Counterpunch Articles

Exposing a Biden Staffer’s Connections to Troubled Israeli Spyware Firm

After Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate, Anita Dunn, senior adviser to Joe Biden’s campaign, defended the vice president’s performance in a briefing with reporters.

Last year, Dunn, who served as communications director in Barack Obama’s White House, did a similar duty for NSO, the spyware firm founded by former Israeli intelligence officers. The NSO Group created the infamous Pegasus intrusion tool, which has been used to harass and disrupt journalists from India to Mexico to Saudi Arabia—and also to pick Jeff Bezos’ pocket.

As Avi Asher-Schapiro of the Committee to Protect Journalists noted on Twitter, Dunn is “Managing Director at SKDKnickerbocker, a firm that managed the US public relations work for NSO Group.”

Dunn’s work for NSO indicates a willingness to defend private power against the public interest. Her condescending remarks about Bernie Sanders’ performance evoke the arrogance that pervades the intersection of big government and corporate power in Washington. She represents the reasons why some of Sanders’ supporters are reluctant to support the former vice president. She embodies the difficulty of unifying the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party going into the 2020 presidential election.

What Is NSO?

On the trail of NSO, Asher-Schapiro “has been tracking research by Citizen Lab, Amnesty International, and other local and international human rights groups involving journalists targeted by Pegasus, a spyware tool that the NSO Group markets and sells to governments.”

“Once covertly installed by means of spear-phishing attacks that trick the recipient into clicking on a malicious link, the technology passes control of a phone’s camera, microphone, and contents to the attacker,” Asher-Schapiro wrote last year.

Asher-Schapiro reported on:

“an attempted Pegasus attack targeting Griselda Triana, the widow of Mexican journalist Javier Valdez. Valdez, the winner of CPJ’s 2011 International Press Freedom Award, was murdered in May 2017; the Mexican government has not charged anyone for ordering the killing, which CPJ believes was in reprisal for his coverage of narcopolitics.”

When Asher-Schapiro sought comment from NSO, he says, “I would email Dunn’s subordinates at SKDK asking them to kindly provide comments explaining why their client kept being accused of spying on journalists.” He wrote:

“‘We do not tolerate misuse of our products,’ an NSO Group spokesperson told CPJ by email. ‘We regularly vet and review our contracts to ensure they are not being used for anything other than the prevention or investigation of terrorism and crime.’ The spokesperson declined to be named because the comment was from the organization, not an individual.”

And so Dunn’s role in the defense of NSO was not publicly reported.

Whom Dunn Defends

The privatization of intrusive surveillance technology has enabled repression of independent journalists seeking to hold governments accountable. Saudi Arabian intelligence officials reportedly used Pegasus to track dissident Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi before his murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018.

It may have also been used against the world’s richest man.

A technical report on the hack of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ phone (now available on Motherboard) concluded that the exact type of software used to extract Bezos’ data could not be determined but that it had the same capabilities as Pegasus.

A backlash against NSO has been growing.

The messaging giant WhatsApp is suing NSO, accusing it of “‘unlawful access and use’ of WhatsApp computers. According to the lawsuit [filed in northern California federal court] NSO Group developed the malware in order to access messages and other communications after they were decrypted on targeted devices, allowing intruders to bypass WhatsApp’s encryption.”

A Washington Post columnist who served as an adviser to NSO recently quit the firm after criticism. Juliette Kayyem, a Harvard professor, resigned after controversy over her role at the spyware group prompted Harvard to cancel an online seminar she was due to host.

The U.S. government and other leading countries will soon require buyers and sellers of intrusion technologies such as Pegasus to obtain licenses and thus disclose their identities. Whether this voluntary measure will curb abuses is unknown.

Given Dunn’s role in the Biden campaign, it is fair to ask: Is Biden soft on the abuse of private intelligence? Is he a defender of journalism?

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

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Corona Chronicles: Telegrams from Gotham

Photograph Source: Richard Eriksson – CC BY 2.0

Sitting in the East Village, drinking a coffee and trying to read a book, it was hard to ignore the rollicking conversation of liberal Boomers sitting an empty table or two behind me. What surprised me, but shouldn’t have, was the pedestrian character of the conversation. You might have scripted it for a Broadway show, had not the theater district been shuttered out of “an overabundance of caution.” We may soon find abundance wanting. Still the unceasing conversation roars ahead, unstoppable even as a malign pathogen thunders its way across the heartland.

First, there is the usual disdain for Trump. The standard detestations enunciated and agreed to by all and sundry. The ego! The self-interest! The unpreparedness! And, last but never least, the vulgarity! Then, of course, one of their number decides to speak up enthusiastically, even urgently, for Bernie. Why can’t he win? she asks plaintively. The others shift uneasily in their chairs. One of them, evidently the political savant, seems to speak for the rest with his reaction: a sad sigh, a cheeky grimace and a perfunctory raising of the eyebrows. Then he imparts the dark truth: America just isn’t ready yet for socialism. Others concur. The Sanders enthusiast tries a few more pointed remarks, with which everyone naturally agrees. Oh, yes, no doubt. System is corrupt. Democrats leave a lot to be desired. The corporate capture of Congress is criminal. But none of this penetrates the singular judgement of the bunch: we just aren’t there yet. Inevitably, one of the group declares that his real fear is that Trump will use the pandemic as an excuse to call off the election, provoking a fearful rumble at the table. One of the women hastily caveats this by noting that there are quite a lot of conspiracies floating around these days. Alarmed by the vision of Trumpian tyranny, they rapidly turn to reasons why Biden is a pragmatic and sensible choice, among them the lurid surmise that they’ll surround him with smart people, and so on. Mercifully, the conversation at last turns to the shocking spectacle of Italy…

Clash of the Cohorts

To be sure, Boomers have turned out en masse for Joe Biden during the primaries, crushing Bernie Sanders among older cohorts. They even outweigh, by virtue of their civic mindedness in showing up at the polling stations, the huge percentages by which Sanders wins younger voters, who flee from Biden as from a political pestilence.

Much contradictory and confusing data has emerged from the primaries. Like Boomers, a superabundance of African-Americans, from South Carolina to Detroit, voted for Biden, the author of the Clinton crime bill. According to some black commentators, this is because they have decided once again to vote Democrat regardless of the candidate, simply to stave off another four years of leaving the “White Man’s Party” in charge. This is their quadrennial calculus. At the same time, exit polls in twenty states showed, by huge margins, that voters support Medicare for All. Weigh this in the balance against exit polls that show discrepancies with the final tally that consistently negatively impact Sanders and positively impact Biden. Then add to that exit-polled voters in Michigan, Missouri, and Washington state who said they trusted Biden to handle a major crisis better than Sanders.

When it comes to the Biden-Sanders split in psychographic support, it would likely be impossible to separate this age-related disparity from the economic status of the voters. Boomers have the most wealth of any age bracket, Millennials the least. And what these well-intentioned but blase liberals appear to miss is what one CounterPuncher M.G. Piety nicely noted, namely, “…just how mad, in the sense of angry, the average American voter is. Epstiein writes that, ‘if you include those who have left the workforce altogether, the U.S. employment rate is almost as high as it was in 1931.’”

Piety goes on to quote Anne Case and Angus Deaton from Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, that “‘the amount Americans spend unnecessarily on health care weighs more heavily on our economy..than the Versailles Treaty reparations did on Germans in the 1920s.’”

Yet when the young express their anger and rage, they are chided as Bernie Bros who must learn to practice a more civil discourse with their wealthier, more comfortable elders. This feels more like the height of condescension than some principled appeal to decorum. In this milieu of rage and complacency jousting for supremacy, we are struck by the breathtakingly fast invasion of the coronavirus, or COVID19, whose epicenter is Washington state, but which crossed to clobber New York with forbidding speed.

Taking Advantage

As if this wasn’t unsettling enough, the news media seems to be launching one bizarre salvo after another over the fence into the public consciousness, raising the already surreal character of the last month. A few of these tales, set side by side, begin to baffle the clarifying capacities of the mind:

* Rather than attempt to settle fears, the American Hospital Association decides to issue a “Best Guess” that 480,000 Americans would or could die from COVID19. How many read ‘million’ into that guestimate before having to recalculate? Now that estimate has reached a million, 1.7M according to the CDC’s latest worst case scenario. For a society that receives daily infusions of sunny consumerism, such revelations are particularly disquieting.

* On the heels of this announcement, the Federal Reserve announces it plans to inject $1.5 trillion into the market to ameliorate investor fears. This eventually balloons to more than four trillion. Leftists instantly take to social media to remind us that homelessness could be eradicated with a tenth of that money. Scurrilous and defamatory exchanges immediately ensue.

* Trump declares a national emergency, opening up some $50 billion to leverage against the virus. After making the announcement, the press conference rather speedily devolves into a celebration of the president’s swift action in resolving another emergency, that of the American oil industry. Having instructed the government to buy oil from American energy companies, Trump hopes to stabilize the industry after Russia cut its legs out from beneath it by refusing to slash production as supply surges. Trump’s priorities–pleasing fellow billionaires over caring for the rabble–is visceral. Behind him a snow-haired, stone-faced Mike Pence nods assuringly. Climate action groups go ballistic.

* Democrat John Delaney tweets that now is not the time to argue about Medicare for All, but rather to focus on free universal testing and treatment for the virus. (Delaney fails to note that such extraordinary measures would be standard operating procedure under M4A.) He is immediately savaged by the twitterati, leaving the skeletal remains of his credibility to be picked over by vultures on the grassy plain of the web.

* In a show of magnanimous ignorance, John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, owned by the world’s richest man in Jeff Bezos, writes a tone-deaf letter to employees cheerfully announcing they can donate their unused sick days to virus-struck colleagues. Although he didn’t say it, he might have just added, “This ingenious little plan of mine will keep the company from shedding profits as your sacrifice will ensure all our wealthy shareholders are kept happily frozen in their cryogenic tanks.” Bezos, perhaps cognizant of Mackey’s folly, stays silent.

* With a voice vote, the House passes a new resolution demanding new sanctions and punitive measures against the “Ortega regime” of Nicaragua (which handily won certified elections). No Democrat even lifts a hand in protest, such is the bipartisan accord on American imperialism. This is rank and file groupthink.

* Later, the House refuses to pass a comprehensive sick pay bill, since rabidly laissez-faire Republicans don’t want it to apply to large companies, meaning only about 20 percent of workers will likely be covered by the legislation. Rather than passing the comprehensive bill and shaming the Republicans in the public eye, Democrats complacently revise it to meet Republican demands and vote it through. Pelosi celebrates, then later assures the country that should a theoretical vaccine be produced, it should, theoretically, be “affordable” for stricken citizens.

* The spinelessness of House Democrats reflects the economic status of their patrons and their professional-class supporters. These are not the ones who must use credit cards to meet their deductibles when they attempt to actually use their healthcare–if they are fortunate enough to have it. There is little concern among them that a Biden presidency would fail to even consider pressing for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, tuition-free college, debt forgiveness, a wealth tax, drug legalization, or any sensible pullback on foreign wars. Likely that last would be ramped up significantly under Biden, whose interventionist instincts are nearly the opposite of Trump’s hesitancy to engage in foreign wars unless pressured by the military and intelligence community. One gets the feeling that crisis management will be a large portfolio in a Biden administration.

* Word spreads that Trump was asked to step up preparations and testing for COVID19 in January but declined because it might harm his reelection chances. This rings true. He has also been in close contact with Brazilians who have tested positive for the virus, but declined to agree to get tested himself when asked by a brave reporter, soon to be banished from the White House press corps. Referring to himself in the third person, perhaps as a trinity, he says, “We are showing no symptoms, no symptoms at all.”

* The U.S. drops bombs on Iraq after holding Iranians responsible for attacking one of our occupation outposts north of Baghdad, which killed two Americans and a British soldier. This after the U.S. refused the Iraqi government’s demand that it quit the country, not unlike demands by Havana that the U.S. exit Guantanamo, also duly ignored. Meanwhile, Cubans send doctors to China and Chinese send health experts to Iraq to assist with virus prevention and treatment. No distinctions are drawn.

* During a pause in the action, several East Village bars appear to be full of rollicking revelers despite the city’s state of emergency. Like witless Romans frolicking just before the sacking. One might laud their joie de vivre in the face of the pandemic, were it not equally witless.

* In Tompkins Square Park a quartet plays John Coltraine while a medley of Boomers and Xers and Millennials sit on the benches, lazing and gazing at the pigeons and the crisp teal skies, soothed by the saxophone melodies. It feels like any other day in the park. Life, one hopes, rolls on.

* This stands in contrast to the ransacked shelves in Trader Joes and D’Agostino’s and CVS and Duane Reade, which look as if a human hurricane had swept through the aisles, as perhaps it had. A stray box of tissues lays on its side on an empty shelf, an aftermath still life. Dazed consumers, late to the party, stare at the emptied shelves, reading scotch-taped notices that begin, “Due to unprecedented demand…”

* The New York Times, the bible of the bourgeoisie, publishes a story about a super-hoarder. The man is shown standing in his garage: middle aged, gaunt, a day’s growth on his wan cheeks, a glum expression on his face, clad in baggy workout clothes, the standard-issue attire of men who have given up on their public appearance. His garage has been cleared of vehicles and crammed with storage shelves on which he has piled some 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. His gloomy demeanor is evidently owing to Amazon’s having banned him for price gouging. Now what would he do, now that his ingenious plan to get over on panicking Americans had been stopped in its tracks? (There was something wry in the fact that Amazon, the death-knell for a generation of neighborhood bookstores, was now taking punitive measures against a profiteering entrepreneur for having ruthlessly undercut the competition.)

* Meanwhile, six Democrats oppose a war powers resolution that the House passed and sent to the president’s desk, where he will obviously veto it. The party’s alliance with the intelligence community and ‘reformed’ neocons only betokens more of this kind of behavior from its ‘liberal’ members.

* Low-income minorities with little or no college education tend to stay away from the polls, undeceived by the tsunami of propaganda that slides over them weekly. It is the degreed professional class that are most vulnerable to the nattily attired arguments of the Paul Krugmans and David Brooks’ of the world. This gives the lie to the ceaseless vote shaming by livid liberals who smear #NeverBiden supporters as merely delusional bourgeoisie expressing their white privilege.

* To that end, a video of a once-candid Lawrence O’Donnell has been making the circuit of social media. The former Democratic consultant and current host of MSNBC’s ‘The Last Word’ is captured in a documentary declaring, quite vociferously, that the only way to force a party to move to the left is by denying them your vote, or at least making it clear you can and will deny them your vote. This elementary strategy is dismissed out of hand by Biden liberals, for whom O’Donnell is now a foot servant.

* Tulsi Gabbard, owner of a single delegate but banned from debates, continues to level clear-eyed critiques at the establishment, which it dutifully ignores. Gabbard is left like a woman on the Titanic shouting something about icebergs but drowned out by the tinkling piano and the high spirits of the drunken bacchanalia before her. She bravely accuses the intelligence community of interfering in elections when it claims Russian interference sans evidence, another elementary truth apparently unnoticed by tens of millions. She also calls for UBI to combat the economic effects of the coronavirus, a sad coda to Andrew Yang’s once-inspired campaign that has finally petered out on the front steps of Biden Mansion.

* Bernie Sanders, once again moving into movement-crushing mode, declares that he believes Joe Biden–”a friend of mine”–could defeat Donald Trump in the general. He likewise refuses to discuss the former VP’s evident cognitive decline in a weak pantomime of ‘taking the high road.’ This fealty to a party of which he is not a member will likely derail his momentum, as supporters see the outlines of another bitter fall materializing in their minds. For the Democratic establishment, Sanders must seem like a petulant child who acts out for months on end, only to hastily rehabilitate his behavior just as Christmas season arrives.

The Last Irony

Too many paradoxes to reckon with. And yet one more occurs. The nation is struck by a pandemic just as one of its presidential candidates is barnstorming around the country gathering steam for his universal healthcare proposal. And doubly so that as that same candidate fulminates about billionaires, reaching a bellowing crescendo, those selfsame elites blithely leverage the crisis to their advantage, occasionally even appealing to the destitute to become the mini-philanthropists of their own recovery. One could say it is ironic but, as a Julian Barnes character muses in one of his novels about such things, “as for coincidences in books–there’s something cheap and sentimental about the device; it can’t help always seeming aesthetically gimcrack.” Which is the problem here. All one can do in nonfiction is identify coincidences; in fiction one can create them. The ones above seem especially unsatisfying, always arrived at to the detriment of some voiceless majority. There is no justice in them, just a miscellany of abuse. I have heard whispers of how delicious an irony it would be for our blunderer-in-chief to be done in by his own incompetence, evicted from office by the electorate’s roaring disapproval of his handling of the pandemic. For some, that would apply a moral fix to the runaway injustice of his presidency. But this can only be hoped for, not invented.

Should we then leave irony to the Biden liberals? They certainly have the right mise en scene for it: tablesful of emptying wine bottles, glimmering cutlery forking singed scallops and bruised tenderloins between their polished ivories. Irony is, in some ways, a witty way to tie a bow on a conundrum, declare a riddle unsolvable, as it were, and forge ahead, conscience neatly salved with a political sanitizer that eliminates 99 percent of cognitive dissonance. And why not? Is not “CD”–as a frustrated friend finally labeled it in order to quit having to rewrite it every three sentences in his monograph on liberal failures–is not CD the real virus in this country, one we’ve long overlooked but that is, coincidentally, becoming painfully more obvious thanks to the advent of another nasty and menacing infection? Well, we’ll leave that to the wine cave enthusiasts. Time to sanitize the keyboard.

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The Socialist Specter in Present-Day US Politics

Photograph Source: Poster Boy – CC BY 2.0

The US political scene is haunted by talk of socialism. The basis for this has been developing now for some years, especially since the financial meltdown of 2008, which many came to see as decisive proof that a capitalist economy does not serve the majority.

But how does this new mass perception express itself? On the one hand, there is wide recognition of the grotesque level of inequality, as expressed in the slogan – made popular by the 2011 Occupy movement – of “the 1% vs. the 99%.” But on the other hand, people are bombarded with conflicting definitions of socialism, and uncertainty is rife.

The dominant tendency in US political rhetoric is to view socialism not as the dissolution of capitalist class-relations, but rather as an expansion of the scope of government. A favorite strategy of those – like Bernie Sanders – whose proposals are attacked as being socialist is to respond by denouncing billionaires as benefiting, via government subsidies, from so-called “corporate socialism” or “socialism for the rich.”

Socialism is thus equated with government subsidies rather than with an alternative vision of society. While the privately owned banks and corporations are attacked for their hypocrisy and their special advantages, there is no assertion that such icons of capitalist power should cease to exist.

Similarly, the target of attack, in Sanders’ rhetoric, is not the capitalist class but rather the “billionaire class.” Capitalism as such escapes the blame.

At the same time, full socialism (i.e., dissolution of the capitalist class and socialization of its holdings) is attacked as being inherently undemocratic. In this sense, when Sanders calls his socialism “democratic,” what he’s telling us is that it remains embedded within basic capitalist institutions. Regimes of full public ownership are presumed to be inherently authoritarian.

Sanders thus treads a fine line between advocating and denouncing the fundamental change that a fully socialist program would entail. On the one hand, he tells us that there should be no billionaires, but on the other, he implies that a system that would preclude those billionaires would be undemocratic and therefore unacceptable.

But the problem with a system that generates billionaires is not only that it entails vast inequality and poverty. This system – the rule of private and corporate capital – also fosters the permanent economic expansion that is driving the planet to environmental breakdown.

What saving the planet requires, and what full public ownership makes possible, is a deepening of democracy: its extension into spheres of activity – notably production decisions at every level – from which capital excludes it.

It is precisely such deepening of democracy that capital most fears. Hence the panic of the US political Establishment at any hint of a move in that direction. Because its own powers are threatened, the capitalist class wants us to think that all freedoms are endangered.

We have to note that in the actual history of socialism, repressive practices have at times extended beyond just targeting capitalist resistance, to quashing dissent more broadly. But while acknowledging this, we must analyze the reasons for it. We should not be surprised to find in such conduct the persistence of past social habit – both capitalist and pre-capitalist – in which hierarchy and repression are built in.

In current US debate, however, corporate politicians and media are so rabid in their opposition to socialism that they try to prevent us from knowing any positive achievements of socialist regimes. Thus, merely to recognize Cuba’s successes in public health and education elicits accusations of being hostile to democratic principles. Such charges betray a fear of facts that, if they became known, could alert people to the real possibility of a better world.

The corporate media play a huge role in keeping such an alternative beyond public purview. They thereby skew political debate, giving unfair advantage to politicians who seek to tap popular discontent by uttering platitudes rather than facing the enormity of what needs to be undertaken for the sake of our common survival.

Long-held assumptions about public priorities must be overturned. Moves in this direction have already occurred, as shown in a new openness on the part of young people toward socialist ideas. But the process must extend itself far and wide and deep. An electoral campaign can be part of it. But whatever the outcome of any particular campaign, the old habits and assumptions – backed by state and vigilante violence – will remain a permanent threat.

In response, we will need to draw on all the cultural resources bequeathed to us by generations of human creativity, reflection, struggle, and community.

Just as the mega-expansion of capitalist operations has brought on epochal disruption of the world’s eco-system, so a previously unimaginable deepening of human cooperation – dissolving class antagonism and crossing all other social boundaries – will have to be brought forth in response.

Victor Wallis’s book Socialist Practice: Histories and Theories has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan. He is also the author of Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism (Political Animal Press, 2018) and Democracy Denied: Five Lectures on U.S. Politics (Africa World Press, 2019).


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Why Sanctions During a Pandemic are Cruel

Image by Nathaniel St. Clair

Swiftly moves the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), dashing across continents, skipping over oceans, terrifying populations in every country. The numbers of those infected rises, as do the numbers of those who have died. Hands are being washed, tests are being done, and social distance has become a new phrase. It is unclear how devastating this pandemic will be.

In the midst of a pandemic, one would expect that all countries would collaborate in every way to mitigate the spread of the virus and its impact on human society. One would expect that a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude would provide the opportunity to suspend or end all inhumane economic sanctions and political blockades against certain countries. The main point here is this: Is this not the time for the imperialist bloc, led by the United States of America, to end the sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, and a series of other countries?

Medical Shortages

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told us recently that the “illegal and unilateral coercive measures that the United States has imposed on Venezuela are a form of collective punishment.” The use of the phrase “collective punishment” is significant; under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, any policy that inflicts damage on an entire population is a war crime. The U.S. policy, Arreaza told us, has “resulted in difficulties for the timely acquisition of medicines.”

On paper, the unilateral U.S. sanctions say that medical supplies are exempt. But this is an illusion. Neither Venezuela nor Iran can easily buy medical supplies, nor can they easily transport it into their countries, nor can they use them in their largely public sector health systems. The embargo against these countries—in this time of COVID-19—is not only a war crime by the standards of the Geneva Conventions (1949) but is a crime against humanity as defined by the United Nations International Law Commission (1947).

In 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump enacted tight restrictions on Venezuela’s ability to access financial markets; two years later, the U.S. government blacklisted Venezuela’s Central Bank and put a general embargo against the Venezuelan state institutions. If any firm trades with Venezuela’s public sector, it could face secondary sanctions. The U.S. Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in 2017, which tightened sanctions against Iran, Russia, and North Korea. The next year, Trump imposed a raft of new sanctions against Iran which suffocated Iran’s economy. Once more, access to the world banking system and threats to companies that traded with Iran made it almost impossible for Iran to do business with the world.

In particular, the U.S. government made it clear that any business with the public sector of Iran and Venezuela was forbidden. The health infrastructure that provides for the mass of the populations in both Iran and Venezuela is run by the State, which means it faces disproportionate difficulty in accessing equipment and supplies, including testing kits and medicines.

Breaking the Embargo

Arreaza, the Venezuelan foreign minister, told us that his government is alert to the dangers of COVID-19 with a health infrastructure that has been affected by the sanctions. Vice President Delcy Rodríguez is leading a presidential commission to manage whatever resources are available. “We are breaking the blockade,” Arreaza said, “through the World Health Organization, through which we have obtained medicine and the tests to detect the illness.” The WHO, despite its own crisis of funds, has played a key role in both Venezuela and Iran.

Nonetheless, the WHO faces its own challenges with sanctions, particularly when it comes to transportation. These harsh sanctions forced transportation companies to reconsider servicing both Iran and Venezuela. Some airlines stopped flying there; many shipping companies decided not to anger Washington. When the World Health Organization tried to get testing kits for COVID-19 from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) into Iran, it faced difficulty—as the WHO’s Christoph Hamelmann put it—“due to flight restrictions”; the UAE sent the equipment via a military transport plane.

Likewise, Arreaza told us, Venezuela has “received the solidarity from governments of countries such as China and Cuba.” This is a key issue. China, despite its own challenges from COVID-19, has been supplying testing kits and medical equipment to Iran and to Venezuela; it was China’s vigorous reaction to the virus that has now slowed down its spread within China itself. In late February, a team from the Red Cross Society of China arrived in Tehran to exchange information with the Iranian Red Cross and with WHO officials; China also donated testing kits and supplies. The sanctions, Chinese officials told us, should be of no consequence during a humanitarian crisis such as this; they are not going to honor them.

Meanwhile, the Iranians developed an app to help their population during the COVID-19 outbreak; Google decided to remove it from its app store, a consequence of the U.S. sanctions.

End the Sanctions

Yolimar Mejías Escorcha, an industrial engineer, tells us that the sanctions regime has put a lot of pressure on everyday life in Venezuela. She says that the government “continues to make an effort to ensure that people who most need it get health care, education, and food.” The opposition has tried to say that the crisis is a consequence of the government’s inefficiency rather than a result of the imperialist blockade on Venezuela. On March 6, she tells us, a new campaign was launched in the country called “Sanctions Are a Crime.” She hopes that this campaign will explain clearly to people why there are shortages in her country—the sanctions being the core reason.

In 2019, a group of countries met at the United Nations in New York to discuss the U.S. unilateral sanctions that violated the UN Charter. The intent was to work through the Non-Aligned Movement to create a formal group that would respond to these sanctions. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Arreaza told us that Venezuela supports this initiative but also the declaration of principles drafted by Iran against unilateralism and the Russian formal complaint about denial of visas for officials to visit the UN building in New York. “We hope to resume meetings this year once the difficulties presented by COVID-19 are overcome,” he said. They want to meet again, Arreaza said, to “advance joint, concrete actions.”

What Arreaza told us are initiatives at the interstate level. At the same time, there are ongoing initiatives led by popular movements and political organizations. In November 2019, an anti-imperialist solidarity meeting was held in Havana, Cuba, with representatives from 86 countries. At this meeting, it was decided that attention must be focused on the inhumane use of power in our time; a call was sent out to hold a week of anti-imperialist struggle between May 25 and May 31. The aim of the week is to alert the world’s public about imperialism and—in this context—about the murderous sanctions regime driven by the United States, more murderous in this time of COVID-19.

The question that a week of activities such as this poses is quite simple: What kind of moral fiber holds together an international system where a handful of countries can act in a way that goes against all the highest aspirations of humanity? When the United States continues its embargos against more than 50 countries—but mostly against Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela—when there is a global pandemic afoot, what does this say about the nature of power and authority in our world? Sensitive people should be offended by such behavior, its mean-spiritedness evident in the unnatural deaths that it provokes. When the U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked about the half-million Iraqi children who died because of U.S. sanctions, she said that those deaths were a price worth paying. They were certainly not a price that the Iraqis wanted to pay, nor now the Iranians or the Venezuelans, or indeed the majority of humankind. We march in May against this desiccated worldview; we march for humanity.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books, including The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (The New Press, 2007), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016) and Red Star Over the Third World (LeftWord, 2017).

Paola Estrada is in the Secretariat of the International Peoples Assembly and is a member of the Brazilian chapter of ALBA Movements (Continental Coordination of Social Movements toward the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America).

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

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An International Virus Needs an International Response

Photograph Source: Dipartimento Protezione – CC BY 2.0

On the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, with critics bemoaning a profound crisis of multilateralism, the COVID-19 pandemic poses a crucial moment for the international system. Newton’s third law of motion says that for every action there is a reaction. While many of the 17th century English physicist’s laws have been replaced by modern science, his third law has important implications for today’s coronavirus outbreak. We know the virus exists. It has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). What we don’t know is how to react to the virus.

There have been several levels of reaction. On a personal level, we are told to wash our hands frequently, and to avoid large gatherings, shaking hands and kissing. Older people and those with pre-existing chronic health problems should be especially careful. Those are personal reactions that should be followed from medical advice.

Beyond the personal level, what has been the larger reaction to the pandemic? It should first be noted that all eyes have turned to public authorities. We are dependent on what governments tell us. They can close schools, shut borders, and forbid intercontinental flights as they wish. We citizens have nothing to say in the matter. Even in democracies, there is no vote on how to react to the health crisis. (The financial crisis is another matter with legislative branches having input into executive decisions.)

Moreover, in a post-Reagan/Thatcher world, in an era of privatization and scepticism about government efficiency, no private company has come forward to supersede governments. There may be public-private partnerships about manufacturing testing kits, but governments are in charge. The public sector is the recognized authority during the crisis.

What public sector? In federations there are local, regional and national levels. But it is the national level that has the highest authority in emergencies. No mayor or state governor, for example, can overturn President Trump’s decision about Europeans entering the United States. It is in his power to decide as president of the United States.

And beyond the national? What about the multilateral? As French President Emmanuel Macron said in his address to the nation, the virus knows no borders; it needs no passport or visa to enter a country. Macron recognized that there must be a coordinated response beyond borders to the pandemic.

Why hasn’t there been an international meeting to coordinate responses? The WHO has played an important role in describing what is going on. It became the recognized source of international information. That’s not bad considering other UN agencies are having their authority questioned. But the WHO has little operational power.

A coordinated, multilateral international response is missing. For that, there must be leadership. Why hasn’t the United States called for an emergency meeting of heads of state to see how they could work together instead of or at the same time as closing down the country? The United States did exercise international leadership in the Ebola crisis and the 2008 stock market crash.

Coordinating does not mean that each country cannot decide for itself, it just means that decisions made are made in conjunction with others. President Macron did say he would speak with President Trump. Did President Trump consult with other heads of state before closing down visitors from Europe?

The history of multilateralism began with ad hoc cooperation to solve specific problems. The Rhine Regime started in the 19th century to deal with transportation issues on the river. The Universal Postal Union was formed in 1874 so that letters could get from one country to another. Cooperation was necessary.

The COVID-19 is a pandemic. Only multilateral cooperation can deal with a global problem. For the moment, we are mostly seeing local and national reactions. More and more countries are unilaterally closing their borders. If the pandemic is global, the only way to deal with it is global, i.e. multilateral.

In a moment of pronounced nationalism, that may be hard to do, especially with little leadership. But, going back to Newton, a global action requires a global reaction. The UN’s 75th anniversary should be a reminder of that.

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Cicero’s Lessons for Life

Cicero denouncing Cataline by John Leech. (1852)

My high school Latin teacher, Mr. McPherson, passed away recently, before his time.  Joe’s death brought back memories of our class more than forty years ago translating Cicero, Ovid, Catullus and other Roman writers.

Those old Latin lessons have a way of returning in new forms.  Buried deep in the collective past are valuable fragments of insight about the present.  Studying ancient Rome is certainly no antidote for contemporary woes.  Yet discerning patterns of human motivation – rationality, ambition, greed – across the ages can yield some illuminations of who we are.

Studying the classics has fallen prey to overwrought notions of the tyranny of the Western canon.  The ancients are far removed from today’s identity politics.  If you don’t want to start with Latin or Greek, study Sanskrit, Hebrew or classical Mandarin.  The point is to explore our collective cultural past in other languages if possible.

Our high tech culture is another force driving us away from the humanities.  But we should find time for both studying an ancient Roman codex and learning to code.

In my school days, we used to quip behind Joe’s back, “Latin is dead, dead as can be; first it killed the Romans, and now it’s killing me.”  Sure, it was sometimes a slog to do sight translations of Cicero’s orations, but it was an ennobling exercise.

Deciphering classical texts gave us a window on history and literature, and also paid utilitarian dividends by honing our basic grammar skills for others languages including in English.

Cicero seems particularly resonant these days when so many of us are struggling with the political and social turbulence in our own republic. Marcus Tullius Cicero started as a lawyer and became a leading politician, twice serving as an elected consul of the Roman Republic.  Cicero tried to uphold the constitutional order whilst Roman society was gradually being torn apart by class strife, factional rivalries and military over-extension.

Cicero was schooled in a tradition of comity called mos maiorum, or “the way of the elders.”  This entailed respect for precedent and institutions and was a building block for the rule of law.  Cicero saw these values crumbling.

Today we can hear echoes of Cicero’s valiant struggles to defend the center ground against polarizing strife and creeping dictatorship.  First, impeachments were not uncommon.  Private prosecutors could go after officials for breach of the public trust.  In fact, Cicero’s political career was launched by his takedown of a despotic governor of Sicily for corruption.  For years to come, Cicero would outmaneuver powerful rivals by dint of his smarts and magisterial rhetorical skill.

Second, Cicero recognized that populist tactics – whether from the redistributionist “left” or the militarist “right” – posed a grave threat to the republic’s survival.  Indeed, Rome’s downfall arguably began when members of the patrician class, who should have known better, used bloated promises to rally the masses and vicious lies to rouse mobs against rivals.

Third, Rome was vastly overstretched.  Contrary to its name, the republic had become an empire with far-flung foreign provinces as far as Gaul and Syria long before it had titular emperors.  These colonies increased the republic’s wealth and prestige but also placed enormous burdens on the treasury to finance Rome’s forever wars.

Cicero – a brilliant but fallible figure – was himself overstretched.  He compromised his independence, borrowing heavily from Rome’s richest men such as Crassus and Pompey to improve his household’s living standards.  Cicero also overreached in his efforts against rivals, resorting to thuggish tactics he had earlier abhorred.  He ultimately lost his fight when an authoritarian triumvirate including the ambitious general Julius Caesar seized power.  The republic would not last.

We are not Rome.  Yet, despite the manifold differences including dazzling technological sophistication, we can see traces of ourselves – the continuity of human nature – in the mirror of the classics.

Requiescat in pace, Joe.

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The UK’s Part-Time Prime Minister

The UK media are starting to refer to Boris “BoJo” Johnson as the “part-time prime minister” or “invisible man”.

Immediately after he won the general election in December BoJo took off with his latest mistress, Carrie Symonds, for a 2-week break (paid for by an unknown donor) on a private Caribbean island.

At the end of February, as parts of the UK were engulfed by record flooding, and the COVID-19 virus was starting appear, BoJo was nowhere to be found—he disappeared from public view for 12 days to take break at Chevening, a large country house in Kent available to the prime minister or a senior Cabinet member.

It was then announced that Symonds was expecting a child in mid-summer, and that Johnson and she were engaged. This would be the sixth child BoJo has acknowledged publicly, though there are thought to be others, and BoJo has never specified the number of children he’s fathered, despite being asked repeatedly to do so by journalists on the campaign trail.

The UK’s #1 deadbeat dad said he will start his paternity leave in the summer.

BoJo’s indolence goes a long way back.  Writing of him in his Eton school report in April 1982, his housemaster said:

“Boris really has adopted a disgracefully cavalier attitude to his classical studies . . .
Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility (and surprised at the same time that he was not appointed Captain of the School for next half): I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else”.

Four decades later– punctuated by an indifferent career in journalism that owed more to the old-boy network than any talent (he managed to get himself fired from one job with a newspaper), and undistinguished spells in his political career as mayor of London and foreign secretary—  the “disgracefully cavalier” BoJo is still with us, and not only that, he’s even managed to con his way to the UK’s top political position (mainly by lying about “getting Brexit done” and having an “oven-ready Brexit deal”), and thanks to a combination of good fortune and brazen treachery towards his predecessor as prime minister Theresa May.

The COVID-19 crisis has caught-out BoJo, who is most at home being glib and facile, a clown act with a line in racist and homophobic jokes, very much the pantomime leader who does well in front of a sympathetic audience.

Panto BoJo is now required to show himself to be serious and well-informed, and that he can concentrate on the minutiae of a major crisis.

Alas, an incessant zest for fornication seems to be the only interest the part-time prime minister can pursue for any length of time and with any consistency of purpose.

Couple this with the fact BoJo has always been loyal to no-one but himself, and Ukania has thus managed to elect its worst prime minister of modern times, while facing its greatest (three-pronged) crisis—Brexit, historically bad weather, and the coronavirus pandemic– since World War II.

February was the UK’s wettest February since official records were first kept in 1862, beating the previous record set in 1990. Flooding was at unprecedented levels as well. BoJo was nowhere to be seen for most of February, and when he finally visited a flood-stricken town in the West Midlands he was jeered and met with calls of “traitor”.

Accused of going AWOL, BoJo said “what I was doing was directing operations … Obviously, I’m working around the clock on various things, as indeed is the government”.

It is clear from the questions he faced from journalists about the floods that BoJo knows nothing about these (or indeed any) flood defence operations, so his claim to be “directing operations” is poppycock.

To become prime minister, BoJo and his handlers came up with an election-campaign buffet of fantastic plans to transform the UK–  first, negotiate Brexit and secure a deal with the EU that gave him everything he wanted; then strike post-Brexit trade deals with everyone else, including Trump; somehow make London “the Singapore on the Thames”; spend billions on infrastructure; “level-up” the deprived north in relation to the economically-privileged south; build 40 new hospitals; fix social care and homelessness; make mental health provision available on demand; reshape the civil service; and so forth.

And all without raising taxes on the rich!

Astonishingly, though for many informed Brits this not really a major surprise, BoJo managed to convince/con a sufficient number of his compatriots to swallow this baloney and give him an 80-seat majority in the general election.

This is the electoral equivalent of convincing someone to buy a large tract of mosquito-infested swampland in the hope of turning it into a luxury property development– alas in these days of a massively media-inflected rightwing populism ((Murdoch!) such scenarios are somehow eminently realizable for the appropriately gullible.

It is easy to view this ostensible self-defeating populism as “turkeys voting for Christmas”, “chickens voting for the fox to guard their coop”, “deplorables shooting themselves in the foot”, and so on, but this assessment has to be resisted (though I confess to having succumbed to it occasionally on social media in the heat of the moment).

Why say this?

The late Benedict Anderson proposed the notion of an “imagined community” to account for the phenomenon of third-world nationalisms. This notion has since been generalized, since most of us happen to belong, whether overtly or covertly, to one or more imagined communities.

These imagined communities, in their myriad modes and phases of implementation, may already be realized, or are in the process of being realized, or are realizable as a future attainable prospect, or can be pretty much unrealizable even if powerfully active at the level of the imagination.

The truth is that BoJo’s right-wing Brexit scenario afforded large numbers of Brits– living in its blighted post-industrial regions, for decades mere pawns of the forces of globalization and neoliberalism, with many afflicted by a concomitant “Shit-Life Syndrome”– with only BoJo’s rose-tinted Brexit scenario as a horizon for anything like an “imagined community”.

How can any decent person disavow this desire, at once hopeful or perhaps hopeless at the same time, on the part of those who want a less shitty life?

The task facing a socialist Labour party is nothing less than the formation of an imagined community, for masses of women, men, and children, not ultimately constrained by the diktats of neoliberalism and globalization.

For now, however, Labour is caught-up in internal reflection and renegotiation, while going through its convoluted process of finding a successor to the much-traduced Jeremy Corbyn.

The front-runner in this contest so far has been the Blairite Sir Keir Starmer, a smooth-talking lawyer whose “forensic skills” are deemed by the media to be essential for taking on the blustering and often incoherent BoJo.

This seems odd, since the UK’s overwhelmingly right-wing media support BoJo to the hilt, while now somehow wanting Starmer to be the leader of the main party opposing BoJo.

The US’s media espousing Joe Biden as the “appropriate” Democratic candidate to challenge Trump comes to mind as an obvious comparison in this regard.

Starmer, while immensely more intelligent, capable and personable, is the UK’s functional equivalent of Joe Biden. The senile Biden comes across as a complete phony, while the same cannot be said of Starmer.

Commendable though many lawyers are, the last lawyer to lead the Labour party was the war criminal and bona fide neoliberal Tony Blair.

Electing Starmer as Labour leader will of course be an absolute coincidence when any comparison with regard to Blair comes to mind.

At the same time, it is clear that Labour’s Blairites, who were unrelenting in their efforts to undermine Corbyn and his supporters, are looking for revenge for what they regard as a Corbynite usurpation, and may have found their man in Starmer.

The possible choice of Starmer is mainly about the calculation of potential success in parliamentary elections, and not about the formation of an imagined community unconstrained by the edicts of neoliberalism and globalization.

The formation of this community was the heart of the Corbynite project.

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The IPCC’s Worst Case Scenario

A recent landmark study of massive ice loss in Antarctica and Greenland fulfills the “worst case” prognosis, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It’s a nightmare come true, as the impact of global warming on the planet’s most significant/biggest masses of ice multiplied six-fold in only 30 years. It wasn’t supposed to happen so unexpectedly, so suddenly.

Studies in the journal Nature conducted by an international team consisting of 89 climatologists reveals an unprecedented rate of ice melt at the planet’s greatest ice masses. They assessed ice loss data from 11 satellites that monitored both Greenland and Antarctica over the past 30 years.

Here’s the horrifying truth: The combined rate of ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica averaged 89 billion tons per year in the 1990s. Yet, by the 2010s (if standing, please sit down) the average rate exploded to 523 billion tons per annum. That’s a shocker. It’s inconvertible evidence that global heat is coming on strong, way too strong, especially for coastal dwellers.

Andrew Shepherd, University of Leeds, and Erik Ivins of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California agree that the assessment is a clear sign of global heating at work. In their words: “The satellite measurements provide prima facie, rather irrefutable, evidence.”(Source: Ice Loss in Antarctica and Greenland Increased Sixfold in the Last 30 Years, LiveScience, March 2020)

Therefore, hands down, with the new data in hand, sea level rise of two-feet-plus over the course of the century looks like a done deal. But, if it’s already happening faster (6xs) than scientists thought possible, what does that imply about tomorrow? Could the rate itself increase 8xs or 10xs or more? Then what?

The truth of the matter: Scientists’ models have been off course, meaning way too conservative. Similar to the rampant stock market run to unsustainable heights of recent in contrasts to expectations by a few smart hedge fund managers, global warming has blown apart analyses of the smartest and brightest, and based upon a series of recent studies demonstrating the onset of ecosystems collapsing, e.g., permafrost in the high Arctic collapsing 70 years ahead of expectations (Source: Louise M. Farquharson et al, Climate Change Drives Widespread and Rapid Thermokarst Development in Very Cold Permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic, Geophysical Research Letters, June 10, 2019).

It is likely that global warming has morphed into global heating at its worst and thus more mercurial than ever thought possible. If so, then batten down the hatches as it will soon become politically a necessity to force unified global efforts, like the Marshall Plan, to take steps to combat the biggest threat of all time.

As such, powerful, clear evidence of anthropogenic impact on the climate system, well beyond the forces of nature, is beyond the scope of debate. After all, rising greenhouse emissions and rising temperatures run upwards in parallel fashion, nearly step-by-step, with a lag effect.

Meanwhile, of all the global proposals to combat climate catastrophe, one of the more interesting is World War Zero initiated by former Secretary of State John Kerry, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Ohio governor John Kasich. According to the Terminator: “It’s not a party issue at all because there is no Democratic air or Republican air. We all breathe the same air. There’s no Democratic water or Republican water. We all drink the same water. So don’t fall for those tricks. It’s not a political issue.”

They advocate net zero emissions as soon as humanly possible. Along the way, they grandstand the obvious benefits of conversion from fossil fuels to renewable energy, or the onset of a vast renaissance of global business with high-wage jobs galore, similar to the industrial renaissance of the early 20th century conversion from horse and buggy to gasoline-powered vehicles.

Nevertheless, by all appearances, the planet’s climate system has already been radically altered more so than ever before, or at least as far back as ice core evidence of a couple million years ago.

Alas, the risk of major breakdown of ecosystems throughout the planet has never been so prevalent. In fact, it’s already started. Greenland and Antarctica are clear, absolute proof. The overriding question therefore is whether humanity will go to work to mitigate the catastrophe as much as humanly possible.

After all, CO2 emissions and global temperatures have risen in lockstep, but what really counts in the final analysis is the actuality of physical responses, like the measured massive meltdown of the worlds’ largest masses of ice. That’s an incontrovertible fact, yet almost unbelievable, but still a measure of harsh reality.

Postscript: One year ago one of America’s greatest climate scientist Wally Broecker, affectionately known as “the grandfather of climate science,” passed away at age 87. He coined the term “global warming,” and in 1984 warned the House of Representatives that urgent action was required to halt accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere because, in his words, “the climate system could jump abruptly from one state to another with devastating effects.”

Ergo, his warning of 36 years ago now lingers over Congress.

Post-Postscript: During a 2019 BBC interview, James Lovelock (100) the father of Gaia theory said: “There is a real danger of losing our tenure on the planet altogether…. We’ve got to care about this matter of global warming because if we don’t do anything about it, there won’t be anybody here… It’s about time we went back to taking an interest in the environment… What happens to the planet when more CO2 is put into the air? The earth will get hotter. It will heat up to a point where no life on it of our kind will be possible…When tough times come, it’ll be very rapid, indeed.” (James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, A Final Warning, Allen Lane, 2010)

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Stop Tightening the Screws: a Humanitarian Message on Sanctions

Photo: Campaign for Peace and Democracy, 2013.

U.S. sanctions against Iran, cruelly strengthened in March of 2018, continue a collective punishment of extremely vulnerable people. Presently, the U.S. “maximum pressure” policy severely undermines Iranian efforts to cope with the ravages of COVID-19, causing hardship and tragedy while contributing to the global spread of the pandemic. On March 12, 2020, Iran’s Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif urged member states of the UN to end the United States’ unconscionable and lethal economic warfare.

Addressing UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Zarif detailed how U.S. economic sanctions prevent Iranians from importing necessary medicine and medical equipment.

For over two years, while the U.S. bullied other countries to refrain from purchasing Iranian oil, Iranians have coped with crippling economic decline.

The devastated economy and worsening coronavirus outbreak now drive migrants and refugees, who number in the millions, back to Afghanistan at dramatically increased rates.

In the past two weeks alone, more than 50,000 Afghans returned from Iran, increasing the likelihood that cases of coronavirus will surge in Afghanistan. Decades of war, including U.S. invasion and occupation, have decimated Afghanistan’s health care and food distribution systems.

Jawad Zarif asks the UN to prevent the use of hunger and disease as a weapon of war. His letter demonstrates the  wreckage caused by many decades of United States imperialism and suggests revolutionary steps toward dismantling the United States war machine.

During the United States’ 1991 “Desert Storm” war against Iraq, I was part of the Gulf Peace Team, – at first, living at in a “peace camp” set up near the Iraq-Saudi border and later, following our removal by Iraqi troops, in a Baghdad hotel which formerly housed many journalists. Finding an abandoned typewriter, we melted a candle onto its rim, (the U.S. had destroyed Iraq’s electrical stations, and most of the hotel rooms were pitch black). We compensated for an absent typewriter ribbon by placing a sheet of red carbon paper over our stationery. When Iraqi authorities realized we managed to type our document, they asked if we would type their letter to the Secretary General of the UN. (Iraq was so beleaguered even cabinet level officials lacked typewriter ribbons.) The letter to Javier Perez de Cuellar implored the UN to prevent the U.S. from bombing a road between Iraq and Jordan, the only way out for refugees and the only way in for humanitarian relief. Devastated by bombing and already bereft of supplies, Iraq was, in 1991, only one year into a deadly sanctions regime that lasted for thirteen years before the U.S. began its full-scale invasion and occupation in 2003. Now, in 2020, Iraqis still suffering from impoverishment, displacement and war earnestly want the U.S. to practice self-distancing and leave their country.

Are we now living in a watershed time? An unstoppable, deadly virus ignores any borders the U.S. tries to reinforce or redraw. The United States military-industrial complex, with its massive arsenals and cruel capacity for siege, isn’t relevant to “security” needs. Why should the U.S., at this crucial juncture, approach other countries with threat and force and presume a right to preserve global inequities? Such arrogance doesn’t even ensure security for the United States military. If the U.S. further isolates and batters Iran, conditions will worsen in Afghanistan and United States troops stationed there will ultimately be at risk. The simple observation, “We are all part of one another,” becomes acutely evident.

It’s helpful to think of guidance from past leaders who faced wars and pandemics. The Spanish flu pandemic in 1918-19, coupled with the atrocities of World War I,  killed 50 million worldwide, 675,000 in the U.S. Thousands of female nurses were on the “front lines,” delivering health care. Among them were black nurses who not only risked their lives to practice the works of mercy but also fought discrimination and racism in their determination to serve. These brave women arduously paved a way for the first 18 black nurses to serve in the Army Nurse Corps and they provided “a small turning point in the continuing movement for health equity.”

In the spring of 1919, Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton witnessed the effects of sanctions against Germany imposed by Allied forces after World War I. They observed “critical shortages of food, soap and medical supplies” and wrote indignantly about how children were being punished with starvation for “the sins of statesmen.”

Starvation continued even after the blockade was finally lifted, that summer, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Hamilton and Addams reported how the flu epidemic, exacerbated in its spread by starvation and post-war devastation, in turn disrupted the food supply. The two women argued a policy of sensible food distribution was necessary for both  humanitarian and strategic reasons. “What was to be gained by starving more children?” bewildered German parents asked them.

Jonathan Whitall directs Humanitarian Analysis for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors without Borders. His most recent analysis poses agonizing questions:

How are you supposed to wash your hands regularly if you have no running water or soap? How are you supposed to implement ‘social distancing’ if you live in a slum or a refugee or containment camp? How are you supposed to stay at home if your work pays by the hour and requires you to show up? How are you supposed to stop crossing borders if you are fleeing from war? How are you supposed to get tested for #COVID19 if the health system is privatized and you can’t afford it? How are those with pre-existing health conditions supposed to take extra precautions when they already can’t even access the treatment they need?

I expect many people worldwide, during the spread of COVID – 19,  are thinking hard about the glaring, deadly inequalities in our societies, wonder how best to extend proverbial hands of friendship to people in need while urged to accept isolation and social distancing. One way to help others survive is to insist the United States lift sanctions against Iran and instead support acts of practical care. Jointly confront the coronavirus while constructing a humane future for the world without wasting time or resources on the continuation of brutal wars.

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The Supreme Court is Set to Strike a Major Blow Against Social and Environmental Protections

Chemical plant, Albany, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has issued ruling after ruling awarding more power to large corporations. Most notably, the 2010 Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates to an unprecedented deluge of corporate cash in our elections.

Now, however, the court’s right-wing majority appears prepared to offer an even bigger boon: A virtual blanket ban on a huge swath of regulations protecting the health and safety of Americans.

Amid the hurricane-like news cycles of the 2020 presidential race, it’s an under-reported issue that could have tremendous implications regardless of who wins the next election.

The basic issue is whether Congress can delegate to federal departments and agencies the authority to write regulations. For instance, the 1970s-era Clean Air and Clean Water Acts authorize the EPA to update its regulation of polluting industries to account for practices and technologies that may not have existed back then. As a result, we have cleaner air and water today.

Countless other laws take the same approach, from the Affordable Care Act of the Obama era on back to the banking regulations passed as a result of the Great Depression.

But for years, conservative legal scholars have been urging the Supreme Court to roll back these regulations by endorsing a reading of the Constitution that would prevent such delegation. If they succeed, Justice Elena Kagan warns, the conservative majority will essentially rule that “most of [the] government is unconstitutional.”

A recent case, Gundy v. U.S., did not yet overturn those precedents. But it strongly suggests that five justices stand prepared to do so.

In that ruling, conservative justices Neil Gorsuch, John Roberts and Clarence Thomas went on record insisting that delegation violates their view of the separation of powers. Another justice, Samuel Alito, wrote a separate opinion indicating that “if a majority of this Court were willing to reconsider the approach,” he “would support that effort.”

Now, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh seated, they may have it. The fifth conservative, who wasn’t yet seated during the Gundy case, wrote last year in support of the view that would forbid Congress from allowing agencies “to exercise regulatory authority over a major policy question of great economic and political importance.”

Based on my long experience working as an economist at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, I am deeply troubled by this possibility.

Unless the court shifts to a more moderate majority before then, the court seems set on a course to curtail radically the capacity of the federal government to implement the will of Congress.

Based on my long experience working as an economist at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, I am deeply troubled by this possibility.

As a senior staffer in Congress, I worked on legislation for which the delegation of further details to the executive branch was essential to achieve Congress’ desired outcome.

Since the nation’s early days, Congress has created agencies with authority to write regulations. Through detailed rulemaking procedures, agencies gather input from a broad range of stakeholders and apply their own expert knowledge to clarify statutory ambiguities.

That provides invaluable predictability for businesses and consumers alike, while accounting for future developments in technology lawmakers can’t predict.

Congress holds these agencies accountable for their actions in various ways. Agency heads are confirmed by the Senate. Agencies are subject to continuing congressional oversight. Agencies themselves are bound by the regulations they promulgate.

This system, essentially in place since the birth of our nation, has provided an efficient, effective and fair way to achieve the laws’ purposes. Without directly enforceable interpretations by federal agencies, actually implementing federal statutes would require case-by-case litigation.

And that, explains Vox’s Ian Millhiser, “would give the Republican-controlled Supreme Court a veto power over all federal regulations. That prospect should chill each of the Democratic presidential candidates to the bone.”

Without the power to regulate health, safety, finance and other critical areas, we’ll be living in a much sicker, more dangerous and more economically unstable world.

With technological change accelerating, we will need agency expertise — not an unaccountable conservative court majority — to devise and revise regulatory details even more in the future.

Originally published by

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12 Ways the U.S. Invasion of Iraq Lives on in Infamy

While the world is consumed with the terrifying coronavirus pandemic, on March 19 the Trump administration will be marking the 17th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by ramping up the conflict there. After an Iran-aligned militia allegedly struck a U.S. base near Baghdad on March 11, the U.S. military carried out retaliatory strikes against five of the militia’s weapons factories and announced it is sending two more aircraft carriers to the region, as well as new Patriot missile systems and hundreds more troops to operate them. This contradicts the January vote of the Iraqi Parliament that called for U.S. troops to leave the country. It also goes against the sentiment of most Americans, who think the Iraq war was not worth fighting, and against the campaign promise of Donald Trump to end the endless wars.

Seventeen years ago, the U.S. armed forces attacked and invaded Iraq with a force of over 460,000 troops from all its armed services, supported by 46,000 UK troops, 2,000 from Australia and a few hundred from Poland, Spain, Portugal and Denmark. The “shock and awe” aerial bombardment unleashed 29,200 bombs and missiles on Iraq in the first five weeks of the war.

The U.S. invasion was a crime of aggression under international law, and was actively opposed by people and countries all over the world, including 30 million people who took to the streets in 60 countries on February 15, 2003, to express their horror that this could really be happening at the dawn of the 21st century. American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was a speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, compared the U.S. invasion of Iraq to Japan’s preemptive attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and wrote, “Today, it is we Americans who live in infamy.”

Seventeen years later, the consequences of the invasion have lived up to the fears of all who opposed it. Wars and hostilities rage across the region, and divisions over war and peace in the U.S. and Western countries challenge our highly selective view of ourselves as advanced, civilized societies. Here is a look at 12 of the most serious consequences of the U.S. war in Iraq.

1. Millions of Iraqis Killed and Wounded

Estimates on the number of people killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq vary widely, but even the most conservative estimates based on fragmentary reporting of minimum confirmed deaths are in the hundreds of thousands. Serious scientific studies estimated that 655,000 Iraqis had died in the first three years of war, and about a million by September 2007. The violence of the U.S. escalation or “surge” continued into 2008, and sporadic conflict continued from 2009 until 2014. Then in its new campaign against Islamic State, the U.S. and its allies bombarded major cities in Iraq and Syria with more than 118,000 bombs and the heaviest artillery bombardments since the Vietnam War. They reduced much of Mosul and other Iraqi cities to rubble, and a preliminary Iraqi Kurdish intelligence report found that more than 40,000 civilians were killed in Mosul alone. There are no comprehensive mortality studies for this latest deadly phase of the war. In addition to all the lives lost, even more people have been wounded. The Iraqi government’s Central Statistical Organization says that 2 million Iraqis have been left disabled.

2. Millions More Iraqis Displaced

By 2007, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that nearly 2 million Iraqis had fled the violence and chaos of occupied Iraq, mostly to Jordan and Syria, while another 1.7 million were displaced within the country. The U.S. war on the Islamic State relied even more on bombing and artillery bombardment, destroying even more homes and displacing an astounding 6 million Iraqis from 2014 to 2017. According to the UNHCR, 4.35 million people have returned to their homes as the war on IS has wound down, but many face “destroyed properties, damaged or non-existent infrastructure and the lack of livelihood opportunities and financial resources, which at times [has] led to secondary displacement.” Iraq’s internally displaced children represent “a generation traumatized by violence, deprived of education and opportunities,” according to UN Special Rapporteur Cecilia Jimenez-Damary.

3. Thousands of American, British and Other Foreign Troops Killed and Wounded

While the U.S. military downplays Iraqi casualties, it precisely tracks and publishes its own. As of February 2020, 4,576 U.S. troops and 181 British troops have been killed in Iraq, as well as 142 other foreign occupation troops. Over 93 percent of the foreign occupation troops killed in Iraq have been Americans. In Afghanistan, where the U.S. has had more support from NATO and other allies, only 68 percent of occupation troops killed have been Americans. The greater share of U.S. casualties in Iraq is one of the prices Americans have paid for the unilateral, illegal nature of the U.S. invasion. By the time U.S. forces temporarily withdrew from Iraq in 2011, 32,200 U.S. troops had been wounded. As the U.S. tried to outsource and privatize its occupation, at least 917 civilian contractors and mercenaries were also killed and 10,569 wounded in Iraq, but not all of them were U.S. nationals.

4. Even More Veterans Have Committed Suicide

More than 20 U.S. veterans kill themselves every day—that’s more deaths each year than the total U.S. military deaths in Iraq. Those with the highest rates of suicide are young veterans with combat exposure, who commit suicide at rates “4-10 times higher than their civilian peers.” Why? As Matthew Hoh of Veterans for Peace explains, many veterans “struggle to reintegrate into society,” are ashamed to ask for help, are burdened by what they saw and did in the military, are trained in shooting and own guns, and carry mental and physical wounds that make their lives difficult.

5. Trillions of Dollars Wasted

On March 16, 2003, just days before the U.S. invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney projected that the war would cost the U.S. about $100 billion and that the U.S. involvement would last for two years. Seventeen years on, the costs are still mounting. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated a cost of $2.4 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University’s Linda Bilmes estimated the cost of the Iraq war at more than $3 trillion, “based on conservative assumptions,” in 2008. The UK government spent at least 9 billion pounds in direct costs through 2010. What the U.S. did not spend money on, contrary to what many Americans believe, was to rebuild Iraq, the country our war destroyed.

6. Dysfunctional and Corrupt Iraqi Government

Most of the men (no women!) running Iraq today are still former exiles who flew into Baghdad in 2003 on the heels of the U.S. and British invasion forces. Iraq is finally once again exporting 3.8 million barrels of oil per day and earning $80 billion a year in oil exports, but little of this money trickles down to rebuild destroyed and damaged homes or provide jobs, health care or education for Iraqis, only 36 percent of whom even have jobs. Iraq’s young people have taken to the streets to demand an end to the corrupt post-2003 Iraqi political regime and U.S. and Iranian influence over Iraqi politics. More than 600 protesters were killed by government forces, but the protests forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign. Another former Western-based exile, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, the cousin of former U.S.-appointed interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, was chosen to replace him, but he resigned within weeks after the National Assembly failed to approve his cabinet choices. The popular protest movement celebrated Allawi’s resignation, and Abdul Mahdi agreed to remain as prime minister, but only as a “caretaker” to carry out essential functions until new elections can be held. He has called for new elections in December. Until then, Iraq remains in political limbo, still occupied by about 5,000 U.S. troops.

7. Illegal War on Iraq Has Undermined the Rule of International Law

When the U.S. invaded Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council, the first victim was the United Nations Charter, the foundation of peace and international law since World War II, which prohibits the threat or use of force by any country against another. International law only permits military action as a necessary and proportionate defense against an attack or imminent threat. The illegal 2002 Bush doctrine of preemption was universally rejected because it went beyond this narrow principle and claimed an exceptional U.S. right to use unilateral military force “to preempt emerging threats,” undermining the authority of the UN Security Council to decide whether a specific threat requires a military response or not. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general at the time, said the invasion was illegal and would lead to a breakdown in international order, and that is exactly what has happened. When the U.S. trampled the UN Charter, others were bound to follow. Today we are watching Turkey and Israel follow in the U.S.’s footsteps, attacking and invading Syria at will as if it were not even a sovereign country, using the people of Syria as pawns in their political games.

8. Iraq War Lies Corrupted U.S. Democracy

The second victim of the invasion was American democracy. Congress voted for war based on a so-called “summary” of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was nothing of the kind. The Washington Postreported that only six out of 100 senators and a few House members read the actual NIE. The 25-page “summary” that other members of Congress based their votes on was a document produced months earlier “to make the public case for war,” as one of its authors, the CIA’s Paul Pillar, later confessed to PBS Frontline. It contained astounding claims that were nowhere to be found in the real NIE, such as that the CIA knew of 550 sites where Iraq was storing chemical and biological weapons. Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated many of these lies in his shameful performance at the UN Security Council in February 2003, while Bush and Cheney used them in major speeches, including Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. How is democracy—the rule of the people—even possible if the people we elect to represent us in Congress can be manipulated into voting for a catastrophic war by such a web of lies?

9. Impunity for Systematic War Crimes

Another victim of the invasion of Iraq was the presumption that U.S. presidents and policy are subject to the rule of law. Seventeen years later, most Americans assume that the president can conduct war and assassinate foreign leaders and terrorism suspects as he pleases, with no accountability whatsoever—like a dictator. When President Obama said he wanted to look forward instead of backward, and held no one from the Bush administration accountable for their crimes, it was as if they ceased to be crimes and became normalized as U.S. policy. That includes crimes of aggression against other countries; the mass killing of civilians in U.S. airstrikes and drone strikes; and the unrestricted surveillance of every American’s phone calls, emails, browsing history and opinions. But these are crimes and violations of the U.S. Constitution, and refusing to hold accountable those who committed these crimes has made it easier for them to be repeated.

10. Destruction of the Environment

During the first Gulf War, the U.S. dropped 340 tons of warheads and explosives made with depleted uranium, which poisoned the soil and water and led to skyrocketing levels of cancer. In the following decades of “ecocide,” Iraq has been plagued by the burning of dozens of oil wells; the pollution of water sources from the dumping of oil, sewage and chemicals; millions of tons of rubble from destroyed cities and towns; and the burning of huge volumes of military waste in open air “burn pits” during the war. The pollution caused by war is linked to the high levels of congenital birth defects, premature births, miscarriages and cancer (including leukemia) in Iraq. The pollution has also affected U.S. soldiers. “More than 85,000 U.S. Iraq war veterans… have been diagnosed with respiratory and breathing problems, cancers, neurological diseases, depression and emphysema since returning from Iraq,” as the Guardianreports. And parts of Iraq may never recover from the environmental devastation.

11. The U.S.’s Sectarian “Divide and Rule” Policy in Iraq Spawned Havoc Across the Region

In secular 20th-century Iraq, the Sunni minority was more powerful than the Shia majority, but for the most part, the different ethnic groups lived side-by-side in mixed neighborhoods and even intermarried. Friends with mixed Shia/Sunni parents tell us that before the U.S. invasion, they didn’t even know which parent was Shia and which was Sunni. After the invasion, the U.S. empowered a new Shiite ruling class led by former exiles allied with the U.S. and Iran, as well as the Kurds in their semi-autonomous region in the north. The upending of the balance of power and deliberate U.S. “divide and rule” policies led to waves of horrific sectarian violence, including the ethnic cleansing of communities by Interior Ministry death squads under U.S. command. The sectarian divisions the U.S. unleashed in Iraq led to the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the emergence of ISIS, which have wreaked havoc throughout the entire region.

12. The New Cold War Between the U.S. and the Emerging Multilateral World

When President Bush declared his “doctrine of preemption” in 2002, Senator Edward Kennedy called it “a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.” But the world has so far failed to either persuade the U.S. to change course or to unite in diplomatic opposition to its militarism and imperialism. France and Germany bravely stood with Russia and most of the Global South to oppose the invasion of Iraq in the UN Security Council in 2003. But Western governments embraced Obama’s superficial charm offensive as cover for reinforcing their traditional ties with the U.S. China was busy expanding its peaceful economic development and its role as the economic hub of Asia, while Russia was still rebuilding its economy from the neoliberal chaos and poverty of the 1990s. Neither was ready to actively challenge U.S. aggression until the U.S., NATO and their Arab monarchist allies launched proxy wars against Libya and Syria in 2011. After the fall of Libya, Russia appears to have decided it must either stand up to U.S. regime change operations or eventually fall victim itself.

The economic tides have shifted, a multipolar world is emerging, and the world is hoping against hope that the American people and new American leaders will act to rein in this 21st-century American imperialism before it leads to an even more catastrophic U.S. war with Iran, Russia or China. As Americans, we must hope that the world’s faith in the possibility that we can democratically bring sanity and peace to U.S. policy is not misplaced. A good place to start would be to join the call by the Iraqi Parliament for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Biden’s Health Care Plan Abandons Older Americans

Joe Biden has surged since the South Carolina primary, and the received wisdom is that this was mainly because of the perception by his voters that he was the most electable candidate against President Donald Trump. But there are some potential pitfalls that have not yet surfaced, and some of them concern voters who are currently among Biden’s strongest base of support: Americans over 65 years old.

Biden has proposed a plan for health care reform that has quite literally left senior citizens out in the cold.

This could become increasingly, and vitally, important as the threat of coronavirus increases exponentially. Older Americans are at a vastly higher risk than the general population; people over 65 have accounted for the vast majority of deaths in other countries.

His plan is basically an expansion of the ACA, or Obamacare. It proposes, for example, to increase the subsidies that the government will provide for people who buy private insurance under the program. It has also proposed a public option, run by the federal government, that people could buy into.

When an American reaches the age of 65, he or she becomes eligible for Medicare. However, there are sizable gaps in the Medicare system that lower living standards for many senior citizens, and can even push them below the poverty line.

For example, Medicare does not pay for eyeglasses or hearing aids. It does not cover dental care. And it does not pay for long-term care. Although Medicaid, our federal and state public health insurance program for low-income Americans, does pay for long-term care, it only does so after someone has depleted their life savings, and is poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in the state in which they live.

Amazingly, the Biden plan doesn’t do anything to help seniors with any of these gaps in coverage under the current system. The only exception in Biden’s plan is his proposal for a non-refundable tax credit of $5,000 to pay for long-term care. But this tax credit won’t be available for the majority of the people on Medicare who would need it.

The gaps in Medicare are costly for senior citizens, most of whom have limited income. The median income for people on Medicare is about $26,000. On average, their out-of-pocket costs for spending on Medicare are more than $5400 per year; and there is no limit on out-of-pocket costs.

These costs to people on Medicare would almost all be eliminated by Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan. It would cover eyeglasses and vision exams, dental care, hearing aids and other important medical needs now excluded by traditional Medicare.

Biden’s health care is deficient in other important ways for much of the rest of the population. Unlike, for example, Sanders’ proposal for Medicare for All, the Biden plan does not establish health care as a right for all Americans. Instead, it proposes to increase subsidies so that the maximum percentage of their income that people will pay for insurance on the individual marketplace will be lowered from 9.86 to 8.5 percent. But millions of Americans would still fall through the cracks.

As a political matter, Americans over 65 have some electoral clout because their participation in elections is much higher than that of other demographic groups. Biden has supported serious cuts to Social Security benefits for decades, as recently as 2013; Sanders, by contrast, has opposed such cuts and fought for increased Social Security benefits since he entered Congress nearly 20 years ago, and even before that. Biden now supports increasing Social Security benefits, although not nearly as much as Sanders.

But hardly anyone has heard of the vast difference between the two candidates on the health care, income and poverty of Americans over 65. These voters would understandably take much more interest in these differences, if they were aware of them. They are much more at risk in the coming months, as compared to previously, of needing urgent medical care — as the coronavirus spreads.

This article first appeared in the Detroit News.

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Life in the California COVID-19 Lockdown

How’s life under quarantine? I bust out daily (unless my wife strenuously objects) to try to get supplies. This is supposedly officially allowed by the Shelter In Place Order, to wit:

For purposes of this Order, individuals may leave their residence only to perform any of the following “Essential Activities.” But people at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and people who are sick are urged to stay in their residence to the extent possible except as necessary to seek medical care.

1) To engage in activities or perform tasks essential to their health and safety, or to the health and safety of their family or household members (including, but not limited to, pets), such as, by way of example only and without limitation, obtaining medical supplies or medication, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies they need to work from home.

2) To obtain necessary services or supplies for themselves and their family or household members, or to deliver those services or supplies to others, such as, by way of example only and without limitation, canned food, dry goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pet supply, fresh meats, fish, and poultry, and any other household consumer products, and products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.

3) To engage in outdoor activity, provided the individuals comply with Social Distancing Requirements as defined in this Section, such as, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, or running.

4) To perform work providing essential products and services at an Essential Business or to otherwise carry out activities specifically permitted in this Order, including Minimum Basic Operations.

5) To care for a family member or pet in another household.”

During this time Convenience stores, hardware stores, farmers markets, gas stations, auto supply/repair, banks, plumbers, electricians, post offices, laundromats can all stay open. Childcare centers will remain open with restrictions. Restaurants can only deliver or provide take out options: no dining in.

I’m 70, but I still gotta’ eat, wipe my ass (which I prefer to do with that unobtainium: toilet paper), and I can’t stand going stir-crazy. So on outings I will go; but fear not I have NO PROBLEM staying far away from all of my fellow Americans, ever (I’m a socialist misanthrope).

I think we in this household will have enough toilet paper; we only have double our usual not excessive supply, a fortunate last-minute buy about 7 days ago. I can’t get any more oatmeal (my standard survival ration), and forget about anything for hygiene like laundry soap (I’ll have to use dish liquid or Cascade dishwasher granules, for washing clothes).

Yesterday, before the midnight deadline for starting this porous curfew, we rented seven DVDs from our local (and very rare) video renting store, to wile away our boring hopefully germ-free staycation. Beyond that I have my homemade collection of geology and nature documentary DVDs, as well as a few bought old chestnut movie DVDs (Goldfinger, Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, Women In Love, Lawrence Of Arabia, Casablanca, The Big Sleep, Treasure of Sierra Madre, and some other minor classics), which are here loved only by me it seems. And we have books! I’m currently reading “The Invisible Invaders, Viruses and the Scientists Who Pursue Them,” by Peter Radetsky. Thank god for reading, but one does get bleary-eyed, weary and butt-sore from too much reading.

I suppose when we’ve eaten down our food stores we’ll be reduced to ketchup of stale saltines. Hope I don’t have to call 911 and beg for food, playing the old card. I did manage to buy some Bushmills and vodka on the Ides Of March (liquor stores are “food stores” by the Shelter In Place Order, aren’t they?), to accompany me during the Biden-Bernie debate. So, I could continue to strain my liver to wile away the time during the lockdown, though my fortitude for booze ain’t what it used to be. But alcohol does kill germs. Yesterday, I did manage to score a whole chocolate cake and two tubs of coffee ice cream for my 3 week long socially distanced birthday party, which last night was accompanied by watching the 1971 movie “Panic in Needle Park.” (Appropriate, n’est-ce pas?)

I look enviously at the cats, their lives have not changed. Canned cat food remains easily available (and no I don’t want to eat any, even the pricey stuff from Canada), and they still go outside for their carefree galavanting (the birds on my hillside are quite aware of our young cats, and easily taunt them without hazard, by singing out and cawing their mutual warnings from on high). I’m saddened by the dearth of hummingbirds. In 2015 I had literally hundreds (four big feeders going fulltime), but since 2017 very few. I suspect a great dying from climate change and the wildfires since 2016. Who knows?, maybe the animals all wish the same for us from COVID-19 or an even harsher superbug, for their salvation from habitat-loss extinction.

I see an enormous traffic on Facebook now (even me, and I hate it!) because of so many sequestered and bored people. I suspect all Counterpunch-focused writers are ‘scribbling’ (pecking) away from sheer boredom besides the urge to “save the world;” probably enough articles for several Counterpunch Lockdown Special Editions (which might be a needed mercy to so many stir-crazed readers).

Anyway, that’s my Lockdown Saint Patrick’s Day report on life in the California COVID-19 quarantine.

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Under COVID-19 Lockdown in Coleman Prison

We were notified this afternoon, that we are going on a lockdown, the whole institution, and the lockdown will be for at least 30 days. We were told we would be given 500 minutes for the phone, which is 200 minutes more than usual, so it doesn’t sound like we will be in our cells. I don’t know if we will be able to write letters or receive mail. I will not be visiting anyone if I survive that is for at least 30 days and the virus doesn’t get into Coleman I.

As far as I know no one has the virus in USP Coleman complex.

I keep getting conflicting info. but we were allowed to go outside for the evening, and we are now on the inside flats. Maybe it is just visiting that have been cancelled. and there is no contact with outside peoples we or most of us anyway agree this needs to be done, because no one it seems knows if they have contacted the virus or not.

So as long as I can, I will send you updates as long as I can, I want to tell all of you to be safe out there as this virus is not racist and anyone can get it. If all possible please look out for the people in the Native Nations, if you know our history in these sorts of pandemics, Native people are the last to get help. and I have babies (grandchildren) out there.

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Common Decency Lives

As we slide inexorably into the tunnel of coronavirus fear and despair, here are some candles of hope.

Back in the days of Andrew Jackson, the French scholar Alexis de Tocqueville toured this country and wrote a book called Democracy in America.  Among the many remarkable things that he reported was his observation that, wherever he went, people organized themselves to deal with their problems.  They didn’t wait for higher authority to tell them what to do.  They saw what needed to be done and did it.

In these perilous times of pandemic, when our national government seems paralyzed, we are seeing just that spirit reemerge.  As this article reports, governors, local officials, small business owners and volunteers are stepping in all across the country.

Governors of both parties have taken affirmative steps to slow the spread of the virus by shutting down venues where large numbers might gather and transmit the disease, including schools.  Universities across the country have made decisions to shut down their campuses and conduct classes on-line.  All major athletic associations, from interscholastic and intercollegiate to professional, have suspended their seasons.

Just in my local area, two recent headlines (The Sunday Item, March 15) inspired me.  First, a regional medical center, Geisinger, rather than wait for the uncertain supplies of coronavirus tests from federal authorities, just developed their own test kit.  Second, faced with the imminent loss of in-school meals for needy students, as schools shut down, a local businessman and volunteers worked to make sure that those students would still get good meals.

This was the spirit that Tocqueville saw; this is the spirit that we all know.   It lives still.

That’s the good news.

The bad news.  Well, for starters, this pandemic threatens the whole country and the whole world.  There is an urgent need for national leadership that sets national responses, and coordinates responses with other countries worldwide.  To date we are not getting that.

More bad news.  The costs of this pandemic will be astronomical and widely distributed. Obviously the entire health care system is and will be severely stressed.  All kinds of supplies and equipment will be in short supply.  Medical personnel will be under intolerable strain.  More broadly, whole sectors of the economy are being shut down.  Closing retail businesses could be fatal to many of them (though very good for Amazon).  Service workers, often working multiple gigs at low wages with no benefits, will suddenly see their thin shreds of security ripped away.  These are precisely the people who often have no health insurance.

We are in short heading into a deep recession that will disproportionately hurt the poorest workers and the smallest businesses.

Only the federal government can mobilize the needed resources and get them to those who need them.  And the federal government (President and Congress) seem to date unable to agree on a remedy proportional to the threat.  We need a major and rapid federal intervention that not only bails out the airlines (as President Trump proposes) but puts substantial cash in the hands of the poorest people and the smallest businesses, because they are most vulnerable to the economic havoc that confronts us.

The “can-do” spirit that Tocqueville saw is indispensable—but it can’t do it all.

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The Fat Cats and Ronald Reagan: a Prelude to Donald Trump 

“When it came to corporate greed, the Great Communicator [Ronald Reagan] was also the Great Enabler.”

– William Kleinknecht

This biography is a scathing, and well deserved, indictment of that “empty suit” Ronald Reagan, and his ultra-grasping political creed, “Reaganism,” which directly led to the “Financial Meltdown of 2008.” The disastrous economic legacy of “hyper capitalism,” that this “free market” zealot sold the country, (1981-89), along with his mean-spirited “gutting of the public sector,” is fully documented by the author William Kleinknecht.

Reagan is that same pious faker, who believed in “flying saucers” and let an astrologer set “his presidential schedule,” and “repeatedly misrepresented the past as a laissez-faire utopia.” The tome is entitled: “The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America, (2010).”

It’s appropriate that the author had experience as a “crime reporter.” What he has written about, in a real sense, are enormous wrongs against the people–against the public good, that threaten the very existence of the Republic.

Kleinknecht doesn’t pull any punches. He’s furious over the fact that many still buy into the “myth of Reagan.” He insists that Reagan was “the least patriotic president in American history,” and that his economic policies helped to “wipe out the high-paying jobs that were the real backbone of the country,” leaving so many “psychically adrift.”

By promoting “self interest and profit,” Reagan caused a “final rout of traditional human values…Trickle-down economics had proven to be a fallacy.”

The author examined the instruments of Reaganism: such as: “mergers, deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization [and] globalization.” He concluded that these devices also helped “to weaken the family and eradicate small-town life and the sense of community,” like in the town where Reagan was born in 1911–Dixon, Illinois.

In early 1981, President Reagan pushed into law a “dramatic rollback in domestic spending.” It hit the state of Illinois particularly hard. The author reveals “an early casualty” of the cuts was a home for “the mentally retarded,” located in Dixon. It was then the city’s largest employer, with 1,200 employees. As a result of federal cuts in Medicaid funding, it had to shut its doors.

In mid-January, 2009, I was in Los Angeles, CA, visiting with family. The weather was just delightful, so, one day, I signed up to take a bus tour, which included a sojourn up into the hills west of the city.

When we were in the ritzy Bel Air area, a mostly faux-gated community, the driver pointed out where the late President Reagan was living at the time of his death, on June 5, 2004, at the age of 94. It was a huge multimillion dollar mansion, fit for royalty, supposedly purchased for him, and his wife, by Fat Cat Republicans. I was shocked, there were no sidewalks!

Reagan’s public persona was crafted, to a great extent, from 1937 to 1965, while working as an actor in “B” films in Tinseltown. On the surface, he came across as a motor mouth, incapable of grasping the complexity of any situation. He knew only black and white. (Does that remind you of someone who’s sitting in the White House today?)

The shadow side of Reagan, however, reveals that he was a snitch for the FBI, who ratted out his fellow members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), during the days of the “Red Scare.”

Reagan also was a notorious womanizer, according to Marc Eliot’s expose: “Reagan: The Hollywood Years.” It was Reagan, too, as U.S. President, Kleinknecht reminds us, who “inspired union-busters…by ruthlessly firing the more than 11,000 striking air-traffic controllers, [PATC0)], and breaking their union in 1981.” For that act alone, many unionists are hoping he’s frying in hell.

Kleinknecht, rightly so, dedicates an entire chapter to Reaganism, and what he describes as, “The Looting of America.” The point man for President Reagan and his reckless scheme to let the Banksters run amuck on Wall Street was his Secretary of the Treasury, Donald T. Regan, a former honcho at Merrill Lynch. He pushed in the U.S. Congress for the “deregulation of the financial sector.”

It would be wrong to blame only Republicans for Reaganism. Kleinknecht shows that the then-Speaker of the House, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, now deceased, tried to put the brakes on Reagan’s daffy economic ideas, but that he soon – in April, 1981- caved in and waved the “white flag.”

There is just so much more in Kleinknecht’s book. He writes, in detail, about how Reagan, and his agents of deregulation, cruelly dismantled a “remarkably affluent and egalitarian society,” that had been built up over a hundred years from combining the “sweep of Populism, Progressivism and the New Deal.”

The Wirepullers, mostly from the “Sun Belt,” who pushed Reagan onto the national stage, didn’t give a good hoot about “abortion, affirmative action or school prayers.” They wanted “deep cuts in taxes and government regulators out of the way.” Reagan gave the Fat Cats, aka, the greedy one percent gang, what they wanted.

What did America get in return? Try disasters, like: the S&L Scandal, AIG, Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Lehman Brothers and the cheating Bernard Madoff. It is time for those who have bought into the “Myth of Reagan” to own up to the grim reality.

At the moment, according to Forbes magazine, the three richest Americans hold more wealth than the “bottom fifty percent of the country.” That says a lot about the inequity of our federal tax system. The current occupant of the Oval Office, Donald Trump, another Fat Cat and a Republican, hasn’t done a thing to change it.

When Trump signed into law a tax bill in December, 2017, he supposedly told his cronies at Mar-a-Lago, “you all just got a lot richer” for Christmas. The bill lashed rates for “top earners and corporations,” according to CBS News. Experts estimated that Trump, himself, would save “eleven million dollars under the new plan.” Predictably, Trump claimed that he “wouldn’t benefit from it.”

Fast forward to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and its disturbing consequences. Start with this important one: the stock market has been acting very shaky. Be on guard, if the Fat Cats, led by Trump, try to pull off a “bail out” of it at the expense of the vast majority of Americans.

Finally, it is long past the time for the people to wake-up and take their country back. And, when they do, they can thank author Kleinknecht for his fine book debunking the phony legend surrounding that ex-Hollywood B-Film Actor, one Ronald Reagan – a prelude to Donald Trump.

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Corona, Corona

Sung to the tune of Bobby Dylan’s “Corrina, Corrina

Corona, Corona
I been thinking bout you
Corona, Corona
You thinkin bout me, too?
Donkeys, poultry, camel, foxes
Just left in nine assorted boxes
Flown round the world

I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
But I ain’t yet got Corona
Death don’t mean a thing

(bluesy mouth harp riff)

Corona, Corona
Got me double bind
Corona, Corona
Got me testing blind
O, I just can’t believe the data
Hmm, I must just lose my mind

Corona, Corona
I been thinking bout you
Corona, Corona
You thinkin bout me, too?
Hazmat badgers, hedgehogs and rats
Mice so squirr’ly, they were chasing cats
Flown round the world

I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
But I ain’t yet got Corona
Death don’t mean a thing

(bluesy mouth harp riff)

Corona, Corona
Got me double bind
Corona, Corona
Got me testing blind
O, I just can’t believe the data
Hmm, I must just lose my mind

Corona, Corona
I been thinking bout you
Corona, Corona
You thinkin bout me, too?
You’ve cancelled ball games, travel’n too
Now just please cancel the Election
That’d be something (ooh)

I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
I got a bird flu whistles
Got a bird flu sings
But I ain’t yet got Corona
Death don’t mean a thing

(bluesy mouth harp riff)

Corona, Corona
Got me double bind
Corona, Corona
Got me testing blind
O, I just can’t believe the data
Hmm, I must just lose my mind
Just can’t believe the data
Corona, might just lose my mind

(repeat, extended bluesy mouth harp riff)

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Coronavirus for All

Photograph Source: 2C2K Photography – CC BY 2.0

“Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.”

Frederic Jameson

OK, maybe it’s not the end of the world – but it’s the end of the world as we know it – and it will be upon us within the next few days. The author heads up Still, I believe that he’s right. Michael Moore says that the public health-types in government tell him that he’s right.

In Boston, Biogen’s name will forever be mud. One of the high-flying executives of the successful biotech corporation contracted the coronavirus somewhere other than Boston. They then brought it to the hotel conference room and, afterward, to the restaurant/bar, where (through those handshakes and hugs), in a soon-to-be-famous superspreader event, billions of virions made the jump from Boston’s Patient Zero to a bunch of other managers and scientists. Then they turned in unison toward Patient Zero and chirped, “Hey, thanks for the ride, sucker!” (OK, I made up that last part.)

Those biotech executives then went to “Man’s Greatest Hospital” (Massachusetts General Hospital), where the doctors told them, no, we can’t test you for coronavirus because you don’t meet the criteria for testing according to the CDC protocol. And the executives thundered, “What? Are you stupid? Who do you think I am? I have a PhD in molecular biology and an MBA, too!” But they were turned away, and they went home fuming, but being very careful to cough into their elbows, responsible and civic-minded citizens that they are.

The smart-ass intern at the nurses’ station said into his EHR screen, “If you’re so smart, why don’t you make your own RT-PCR for SARS-CoV2?”

Certainly it’s true in the U.S.A. it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. On the other hand, it’s also obvious that capitalist health care is going to faceplant in the face of the coronavirus. It’s going to be a choice between Medicare for All or Coronavirus for All.

But eventually, the coronavirus made its way into regular working people. And that fast food worker had to think, so I’m living paycheck to paycheck, and I’ve got this cough and this fever. Can I take time off from work? Can I afford to go to the doctor? For many who work for hourly wages – a day off from work means no pay for that day. While public health authorities may say, “Don’t go to work if you’re sick,” many who live paycheck to paycheck had to think that staying home meant having trouble paying for rent, food, water, electricity, or childcare.

The virus had an easy time infecting homeless people, who may not have homes, but do congregate in shelters. Nursing homes are also congregate living settings. What happened in old people’s homes in Wuhan? When we talk about a 14.8% case-fatality rate (CFR) among those 80 year-olds and older–it’s evident that Wuhan’s health system wasn’t ready for lots of old people in lung failure. Is the U.S. health system ready for that? Of course, the CFRs are related to the biology of the infecting organism: the coronavirus is much more virulent than, say, seasonal influenza. The CFR is, however, also related to the effectiveness of health systems. So, we can expect health systems to keep people from dying when they’re not overwhelmed – when health care workers in Wuhan or Lombardy are not having to decide whom to put on those scarce mechanical ventilators.

These days U.S. health system is run by health care executives, with their business smarts, their lean operations (except for their compensation packages), achieving just-in-time delivery. Until there was a nationwide shortage of IV bags of normal saline after Hurricane Maria, whoever knew that they were made in Puerto Rico? Until lots of losartan and ranitidine had to be taken off the shelves, whoever knew that they were made in China? The lax manufacturing practices of generic pharmaceutical corporations there contaminated the medications with NDMA. That’s what happens when you obtain your supplies from the cheapest sources on the planet. They’re the cheapest because they have the most lax environmental regulations and their labor is most exploited.

Until this past week, the only available option in for COVID-19 testing was your state laboratory, which was sending samples to the CDC. In order to obtain the COVID-19 test, it was required that the patient have a respiratory virus panel test done. This panel is a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for a variety of viruses, including influenza and the run-of-the-mill coronaviruses that cause the common cold. From a diagnostic perspective, this makes some sense. If the patient’s symptoms can be explained by influenza, then it’s unlikely that they would have COVID-19. The respiratory virus panel test, however, costs $1479.90. Now for a very ill, hospitalized patient, such a cost would be buried within the cost of the entire hospitalization – and health insurance would likely pick up the cost. For the outpatient who is not about to die, however, it means a bill for $1479.90. It appeared unlikely that insurance will pay for a $1500 test to confirm a common cold – especially if we were to start testing larger numbers of patients. An uninsured patient would find such a cost unaffordable, meaning that unless one is deathly ill, an uninsured person cannot get tested for COVID-19. This has hampered our ability to who has the virus in the U.S. In Korea, you can get tested via a drive-through. In China, the authorities will find you, and they will test you – free of charge – and they’ll warehouse you in a re-purposed exhibition hall.

Anthony Fauci says that we’re now moving from containment, the notion that we’re going to track down any individual with the virus and isolate them – to mitigation, just trying to slow down the spread so that your local hospital doesn’t turn into The Central Hospital of Wuhan. In the mitigation phase, we’re social distancing. We’re staying six feet away from each other. We’re going to hole up and subsist on macaroni and cheese. Or the government could lock it down the way China did – where a man was quarantined, and his disabled son starved to death, where a boy was found with the body of his grandfather because he had told him not to venture out.

Our government will compensate the petroleum, airline, cruise ship, hotel, and sports and entertainment industries for their losses. Socialism for corporations is the first order of the day. But if we want to get through the coronavirus with grandma and grandpa alive, we must have Medicare for All. Or would you rather have Coronavirus for All?

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How the OAS Revived the Cold War in the Americas

Statue of Isabella I the Catholic Queen in front of the seat of the Organization of American States in Washington D.C. Photograph Source: Martin Baran – CC BY-SA 3.0

The OAS has never been a neutral forum. Since its founding in 1948, the United States government has always wielded power far beyond its vote. Each member state’s contribution is based on the relative size of its national economy and the US contributed 60% ($51 million) of the $81million 2019 OAS operating budget. As a result, the U.S. has historically had disproportionate power over the organization.

Inconformity with U.S. hegemony brought the organization to the brink of obsolescence during the first decade of the millennium. Numerous efforts, spearheaded by South American member states, turned toward the formation and strengthening of alternative south-south regional blocs that did not include the United States or Canada. The past few years, elections and constitutionally dubious maneuvers brought rightwing governments to power. The alternative regional organizations wilted and the OAS has regained relevance.

When former Uruguayan foreign minister Luis Almagro took the helm of the organization in 2015 with the support of many left governments, political observers expected he would support the priorities of Latin American countries over those of Washington. But instead of learning the positive lessons of greater Latin American independence, Almagro swung the pendulum in the opposite direction. To nearly everyone’s surprise, Almagro brought the OAS into even closer alignment with U.S. government policies.

Under Almagro, the OAS has shifted from being a multilateral forum heavily influenced by the United States, to a proxy for U.S. interests. The Secretary General has consistently supported the U.S. government and corporate agenda, particularly in promoting US sanctions and attempts at regime change in Venezuela. He has used his post to close doors to dialog or a non-violent solution to the political crisis in Venezuela and even gone so far as to condone military intervention–a step explicitly prohibited in the OAS charter. This strategy has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis, while sidelining the OAS as a credible mediator in Venezuela’s political crisis.

Nearly five years into Almagro’s tenure, a close examination exposes a series of actions that reflect a blatant ideological bias, rather than a commitment to building multilateralism in a regionwide forum. Many of these actions have violated the letter and the spirit of the OAS’s founding principles, including self-determination, democracy, a commitment to peaceful resolution of conflict, and the goal of unified action to benefit the populations of all 35 member-states.

The Organization of American States (OAS) approaches pivotal internal elections March 20, in which the Secretary General seeks a second 5-year term, amid mounting criticism. What’s at stake? What are the results of his leadership? And what does his record tell us about where he would take the OAS in the future?

Bias and Manipulation in Elections Observation

Electoral observation is a signatue activitiy of the OAS. The OAS Electoral Observation Missions are generally comprised of former politicians and electoral experts who present themselves as professional and impartial. However, under Almagro’s leadership,  Missions have received accusations from host countries of bias in the exercise of their mandate. This report analyzed three of the latest OAS’s electoral observation missions  that resulted in failure to facilitate peaceful and transparent elections. These Missions sparked accusations that OAS actions provoked, rather than prevented, post-electoral conflict: the Honduran presidential elections of November 2017, the Bolivian presidential elections of October 2019 and the recent Dominican Republic municipal elections of February 2020. Electoral processes overseen by the OAS in these countries resulted in massive popular protests which, in the first two cases, triggered the assassination of scores of protesters by security forces and caused massive human rights violations, and in all three cases deepened divisions and conflict within the host countries.

The Bolivian Presidential Elections 2019

The Bolivian presidential elections of October 20, 2019 provide the most extreme and tragic case of OAS partisanship in its monitoring duties. The actions of the OAS Electoral Mission there, headed by the Costa Rican Manuel González Sanz, led directly to a violent break with the democratic order, exile of the elected president and multiple killings of mostly indigenous protesters.

Just hours after the polls closed and before the vote count was finished, the OAS mission issued a press release, followed up two days later by a preliminary report, calling into question Morales’ lead of just over the 10% needed to avoid a second round of voting. The report cited a “hard to explain” pause in the rapid count and other criticisms of the process. Based on the report’s charges of irregularities and manipulation, rightwing forces that had hoped to gain power by forcing Morales into a second round, mobilized to overthrow the elected government. Joined by some social organizations and state security forces, they staged demonstrations and burning buildings. When the Armed Forces stepped in threatening a coup, Morales resigned to avoid further bloodshed. A government of ultra-rightwing political figures took power, unleashing attacks on indigenous peoples and Morales supporters.

The OAS accusations of “manipulation” in the Bolivian presidential elections fed and in many ways offered a spurious justification for the violent protests and unleashed widespread human rights violations. The president and vice president, along with other high-level elected officials of the ruling MAS party, were forced to flee when their houses were set on fire and they came under attack. By using its experts to question official elections results, the OAS report contributed to mob violence and the fall of the elected government, and massacres of indigenous peoples under the rightwing regime that came to power. When national and international voices protested the Bolivian coup d’état, Almagro retorted: “Yes, there was a coup in Bolivia on October 20, when Evo Morales committed electoral fraud” –an unsubstantiated assertion that did not express a consensus within the organization nor even reflect the language of the Mission’s report.

An analysis of the OAS reports by the Center for Economic and Policy Research showed that the mission provided no proof of fraud, and that the timing and accusations of the report played a critical political role in the subsequent chain of events. On February 27, experts at MIT deduced in a separate analysis of the data that “there is no statistical evidence of fraud in the results of the Bolivian presidential elections”, debunking the report by the Organization of American States (OAS) that triggered the rightwing coup.

The study by the analysts at the MIT Election Data and Science Lab concluded:

“The OAS’s claim that the stopping of the TREP [Transmission of Preliminary Electoral Results] during the Bolivian election produced an oddity in the voting trend is contradicted by the data. While there was a break in the reporting of votes, the substance of those later-reporting votes could be determined prior to the break. Therefore, we cannot find results that would lead us to the same conclusion as the OAS. We find it is very likely that Morales won the required 10 percentage point margin to win in the first round of the election on October 20, 2019.”

Their findings caused an international uproar. The OAS mission’s report alleging “intentional manipulation” to favor Morales’ re-election had become the go-to interpretation of events among press and many foreign governments. Scores of pro-Morales protesters were killed in the mayhem that ensued after the OAS Mission called into question the legitimacy of the electoral process and ignited the sequence of events that led to the coup. To date, an interim government headed by a minor member of parliament, Jeanine Añez, remains in power.

Following publication of the expert analysis, the OAS wrote a letter to the Washington Post, complaining that the study “is not honest, fact-based, or exhaustive.” However, the organization has not presented a full scientific rebuttal or specific reasons for its assertion. In view of the doubts and the dire impact, the Mexican government has demanded an explanation from the OAS. As of this writing, neither the OAS leadership nor the mission have responded to the request.

There are also troubling reports that the OAS followed the political dictates of the U.S. government in precipitating the Bolivian coup. The Los Angeles Times reported:

“Carlos Trujillo, the U.S. ambassador to the OAS, had steered the group’s election-monitoring team to report widespread fraud and pushed the Trump administration to support the ouster of Morales. (The State Department denied Trujillo exercised undue influence on the report and said it respects the autonomy of the OAS. Trujillo, through a spokesman, declined a request for an interview.)”

The OAS’s lack of transparency regarding the mission has compounded suspicions. Unlike other election observations, all of which should be included in the OAS public database, the 2019 Bolivia mission does not appear at all. The OAS press office has not responded to numerous queries regarding the omission of the data on the Bolivian mission, including the names of the members and other pertinent information that could allow investigators to further probe the role the OAS Electoral Observation Mission played in the Bolivian political crisis.

The Honduran Presidential Elections 2017

 The November 2017 presidential elections in Honduras provide another example of the OAS’s political agenda. Incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez, known by his initials JOH, ran despite a ban on re-election, which was suspended by a questionable court ruling that declared the constitution unconstitutional. On election night, members of the Honduran electoral tribunal announced that the opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla had established an “irreversible” lead over Hernandez. Then the Electoral Tribunal shut down the vote count and later returned to announce the incumbent’s unlikely victory, amid mass disbelief. The OAS mission initially questioned the re-election of President Hernandez, and proclaimed that the elections were too dirty to call. Sec. Gen. Almagro himself called for new elections. The Trump administration immediately endorsed the Tribunal’s position and congratulated JOH on his supposed victory, while pressuring allies to do the same. Following the U.S. lead, Almagro eventually backed down from his insistence on new elections and accepted the JOH government.

The Honduran government has brutally repressed natiowide protests following the election, leaving more than 30 opposition demonstrators dead. While the direct blame lies with the Honduran government, the OAS’s inability to assure or restore clean elections and its compliance with U.S. policy causing it to reverse its original position, contributed to the breakdown of rule of law in the country. Today the political crisis continues to claim lives and forces thousands of Hondurans to emigrate every month.

The Caribbean: Dominican Republic Local Elections 2020, Dominica Prime Minister 2019

OAS actions in the Dominican Republic’s botched local elections on February 16 raise doubts regarding both its fairness and its capabilitty, and reinforce arguments that the missions apply political criteria when responding to electoral processes in member nations. Prior to the elections, the OAS pressured the island government to switch from paper ballots to an automated voting system. On voting day, that system went haywire. When Dominicans tried to vote, the names of certain candidates did not appear on the screens and other serious problems with the electronic system occurred in nearly half the precincts.

The national Elections Board suspended the elections just hours after the polls opened and re-scheduled them for March 15. Although local elections may seem minor, they are the forerunner to presidential elections May 17 and the results affect the campaigns. Dominicans are marching to demand the resignation of the Elections Board and call for fair elections, amid claims of fraud and sabotage.

The OAS Electoral Observation Mission says it is studying the failure, but to date has not been able to identify the technical problem, which it was its job to avoid, or explain why it didn’t catch it earlier. Completely contrary to its actions in Bolivia, after the Dominican elections fiasco, the OAS Mission did not immediately release a destabilizing report alleging manipulation. Faced with a far more major breakdown in the system, the OAS mission and its Secretary General did not point fingers, instead stating prudently “to date there is no evidence to indicate a willful misuse of the electronic instruments designed for automated voting”. The OAS seconded the Elections Board’s decision to reschedule elections and scrap the U.S.-based automated system, which cost the island a reported $80 million dollars between equipment and the aborted elections, and announced it will stay on for the March elections.

Despite the obvious discrepancy between the two cases, the OAS’s press release, used the opportunity to defend its Bolivia mission, promising to apply “the same standards of  technical quality and professional rigor as the process that was recently carried out in Bolivia”—leading some Dominicans to note on Twitterthat the comparison was not reassuring. Commentators and Dominicans on the island and in the diaspora have blamed the OAS in part for the breakdown in the system. In New York City, Dominican immigrants demonstrated in front of OAS headquarters against the “elections disaster” and called to respect the vote. U.S. Congressman Adriano Epaillat demanded that the head of the Elections Board resign. But the scores of OAS observers working on-site in the country before, during and after the events, have avoided criticizing the government or publicly analyzing the breakdown that led to the cancelation of the elections.

Protesters insist that the system failure favors the ruling Dominican Liberation Party by buying it an extra month. The ruling party’s presidential candidate trails in polls for the May elections. Current President Danilo Medina has a close relationship to the U.S. government. He was among the five Caribbean leaders who attended Trump’s Mar-a-Lago meeting March 21, 2019 to consolidate support for Trump policies to remove Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro from office and support Almagro’s re-election bid, apparently in return for promises of investment.

In addition to being key for U.S. policies in the region, recent investigative reporting indicates that Donald Trump may have more than a geopolitical interest in Dominican politics. A December 2018 undercover report by Global Witness, an anti-corruption watchdog, revealed that the Trump Organization is making plans for a new multi-million dollar development on the island that appears to have benefited from several Dominican government decisions on tax and zoning following recent visits by Eric Trump. The group called for Congressional investigation into a possible conflict of interest, which could cast further suspicion on the electoral debacle and U.S. and OAS actions.

Almagro also has a personal interest in the results of elections in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean nations. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), holds 14 of the 35 votes in the OAS. The island nation of Dominica recently denounced Almagro’s interference in its Dec 6th elections. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who has publicly rejected “interference in the internal affairs of any country” including Venezuela, won re-election handily, but just days before the voting, Almagro tweeted support for opposition demands as demonstrations by anti-Skerrit forces grew violent. Dominica’s foreign minister, Francine Baron, said in the OAS,  “We are concerned by public pronouncements that have been made by the Secretary General, which display bias, disregard for the governments of member states and call into question his role and the organization’s role as an honest broker”. Prime Minister Skerrit harshly criticized the regional body:

“The OAS mantra about free and fair elections has become a formal justification for undercutting democracy and toppling non-conforming governments to make way for US-backed political parties.”

Although its nations are divided, the leadership of the regional group, the Caribbean Community or CARICOM[*], has condemned Almagro’s active support of U.S. attempts to oust Maduro. On January 31, 2019, following Almagro’s public recognition of Juan Guaidó as interim president, the group sent a letter, stating “you did not speak on behalf of all the member states of the OAS” and demanding that he clarify the position as an individual statement. The heads of state referred to the Secretary General’s statement as a “clear de­par­ture from nor­mal prac­tice and cause for great concern.” CARICOM nations have also broken with U.S.-Almagro dictums on other issues, presenting a successful resolution to reject violence and support indigenous rights in Bolivia following massacres carried out by security forces under the coup government of Jeanine Añez, and publicly opposing Almagro’s re-election bid.

The Caribbean rebellion has provoked an active response from the Trump administration in defense of Almagro’s candidacy and control in the OAS. In January 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the region to meet with a handpicked group of leaders to discuss cooperation and nail down support for U.S. Venezuelan policy and Almagro’s re-election bid. CARICOM chair and Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, denounced that Pompeo’s selective power broker role sought to drive a wedge between the Caribbean nations and rejected the meeting. Her position was seconded forcefully by Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who protested U.S. efforts to exclude nations that didn’t agree with Trump and Almagro’s views.

Speaking in Mexico in August 2019, the OAS Secretary General stated that if the public does not trust election results, it severely affects the quality of a democracy. However, his partisan role and the biased and dishonest actions of OAS electoral observation missions have severely undermined democracy in the region and disrupted key elections. The region faces major challenges in the near future: 2020 presidential elections in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, the Chilean referendum and 2021 presidential elections in Nicaragua, Peru and Ecuador. These elections could either resolve or enflame political crises.

Impartial, expert election observation can instill trust in the electoral process, expose corrupt and anti-democratic practices and head off post-electoral conflicts. The region urgently needs an organization that is willing and able to play this role professionally and not act in favor of hidden interests and powers and a personal ideological agenda.

Human Rights for Some, A Blind Eye for Others

Almagro’s open bias has not only eroded the Organization’s role as an elections arbiter–politicized double standards have also been applied to human rights. Although the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights is a relatively autonomous part of the OAS, authorized to organize delegations by invitation from member states, the OAS leadership plays a huge role in priorities and funding. The Secretary General’s statements on human rights follow the pattern of bias in deciding which governments are targeted and pressured to reform, what measures are taken, and which leaders are supported despite human rights violations. Notably, while alleged human rights violations against Venezuelans receive almost daily attention, rightwing governments allied to the United States have committed grave human rights violations with little to no follow-up from the OAS. These include key allies of the Trump administration and Almagro: Colombia, which sponsored his candidacy, Chile, Honduras and Haiti. These four countries have been most prominent in the news lately due to near-constant cycles of protest and violent repression, but the OAS General Secretariat’s bifurcated strategy of highlighting human rights violations to isolate ideological enemies, and ignoring them when committed by friends also exists with other governments.

Chile: The Chilean government of Sebastian Piñera responded to mass demonstrations against a hike in the subway fare and more generally privatization, the cost of living and inequality by cracking down on protesters. According to the latest report by the National Human Rights Institute, since protests began Oct. 18, 445 protesters or bystanders have been shot in the eye with 34 suffering permanent loss of vison or complete loss of an eye, 195 complaints of sexual violence have been filed, and 951 for torture at the hands of state agents, health services report 3,765 wounded, with 2,122 hospitalized after being struck by government rubber bullets or other projectiles. These are only the cases that experts and public agencies have been able to document. Up to February, 31 Chileans have been killed, mostly young people.

Many of these figures are included in the preliminary report of the OAS’s Interamerican Commission on Human Rights. However, when Almagro visited Chile in January 2020–the same month as the IACHR report came out–he congratulated Piñera for his government’s response to the protests, saying, “in the framework of the rule of law, preservation of democracy, [your government] has efficiently defended the public order, at the same time taking special measures to guarantee human rights”. He added, “The circumstances that had to be confronted were confronted in the best way possible.”

His statements directly contradicted the findings of the OAS human rights commission, which reported: “The IACHR expresses its extreme concern and condemns the high number of human rights violations reported in the context of the social protest, and calls on the authorities of Chile to investigate with due diligence the reports of violations of human rights and identify and sanction those responsible and inform the citizenry of the results.” It cited excessive use of force by government security forces, criminalization of protesters, and use of violence against groups including women, LGBTQ, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, migrants and youth.

National organizations have criticized Piñera for his attempt to undermine the legitimacy of protesters’ demands by claiming that they are instigated by “foreign interference”,  particularly “Cubans and Venezuelans”. Almagro and Trump have made the same claim on several occasions and along the same ideological lines, while discounting the grassroots nature of the protests and the rights of the victims. As the Chilean government was attacking Chilean youth in the streets, the first pronouncement of the General Secretariat, issued October 27, 2019, reads like a Cold War credo:

“The Bolivarian winds of Simón Bolivar brought freedom and independence to our peoples; the breezes of the Bolivarian regime driven by Madurismo and the Cuban regime bring violence, looting, destruction and a political purpose of directly attacking the democratic system and trying to force interruptions in constitutional mandates. The attempts that we have seen documented in Ecuador and Colombia, we see the same pattern repeated in Chile today. The polarization, hatred, violence, bad practices, policies of systematic violation of human rights and crimes against humanity with which the dictatorships infused our political systems must be eradicated and isolated, wherever they come from. It is therefore essential to shut off the sources of violence that have their origin in external and internal efforts of institutional destabilization.”

Chilean government official have admitted they have no evidence of foreign instigation of the protests that have mobilized crowds of more than 1.5 million in Santiago, and hundreds of comments in the media and social networks have criticized Piñera for unfounded accusations. Although the IACHR continues to monitor human rights abuses in Chile, Almagro and   Trump continue to denounce foreign influence and the Secretary General has bolstered the side of the Piñera administration while ignoring the mounting number of victims.

Colombia: Another cohort among states that support the Almagro-Trump agenda in the OAS, the government of Ivan Duque, has also come under intense international scrutiny for violations of human rights, including the assassination of more than 500 grassroots leaders since the peace agreement was signed in 2016, according to the national Ombudsman’s Office.  The OAS has largely looked the other way.

Amid the criticisms of his human rights record, Duque sent out a letter on June 27, 2019 calling for support for Almagro, stating “my government is convinced that the re-election of Almagro is indispensable to continue to advance in the regional agenda of democracy and human rights”. The letter warned that “any alternative would derail the agenda of principles”, even before other candidacies had been announced. Then-president of Uruguay, Tabaré Vázquez, responded to the letter, stating that he had important differences in his evaluation of Almagro’s actions, and that OAS member states should have a chance to propose other candidates.

Just days before Duque sent out the letter requesting support for Almagro’s re-election, Almagro issued an official OAS declaration stating that Duque’s government “has done everything to maintain the peace, to deepen peace with justice and to eradicate plantations and fight drug trafficking.” The praise for Duque sparked outrage among many Colombians. Members of the organization “Defendamos la Paz-Let’s Defend the Peace” who participated in the peace process wrote a letter dated June 26, 2019 on the eve of the OAS’s 49th Assembly, declaring that Almagro’s declaration,

“not only ignores and contradicts the on-the-ground reality of what is happening in the country, but also does not concur with the declarations and reports that offices and agencies of the OAS such as the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights and the Mission of Support for the Peace process in Colombia have issued on the implementation of the final Accord to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace.”

Indeed, the January 2019 report from the IACHR flags the “alarming issue of murders of social leaders and human rights defenders”, stating that the situation has gotten worse under the Duque government since the accord. The FARC party has registered the murder of more than182 former FARC combatants. The party announced Jan. 29 that it will present the case before both the IACHR and the UN. Indepaz, an independent think tank, documents that 738 civilian activists have been murdered between Jan. 1, 2016 and July 20, 2019. The IACHR report concludes with the need for protective measures and urges the Colombian government to intensify efforts to implement the peace agreement, which the Duque government has been widely accused of undermining.

Haiti: Two other countries seem to be involved in a trade of support for the US-Almagro agenda and a pass on serious human rights violations—Honduras and Haiti. Haiti has been unable to carry out elections to restore democracy, courts are closed and the population has mobilized to confront the increasingly despotic actions of President Jovenel Moise. A IACHR report from January 2020 calls for political dialogue and the strengthening of institutions and balance of powers.

After police protests brought another wave of turmoil, the OAS Secretary General published a tweet condemning the violence, but at the same time endorsing Moise: “..violence is unacceptable in any form, but especially it is unacceptable with the intention of a violent change in the established democratic regime”. Meanwhile, the crisis under Moise is at a breaking point. The UN Integrated Office on Haiti reported this month that 4.6 million Haitians require immediate humanitarian assistance. The UN published this statement from the non-profit Fondasyon Je Klere on the lack of rule of law and government violence: “We have witnessed odious killings, decapitations, rapes, robberies, embezzlement and the diversion of supplies, abductions and kidnappings… We have death squadrons, and that’s a form of state terrorism.”

The OAS Secretary General has put little pressure on the Haitian regime to respond to popular demands in, again, what appears to be an exchange of favors. Ronald Sanders, the ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the OAS, noted Almagro’s “deafening silence” on the crisis in Haiti, writing in an op-ed March 2:

“Disappointingly, the OAS Secretary-General, Luis Almagro, who has needed no urging to condemn governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua for violations of human, civil and political rights, has not seen it fit to bring the troubling situation in Haiti to the attention of the Permanent Council of the OAS.”

Haiti illustrates the OAS politics of division in the Caribbean. Following the Almagro-Trump strategy, Moise broke with a history of Haitian relations with Venezuela and with most of the CARICOM group by joining the rightwing Lima Group that Almagro helped organize to pressure for the removal of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro from office. The Haitian regime recognized Guaidó, sparking protests in Haiti, while other Caribbean countries have insisted on non-intervention in Venezuela’s internal affairs. Haiti’s president was one of the five Caribbean leaders who support Almagro’s re-election and met with President Trump in Mar-a-Lago on Mar. 21 of last year.

The Haitian ruler has publicly sided with the U.S. and the OAS Secretary General on the divisive issues of Venezuela and Almagro. Just as Moise entered a second year as a “caretaker government”, governing without a democratic mandate, his foreign minister Bocchit Edmond published an op-ed expressing his government’s support for Almagro´s re-election and calling for “unity” in CARICOM. As the Haitian crisis deepens, it remains to be seen how firmly the OAS Secretary General will defend democracy and human rights there, against the interests of one of his most proactive supporters.

Honduras: The Honduran administration of Juan Orlando Hernandez has accumulated a number of reports of human rights violations and accusations of corruption since taking office, and especially since the controversial 2017 elections. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights documented the murder of 22 people during protests following the elections, with the Committee of Families of Forced Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) documenting 30 in the single month between Nov. 30 and Dec 31 of 2017.

The latest report of the UN Human Rights Council notes that there has been little to no progress in prosecuting the security forces responsible for the crimes. It also documents continued violations in every area of review. JOH and his party have passed a series of “impunity pacts” that limit investigation and prosecution of government officials in the midst of numerous revelations of corruption and misuse of power. The president himself has been implicated in drug trafficking in a New York court.

The OAS created the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) in 2016. This year, despite a recommendation that the MACCIH’s period be extended, the organization agreed with the Honduran government to end the mission, due to the limitations on investigation and prosecution of government officials placed by the Honduran government.

The OAS General Secretariat issued a formal communiqué that stated briefly, “Unfortunately, it was not possible to reach the agreements required for the renewal of the mandate of the Mission, which is why MACCIH will end its functions on January 19, 2020”, further noting that the Honduran government would no longer provide the cooperation needed with the public prosecutor’s office.

Juan Jimenez, the former in-country spokesperson of the MACCIH, stated that the termination of the mission’s work resulted from failed negotiations between the Secretary General and the Hernandez administration that involved assuring the Honduran government’s support for Almagro’s re-election. He implied, as have other observers, that the parties agreed on a discreet exit of the anti-corruption mission in return for the JOH’s support for Almagro’s re-election. Jimenez posted on Twitter:

“Closure of MACCIH will have terrible consequences. The incapacity of the SG of the OAS in murky negotiations cannot be saved by a lukewarm communique. What was at stake here was not Honduras, but the vote for the SG of the OAS next March 20.”

The termination of the anti-corruption commission comes just after the president’s brother was found guilty of drug trafficking and other charges in the United States, in a case that named the president as an accomplice and recipient of the illicit funds. Despite extensive evidence of wrong-doing, the U.S. government has also consistently looked the other way when it comes to human rights violations in Honduras since facilitating the coup that removed the elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009 and installed a rightwing regime. Since then, the Honduran government has been a staunch ally of U.S. policy in the region, as demonstrated most recently with the signing of a “Safe Third Country” agreement to block refugees from moving through Honduras toward the United States.

As with the corrosive effects of conditioning the defense of democracy on ideological beliefs, the OAS’s practice of using a political lens to pursue human rights violations causes it to lose credibility and efficacy. It also creates a dangerous situation for human rights defenders in the countries where they work, as they become more exposed, more easily criminalized and attacked, and less recognized by society for the brave and critical work they do. The rising number of assassinations of human rights defenders attests to the crisis in the region—of 300 defenders murdered worldwide in 2019, two-thirds of them were in the region of the Americas.

The Need for New Leadership

The revival of a Cold War mentality in the OAS produces grave threats deriving from its actions as detailed above, but also from its inaction. With U.S. regime change in Venezuela dominating, climate change, coordinated action against the illicit activities of transnational criminal organizations, the migration and refugee rights, and environmental catastrophes like the loss of the Amazon rainforests and the Honduran drought have practically fallen off the agenda. The OAS has put forth no comprehensive solutions for the criminal greed of corrupt governments, inequality, or violence and discrimination against women.

All this has many nations worried. News reports confirm that Argentina under Alberto Fernandez will not vote for Almagro’s re-election. Mexico’s OAS representative Luz Elena Baños announced Mexico will not support Almagro’s bid, asserting that the Secretary General exceeded his faculties by obliging the organization “to recognize or not recognize governments” and permitting “a representative of the president of the Assembly to have an ambassador” in reference to the unprecedented presence of a Guaidó supporter in the Permanent Council. Many CARICOM countries have declared their support for the candidacy of the Ecuadoran former defense minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa.

Espinosa and the other candidate for Secretary General, the Peruvian Hugo de Zela, cited the partiality of the incumbent in their presentation speeches before the body on February 12. Espinosa, a former president of the UN General Assembly and if successful the first woman to lead the organization, promised to recover the principles of cooperation, respect the sovereignty of the States, and “maintain the technical, impartial and independent character of the electoral missions.” De Zela warned that “political polarization weakens the two essential elements of multilateralism: constructive dialogue and the search for consensus” He vowed to provide “a balanced alternative faced with polarizing perspectives that are weakening the effectiveness and relevance of the OAS as a hemispheric, multilateral forum.”

The Western Hemisphere has become a geopolitical battleground—again. For decades, the region has set global agendas and reflected geopolitical trends, although it doesn’t often capture the headlines. Thousands march in protest in Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Haiti and Ecuador, demanding deep changes in their political and economic systems. Corruption scandals have shaken Peru and Guatemala. Mexico and Argentina have popular new leftwing governments, and Brazil has a president from the ultra-right who’s proud to be called “the Trump of the South”. Meanwhile, the U.S. government, which normally calls the shots, will likely be disputed between an autocratic capitalist and a democratic socialist, marking two very different paths forward.

The possible scenario of another five years of Almagro as Secretary General presents serious difficulties, regardless of how the U.S. elections go. If Donald Trump wins re-election, regional self-determination and many of the principles of the OAS will face even greater threats from an “America First” agenda beholden to U.S. hegemony, corporate interests, and “border control”, including an explicit revival of the Monroe Doctrine. Aggressive U.S. behavior, supported by the Secretary General, could further polarize the region and the OAS. If a progressive democrat is elected, the regional organization will find itself saddled with an anachronistic Cold War leader, out of synch with new aspirations and possibilities.

Either way, Almagro’s record as leader of the OAS gives grave cause for concern. The aggressive pursuit of his personal ideological aims has led to division, conflict and even bloodshed. The Organization of American States must restore its reputation as a forum for sovereign governments to resolve the region’s most pressing issues and build toward a safe and prosperous future. To do that, it urgently needs a change in leadership.

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Does the COVID-19 Crisis Have to Result in a Wealthier Wealthy?

Photograph Nathaniel St. Clair

In times of crisis — the current coronavirus pandemic, for instance — these sorts of calls for cooperation become the drumbeat of our daily lives. And most all of us march to that drumbeat because we understand that we do need to cooperate and help each other when crises crash down upon us.

Unfortunately, no drumbeat ever gets everybody marching in sync. In every society, some self-absorbed people will think first and always only of themselves. But these self-absorbed few, in relatively equal societies, pose no great problem. They just don’t have the means to mess things up.

In more unequal societies, we have a different story. In deeply unequal societies, nations where wealth and power have concentrated intensely, a few people do have the means to undercut the common good. These wealthy few can exploit the vulnerabilities of societies in crisis to make themselves even wealthier.

Back in 2007, Naomi Klein explored this phenomenon brilliantly in her landmark book The Shock Doctrine. Klein showed how corporate elites worldwide have repeatedly and brutally used “the public’s disorientation following a collective shock — wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters — to push through radical pro-corporate measures.”

The 2008 financial collapse would vividly illustrate the dynamics Klein so powerfully described. The Wall Street giants whose reckless and even criminal behavior ushered in that crisis ended up, after the dust settled, even bigger and more powerful than before the crisis began.

Klein sees those same “shock doctrine” dynamics now resurfacing in the coronavirus crisis.

“We are seeing,” she noted earlier this week, “this very predictable process that we see in the midst of every economic crisis, which is extreme corporate opportunism,” a “dusting off” of the corporate and Wall Street wish list on everything from cutting and privatizing Social Security — by undermining its current payroll tax revenue stream — to enriching the fossil fuel industry.

What can we do, this crisis time around, to prevent a “shock doctrine” repeat? We need, for starters, to provide immediate support for those the coronavirus is hitting the hardest: the sick and those who care for them, the workers who lose jobs and income.

But we can’t afford to stop there. We need, in effect, a “shock doctrine” in reverse. We need to seize the openings for change the coronavirus creates and challenge the capacity of our rich and powerful to become ever richer and more powerful at the expense of our greater social well-being.

One example: Within our increasingly coronavirus-ravaged economy, more and more families will be facing evictions as they fall behind on rents and mortgage payments. Progressive activists and like-minded elected leaders are now quite rightfully calling for a coronavirus moratorium on evictions.

But we have a chance here to go much further. Low-income families, a compelling new analysis of shelter in Southern California has just detailed, face a rental market that corporate landlords have thoroughly rigged against them. These corporate interests have created an “empire of fees and evictions” to gouge low-income families. Why not fight, in this coronavirus crisis moment, to rewrite the eviction-enabling statutes that let corporate landlords enrich themselves at the expense of families already reeling?

The coronavirus crisis also gives us an opportunity to use the power of the public purse to shift our economy towards greater equity and sustainability.

Various industries are already clamoring for federal loan guarantees and other bailouts to get them past the coronavirus crisis. We have an obligation to help workers in these industries. We have an opportunity to help these workers not just through the coronavirus crisis, but beyond.

The core of a reverse shock doctrine ought to be a massive public investment program designed to create good jobs, with a premium on projects that better position our economy to address climate change.

For immediate bailout funds, policymakers should consider attaching pro-worker strings. We could deny, for instance, tax-dollar support to private companies that pay their top execs over 50 or 100 times what they pay their most typical workers.

Moves in that direction would give top execs an incentive to pay workers more — and exploit them less.

Back in mid-20th century America, a time of much greater equality than we have now, corporate top execs only averaged 30 times more pay than their workers. That more equal America proved resilient enough to overcome a fearsome polio epidemic and prosper.

That more equal America, let’s remember, emerged out of the back-to-back crises of the Great Depression and world war against fascism. Progressives seized the opportunity those crises created and changed the face of American society. Why can’t we?

Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati co-edit at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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