotence, underscored by the fact that President Ashraf Ghani played no role in the Qatar talks.

This leaves us with the realisation that much cruelty is on the horizon. The victory of the Taliban is an occasion to cheer the bloodying of the imperialist’s nose. But they will not leave documents of enlightenment, speeches to inspire. This agreement will provide little comfort for those keen to read a text unmolested or seek an education free of crippling dogma. Interior cannibalisation is assured, with civil war a distinct possibility. Tribal war is bound to continue.

As this takes place, the hope for President Donald Trump and his officials will no doubt be similar to the British when they finally upped stakes on instruction from Prime Minister David Cameron: forget that the whole thing ever happened.

The post Inevitable Withdrawal: The US-Taliban Deal appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Get Ready for Unnatural Disasters This Hurricane Season

Donald Trump discusses immigration as if the benefits of residence in the U.S. are a pie. When immigrants get more, the people who were already here get less.

In general, that’s not true. When immigrants come here, they don’t just take some jobs (often low-wage jobs U.S. citizens don’t want), they also create new jobs. They need housing, transportation, food, and clothes, and they buy all of those things, creating more jobs for other people in this country.

However, in one way, Trump is turning his viewpoint into a self-fulfilling prophecy: He’s using our finite government funds to pay for incarcerating immigrants in detention facilities, which means he’s shifting that money away from other uses that could benefit the American people.

In that sense, it’s not immigrants who are taking from us. It’s Trump.

For example, disaster relief. Trump’s using over $100 million in federal disaster aid money to pay for detention centers for immigrants — even as hurricane season gets underway.

Does that worry him? Apparently not.

When asked about Hurricane Dorian, which was then a category 5 storm nearing the Atlantic coast, Trump actually said: “I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard of a category 5.” He said the same thing last year about Hurricane Michael. And the same thing again the year before, about Hurricane Irma.

Hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters are threats that definitely harm Americans. Historically, we as a nation take care of one another by appropriating some of our tax dollars for federal disaster relief.

Nobody plans to be the victim of a natural disaster, and we can’t predict which communities will be hit by them. We can prepare for them as a nation so that when they happen, we are as ready as we can be, and we have the resources to deal with the aftermath.

While we can’t control whether or not we get hit by hurricanes or tornadoes, we can control whether we invest in being prepared — or whether we waste that money instead on locking up immigrants in taxpayer-funded detention facilities.

We don’t need to do that.

When we take money from disaster relief and use it to imprison people who pose no safety threat to the American people, we are also harming the victims of natural disasters who need aid they won’t receive.

By moving money within the Department of Homeland Security from other areas (the Coast Guard, FEMA, etc.) to pay for beds in detention centers for people who have crossed the border illegally but represent no safety threat to this country, the Trump administration could leave America open to other types of threats instead.

Rather than spending tax dollars needed for actual threats to national security on detaining immigrants, we need comprehensive and humane immigration reform that keeps families together. Then we can use our money on what we actually need, like disaster relief.

The post Get Ready for Unnatural Disasters This Hurricane Season appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Juniper Removal is a Red Herring

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has launched a massive juniper removal project in Idaho and plans to expand it throughout the Great Basin. Juniper is a common native species that grow in arid landscapes along with sagebrush and grasses.

The rationale given for the juniper removal is to improve sage grouse habitat. However, that is a red herring. The real reason is to create more forage for private livestock. Juniper removal gives the public the impression that the agencies are doing “something” to enhance sage grouse survival.

https://www.theolympian.com/news/state/washington/article234351727.html

The BLM and the livestock industry suggest that juniper deforestation will benefit sage grouse because the juniper is occasionally used as perches by avian predators.

There are no studies that I’m aware of that demonstrate that use of juniper as perches by sage grouse raptor predators is common.

Furthermore, much of the habitat where juniper removal is occurring is steeper ground not typically utilized by sage grouse.

There is one paper that suggests that juniper removal potentially increases sage grouse nest and adult survival by up to 25% which they attribute to removal of perches for birds of prey.  However, like other papers, the authors do not demonstrate that birds of prey are the main culprit for sage grouse mortality. They assume that juniper removal reduces avian predator losses, but the evidence is not conclusive.

Ravens, another bird that occasionally preys on nests and eggs, will use scattered juniper for perches. However, this does not appear to be common.

Plus there is evidence that the presence of livestock (dead livestock and afterbirth) leads to higher raven numbers.

However, many studies show that birds of prey like golden eagles use fence posts for perching.  In areas where junipers have been removed, sage grouse tend to avoid the areas that have fences.

Besides, up to 30% of the mortality of sage grouse in some areas is due to collision with fences. Thus, if the BLM were genuinely concerned about the future of sage grouse, it would be eliminating or decreasing fences, not juniper.

Livestock degrades sagebrush habitat by eating and trampling and thereby, decreasing the hiding cover of grass exposing the bird to higher predation losses.

The bulk of BLM lands are in poor to fair condition, meaning grass cover is less than desirable. It’s possible that removing or reducing livestock grazing might lead to much higher sage grouse survival than juniper removal.  However, this alternative is never considered by the BLM due to its strong alliance to the livestock industry.

Livestock production also impacts sage grouse by the damage done to wetlands and riparian areas from trampling, the resultant soil compaction, and loss of vegetative cover due to livestock grazing. Sage grouse chicks are dependent on these wet areas where they feed on insects and specific flowers.

Livestock water troughs are used by mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus, which can cause significant mortality in sage grouse.

Sage grouse avoid flying over vast expanses of non-sagebrush habitat created by hay fields. Considering many valley bottoms around the West have been converted to hay production, the resulting habitat fragmentation is significant.

Perhaps one of the main ways that livestock production harms sage grouse is by the spread of cheatgrass. Cheatgrass is an alien annual grass that is highly flammable. Cheatgrass spread is facilitated by livestock due to the selective grazing of native grasses. Removal of native grasses by livestock gives cheatgrass a competitive advantage in the competition for resources like water.

Furthermore, cattle hooves trample soil biocrusts, which generally grow in the spaces between native bunchgrasses. Biocrusts inhibit the establishment of cheatgrass.

Collectively all these livestock production factors create a “headwind” for sage grouse survival in many parts of the West. (Energy production, conversion of sagebrush habitat to wheat and hayfields, and so forth are also factors in sage grouse decline).

Another problem associated with the BLM justification for juniper removal is the use of old ideas about juniper and fire. According to the standard party line given by range conservationists and range professors (both of whom indirectly work on behalf of the livestock industry), juniper is “invading” due to “fire suppression.”

This myth was created by a range professor from Oregon State University Range Department who asserted that since range fires were frequent and low severity, burning sagebrush ecosystems every 10-25 years. Such recurrent blazes would logically preclude the establishment of juniper except on rocky sites and other areas where a fire was excluded.

However, more recent research has concluded that most sagebrush species typically burn on a 50-400 year fire rotation. So this creates a problem for the BLM argument that “frequent” fires limited juniper since it turns out that fires were not that regular.

In a more recent review of juniper fire ecology, the researchers concluded that “spreading, low-severity surface fires were likely not common.” Instead of low severity fires, the researchers found that “nearly all observed fires since EuroAmerican settlement in these woodlands were high-severity fires.”

Several more recent studies on juniper have verified this long rotation. For instance, a survey conducted in Dinosaur National Monument found that juniper fire rotations were 550 years. Similar long fire rotations of 400 years in one case, 480 years in the other have been reported.

Therefore, much of what is viewed as juniper “expansion” may be recolonization after high severity fires. Climate change may also be contributing to juniper expansion.  Juniper establishment only occurs when there are favorable conditions for seed production and seedling survival.  Seedling survival is better in disturbed rangelands where livestock have decreased the competition from other vegetation.

All of which the BLM appears to ignore because it doesn’t fit the paradigm that justifies juniper removal.

The BLM does not address that juniper removal, and the disturbance that comes with it promotes the establishment and spread of cheatgrass. The highly flammable cheatgrass by shortening the regular fire rotation is a far greater threat to sagebrush ecosystems and sage grouse survival than the presence of juniper.

It’s essential to keep in mind that range conservationists and/or range professors/researchers whose jobs depend on the continuation of livestock grazing are the primary advocates of juniper removal. Just follow the money.

To the degree, that juniper removal might, in some cases, benefit sage grouse is a distraction or smoke screen. The more significant factors contributing to sage grouse declines, which include the cumulative impacts of livestock production continued to be ignored.

The post Juniper Removal is a Red Herring appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Capitalism, Socialism, and Existential Despair

Decades ago, Edward Said remarked that contemporary life is characterized by a “generalized condition of homelessness.” Decades earlier, Heidegger had written that “Homelessness is coming to be the destiny of the world.” Around the same time, fascists were invoking the themes of blood and soil, nation, race, community, as intoxicating antidotes to the mass anonymity and depersonalization of modern life. Twenty or thirty years later, the New Left, in its Port Huron Statement, lamented the corruption and degradation of such values as love, freedom, creativity, and community:

Loneliness, estrangement, isolation describe the vast distance between man and man today. These dominant tendencies cannot be overcome by better personnel management, nor by improved gadgets, but only when a love of man overcomes the idolatrous worship of things by man…

Over a hundred years earlier, Karl Marx had already understood it was capitalism that was responsible for all this collective anguish. “All fixed, fast-frozen relations…are swept away,” he wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…” Home, community, the family, one’s very relation to oneself—all are mediated by money, the commodity function, “reification,” exploitation of one form or another.

And now here we are in 2019, when the alienation and atomization have reached such a state that it seems as if the world is in danger of ending. The phenomenology, the “structure of feeling,” of living in this society is that everything is transient and “up in the air,” human survival is in question, a hectored, bureaucratized anonymity chases us from morning till night, nothing really matters, no one gets their just deserts. Young people are refraining from having children. There is certainly no collective sense of belonging—that’s long gone. We’re les étrangers, passively consuming distractions as we wait for the other shoe to drop.

Meanwhile, we read of little else but agonized suffering, from children in cages to rainforests burning, from opioid epidemics to rampaging neofascists.

The case for socialism is usually made, rightly, from the perspective of its justice. It would be just to have economic and social democracy, for one thing because it is intrinsically right that people not be forced to rent themselves to a business owner who exploits them for profit but instead that they collectively control economic activities and distribute rewards as they see fit. Moreover, economic democracy, whether in the form of worker cooperatives or democratic government control, would essentially make impossible the extreme income inequality that corrodes political democracy and ultimately unravels the social fabric.

But it’s also worth broadcasting the message that even from an existentialist point of view, our only hope is socialism. Certain types of conservatives (usually religious) like to complain about the demise of the family, the community, non-hedonistic interpersonal ties, and the sense of meaning in our lives, a demise for which they blame such nebulous phenomena as secularism, “humanism,” communism, and liberalism. That is, everything except what really matters: capitalism, the reduction of multifaceted life to the monomaniacal pursuit of profit, property, and power. So these conservatives end up in the realm of fascism or neofascism, which promises only to complete the destruction of family and community.

The truth is that only socialism, or an economically democratic society in which there is no capitalist class, could possibly usher in a world in which the existentialist howl of Camus and Sartre didn’t have universal resonance. Mass loneliness, “homelessness,” and the gnawing sense of meaninglessness are not timeless conditions; they’re predictable expressions of a commoditized, privatized, bureaucratized civilization. Do away with the agent of enforced commoditization, privatization, and hyper-bureaucratization-for-the-sake-of-social-control—i.e., the capitalist class—and you’ll do away with the despair that arises from these things.

It’s true that the current suicide epidemic in the U.S. and the mental illness epidemic around the world have more specific causes than simply “capitalism.” They have to do with high unemployment, deindustrialization, underfunded hospitals and community outreach programs, job-related stress, social isolation, etc. In other words, they have to do with the particularly vicious and virulent forms that capitalism takes in the neoliberal period. But long before this period, widespread disaffection and mental illness characterized capitalist society.

Now, in light of global warming and ecological destruction, it’s possible that humanity won’t last much longer anyway, in which case capitalism will never be overcome and our collective existential anguish is perfectly appropriate. But nothing is certain at this point. Except that we have a moral imperative to do all we can to fight for socialism. “By any means necessary.” It is what justice demands, and it offers the only hope that even we privileged people—not to mention the less privileged majority—can know what it is to truly have a home.

The post Capitalism, Socialism, and Existential Despair appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Jerome Powell, Labor Day Hero?

The Federal Reserve Board chair might seem an odd pick of a person to honor on Labor Day, but he really does deserve some recognition. In addition to dealing with incoherent tirades from the whiner-in-chief, Jerome Powell has led a hugely important shift in the focus of the Fed.

Powell has explicitly made the plight of the poor and working-class part of the Fed’s agenda. He began his speech at the Fed’s recent annual meeting in Wyoming by noting the unemployment rate for people of color, increasing wages for those at the bottom end of the wage distribution, and efforts by employers to offer training to attract workers with fewer skills.

It is almost inconceivable that Powell’s predecessors would have begun an important talk on monetary policy this way. In the past, monetary policy was a story about inflation and the risks of future inflation; the prospects of the disadvantaged did not figure into the picture.

Of course, Powell did not get to this place on his own. There was a concerted effort by the Fed Up Coalition, organized by the Center for Popular Democracy, to force the Fed to broaden its focus. This coalition included members of labor unions and community groups across the country. I am proud to have been able to work with Fed Up, along with a number of other progressive economists.

Fed Up organized meetings with then-chair Janet Yellen, as well as with presidents of the 12 district banks and other members of the board of governors. The message we tried to send was that the Fed’s decisions on interest rates had a very direct impact on the lives of people in disadvantaged areas.

The unemployment rate for blacks is typically twice the unemployment rate for whites. For black teens, the ratio is close to six-to-one. Unemployment for Latinos tends to be roughly one-and-a-half times the unemployment rate for whites. This means that even small changes in the overall unemployment rate, which is usually close to the unemployment rate for whites, have a large impact on the employment prospects for more disadvantaged groups.

We also pointed out that wage growth for these groups largely depends on the strength of the overall labor market. Those higher up the wage ladder may have enough bargaining power to grow their paychecks even in a weak labor market. But, for those at the bottom end of the ladder, a low unemployment rate is an essential component of their bargaining power.

Fortunately, Yellen, Powell and others at the Fed took these arguments seriously. It may seem hard to believe today, but back in 2014 there were many economists, including many at the Fed, who wanted the Fed to raise interest rates and slow the economy when the unemployment rate was still over 5%.

They argued that if the unemployment rate fell below that rate, inflation would pick up, and then the Fed would then have to raise interest rates rapidly to slow it. Fed Up insisted that there was little evidence that lower rates of unemployment would lead to any sharp spike in inflation. We reasoned there was little risk from delaying rate increases and allowing the economy to continue to expand at a healthy pace and for unemployment to fall further.

That reasoning turned out to be right. Millions more people have jobs this Labor Day than would have been the case if the inflation hawks had carried the day. As Powell noted in his opening comments, wages have been rising faster than prices for those at the bottom of the wage ladder. And employers are making efforts to recruit people, such as those with criminal records, who they otherwise would not have been interested in hiring.

None of this takes away from the hardships that tens of millions of low- and middle-class people still face. A few moderately good years does not reverse decades of upward redistribution and an even longer legacy of slavery and racism. But we should welcome real improvements when they occur, and Powell deserves some of the credit.

This article originally appeared in the New York Daily News.

The post Jerome Powell, Labor Day Hero? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Defying the Nuclear Sword

“. . . and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

These lost words — Isaiah 2:4 — are nearly 3,000 years old. Did they ever have political traction? To believe them today, and act on them, is to wind up facing 25 years in prison. This is how far we haven’t come over the course of what is called “civilization.”

Meet the Kings Bay Plowshares 7: Liz McAlister, Steve Kelly, Martha Hennessy, Patrick O’Neill, Clare Grady, Carmen Trotta and Mark Colville. These seven men and women, Catholic peace activists ranging in age from their mid-50s to late 70s, cut open the future, you might say, with a pair of bolt cutters a year and a half ago — actually they cut open a wire fence — and, oh my God, entered the Kings Bay Naval Base, in St. Mary’s, Ga., without permission.

The Kings Bay Naval base, Atlantic home port of the country’s Trident nuclear missile-carrying submarines, is the largest nuclear submarine base in the world.

The seven committed their act of symbolic disarmament on April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Here’s what they did, according to the Plowshares 7 website: “Carrying hammers and baby bottles of their own blood,” they went to three sites on the base — the administration building, a monument to the D5 Trident nuclear missile and the nuclear weapons storage bunkers — cordoned off the bunkers with crime scene tape, poured their blood on the ground and hung banners, one of which contained an MLK quote: “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” Another banner read: “The ultimate logic of Trident is omnicide.”

They also spray-painted some slogans (such as “May love disarm us all”), left behind a copy of Daniel Ellsberg’s book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, and, oh yeah, issued an indictment of the U.S. military for violating the 1968 U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed by 190 countries (including the United States).

Article VI of the treaty reads: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Then they waited to be arrested.

The plowshares movement has been taking actions like this since 1980. The Kings Bay action was approximately the hundredth.

Three of the seven have been in prison ever since, and the other four, who were able to make bail, have had to wear ankle bracelets, limiting and monitoring their movement. In early August — indeed, between the anniversaries of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — the seven testified at a U.S. District Court hearing in Brunswick, Ga. The charges were not dismissed and their trial date is set for Oct. 21.

What will happen, of course, is anyone’s guess. One of the defendants, Martha Hennessy (granddaughter of Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day), put the question this way: “Will we be allowed to speak?”

That is to say, will the judge give the defendants and their legal team a chance to open the case to the size of humanity’s future — the omnicidal danger represented by the nuclear weapons in U.S. possession — or will she insist on limiting the case to the matter of trespassing and damaging (or belittling) government property?

“We took these actions to say the violence stops here, the perpetual war stops here — at Kings Bay, and all the despair it represents,” said defendant Clare Grady. “We took these actions grounded in faith and the belief that Jesus meant what He said when He said, ‘Love your enemies,’ and in so doing offers us our only option for hope.”

In other words, will this trial truly be equal to the “crime” that it’s about? The crime is the possibility of nuclear annihilation, the death of hundreds of millions of people — and the fact that there is no way to hold a nation accountable . . . at least not this nation . . . for its arrogant possession and ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction.

Just for a moment, try to imagine national policy based on “love your enemies.”

The mind stops, crying out: Are you kidding me? What could possibly seem more absurd? What could possibly ignite more cynicism? Hitler, Munich, blah blah blah. National policy, especially for the world’s dominant superpower, is based on the threat of unrelenting force. O Kings Bay Plowshares 7, what were you thinking? Globally speaking, nothing but force is possible, or imaginable without a dismissive snort.

But then a pause sets in: “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares.”

This concept, bigger than any specific religion, has failed (so far) to alter history. Preparing for and waging war has dominated human collective action throughout recorded history, and for nearly three-quarters of a century now, the human race (or a fragment of it), has been in possession of weapons of mass destruction, and some of the guardians continually plan to use them.

Here, for instance, is a single sentence from the Nuclear Operations Handbook, which was mistakenly uploaded by the Pentagon last June, then quickly removed from public access, but not before the Federation of American Scientists got ahold of it and reposted it: “Nuclear forces must be prepared to achieve the strategic objectives defined by the President.”

Strategic objectives? Our current president, the guy with access to the button, recently suggested nuking hurricanes, a preposterous idea that would essentially use their winds to spread radiation. “Usable nukes” are being developed, and the United States is a country married to endless war, not to mention gerrymandering, voter suppression and a commitment to making certain that peace remains politically marginalized and beyond the reach of public opinion — thus guaranteeing that there is no way to bring political accountability to our insane nuclear stockpile.

Enter the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, trespassing in defiance of this crime against the future. Ordinary citizens have begun to hold the nation, and its military, accountable.

The post Defying the Nuclear Sword appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Kamala Harris, Another Establishment Candidate

Everyone knows that Joe Biden—with his long history of serving corporate interests, is an establishment candidate. There are others like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who, because of large contributions from people like Mark Zuckerberg is also known as the “Senator from Silicon Valley.” He votes with his Valley and Big Pharma funders. Kamala Harris is less well known as an establishment candidate. Her true colors can be illustrated by her personal political history, by the staff she has assembled to run her campaign, by the funding and favorable media attention that she receives from the powers that be and by the numerous identity rather than class politics policy proposals she is putting forward.

Kamala Harris’s Political History

Much of Harris’s early political history is obscure, but we do know that she was an unknown 29 year-old lawyer in the early 1990s when her career was kick-started through a romantic relationship with master politico Willie Brown (Los Angeles Times January 21, 2019; San Francisco Chronicle January 26, 2019). Brown was not only the Speaker of the Californian State Assembly; he was also a central figure in the San Francisco Bay Area Democratic Party political machine. Brown likely saw both Harris’s beauty and identity politics potential, a rare combination of female, African-American and Asian-American. Bright, well-educated and ambitious, Harris and her family came from the professional class that usually serves and aspires to join the rich and powerful. Her maternal grandfather was an Indian diplomat, her Jamaican born father was a Stanford economics professor, and her mother was a cancer scientist. Power broker Brown appointed Harris to two state boards–the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and the Medical Assistance Commission–that paid well for very little work. Brown also introduced her to other key members of the Bay Area Democratic political machine–people like Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi–and some of the machine’s wealthy backers, all of whom could help her with fundraising, endorsements and staffing for electoral campaigns. This gave Harris the opening she needed to use her smarts and talent to successfully run for San Francisco City Attorney (served 2004-2011), State Attorney General (served 2011-2017), and the U.S. Senate (beginning in 2017), all after ending the relationship with Brown. Once in office, Harris became known for her lavish personal lifestyle, using campaign and other funds for first-class air travel and upscale hotels which routinely cost $800 to $1000 a night, topping out in one instance at $1,722.59 for one nights’ stay. One former aide commented that “Kamala demands a life of luxury.”

Once in office as a prosecutor, Harris clearly failed to pursue social and economic justice for the broader public which should be the true aim of anyone in the people’s service, including law enforcement. Instead, she favored corporate criminals like Steven Mnuchin (now Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury), who raked in millions as the CEO of OneWest Bank from 2009-2015. Investigations of home foreclosures by prosecutors in Harris’s own office of the California State Attorney General in 2013 found that OneWest had illegally backdated massive numbers of key documents, violated notice and waiting periods, as well as gamed foreclosure auctions to deprive tens of thousands of California’s homeowners of their property. All this to the benefit of Mnuchin and OneWest. The violations were in the thousands, summed up as “widespread misconduct” by leaders of the Attorney General’s own Consumer Law Section. They recommended a civil enforcement action against the bank, even writing up a sample legal complaint, but, despite their urgings, Harris refused to prosecute the case. Mnuchin and billionaire George Soros, an investor in OneWest, both evidentially appreciated what Harris did: each of them made a generous campaign contribution to Harris’s 2016 Senate campaign.

In sharp contrast to the kid-glove treatment of corporations and the rich, Kamala Harris was harsh and unrelenting toward rank-and-file people accused of crimes even when there was clearly false testimony and evidence tampering used to convict. The story is a long one, studied and recounted in depth by San Francisco School of Law Professor Lara Bazelon and published January 17, 2019 in The New York Times. Bazelon concluded that Kamala Harris was not a “progressive prosecutor,” writing that “time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or remained silent. Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.” Harris even refused to investigate officer-involved shootings when called upon by the California State Legislature and appealed a ruling by a federal judge in Orange County that the death penalty was unconstitutional, bizarrely arguing that the ruling undermined defendant protections!

She also promoted and succeeded in getting a law criminalizing parental conduct when their children were truant from school. Some parents were in fact prosecuted. The real reasons for truancy – poverty, drug use, survival issues for parents, lack of community support – were ignored in this law which disproportionately affected low-income people of color.

Staffing for a Presidential Run

Kamala Harris’s earlier campaigns and cross-endorsements (candidates agree to endorse each other) allowed her to build up the key staff needed for a presidential campaign. Here members of her family became central, together with a reliance on an informal alliance with Hillary Clinton. Clinton and Harris endorsed each other in 2016, Harris was an enthusiastic supporter of Clinton and has recruited a number of Hillary Clinton’s staff for her own campaign. These two themes come together in the person of Harris’s sister and presidential campaign chair Maya Harris. Maya Harris, formally an official with the Ford Foundation, is currently a commentator for the MSNBC, one of the three key cable news outlets (with Fox and CNN) covering the presidential campaign. Positive news coverage for media favored candidates is a key feature of presidential campaigns in the U.S., and having a connection to possibly receive this kind of advantage is central to a successful campaign. Maya Harris also has other important ties to key political networks. In 2015 Hillary Clinton appointed her to lead a small team of policy advisers to develop the agenda for Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Then she became a senior policy adviser for Clinton in 2016. Maya Harris also brings to the table membership in the Council on Foreign Relations, “Wall Street’s Think Tank” with the numerous connections and favorable treatment that membership in this 5000-plus member capitalist class think tank brings. The Council (CFR) is the world’s most powerful private organization, the ultimate networking, socializing, strategic planning, and consensus-forming institution of the dominant U.S. plutocratic billionaire class, the think tank of monopoly-finance capital. Its connections extend deeply into key American corporations, leading media, top universities, powerful non-profits, foundations, other think tanks and international organizations, as well as meetings groups like the Bilderberg group, Trilateral Commission, and Davos (see Laurence H. Shoup, Wall Street’s Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics 1976-2019, Monthly Review Press).

Just to cite one concrete example of corporate and CFR connections, Maya’s employer, MSNBC, was founded in 1996 as a partnership of General Electric’s NBC unit and Microsoft. Microsoft has since divested its interest, leaving GE/NBC in charge. GE has many CFR connections and Council members in leading roles in MSNBC include Brian Williams, Mica Brzezinski, Joe Scarborough, and Andrea Mitchell (who is also Council member Alan Greenspan’s wife). The CFR’s broad network also includes key print media, resulting in favorable coverage for some candidates. For example, the Financial Times (FT), a “world business newspaper” has a special relationship with the Council, the FT often has CFR leaders, staff, and active members writing opinion pieces for it, and the Council often invites key FT staff to speak at one of their two headquarters. The FT had a long favorable article on Kamala in their weekend edition June 22-23, 2019 ending by quoting a political strategist who concluded that Kamala “obviously has great political talent” (Financial Times June 22/23, 2019 Life and Arts: 18-19). Another FT opinion writer stated that if you are looking for someone “…who could beat Donald Trump next year, the answer without a shadow of a doubt is Californian Senator Kamala Harris” (Financial Times June 29/30, 2019:9). Having a CFR member as her sister and campaign chair means that a Kamala Harris administration would very likely bring many Council on Foreign Relations members into government and into leading roles in the policy formation process. Having the FT on your side means that wealthy campaign donors and other media outlets will take you seriously.

Kamala’s family’s corporate ruling class connections do not end with her sister, because Maya’s husband is Tony West, a leading corporate lawyer whose father was an IBM executive. West is politically close to Kamala, he co-chaired her 2016 Senate campaign, and recently stated that he is with her 100% (San Francisco Chronicle July 14, 2019). West was chief counsel for Pepsi Cola, a giant multinational corporation prior to taking his current job. He is now the highly paid chief counsel for Uber. Uber’s business model relies on maintaining that their working class drivers are not employees and so not subject to regulations on wages and benefits. This means that West is a central figure defending the interests of the company’s owners against the claims of their exploited drivers. Many Uber drivers want the status of employees so they can gain minimum wages, paid holidays, healthcare and other benefits. Australia’s workplace regulator ruled that Uber drivers are not employees, but a U.K. court ruled they are. Uber’s legal team, led by Tony West as chief counsel, has now appealed this ruling to the U.K. Supreme Court.

Kamala Harris’s other staff members represent a combination of people connected to the Bay Area Democratic Party political machine, former Barack Obama operatives, and former Hillary Clinton staff members. The connection with Clinton appears especially close. Besides Maya Harris at least four other top staff members for Kamala played similar roles in Clinton’s 2016 campaign. General counsel Mark Elias was general counsel for Clinton in 2016; communications director Lily Adams was Iowa communications director for Clinton in 2016; media consultant Jim Margolis served in the same role for Clinton in 2016; and advance director Joyce Kazadi served in an identical role for Hillary in 2016.

The Kamala Harris connection to Hillary Clinton extends to at least on one Hillary’s election clients. A firm named Legion AVS worked for Hillary for America. Harris hired this firm to organize her kickoff rally in Oakland. Legion AVS was reportedly paid $485,000 to organize this one, evidently lavish event. The Oakland Police Department was also paid $187,000, and there were other expenses. So this one event cost the Harris campaign in excess of $672,000, quite a sum for an event of this kind.

Funding

The U.S. system of private political campaign funding gives the wealthy corporate ruling class a key way to influence politicians in what is a carefully managed “democracy.” Publicly funded election systems that are much more democratic exist in many nations, but not in the U.S.

Running a successful presidential campaign requires a serious amount of money, especially for staff and political ads. Where a given candidate gets this money is one key to whom this candidate ultimately owes allegiance. In this realm, as in her political history and staff, Kamala Harris clearly represents the corporate class. So far in the 2020 campaign, Harris is the queen of large donations, just as Bernie Sanders is the king of small donations. Open Secrets, which tracks campaign funding, found that Harris received the largest amount from large donors among the 16 candidates then in the 2020 race when it did the study (Joe Biden had not yet reported).

Data from the Center for Responsive Politics offers more specifics. CRP found that as of mid-April 2019, over 85% of Harris’s donations came in the form of checks for $1000 or more. Lawyers for the giant Paul Weiss multinational law firm are Harris’s biggest single donor. Among their key clients are GE, Exxon-Mobil, IBM and Avon. Members of other top law firms also give heavily to Harris, including DLA Piper and Venable LLP. DLA Piper is another global law firm with offices in 40 different nations. Piper’s clients include over one-half of all top Fortune 250 corporations, and is often number 1 ranked annually in mergers and acquisitions deal volume. Piper also has a strategic alliance with the Cohen business consulting group. William Cohen, a Republican and a former director of the CFR, is chair and CEO of this group, which includes several other Council members among their vice chairs and senior counselors. Venable LLP is Kamala Harris’s husband Douglas Emhoff’s law firm. It is paid well to lobby government for leading corporations like GE, Time-Warner, Oracle, Met Life, Fiat Chrysler, American Express, American Airlines, Allianz, and Hilton. These corporations would obviously have an inside advantage in a Harris Administration. Other prominent corporations which have given thousands to Kamala Harris include Time-Warner; Alphabet/Google; Wells Fargo Bank; Apple. Microsoft and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, whose grossly biased coverage helped Trump get elected in 2016. All of these giant corporations have good reasons to try to influence a potential Democratic administration. Just to cite one example, Alphabet/Google has been fined over $8 billion by the European Union for anti-trust violations, something that could be repeated in the U.S. (Financial Times June 6, 2019:14).

Additionally, in late May, 2019, Harris was the star at a San Francisco fundraiser hosted by oil billionaires Gordon and Ann Getty and attended by California Governor Gavin Newsome, who is also part of the Bay Area Democratic political machine (San Francisco Chronicle May 26, 2019:A15). Newsome has also endorsed Harris for president. The list of other, likely very wealthy ruling class attendees has not yet been reported.

Policy Proposals, The Context

To fully comprehend Harris’s (or any presidential candidate’s) policy proposals, one has to first understand some key facts about the complexity of American society and its power dynamics. The U.S. is a racialized, multicultural class society, which, according to the 2010 census, is made up of about 56% people from European (“white”) background; 16% Latino background; 13% African (“black”) background; 5% Asian and only a few percent from Native American, Native Hawaiian, mixed race and “other” background. These facts need to be kept in mind, plus the historical reality of eons of patriarchy, victimizing females; hundreds of years of slavery, victimizing Africans; as well as genocide against Native Americans. This class society has at the top of the economic and political power hierarchy a relatively small group of very wealthy capitalist families (the capitalist ruling class), about 5% of the total population. They own enough capital to live well without entering the nation’s labor market. This 5% owns fully 63% of the wealth of the United States. The next most powerful group is a professional class of experts, (often inaccurately called the “middle class”) amounting to about 30% of the population and mostly serving this ruling capitalist class. This top 35% is well-educated and predominantly European-America The remaining approximately 65% of the population is properly called the working class, people who have few assets and have to enter the labor market to survive. This working class is racially, ethnically and economically diverse, including both the relatively well-paid and those receiving minimum wages and below. There are many other cleavages: cultural, political, and language among this working class, making it difficult to unite the class to fight for its own interests. This difficulty is made more acute by the fact that the main means of education and communication (especially universities and mass media outlets) are fully controlled by the capitalist class and their professional class allies.

The messages that the powerful want to send to the majority are that identity, individual characteristics constructed and stressed by society such as one’s racial/ethnic background, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, and culture are what is central, not one’s material/class position in economy and society. Differences, not commonalities are affirmed. Except among the capitalist ruling class, where class consciousness is very high, class is mainly left out of the discussion and is mainly missing from people’s consciousness. This is in line with the long used divide-and-conquer strategy and tactics on the part of the nation’s and world’s rulers dating centuries. Thus identity politics is an easy way to unite a sector of society, those who feel powerless, aggrieved or fearful such as white workers exploited by corporations or African-Americans who are racialized and oppressed by the dominant society. This focus on the individual creates a divided society, without strong community bonds, with the majority working class fighting among themselves, right in line with what those at the top and in control want. Political alliances are then forged based on divided identities, not the potential unity and power of the majority working class. This approach allows the right wing white nationalist form of identity politics to advance and become powerful, since white people are a majority, and are often a large majority in rural areas and in places like the Midwestern section of the U.S. This is why Steve Bannon, a key theorist of the right wing in the U.S. and worldwide, stated that he could not “get enough” of the left’s “race-identity politics…the longer they talk about identity politics, I got them…I want them to talk about racism every day.”

To counteract the right, diversity must be thought of in a holistic way, since our personal (identity) and our economic (class based) lives are completely intertwined in a cultural and economic totality. Therefore, class, usually left out, must be brought into the conversation in a decisive way. The capitalist social relations that give rise to identity politics can best be overturned and people’s real problems solved by confronting capitalism and the corporate and other powers that be. Identity politics is actually harmful to the real interests of oppressed groups because it diverts attention from the real problems, creating division and confusion. Maximum unity of the working class through a class based politics “for all and the good of all” must be the true goal of progressive and left people.

The Harris Policy Proposals—Specifics

Kamala Harris is strongly wedded to identity politics as a way of gaining support in her quest for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. This obscures the fact that she herself is part of the corporate capitalist ruling class. With her policy proposals she focuses on specifics like woman’s issues (abortion and equal pay); advocacy for immigrant dreamers; “moderate” health care reform, background checks on guns; advances in marriage equality; higher minimum wage; prison reform (Harris was a zealous prosecutor, she even stated that she was “as close to vigilante as you can get,” but then, once a victim was locked up, “reforms” in terms of training for the life outside became appropriate for Harris). Indicative of the Harris identity politics approach was the first debate confrontation she had with fellow candidate Joe Biden over busing, when she pointed out that as an African-American child she was bused and so knew first-hand what it was like. But the central, and broader, class-based issues behind busing like enforced residential segregation, poverty and poor schools for working class people were not mentioned.

Tellingly, Harris’s approach to the environment and clean energy is to use “market forces” to speed up implementation of programs like the limited Democratic Party’s version of the Green Party’s Green New Deal. All this reinforces the fact that Harris represents the liberal wing of the neoliberal program, where identity politics and capitalist market forces are dominant and class issues are downplayed or left out entirely.

Summary and Conclusion

This article has illustrated in some detail, through her political history, staffing, family connections, campaign funding and policy positions that Kamala Harris is an establishment candidate, a Clinton clone backed by the corporate ruling class and its close allies. She is only pretending to be “for the people” (her campaign slogan). Furthermore, Harris is playing into the hands of the right wing by focusing on divisive identity politics instead of unifying working class politics. A class based program for human rights for all is what is needed, for health care for everyone as a human right, full employment at living wages, free education, affordable housing ensured by the federal government, adequate retirement funding and a clean environment, saving our planet based on the strongest version of a Green New Deal. Confrontation with the corporate and wealthy powers that be is necessary to achieve this program, and is also the road to winning the unity of the vast majority, defeating Trump and moving rapidly toward a just society with ecological sanity.

The post Kamala Harris, Another Establishment Candidate appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Ottawa Goes to Havana to Talk Venezuela, Returns Empty-Handed.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland has just concluded a working visit to Cuba on August 28 intended to discuss the “crisis in Venezuela” with her Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez. A reading of the news release from the Ministry indicates that there were no tangible results aside from a statement that the two foreign ministers had “different perspectives on the crisis in Venezuela”, having agreed to disagree, and that “senior officials would stay in contact and continue to exchange views”.

If Ottawa’s intention was to break the close Cuba-Venezuela relationship, that is as close to a diplomatic statement of failure as it gets. Cuba on the other hand has been much more explicit about the “different perspectives” in its official Cuban Foreign Ministry website stating, “the Cuban minister reiterated the firm and unchanging solidarity of Cuba with the Constitutional President Nicolás Maduro Moros, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the civic-military union of its people.” It also added, “he proposed to Canada to contribute to [the] elimination” of U.S. unilateral coercive measures that hurt the Venezuelan people.

This impasse raises more questions than it answers.

This has been the third visit to Havana by Chrystia Freeland this year. This last visit was preceded by a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Ottawa last August 22. Freeland received Pompeo with lots of praises for him and the wars that Canada has fought alongside the U.S. She also announced the agenda for the meeting, which included the “crisis in Venezuela”.

Few days later Ottawa officially announced that Freeland would travel to Havana to meet with her counterpart, and they would “continue their ongoing discussions on the crisis in Venezuela and the potential for Cuba to play a positive role toward a peaceful resolution.

Was there any formal request for Cuba’s role? What would that role be? Maybe the role required a predetermined outcome? One that Cuba could not accept?

There is no doubt that Cuba is considered an important actor vis-à-vis Venezuela. The U.S. administration perceives Cuba as key to sustaining the Government of Nicolas Maduro. It is not clear how – maybe politically – given that both countries are under severe U.S. economic and financial blockades.

One additional item has been on the agenda: “the United States’ decision to end the suspension of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.” The U.S. implemented Title III last May 2. Canada immediately responded that Canadians doing business in Cuba are protected under Canadian law against any extraterritorial U.S. legislation. Therefore, this seems to be an issue that does not concern Canada.

What was the point, then, of “discussing” a U.S. law affecting Cuba?

Is it possible that Freeland was bringing the metaphorical carrot (or stick) on behalf of Pompeo to persuade Cuba to break ranks with Venezuela?

We do not know, but we do know that Ottawa is determined to produce a regime change in Venezuela along side Washington in favor of self-appointed “interim” president Juan Guaido. We also know that Freeland is not one that gives up easily.

Do Ottawa or Washington really believe that Havana will break with Caracas in order to benefit from a relief on the U.S. blockade? Unlikely. Cuba has a 60-year-old track record of unbroken resistance.

Given the long-standing diplomatic relationship between Canada and Cuba, Ottawa may have limited capability to put any pressure on Havana without jeopardizing the relationship. But it is still possible to send signals of disapproval. A series of events could be construed as such.

Last January the Canadian government cut back half of its Havana embassy staff claiming health concerns resulting from unproven “sonic attacks”. Later on May 8, following the first visit to Cuba by Freeland in March, Ottawa announced major reduction of consular services in Havana that severely affected Cubans applying for those services. On May 16 Freeland traveled to Cuba again. Then in June, Cuban Bruno Rodriguez visited Ottawa and in late July some consular services are re-established in Havana.

Are the links between these events coincidental, or do they reflect some message in a diplomatic language?

The intensity of the exchanges between Canada and Cuba this year has been quite high. This intensity is only consistent with a high degree of negotiations on important issues, Venezuela being the obvious one. But given the balance of forces between Canada and Cuba we can only assume that Cuba is being pressured to make some significant concession. There is no expectation that Chrystia Freeland will grasp the parallel that Cuba-Venezuela relationship is just as important to the two countries as her professed Canada-U.S. relationship.

At first reading, Chrystia Freeland’s trip to Havana to “talk” Venezuela accomplished nothing of relevance if the intention was to pull Cuba away from Venezuela. How will the Canadian government react to this diplomatic failure?

Source: OneWorld Global Think Tank

 

The post Ottawa Goes to Havana to Talk Venezuela, Returns Empty-Handed. appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Democrats: To Beat Trump, You Need to Buck Your Leadership

This essay is for rank-and-file Democrats, which includes friends of mine. (Disclaimer: As many of you know, I’m not a Democrat; my politics are much further to the left. However, in this piece I am wishing you well with your contest.)

Many of you are focused on the 2020 election, which you hope Trump will lose. Of course. But you cannot trust the leadership of your party to do what it takes to make that happen.

If you are serious about putting a Democrat in the White House, you’ll need to do it yourselves, through dint of will and sweat of brow. It’s not impossible. In fact, it’s totally doable. But you need to get on the stick now, and that means educating yourself about the reality of your challenge, which has not been well publicized.

As you know, your candidate, Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote in 2016 by nearly 3,000,000 votes. This is impressive given how unpopular she was as a personality. The good news for 2020 is that virtually anyone nominated from the Democratic fold this time around will have better numbers than her going in. Given that Trump’s approval rate is stalled in the low 40s and his disapproval remains in the mid-50s, it should be no problem to meet and exceed that margin in the popular vote again.

Of course, as you don’t need to be reminded, the 2016 outcome wasn’t decided by the popular vote. Yes, it’s a travesty that the results were decided by the electoral collegean arcane institution put into place to serve the interests of slaveowners (and whose descendants, in both blood and spirit, it is still serving)but you’re not going to make it go away before 2020 (if ever) so you’ll just need to work with it.

Let’s look at the numbers. Trump eked out his 304 vote victory by winning three “battleground” states: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Had Clinton taken them, her electoral total would have been 273 votes, rather than 227: three more than the required 270.

State : Electoral votes : Popular margin
MI : 16 : 10,704
PA : 20 : 44,292
WI : 10 : 22,748

So, Trump “won” with just 77,744 votes. That’s only 0.55% of the 13,967,421 votes cast in those states.

That’s nothing. If that were the whole story, then victory in 2020 would be as simple as flooding those states with volunteers to pound the pavement, knock on doors and register voters; surely the hatred for Trump is strong enough that sufficient people could be rounded up and bussed in for such a campaign. If the party’s national leadership didn’t bother to organize this effort (and there’s certainly no guarantee they would), then party activists could do it themselves, in cooperation with county and state level officials who care about their people.

But the electoral college is not the whole story.

The whole story involves uncounted ballots, voter suppression and other dirty tricks. Nothing that can’t be overcome, but yourank-and-file Democratswill have to face these challenges without the assistance of your national party leadership, who have shown no interest in addressing them.

Let’s look at some details.

Investigative journalist Greg Palast has been a bulldog on on these issues, and I rely heavily on his work for what follows. Palast began his muckraking during the 2000 Bush v. Gore debacle in Florida where he was one of several journalists who demonstrated that Gore would have won there if all the votes had been counted by the state (which they never were). Two months before the 2016 election, Palast released his film, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” and predicted that Trump would win by means of a Republican-connived theft. Post-election, he jumped into the fray, pursued the story relentlessly, and uncovered numerous cases of fraudenough to change the results. His work is very well-documented but the implicationthat US elections are not as free or fair as people would like to thinkis a hot potato for both the mainstream media and the political establishment, including the Democratic party leadership, so we haven’t heard enough about it.

But you, Democratic rank-and-filer, can be more honest and forthright; you can educate yourself on what happened and what’s going on, the better to kick out the orange menace.

Michigan

What went down in Michigan is a case study of malfeasance, and much of what happened there was repeated elsewhere.

At least 75,355 ballots were not counted there in 2016. What’s more, most of these were from Detroit and Flint, both majority Black cities (82+% and 55+% respectively). According to CNN exit polls, 92% of Black voters in Michigan voted for Hillary. So if half these uncounted ballots were cast by Black voters at that ratio, an additional 34,662 votes would have been tallied in Hillary’s column and given her the state by a margin of 23,958 votes.

These ballots were not counted because they were unreadable by machines. When the oval next to a candidate’s name on the paper ballot was not filled in correctlyi.e., it was checked or was marked with red inkthe machine did not register it and the ballot was set aside. In other cases, no voter error occurred and the machines simply didn’t work. Writes Palast:

How come more ballots were uncounted in Detroit and Flint than in the white ‘burbs and rural counties? Are the machines themselves racist? No, but they are old, and in some cases, busted. An astonishing 87 machines broke down in Detroit, responsible for counting tens of thousands of ballots. Many more were simply faulty and uncalibrated… How did Detroit end up with the crap machines? Detroit is bankrupt, so every expenditure must be approved by “emergency” overlords appointed by the Republican governor. The GOP operatives refused the city’s pre-election pleas to fix and replace the busted machines.

“We had the rollout [of new machines] in our budget,” Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said. “No money was appropriated by the state.”
Same in Flint. GOP state officials cut the budget for water service there, resulting in the contamination of the city’s water supply with lead. The budget cuts also poisoned the presidential race.

As Palast notes, the human eye is easily capable of identifying a red oval or a check mark as the voter’s intent and tallying it appropriately. The post-election recount in Michigan (kickstarted by Green Party candidate, Jill Stein) would have done just that but the full process was not allowed to go forth. Palast, again:

But Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette stymied Stein’s human eye count. The Republican pol issued an order saying that no one could look at the ballots cast in precincts where the number of votes and voters did not matchexactly the places where you’d want to look for the missing votes. He also ordered a ban on counting ballots from precincts where the seals on the machines had been broken – in other words, where there is evidence of tampering.

Such naked partisanship was not limited to Michigan:

This story was repeated in Wisconsin, which uses the same Opti-Scan system as Michigan. There, the uncounted votes, sometimes called “spoiled” or “invalidated” ballots, were concentrated in Black-majority Milwaukee… GOP state officials authorized Milwaukee County to recount simply by running the ballots through the same blind machines. Not surprisingly, this instant replay produced the same questionable result.

Do you see what happened? Black people still can’t vote. I repeat: Black people still can’t vote. How is this not a big deal? In fact, it’s a scandal of epic proportions. That it hasn’t received the press it deserves speaks to the racism of the media.

Are you mad yet? I hope so, but it gets worse.

Interstate Crosscheck

Arguably the biggest component of the 2016 election theft by the Republicans happened before a single ballot was cast. The Interstate Crosscheck system was devised by Kris Kobach, a Republican Secretary of State in Kansas. Its ostensible purpose was to prevent people from voting or registering to vote in more than one state, although documented instances of this crime are exceedingly rare–in fact, out of 1 billion votes cast, only 31 credible instances of double-voting have been identified. In actuality, Crosscheck was used to purge voters from state rolls on a basis that disproportionally affected Blacks, Latinos and Muslims, all of whom are more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans.

Palast revealed:

An eye-popping 449,092 Michiganders are on the Crosscheck suspect list. The list, which my team uncovered in an investigation for Rolling Stone, cost at least 50,000 of the state’s voters their registrations… The “double voters” are found by simply matching first and last names. Michael Bernard Brown is supposed to be the same voter as Michael Anthony Brown. Michael Timothy Brown is supposed to be the same voter as Michael Johnnie Brown.

In the Keystone State, Interstate Crosscheck listed 344,000 voters as suspect; in North Carolina: 589,000; Arizona: 258,000, Colorado: 769,436, Nevada 90,000, Illinois 500,000. Altogether, 28 states used Crosscheck and over 7,000,000 voters were deemed suspect on extremely flimsy pretenses. (You can view the full list of states and the number of suspect voters here.)

You don’t have to believe Palast alone. A study authored by researchers from Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Penn Universities which examined Crosscheck records estimated that the best possible performance expected from the program would result in the purging of 300 voters for every 1 voter who is possibly—possibly—dubious, with a good chance that this single instance was a clerical error.

As bad as Crosscheck is, and as pervasive its reach was in 2016, it is not an unstoppable behemoth. Palast, teaming up with other organizations, has been suing various states to expose their wrongdoing and pressure them to drop the program. By April of this year, ten states had ceased using Crosscheck, including Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Illinois. <> These efforts can be supported and expanded by regular citizens pitching in. That’s who’s doing it now, and they’d appreciate the help. Check out the Palast Investigative Fund.

Don’t expect the DNC to lift a finger. So far, they have been uninterested. This one is up to the people to push.

Other Examples of Republican-Sponsored Disenfranchisement

The list of shenanigans the Republicans have been pulling is long. A few lowlights:

* The 2013 gutting of Voting Rights Act: A case paid for by a Republican billionaire went all the way to the Supreme Court, where a key provision of the legislation was struck down: jurisdictions with known histories of racist policies were relieved of the requirement to vet any changes to their voting laws with the federal Justice Department. In a bitter irony, Clarence Thomas was the deciding vote in the 5-4 case. President Obama, with a degree in constitutional law, offered no remedy. Soon after, disenfranchisement ramped up across the nation, hitting people of color the hardest.

* “Purge-by-postcard”: In this method, states mail postcards to voters to “verify” their addresses and if the postcards are not returned, the voter’s registration is canceled. According to Palast, who spoke with direct mail experts and referenced Census research, postcard mailings are not an accurate method of confirming personal information. Return rates vary significantly by income and race, with wealthier, older whites responding more than poorer, younger households and people of color. Additionally, 12% of such mailings “simply go astray.” Republicans are surely aware of who they are casting out this way.

In this way 340,134 voters were falsely purged from the rolls in Georgia in 2017 by Republican Secretary of State, Brian Kemp. After sending out postcards, Kemp removed over 530,000 voters, claiming they had moved. The Palast Investigative Fund hired experts to go over this list and found that 340,134 were still living at the same addresses. Additionally, several thousand were illegally struck for moving within the same county, which is against the law; intra-county moves do not require re-registration for voting. Kemp won his bid for Georgia governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who blames her defeat on the voter purges. Through ongoing legal action, the Palast Investigative Fund hopes to restore all these voters their rights by the 2020 election.

* Voter ID laws: Republican lawmakers present these laws as a means of discouraging voter fraud, but their true intent–and actual results–are to disenfranchise voters who are less likely to have a state-issued photo ID. Such people include students, the elderly, the poor and people of color, many or even most of whom lean to the Democrats. Many of these laws have been based on bills written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is responsible for pushing other reactionary legislation (i.e., against immigrants, worker rights, and the environment, and favoring mandatory sentencing, privatization of public services and deregulation). (See alecexposed.org)

* Votes not counted: Writes Palast:

The nasty little secret of US elections, is that we don’t count all the votes. In Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and all over America [in 2016]-there were a massive number of votes that were simply rejected, invalidated, and spoiled. They were simply, not counted. Officially, in a typical presidential election, at least three million votes end up rejected, often for picayune, absurd reasons.
The rejects fall into three big categories: provisional ballots rejected, absentee and mail-in ballots invalidated and in-precinct votes “spoiled,” spit out by a machine or thrown out by a human reader as unreadable or mis-marked.

The process of deciding which ballots to count is undeniably partisan. Palast, again:

Hillary Clinton only won one swing state, Virginia, notably, the only one where the vote count was controlled by Democrats. She lost all swing states-Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida-where the GOP set the rules for counting these ballots and their hacks acted as the judge and jury on whether a ballot should be counted.

Clearly, what we have here is deliberate, repeated election theft by Republicans, who apparently can’t win national office without cheating. They have been nothing if not creative and diligent in their efforts, and so far they have not been adequately challenged.

Summing it up: What To Do

In shortmy Democratic friendsyou’ve got to make sure your people can vote and you’ve got to make sure their votes are counted. This is essential. Without ensuring these two things, preaching about the importance of voting is really hollow.

Your party leadership isn’t going to pursue this. May I remind you that the DNC can’t even be trusted to run an honest primary among its own candidates. This is no conspiracy theory. No less a source than the New York Times revealed (if grudgingly) that Sanders was given short shrift by party leadership in 2016. (For more details, see In These Times and Truthdig.) Riggers aren’t going to oppose rigging.

We have Trump because Republicans stole the election. Not because young people didn’t turn out to vote. Not because of third party “spoilers.” Not because of foreign interference. Hillary won by nearly three million votes and was denied office only because of outright partisan fraud in a handful of states.

If Trump holds on to office after 2020, it won’t be because he won. It will be because he stole it again.

This is your mission, Democratic rank-and-filers, if you choose to accept it: stop waiting for your leadership to do the right thing. They’re not going to. Get out there and do it yourself. Take that hatred for Trump and turn it into meaningful action. Don’t just complainthrow the bum out!

The post Democrats: To Beat Trump, You Need to Buck Your Leadership appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Migrants Should Automatically be Offered Care, Education, Housing, Food, and the Right to Vote

Eric Mann: “Twenty years after the Watts rebellions of 1966, black unemployment in South Central Los Angeles has remained virtually unchanged. The main culprits—the closing of Bethlehem Steel, Goodyear and Firestone Rubber, and GM’s Southgate plant. These plants provided good paying unionized jobs, and their workers were stable and creative members of the community.”

Eric Mann wrote the quote above in 1986, a bit before the 1992 LA Riots / Rebellion. In 2019, South Central now South LA still struggles with a job crisis. What has changed is an influx of migrants largely from Central America, marginalized by our constitution, unable to fully participate in building a new South LA. What is the grassroots process by which “illegal” migrants can regenerate a community / district / region’s economy? When the political process is rigged both against legal citizens especially against migrants, and their solidarity should be the way forward? Would offering a first solution to “what process” mentioned above not be offering a solution to a deep and larger crisis?

Life as an “illegal” migrant. A migrant must negotiate a livelihood with the powerful. Powerful here means those who can navigate a city legally without worry and are stable and settled in identity and material life. This negotiation is stunted by a migrant’s illegality despite a migrant”s participation in building the commons. So, despite the fact that interest in the commons (language, economy, neighborhood) intersect and overlap a migrant is never truly able to negotiate for example where one lives, even if this growth has been stunted by the legals, ie a mix of political apathy and corporatism. This creates a paralysis in parts of the body of a city, on top of another paralysis, that of community left behind by corporatism and prejudice. In a republic supposedly founded with the ideas of the enlightenment in mind, in other words under the sign of reason, we perform tribalist citizenship, as some sort of blood rite. Instead, we should allow migration to replenish this country perpetually by allowing migrants to negotiate its present and fate, instead of sitting outside of the boundaries of negotiation.

Let’s concern ourselves with the city as an organizational category, and how migrants are organized (fated) to exist in a new city. Here in this city exchanges between different groups are conflictual and inexistant, and one side is not able to negotiate the city with the other. Certain institutions should stand in the way of such arbitrariness and conflict but the current American crisis is a crisis of many of its institutions that have left the grassroots fighting for a new society. Let us use citizen and participant interchangeably. In this city Migrants are citizens in the economic sense: they (without othering) pay sales tax, labor, consume supply which allows our society to finance itself, produce demand, and help landlords pay property taxes. It’s as simple as that, as Richard Wolff argues in his video on the economics of migration. Politically, however, migrants are excluded from fully participating, though many migrants do for Unions and other political associations. The migrant perspective is dangerously pushed out of the political equation, and has never been allowed to develop our society as part of the demos, for what is citizenship if not for development. What if migrants were granted political citizenship by virtue of being economic citizens? A cosmopolity would emerge, one with a dynamic that addresses the urgency in poverty, and poverty and migration’s perspective on government.

A hybrid would also emerge anywhere, as if already has in the city of Los Angeles, a hybrid that connects migrants with non migrants to produce territories of right and life that can negotiate with political power. This hybrid can be a site, a location, for building future just and prosperous America if embraced, instead of it being a site of conflict between “ethnic groups” and legality versus illegality.

As Richad Sennett writes in The Fall of Public Man, stage and street come together and intermix in 18th century cities, guided by industrial capitalism. In the following essay, I will use Sennett’s above two observations to argue that in LA, a descendant of 18th century city life, theatricality is used to hide a private criticism of the “respectable classes”, a theatricality sourced in mass culture, and private criticism cultivated behind closed doors. This private criticism, in coexistence with the demise of public education and a quickly receding public sphere, is an enemy of both progress and change, but especially an enemy of the migrant. It is time for our democracy to put our private prejudices aside and empower and enfranchise migrants who have and continue to build this country outside of the boundaries of political negotiation (including political economy). It is what is humane, and what will perpetually replenish this country’s culture, economy, and politics.

The post Migrants Should Automatically be Offered Care, Education, Housing, Food, and the Right to Vote appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The High Price of Fake Degrees

Like so many aging college people, Pnin had long since ceased to notice the existence of students on the campus.

– Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin

They’re back-the folks in the Education Department.

Remember Betsy DeVos? Trump made her  Secretary of Education.  She had no experience in education but was a big fan and supporter of charter schools in Michigan. Those schools  were, by most measures,  less successful than their public school counterparts and scored much lower on various comparative measures than schools in other states. Nonetheless, she was very wealthy and that, as we have learned over the years, is all that is required for someone to be invited to play in the trump playground.

Remember Diane Auer Jones?  She is a senior adviser to the Department of Education on post-secondary education.  She was an early hire by Betsy. Before starting work there she spent five years as a senior vice-president at Career Education Corporation.

Career Education Corporation was a company in the for- profit education world that in early 2019 agreed to forgive $494 million in student debt as a result of an investigation into its practices by 49 State Attorneys General.  The Attorneys General concluded that Ms.  Jones’ employer had engaged in deceptive tactics in order to recruit students.  Among other things,  the students were charged for vocational programs that did not have the proper accreditation for students to obtain licenses to work in their fields of study. The forgiven loans were for money owed to the institution. The practices in question had all occurred during the time Ms. Jones was a senior vice president at the company.

Now, Mesdames Jones and  DeVos are at it again.  On August 30, 2019 , the Education Department announced that it was making it more difficult for students who had been defrauded by for-profit institutions  to receive relief from their debts. They were reforming rules known as the “borrower defense to repayment” rules.  Those rules had enabled recipients of educational loans to avoid repayment under certain circumstances.

The new rules apply to loans made after July 2020.  The loans significantly tighten up the ability of a student to get a loan discharged when, for example, the for-profit institution closes its doors before the student has graduated.  Under the Obama era rule there was something called  the “automatic closed school discharge.”  That rule provided that, if a for-profit school, such as Ms. Auer’s, closed its doors before a student had gotten a degree, the student could apply to have the loan discharged.  Under the Obama era rules, there was no  time limit on when the student had to apply for debt relief.

Under the DeVos rule the student must apply for relief within three years after the school closing.  As Ms. Auer explained: “We believe that within three years, the borrower will know whether or not there has been misrepresentation.”  In masking that assertion she is probably drawing on her own experience while working at Career Education Corporation.

Under the Obama rules, the student debt was automatically discharged if the student did not enroll elsewhere within three years.  Approximately 20,000 borrowers availed themselves of that provision resulting in the discharge of close to $222 million in student  loans. That will no longer be permitted.

The burden of proof on the student seeking loan forgiveness has been increased.  A student seeking relief will have to prove that the college made a deceptive statement “with knowledge of its false, misleading or deceptive nature or with reckless disregard for the truth” and that the student relied on the statement in deciding to enroll or stay in the school.

The burden the new rules place on students seeking relief from for-profit schools that scammed them,  is offset by the benefit received by the taxpayer.  As Ms. Devos said when announcing the new rules, fraud in higher education “will not be tolerated.”  But, she went on to explain, the  rules include “carefully crafted reforms that hold colleges and universities accountable and treat students and taxpayers fairly.”  The “fairness” means that the amount of student debt being forgiven will be reduced by more than $500 million annually.  Over the next ten years it is estimated that the taxpayers will save more than $11 billion.  The savings to the taxpayers will, of course, rest on the backs of the defrauded students.

Commenting on the new rules, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said:  “This rule is another Trump-DeVos giveaway to their for-profit college cronies at the expense of defrauded student borrowers.”  Rep. Bobby Scott (D.Va.) said that “the Trump administration is sending an alarming message: Schools can cheat [their] student borrowers and still reap the rewards of federal student aid.”

Betsy DeVos is pleased with the new rule.  So is Diane Auer Jones.  So is Ms. Jones’ former employer.  It is pleased because the new rule makes it less likely that it will be on the hook for paying back students it scammed.  Ms. Jones is pleased because her new position enabled her to do a favor for her former employer and other companies in the student loan business she got to know when working in the business.  Ms. DeVos is pleased because she could do a favor for taxpayers like herself.  It’s a win-win for everyone but the defrauded students.

The post The High Price of Fake Degrees appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Pages