Counterpunch Articles

Better in Dolby

What if every week was a non-stop series of public spectacles? One big-time show after another. Every night a blockbuster.

Sunday brings us the Super Bowl.

Monday presents the undead Democratic Circus of the Iowa Caucuses, which slips past its time slot and far into the unforeseeable future.

Tuesday it’s the State of Union address pitting a tele-prompted demagogue in dark suit against a human paper-shredder in white.

Wednesday’s broadcast is an Impeachment Vote in the U. S. Senate, a show thought a few viewers even find exciting. (The writers are busy: Mitt Romney will not be asked back for season two.)

Thursday there’s a televised flash mob around Trump where he rants and raves about his vindication.

On Friday the Deep State Vindman Twins get the sack. (Strangely, this latest episode of The Apprentice —“You’re Fired”—was not streamed live.)

Saturday: it’s 65% degrees in Antarctica! Puts the week’s other programs in perspective, and, on the upside, adds another continent to the list of global getaway destinations. Hey, hey, hey— Spring Break in Little America!

And before you know it another Sunday has rolled around and it’s the 92nd annual Academy Awards ceremony.

Most of such a week’s “content” should come with Parents Advisory notifications and/or health warnings. “Family friendly” is now as quaint relic. Even the President is a foul-mouthed psycho.

That such a density of set-piece spectacles was packed into the first full week of February seems hard to believe. Harder still to think that most of us survived it, though the strain on the psyche was considerable, more trying even than enduring Best Actress Award winner Renée Zellweger’s victory “speech” for her biopic portrayal of Judy Garland, a tight-lipped hymn to Hollywood’s new inclusivity delivered with extreme difficulty through the straight-jacket of Zellweger’s facelifts.

Early February’s succession of marquee events gives us a super-extended preview of a future in which we’ll be under 24/7 siege by propaganda masquerading as entertainment. Or is it a preview?

Once obvious and easy, the option of simply unplugging is itself barely possible any more. In the age of emergency alerts blaring over loudspeakers, civic alarms systems, drone flyovers, the solace of silence is an expensive, ever-more elusive luxury.

Many millions are plugged into their wearables, ear- and eye-fed their feeds from dawn to dusk, and through the night while snatching shards of sleep from the ether. Music, news, podcasts, information, images. At least two generations are hooked up for life—and probably death, too.

Some are still able pull the plug. It’s vaguely comforting that the latest installment of the Oscars garnered the lowest t.v. rating in its history. Yet even as the wise and wizened—along with the otherwise-occupied young—flee its fake self-mockery and pseudo-pageantry, the show provides an instructive look ahead.

For the second consecutive year the Oscars were without a host. In 2018 the Academy staged its own episode of cancel culture when comedian Kevin Hart’s was pulled from the role of emcee when his library of homophobic tweets was unearthed and duly published. No one else could be found to jump into the mess. The job has now disappeared forever from the “workplace.”

In place of an-stage person, a female voice—not simulated but belonging to veteran, and perennially uncredited, voice-over expert Randy Thomas—provided well-modulated narration that, god-like, moved the pawns around the Kodak Theater stage, informed us of the relevant history and backstories. Especially after a couple of drinks, it becomes difficult to tell whether the voice is coming from Hollywood or inside your own head. People are increasingly used to this from various disembodied Sirens and Amazons. Rather than the human wit—if you can call it that—of a Bob Hope or Billy Crystal, there was Siri and Alexa. And so will it be, when digital maître d’s direct you to your table through the earbud or virtual profs discourse on Plato’s Republic in the massively multiplayer university lecture halls of the not-so-distant future.

Unlike Brexit, the opening production number remained. Singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe did it as a trouser role. In a nod to the hostless approach, Monáe donned tuxedo and top hat. Her gifts and professionalism provided a provisional antidote to the slack and often listless proceedings that followed. That she learned the songs and choreography in a short time and carried them off with such precision and panache gave one slender hope that human excellence still has a fighting chance against the virtual. Some might claim that the Academy fixers chose Monáe, an African-American, to launch the evening as an affirmative action. What her performance did, however, was robustly affirm that real talent matters.

A more cynical interpretation of Monáe’s appearance would argue that her charismatic critique was mere window dressing, an view perhaps confirmed by the approval of the Hollywood courtiers arrayed in the Dolby and the boosting commentaries that followed. The supposedly barbed comments Monàe lobbed into the crowd castigating that very establishment for the lack of women and people of color among the nominees actually just provided the required lip service. While these kinds of supposedly admonitory slogans are already standard fare in liberal dramatics, they’ll become even more of a pronounced political tick in the future: shout out—sing out!—to the dispossessed and disenfranchised, while the capitalist juggernaut rolls on, the driver not even touching the brakes.

Incursions were made into the bastions of male dominance in Hollywood. The Best Soundtrack went to Hildur Gudnadottir (apologies Norsemen and Norsewomen, I can’t find the Icelandic diacriticals on my keyboard) for her score for Joker. Her heart-warming speech about girls making music seemed genuine, its sentiment lingering even as she left the Dolby stage and disappeared into Hollywood’s maw. Her score for Joker is troubled by the straining of hawsers, the thrum of electric wires, and the thump of drums like a heartbeat from within your own body. The soundtrack’s Romantic surges break on the rocks of catastrophe. I hear the natural world going under. Leave it to an Icelander cast ashore on Los Angeles’s fatal shores to compose something suitably troubled for our time, even as she seeks higher ground and will certainly be getting higher pay with the statuette on her mantel.

Gudnadottir was the first woman in a quarter century to be decorated for a movie score by the Academy. Below her in the pit, Eimear Noone, was the first female conductor ever to lead the Oscar orchestra. She’s also the composer of some of the most heard (if not exactly listened to) soundscapes on the planet—World of Warcraft and other mega-titles. Noone has led the Danish National Symphony in pedal-to-the-metal game nights extravaganzas with full orchestra and chorus and lots of electronics to boot. On Sunday night she wielded her old-fashioned, non-digital baton at the Dolby for a suite of the nominated scores. In that sequence the sheer force of John Williams’s Star Wars swansong strode forth magnificently. But it was too manly, too European, too Wagnerian for these times. Noone commanded her troops with exactitude and grandeur, even while securing her own electronic battle brand, clad as she was in an embroidered golden breastplate of a mighty woman warrior.

Elton John was rewarded for a different sort of disturbed lurching than Gudnadottir’s. His Oscar-winning “Rocketman” credit-sequence song ascended inexorably by half-stop up the keyboard and into the stratosphere of his aging, but durable range. At the close of this super-charged three-minute number, I was expecting Sir Elton to hit the ejector-seat button and blast through the Dolby roof. But he had to remain on earth for his apotheosis that was soon to follow.

This was one of the few comforting truths that this evening confirms every year. Even as the stars preach, preen and perform, they can never truly escape.

In the beginning there was the word, in the end, too, though finally, when it was all over, there was just Jane Fonda, her skin also spread worryingly thin across her cheekbones, wishing all a good night. One couldn’t be sure she if she was real or not. Had Barbarella uploaded her voice and consciousness and had her body 3-D printed? It wasn’t just impossible to say, it was also irrelevant.


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Money is Our Assonance: Seven Short Poems

Still Brazil, Still India, Not Hegel, Not Pinker

As we are
human beings, the highest point
of our culture should be
being human.
Is this what you feel? That humanity
has aimed its bow this way?

Instead of always becoming
human humans became chattels
and consumers, and if not
they found themselves
in profit’s way, to be wiped out
or removed. Maybe the arrow
of humanity has been fired in reverse.

Gone, Be Gone

Robinson Jeffers wrote
‘civilisation is a transient sickness,’
From his granite poetry outpost
And, so it goes, welcomed its end
Long before the methane bubbled out
From under the permafrost
And before we knew the shipping lanes
Had stupefied
The breath of the seas.

(Quote from ‘New Mexican Mountain’, Robinson Jeffers 1931, The Saturday Review, Sept 5, 1931.)


The Problem with Trump

The problem with Trump
Is the awful inelegance.
Oh how we now long for
The measured lies of Obama.

What we desire is elegance
In leadership. We desire more
Elegant brutality, more elegant
Lies, more elegant turbidity.

Money Is Our Assonance

Art is a function of money, discuss.
Philosophy is a function
of money, discuss.
Love is a function of money, discuss.
Too little, too much, or just
the life you lead
is a function of money.

Fleeting… elusive

From the time of Herodotus
– the father of history –
tis the habitual requirement
that any histology
of social life
both in-significant
and world-significant
should serve
either or both
as panegyric or warning.
(We must, so they say,
hold on to the good
– maintain the movement –
and scratch out the bad.
But where have these
noisy, self-assured,
gold-rimmed lectures
left us?)
It is only within
the convention of fiction
that one is permitted to refuse
to write out solutions,
To doubt
And doubt doubly.
And so, fiction
of all the fictions
before us
in the library of our society
the truest type of fiction.


Oh to be a child climbing
hills of garbage, dragging
bags and body across
a malodorous,
tetanus flecked,
quagmire kingdom,
under an inescapably
just risen sun.

Lying Angels

History was the prosaic
all too suspiciously
rational tale
of how the gates before us
continued to open
on the climb to an
incarnate Heaven.

But now the prospect
of ecological Armageddon
hangs before us
like the gates to a real
all-encompassing hell
and history falls away
like nonsense.

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How Bernie Sanders Became a “Fighter” for Palestine

Photograph Source: Shelly Prevost – CC BY 2.0

With the Democratic primary in full swing, the outlines of public debate are pretty much entrenched. Common wisdom on the left says that all of the candidates are bad on Palestine except for Bernie Sanders.  Despite some problems, pundits declare, Sanders is still the best. Is the statement true, though, or is it a convenient truism?

It’s both, really.  Sanders appears to be better than his counterparts, but the advantage doesn’t exist in a vacuum. A lot of mythologizing has helped Sanders’ reputation.  He’s proved skillful at sounding the right notes without actually transcending a dull foreign policy consensus. For example, I don’t see how anybody can read Sanders’ responses here next to those of his opponents and objectively conclude that he’s superior (or even meaningfully different). In fact, billionaire Tom Steyer’s answers are arguably better, or at least equivalent.

Moreover, Sanders almost always introduces support for Palestinians by professing devotion to Israel’s security and right to exist.  He has a long history of funding Israeli war crimes.  (His claim that he’ll condition aid to Israel on a better human rights record is a sucker’s bet; Sanders has had three decades to apply that principle.)  All the candidates are Zionist.  I don’t care to parse the nuances of their Zionism.  Finding—or, worse, celebrating—a kinder colonizer is a waste of time.

In short, Sanders is similar to his opponents around Palestine, but his reputation around Palestine is far better.  That reputation doesn’t correspond to the substance of his legislative history or his public comments.  Supporters project onto him what they hope or assume he’ll do, but hasn’t done throughout his long career in office.  The myth of Sanders being “good” or “the best” has made it so that supporting him isn’t merely a pragmatic concession; it can now be passed off as devotion to Palestine.

In the past few weeks, I’ve seen an image circulating on social media that epitomizes both the process and outcome of Sanders’s mythologization.  It shows a man holding a handwritten sign that says, “I’m Palestinian, and I’m voting for the Jewish guy!”  To his right, a woman holds a companion sign:  “I’m Israeli, and I’m voting for the guy who will fight for Palestinians’ rights!”  It’s a cute idea, I guess.  The execution of that idea is troublesome, however.

Try to extricate yourself from the hullabaloo of electoralism and consider a straightforward question:  when have we ever witnessed Bernie Sanders fighting for Palestinians?  Many of his supporters have taken up the fight, but Sanders hasn’t joined them.  Instead, he gestures toward vague ideals of justice without committing to what Palestinians in struggle repeatedly profess to be their version of freedom (the right of return and equality in their ancestral homeland).  He’s happy to let supporters fill the vagueness with their own suppositions.

Was Sanders fighting for Palestinian rights when he fondly recalledliving on a kibbutz (in other words, a racialized settlement)?  When he voted in favor of a Senate resolution (introduced by Mitch McConnell) that recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital?  When he yelled at constituents protesting the war crimes Israel was committing with weapons he voted to provide?  When he fired a campaign staffer for criticizing Netanyahu?  When he went on a Zionist diatribe in an interview with a Palestinian journalist?  When he blamed an Israeli massacre of 50 civilians on “Hamas”? When he suggested that Palestinian parents train their children to become suicide bombers?

All of these things happened since Israel’s 2014 destruction of the Gaza Strip, one of the century’s most vicious events.

How about when he calls himself “100 percent pro-Israel”?  Or opposes BDS?  Or offers “both sides” pabulum in response to yet more Israeli war crimes?  Or declines to support the right of return (something Andrew Yang recently did without ambivalence)?

The best on Palestine

Sanders occasionally exhibits empathy for Palestinians and regularly highlights the difficulties of life under Israeli occupation (1967 only), but he doesn’t use a fighting vocabulary.  He never speaks of colonization, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, apartheid, or land theft.  “Occupation” is the strongest word he deploys.  He also has a habit of reserving sharp criticism for Netanyahu, usually positioned as a Trumpian aberration from a more benevolent norm.  In Sanders’s lexicon, the problem isn’t Zionism, but Netanyahu’s Israel.

(Please note:  I’m not arguing that Sanders ought to speak like a Palestinian nationalist; I’m objecting to narratives that make it sound as if he’s a faithful proponent of Palestinian nationalism.)

If the Palestinian in the photo wants to vote for “the Jewish guy,” I won’t argue with him, although I wish he wouldn’t volunteer himself as one of the good Arabs, the sort who isn’t innately hostile to Jews, as evidenced by—what else?—his eagerness to vote.  Trading decolonization for electoralism is one of the cheapest ways to accumulate respectability in the United States.  Voting for “the Jewish guy” isn’t objectionable in itself.  One might make a strong case for doing it.  But implicating national identity in the decision elides longstanding forms of resistance less agreeable to centers of power.

It’s more bothersome seeing the Israeli uphold Sanders as a champion of Palestinian rights.  It’s discomfiting that a settler so breezily appoints herself arbiter of the native’s struggle, and does so by promoting visions of relief that don’t threaten her own standing.  By tethering activism to a presidential campaign, she can claim space unavailable to recalcitrant natives.  She needn’t adhere to their sensibilities because she inhabits a political culture that treats the colonized as raw material.  Her language tells the story.  She deploys a nebulous framework of “rights,” the classic idiom of state-sanctioned activism.  Liberation is off the table.  Resistance is sanitized.  Armed struggle is unthinkable. The photograph is the spirit of Oslo repurposed for the social media age.

Sanders has made his platform clear.  By this point it’s not changing.  He’s a two-stater who dislikes conservative Israeli politicians and frets about the government’s excesses.  He won’t affirm the right of return.  He won’t consider a one-state solution.  He opposes BDS, but also opposes its criminalization.  For all his talk of conditioning aid to Israel on its behavior (something George H.W. Bush also proposed), it will require more political capital then he’s willing to use.  (An overlooked feature of this pledge is that Sanders also threatens to withhold aid from Palestinians.) Palestine will fall by the wayside.  Sanders’ most vocal supporters will accept that result as the cost of doing business.

Israelis come first

They’ll talk about holding him accountable, of course, but nobody should take it seriously.  Accountable to whom?  Actual Palestinians or the mass of dim brown trinkets manufactured on an electoral assembly line?  Electoralism doesn’t allow for the kind of responsiveness its advocates imagine.  Anybody who tries to hold Sanders to account will be shouted down.  To lift Palestine from its subordinate position will be seen as an invitation to social death, a puritanical effort to unleash rightwing barbarism on an intrinsically virtuous polity.  (Electoral common sense always leads to liberal orthodoxy.)  Accountability to the people is the most anti-human myth of this entire spectacle.

Attempts to prioritize the Global South simply can’t compete with fetishes of enfranchisement in the imperial core.  (The Global South, uncoincidentally, manifests the world’s greatest revolutionary potential.)  Like other colonized nations (inside and beyond North America), Palestine exists in electoral discourses as an abstract geography, something to be extracted for capital among the politically ambitious, or a delicate inconvenience to overcome. What the system lacks in substance it replaces with myth.  Electoralism is a heatsink of revolutionary politics.  We select representatives actually seated by the elite.  There’s no real system of accountability to the disempowered.  Everything that sounds nice about electoralism in fact reinforces the false promises of settler colonization.

Aren’t Sanders’ boosters setting themselves up for disappointment?  Not really, because the logic of electoralism provides for delirious hope in the incredible.  It also renders Palestine’s freedom (at best) a secondary concern.  The nation, obscure and abstracted, expedites presidential electioneering.  Sanders isn’t serving Palestine; Palestine is his surrogate.

Sanders says “respect and dignity.”  His fans hear “liberation.”  They’re not listening closely enough.  (We’re incentivized to mishear by so many promises of minor celebrity.)  Nothing in Sanders’ record as a politician suggests that he’ll fight for anything but the tired “international consensus.”  And nothing in decades of US brokerage indicates that the “peace process” will result in anything but continued suffering for Palestinians.

This article first appeared on Steven Salaita’s blog.

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Coded Messages About Australia’s Big Burn

Photograph Source: Meganesia – CC BY-SA 4.0

“Blame doesn’t help anybody at this time, and over-analysis of these things is not a productive exercise”

– Australian prime minister Scott Morrison

Media-inflected “fatigue” has been in the news recently.

“Impeachment fatigue” on the part of the public is cited as the context for the sham impeachment proceedings which allowed Republican senators to dump every remaining shred of principle in their contorted attempts to exculpate Trump (Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee saying Trump was guilty but should not be removed from office because senators were bound not so much by their oath of office and the principles of the justice as by the opinions of their electorate).

Similarly “Brexit fatigue” is invoked as a reason for Boris Johnson’s recent election victory— his misleading slogan “Get Brexit done” resonated with voters allegedly fatigued by the 3 preceding years of unproductive and often farcical goings-on as Brexitannia meandered towards its divorce from Brussels.

The Australian wildfires, which started in August last year, have receded from media attention outside Australia.

The fires have (so far) killed 34 people and an estimated 1 billion native animals since August. Approximately 2,500 homes have been destroyed and more than 26.2 million acres have been razed.

Australia’s wine industry is starting to be affected by “smoke taint” caused by the wildfires. “Smoke taint” is brought about by particulates which settle on the skin of the grape and affect its taste. The entire 2020 crop has been lost in some parts of the Hunter Valley and Adelaide Hills wine regions, while many growers are harvesting only a fraction of their fruit.

While many fires continue to burn, heavy rain is falling on coastal areas, and less so in drought-affected areas inland. Fires have so far been reduced fires by a third, though flooding is now a major problem on the coast, causing widespread evacuations and power outages.

The Australian summer still has some way to go, and warm temperatures can be expected to last until April.

But has media and public fatigue set in where the fires are concerned, especially after a spell of torrential rain?

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison (also known as ScoMo and Scotty from Marketing), seems to be counting on it as he “evolves” his government’s policy response to climate change and the continuing wildfire crisis.

In a TV interview last week Morrison said he would not “be bullied” into more action on climate change:

“We listen to Australians right across the country. Not just in the inner city…. It’s important to listen to everybody but take people forward on practical, balanced action that doesn’t go and write people’s jobs off, or industries off…. It’s about technology, not taxation. So we won’t be bullied into higher taxes or higher electricity prices. What we’ll do is take practical action that deals with these challenges”.

ScoMo heads a coalition government consisting of his centre-right Liberal party and the right-wing National party, so he has on his “left” moderates who want more done to address climate change, and on his “right” hardliners who say flat-out that the science behind climate change is a leftwing “hoax”, or that the science is somehow beyond them because they are “not scientists”.

Keeping this crew together requires ScoMo to give the appearance of doing something about climate change, but at the same time not doing anything significant enough (such as passing a carbon tax or taking concrete steps to reduce emissions) to fire-up the troglodytes in his coalition’s rightwing.

Scotty from Marketing has therefore to operate on two fronts, one policy-oriented, the other involving “messaging”.

Evidence of the latter is evident in the interview mentioned above. First comes a pitch directed at “Australians right across the country”, thereby giving the impression that ScoMo will not be “bullied” by this or that faction of Australians with their own axes to grind (while he of course remains in the pockets of carbon-energy companies possessing their own very sharp axes).

Then comes an immediate dilution of the seeming inclusivity of this pitch, as ScoMo separates-out the “inner cities” from “Australians right across the country”.

Many Aussies will know there is underlying code at work here.

As in most parts of the western world, cities tend politically to be more liberal and progressive than their rural counterparts, and so in Australia the opposition centrist Labor party has its strongholds in the cities.

Labor had introduced a carbon tax a few years ago when in government, only to have it rescinded by the coalition when it took over, so by saying he would “listen to everybody” and not just the “inner cities”, ScoMo is implying that his climate-change agenda would tilt in favour of measures that work for “everybody”, and not just the pro-environment inner cities.

Moreover, this would be done by moving “forward on practical, balanced action”, all this undertaken without threatening industries (coal!) and the jobs therein.

“Practical” and “balanced” are of course easily-recognizable as tranquilizing representations underwriting the status quo— who in their right mind likes being called “impractical” and “unbalanced”?

So what seems on the surface to be a message conveying a welcome inclusivity, turns out on inspection to be a tad more select, as Scotty signals he’ll continue to coddle carbon-energy producers and polluters, while flipping a finger at environmental activists—those irritating “inner city” types– who unlike ScoMo don’t “listen to everybody”.

This underlying coded message of partiality is confirmed by Morrison’s policy proposals. In the interview just mentioned he goes on to say:

“Hazard reduction is important, if not more important, than emissions reduction when it comes to protecting people from fire and hotter, drier, longer summers in the future.

Also, in a country ravaged by drought, and the impacts that we have experienced, and that drought continues, building dams is climate action now”.

Emissions reduction will therefore be less of a priority for ScoMo than building more dams and so-called hazard reduction.

Dam construction is a well-known double-edged phenomenon, likely if at all to be beneficial in the shorter term, while these benefits are at the same time offset by environmental problems and a diminishing cost-benefit ratio as the dam ages. In a previous CounterPunch article I discussed Australia’s “market-based” approach to dam construction, which drained waterways and stiffed small farmers while lining the pockets of agribusiness fat cats and the water companies. If Scotty wants more of this, then the small farmers are going to need divine intervention.

Hazard reduction– involving controlled burning, and removing trees and vegetation, both dead and alive– is another potential smokescreen employed by ScoMo.

Climate change, by bringing hotter and drier conditions and higher fire-danger ratings, is reducing the time-frames that allow controlled burning to be undertaken safely.

Fire chiefs have also said that some fires have been so intense they crossed areas that had already been subject to hazard reduction. One fire chief said there has been “reburning” in some places that had previously been scorched— so dry is the atmosphere that after a couple of weeks even burnt leaves were able to reignite.

In addition, hazard reduction costs money for equipment and personnel, and ScoMo’s record on being forthcoming with extra funds for fighting the wildfires is patchy (to say the least).

Rupert Murdoch’s titles account for 59% of the sales of all daily newspapers in Australia, and they have played a significant part in conveying disinformation about the wildfire crisis.

Spreading the blame and finger-pointing are well-known tactics used by politicians criticized for mishandling a crisis, and here the Murdoch media have helped Aussie conservative politicians in two respects.

Firstly, the Greens and other conservation groups were blamed for preventing hazard reduction activities by being over-zealous in safeguarding natural habitats (so-called “vegetation worship”).

The New York Times reported that Murdoch’s media empire has been instrumental in publishing claims blaming Greens for impeding hazard reduction.

Murdoch’s media also says these fires are no worse than normal.

Secondly, Murdoch’s flagship newspaper, The Australian, spread the story that the wildfires were the work of arsonists, obviously in the hope that this would detract from the assertion that climate change is the main contributing factor to the crisis.

The moronic Donnie Trump Jr quickly used Twitter to repeat the story in The Australian.

A common premise in these debunked stories is that the Australian police and firefighters are the source of what is purveyed in Murdoch’s papers.

Alas for Murdoch the police and firefighters have refused to play their part, and refuted his papers’ claims.

The Guardian reported a spokeswoman for the Victoria state police as saying “There is currently no intelligence to indicate that the fires in East Gippsland and the North East have been caused by arson or any other suspicious behaviour”.

The Guardian article also notes that according to a Rural Fire Service spokesman, “The majority of the larger fires in the state [of New South Wales] were caused by lightning, and that arson was a relatively small source of ignition”.

The claim that “vegetation worship” on the part of the Greens is impeding hazard reduction has also been discredited by officials.

The former New South Wales state Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins wrote in The Guardian: “Blaming ‘greenies’ for stopping these important measures is a familiar, populist, but basically untrue claim”.

In 2012 a UK parliamentary inquiry into the widespread phone-hacking of celebrities by Murdoch’s papers concluded that he was “not a fit person” to run a major international company.

Murdoch appeared before the inquiry, and presaged Harvey Weinstein’s current tottering walking-frame courtroom act, by playing a doddering old fool clueless about what was going on in his companies.

Alas for Murdoch, renowned for micro-managing the content of his papers, the UK parliamentarians did not fall for his con.

Australia could emulate the UK and hold a similar inquiry into the part played by Murdoch’s media in spreading outright lies and distortions during one of Australia’s greatest-ever crises.

If Australian officialdom did hold such an inquiry, it should come to the same conclusion as its UK counterpart on Murdoch’s lack of “fitness” to head a major international corporation.

In the meantime, the Australian summer still has a couple of months to go.

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Timber Industry Wants to Rape-and-Run on Our National Forests

Raw log landing, Astoria, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

When Idaho billionaire Ron Yanke purchased the timber mills in Townsend and Livingston, Montana years ago to form RY Timber, he also bought lots of former Anaconda Mining Company timberland.  But just like Champion International and Plum Creek Timber who, according to a University of Montana study, cut trees 3 times faster than they could grow back, RY has already overcut their private land.

Both Champion and Plum Creek are gone from Montana, but at least Champion was honest about why it left, stating in the Wall Street Journal in the early 1990s that trees simply grow too slowly in Montana.   Champion then clearcut its timberlands and reinvested the money in the Southeast, where tree farms can be harvested a decade after planting rather than the century or more it takes to reach harvestable size in Montana.

Plum Creek did the same thing thanks to a board decision to “liquidate” its forest assets in the late 80s and turn itself into a Real Estate Investment Trust to sell its marketable Montana lands for subdivision and development as Weyerhauser acquired its mills.

In spite of this sad but well-documented history of timber operations in Montana, RY is blaming environmentalists for what they claim is an insufficient supply of timber from National Forests.  But two recent articles reveal that the basic economic principles of over-supply and over-production in the timber industry are the real problems.

As Julia Altemus, logging lobbyist and director of the Montana Wood Products Association, told the Missoulian’s Rob Chaney: “There’s been a lot of over-production across the board.  We have too much wood in the system and people weren’t building. That will make it tougher for us. What would help is if we could find new markets.

When Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. cut back its mill production cycle from 80 to 50 hours weekly, manager Paul McKenzie told the Hungry Horse News: “It’s purely market driven… demand for lumber across the country is down…supply has actually been good.”

In fact, the “supply” from national forests is more than just good.  Last year the Forest Service received no bids on 17.5% of the timber if offered, up from 15.6% that received no bids in 2018. That’s 615 million board feet that weren’t cut in 2019 because the timber industry did not bid on it.  The truth is that Region One of the Forest Service, which includes Montana, has increased the amount of timber offered by 141% in the last 10 years and the cost to taxpayers continues to climb to staggering heights.

A report by the Center for a Sustainable Economy found “taxpayer losses of nearly $2 billion a year associated with the federal logging program carried out on National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands.  Despite these losses, the Trump administration plans to significantly increase logging on these lands in the years ahead, a move that would plunge taxpayers into even greater debt.”

Adding to that debt are significant “externalized” costs to the public when new logging roads are bulldozed into unroaded areas.  Runoff fills streams with sediment that smothers fish eggs and aquatic insects.  More logging also reduces forested habitat for elk, which then seek safety on private lands, resulting in problems from “game damage.”

The Montana timber industry once again wants to rape and run.  Just as environmentalists were not to blame for its over-cut private lands — which are now filled with stumps, knapweed, and degraded streams — environmentalists should now be lauded, not blamed, for trying to stop such destruction on our public lands.

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The Red-Baiting of Bernie Sanders Has Begun and is Already Becoming Laughable

With Bernie Sanders now having won New Hampshire (and probably Iowa, where he won the popular vote) and confirmed his position as the frontrunner for president in the Democratic Party primaries (the New York Times’ poll guru Nate Silver is giving him a better than 40% chance of gaining enough delegates by the end of the primary season to win the nomination on the all-important first ballot at the National Convention in July), it’s becoming open season on socialism and its more anodyne relative democratic socialism.

A few days ago, right-wing columnist Marc Thiessen, writing in my local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, mocked the catastrophic mess of the Iowa Democratic Caucus, where there is still, six days after the voting, no clear decision on who won, Sanders or Pete Buttigieg, blaming the fiasco on “the same brilliant minds who came up with Medicare-for-All and the ‘Green New Deal.’”  His conclusion, “The Democrats’ failure in Iowa stemmed from the same fundamental flaw that has caused socialism to fail (sic) wherever it is tried — the hubris of a tiny cadre whose grand visions and lack of humility far exceed their ability to deliver.”

Thiessen’s thesis fails on a number of factual grounds, of course. First of all, the failure of the Iowa Caucus was not the work of socialists at all or of the Sanders campaign. In fact the self-described social democrat in that race, Bernie Sanders, was the victim of the foul-up (if that is what it was and not sabotage). It was the work of neoliberal veterans of the 2016 Clinton campaign and the earlier Obama years who had teamed up to found a tech company, Shadow Inc., which got contracted by the neoliberal Democratic National Committee in secret to create a totally unneeded smartphone-based app for counting and tracking the votes in state caucuses and primaries. The app was so poorly designed, so untested, and was presented so late and with no training to Iowa caucus workers that it failed stunningly, even awarding delegates to the wrong candidates. This has led experts to conclude that it may be impossible to find out who really won the Iowa delegate count.  What is clear and unarguable is that Sanders won the popular vote, both on the first round of voting, and on the second when supporters of losing candidates were allowed to shift their vote to their second-favorite top-tier candidate.

What Thiessen should have said was “The same brilliant minds in the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee who stole the primary from Bernie Sanders in 2016 are trying to do it again.”

But he couldn’t say that because he was so eager to tar “socialism” with the blame. He even linked the alleged “socialist” fiasco to Soviet Russia, citing a Soviet-era joke about it taking 10 years to get delivery of a car after purchase.. Of course that would have ruined his plan to use the cock-up as an opening to besmirch “socialism.”

Thiessen’s not alone, though, in his willful ignorance about socialism — or in his willingness to lie about its reality in countries where its virtues have been practiced for over half a century.

For another example of how luridly ignorant and dishonest the media and the political opponents of socialist ideas are in this intellectual backwater of reaction we rather ironically call the United States, take the MSNBC talking-head host, Chris Matthews. Speaking on an MSNBC panel after last Thursday evening’s New Hampshire Democratic candidates’ debate, Matthews opined that if Sanders were to win the presidency, he would end up establishing a dictatorship and start having his opponents shot.

Even his co-panelists were aghast it the absurdity of this claim, but Matthews doubled down saying, “I believe if Castro and the reds had won the Cold War there would have been executions in Central Park and I might have been one of the ones getting executed,” adding, ”I don’t know who Bernie Sanders supports over these years, I don’t know what he means by socialism.”

Fellow MSNBC host Chris Hayes noted that Sanders frequently cites the decidedly peaceful democratic nation of Denmark, which boasts such socialist-inspired policies as government-run health insurance, free college, government-owned public transit and expansive paid maternity/paternity leave. To that Matthews replied combatively, “How do you know that? Has he said that?”

Well, yes, countless numbers of times, Chris, but maybe it doesn’t get reported on your network.

This is, I’m afraid, only the start. So propagandized has the US been by almost a century of lurid anti-Communist and anti-socialist red-baiting in our schools, our media and in the rhetoric of our political duopoly of pro-capitalist parties that all too many Americans unthinkingly accept and parrot this kind of ignorant nonsense. People don’t even realize that our own excellently run Veterans Health Care system is a purely socialist example of a UK-style National Health System, government-owned with doctors on salary, or that our Medicare program is a socialist-style, single-payer government-run health insurance program like Canada’s. You just have to be old or disabled to qualify for it.

Look at Trump’s vow in his State of the Union rant, to “never allow socialism” to “take over” the United States. Think I’m paranoid?  Look at how MSNBC commentator Jake Johnson (supposedly a political scientist professor!) freaked out when Bernie Sanders spokeswoman Nina Turner referred to Democratic Primary late buy-in candidate Mike Bloomberg, $60-billion former mayor of NY City and world’s 12th-richest person, an “oligarch.”  Johnson called her word choice “unfair and inaccurate” and added that the word had “implications in this country that I think are unfair and unreasonable.”

In other words, to people like Johnson, it’s countries like Russia, Ukraine, Byelorus and maybe China that have “oligarchs,”  but not the US, where we instead have “billionaires” whom we often refer to euphemistically as “philanthropists” because they donate a small portion of their year’s profits to charities of one kind or another.

Turner argues there is little or no difference. “Buying his way into the primaries” which Bloomburg, who is bypassing all the early contests while spending so far over $350 million on advertising and on hiring paid ‘influencers’ to promote his brand, is doing, she argued, makes him an “oligarch.”

This is the problem in a nutshell: The harsh reality is that the US today has among the most extreme wealth and income gaps in the world — indeed in the history of mankind. Our government — and this has been documented — is today almost totally responsive only to the needs and wishes of the wealthy and their corporations, whose lobbyists, it turns out, actually write most of the legislation that gets passed into law by Congress. The rich, who are for the most part beyond the law, pay little or nothing in taxes, shift their profits and wealth abroad to off-shore banking shelters with impunity, and legally bribe the members of Congress and the candidates for the presidency as well as their cabinet officers with what are called “campaign contributions,” free trips on corporate jets to exotic resorts, and promises of lucrative do-nothing positions on corporate boards after they leave their political jobs as errand-boys and girls for the rich and powerful.

So let’s take a look for the uneducated, ignorant and propagandized at what socialism and democratic socialism actually mean in the real world.

Socialism is for starters fundamentally democratic (democratic socialism is really a tautology). It advocates and celebrates the idea of people controlling their government by the electing of representatives who run the government, but also envisions extending that democratic control to the workplace, particularly in areas of economic activity where there is a paucity of competition (as in the energy industry, the arms industry, the power sector, utilities, health care the media and mass transit}. Sometimes that control comes in the form of government takeover of an industry, as for example of healthcare in the UK,  the railways in Germany or France, or the Post Office in the US. Sometimes it can come in the form of giving workers and even local communities — so-called stakeholders in the proper running of a company where they work or live — seats on the boards of enterprises. This is a requirement for large industrial firms in Germany and some other countries.

The US, since at least 1917 and the success of the Russian Revolution, has deliberately conflated socialism with Soviet Communism and later with Chinese Communism. (I should add that the US has also, all the way back to 1917, actively worked through economic strangulation and military action, to crush any attempts around the world to actually create a socialist society, from the Russian Revolution through election manipulation in France, Italy and Australia, to embargo and subversion in Cuba, coups in Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America, and elsewhere, and wars in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Congo and other countries. This sordid history makes the common argument spouted in the US that socialism “doesn’t work,” spurious in the extreme.)

Actually though, even Lenin himself readily admitted that Russia had not succeeded (and could not expect to succeed) in achieving the “socialism” described above, because of its primitive level of industrial and class development, and so it was limited to a kind of “state capitalism.”  He was correct, but the thought leaders in the US ruling class backed by the lickspittle “independent media” in this country have ignored that point and stick with the false claim that the Soviet Union and Maoist China, with all the horrors of dictatorship they imposed on their peoples, provide examples of the “evils of socialism.”  (Never mind that before the Russian and Chinese revolutions peasants were virtual or even legal slaves of the land-owners, the countries were a ruled by a Czar or a bunch of brutal warlords, respectively, and freedom didn’t exist for the vast majority of the people.)

Back in the early 1960s, as first President Kennedy and then Lyndon Johnson worked to establish what eventually became the Medicare program for the elderly and disabled, an actor named Ronald Reagan was hired by the American Medical Association to attack the idea in a series of paid public advertisements on radio and TV. As Reagan warned darkly, if “socialized medicine,” which is what he called government insurance for the elderly and disabled, were established by Congress, “behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country until, one day as Norman Thomas said, we will awake to find that we have socialism… and one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like in America when men were free.”

Of course, by 1981 when Reagan was elected president, Medicare and Medicaid had been operating for 16 years. By that point, Americans loved both programs, which were significantly improving the health and longevity of the nation’s people even if they didn’t always realize they were benefitting from a program that is socialist in form and inspiration. Freedom in any event hadn’t declined at all. Indeed freedom from poverty was far greater because far fewer of the elderly were going bust paying for medical care, and far fewer younger adults were being bankrupted trying to care for their aging parents, grandparents and disabled family members.

Medicare, Medicaid, free public college, subsidized transit and the like are not, in themselves, socialism, but they are socialist ideas, as are electric power cooperatives and municipally owned water systems. Bernie Sanders’ idea of expanding and improving Medicare into a program of Medicare for All so that nobody (and nobody’s employer) needs to pay thousands of dollars annually for individual medical insurance or tens of thousands of dollars for family medical insurance and related health care costs. Sanders favors free public college because a nation’s young people are all of our responsibility. If they succeed, we all succeed as a nation. And they cannot succeed if they graduate with a degree and $50-100,000 in student loans, some bearing interest as high as 9%.

Socialism has nothing to do with freedom and democracy or a lack of it and everything to do with building a caring society that seeks to raise everyone and give everyone the opportunity to work and succeed in that society. Socialism is not scary, it’s not Communism and it’s not dictatorship, whatever the wack-jobs like Jake Johnson, Chris Matthews of MSNBC or Sanders’ latest red-baiting attacker, Joe Biden, may say.

Bernie got it right when he told Pete Buttigieg, who has the financial backing of 40 billionaires, “You cannot take support to billionaires and then say you’re going to be for the people.”

For me, the simple way to look at it is this:  socialism is the idea that democracy should be expanded beyond the political sphere to include the economic sphere. It takes the freedom which today exists largely only in the home and on one’s front yard but that gets chipped away elsewhere and doesn’t even exist inside the workplace, and extends it to the workplace and beyond. Socialism’s premise is that government and society at large have a responsibility for the welfare of a country’s most vulnerable, and that the aggregation of vast wealth and the existence of grinding poverty are antithetical to a good society.  Capitalism’s premise, in contrast, is that the pursuit of wealth in itself is a positive thing, and that the achieving of wealth is prima face evidence of the virtue of the person who has it, while poverty is the deserved result of a person’s presumed lack of industry.


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Living in Inequality, Dying in Despair

Photograph Source: Mitchell Haindfield – CC BY 2.0

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released some welcome news late last month: Americans are living a tiny bit longer. In 2018, the federal health agency reported, U.S. life expectancy at birth inched up about a month, from 78.6 to 78.7 years.

The Trump administration, predictably, claimed credit for the increase, the first since 2014.

“This has not happened through coincidence,” White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway pronounced. “It’s owing in large part to a whole-of-government approach to treat the whole person led by President Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and really the entire administration.”

In fact, the modest uptick in life expectancy owes next to nothing to the Trump administration. Americans are living slightly longer, a Washington Post analysis points out, “despite the Trump administration’s health-care policies.”

From day one in office, the Trump team has worked to undermine the federal programs expanding access to the addiction treatment that prevents drug-overdose deaths. These overdose tragedies have been the single most deadly driver of America’s recent —and unprecedented — life-expectancy declines.

The Trump administration’s inadequate budget commitment to fighting the opioid crisis hasn’t helped much either. The administration has offered up only about $6 billion so far. People deep into on-the-ground efforts to relieve the opioid crisis consider that sum dangerously deficient.

Some moral context on the budget front: The Sackler family — the wealthy clan whose drug company triggered the opioid crisis by flooding the nation with addictive painkillers — has pocketed somewhere between $11 and $12 billion from its profiteering off pain.

That profiteering has eased off somewhat. Legal challenges and regulatory changes have narrowed the Big Pharma capacity to addict struggling Americans. Overdose deaths dropped 4.1 percent in 2018.

So have we turned the corner? Can we now stop worrying about life expectancy in America?

Only at our national peril. Yes, the string of three consecutive annual declines in U.S. life expectancy has now ended. But even with the 2018 lifespan uptick, American lives last no longer on average today than they did back in 2010. In effect, we’ve gone a decade without any appreciable increase in life expectancy.

Think about that for a moment. Over recent years, we’ve seen major breakthroughs in cancer treatment. We’ve seen more and more Americans paying close attention to the impact their daily choices make on their health. Yet Americans, on the whole, are living no longer.

The even more troubling reality: Americans are living nowhere near as long as people elsewhere in the developed world.

The latest evidence: A new study from the New York-based Commonwealth Fund, released about the same time as the new U.S. lifespan stats, shows that life expectancy in the United States lags significantly behind life expectancy in ten comparable developed nations: Germany, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland.

All these nations, to add insult to injury, spend significantly less on health care than the United States.

“We live sicker and die younger than our counterparts around the world,” notes Roosa Tikkanen, a Commonwealth Fund research associate. “We can do better.”

Why aren’t we doing better? Over recent years, analysts have begun to point the finger at “the social determinants of health,” the conditions people face in their everyday lives. These conditions, if dire enough, can create what economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case have labeled “deaths of despair,” everything from drug overdoses to suicides.

The numbers of these “deaths of despair” have increased far more in the United States than in other developed nations. In 2017 alone, Americans experienced 158,000 deaths of despair, “the equivalent of three fully loaded Boeing 737 MAX jets falling out of the sky every day for a year.”

Deaton and Case link America’s “deaths of despair” epidemic to the “falling wages and “dearth of good jobs” that typify the nation’s old industrial heartlands, and they trace the origins of this despair back to the early 1970s “when economic growth in the United States slowed, inequality began to rise” and “younger workers realized that they would never do as well as their parents had done.”

But not just struggling working families have suffered from America’s growing economic inequality. American middle-income families overall have shorter, less healthy lives than their middle-income counterparts in other developed nations. Inequality itself seems to be a killer.

Most all of us can readily understand how sheer poverty can adversely affect health. But how can higher levels of economic inequality affect the health of people with above-poverty incomes, people who have adequate access to health care? Many epidemiologists — the social scientists who study the health of populations — see stress as the prime villain here.

“The greater the material differences between us, the more important status and money become,” as the British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett explain. “The more unequal the society, the more people feel anxiety about status and how they are seen and judged. These effects are seen across all income groups — from the poorest to the richest tenth of the population.”

Greater inequality, greater anxiety, greater stress. And that stress pounds daily on our immune systems, leaving us ever weaker and more susceptible to disease, ever more despairing and addicted to whatever may bring us momentary relief, be that doing drugs or bingeing on booze — or devouring comfort foods stuffed with empty calories. Obesity levels in the United States far outpace the rest of the developed world.

In the middle of the 20th century, the developed world had no huge life expectancy gap between the United States and its peer nations. The United States, back then, also rated as a relatively equal nation. But that has all changed over the last half-century. The United States has now become the world’s most unequal major developed nation. And the more unequal the United States has become, the further behind the United States has fallen in the developed world’s life expectancy rankings.

That leaves us with a simple prescription for longer life: If we Americans want to have a healthier society, we need to figure out how to fashion a healthier distribution of income and wealth.

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Bolivia: An Election in the Midst of an Ongoing Coup

Photograph Source: EneasMx – CC BY-SA 4.0

On May 3, 2020, the Bolivian people will go to the polls once more. They return there because President Evo Morales had been overthrown in a coup in November 2019. Morales had just won a presidential election in October for a term that would have begun in January 2020. Based on a preliminary investigation by the Organization of American States (OAS) that claimed that there was fraud in the election, Morales was prematurely removed from office; the term for his 2014 presidential election victory did not end until January. Yet, he was told by the military to leave office. An interim president—Jeanine Áñez—appointed herself. She said she was taking this office only on an interim basis and would not run for election when Bolivia held another election. She is a candidate for the May 3 election. (For more information on what is happening in Bolivia, see this overview from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.)

Meanwhile, Morales has been in exile in Argentina. His party—the Movement for Socialism (MAS)—has candidates for the presidency and the vice presidency, but their party cadres and followers are facing a difficult time making their case to the people. Their radio stations have been blocked, their leaders arrested or exiled (or sitting in foreign embassies waiting for asylum), their cadre beaten up and intimidated.

The United Nations secretary-general’s personal envoy Jean Arnault released a statement on February 3 that expressed caution about the elections. The situation in Bolivia, Arnault said, is “characterized by an exacerbated polarization and mixed feelings of hope, but also of uncertainty, restlessness and resentment after the serious political and social crisis of last year.” This careful language of the UN needs to be looked at closely. When Arnault says there is “exacerbated polarization,” he means that the situation is extremely tense. When he asks that the interim government “outlaw hate speech and direct or indirect incitement to violence or discrimination,” he means that the government and its far-right followers need to be very careful about what they say and how much violence they use in this election.

On February 6, Morales spoke in Buenos Aires, where he urged an end to the violence so that the election could bring the fractured country together. He called for a national agreement between all sides to end the dangerous situation. In a pointed way, Morales called upon the government to respect diversity, noting that people wearing distinct clothes and wearing the signs of a certain political party were facing intimidation and violence. He meant the indigenous population of Bolivia, and the supporters of MAS; it is widely accepted that the violence has been coming from the far right’s paramilitary shock troops, and the intimidation has been coming from the government.

For instance, the Bolivian authorities have been routinely charging MAS leaders with sedition, terrorism, and incitement to violence. Morales faced these charges, along with dozens of important MAS leaders, most recently Gustavo Torrico who has been arrested. Matters are so bad that the UN’s special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, took to Twitter to express his concern at the “use of judicial and fiscal institutions for the purpose of political persecution. The number of illegal detentions grows.” This has not stopped Áñez, who says she will move her government to investigate at least 592 people who held high office in Morales’ 14 years in government. This means that the entirety of the MAS leadership will likely face harassment between now and the May 3 election.

U.S. Interference

In 2013, Morales expelled the U.S. government agency USAID; he accused USAID of working to undermine his elected government. Before that, Morales, as is his constitutional right, informed Salvador Romero—the head of the election agency (TSE)—that when his term ended in 2008, he would not be retained. This is a normal practice.

Romero went to the U.S. Embassy to complain. He met with U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg to complain about this and urged the U.S. to do something. It was clear that Romero and Goldberg knew each other well. When Romero left his post at the TSE, the U.S. establishment took care of him. He went to work at the National Democratic Institute in Honduras. The National Democratic Institute, based in Washington, is loosely affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party, and is part of the universe that includes the National Endowment for Democracy. These are all U.S. government-funded agencies that operate overseas to “oversee” what is known as “democracy promotion,” including elections.

Romero essentially worked for the U.S. government in Honduras during the first election after the U.S.-instigated coup of 2009. During this election in 2013, violence against the supporters of Xiomara Castro, the candidate of the left-wing Libre Party, was routine. The day before the election, for instance, two leaders of the National Center of Farmworkers (CNTC)—María Amparo Pineda Duarte and Julio Ramón Maradiaga—were killed as they returned home from a training for Libre election workers. This was the atmosphere of this very tight election, which returned to power the U.S.-backed conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party. Romero, at that time, was quite pleased with the results. He told the New York Times then that “despite ‘the general perception of fraud,’” the election was just fine.

Right after the coup in November, Áñez brought Romero back to La Paz as the head of the election court, the TSE. He has his old job back. This would have made Bruce Williamson, the U.S. charge d’affaires to Bolivia, very happy. The U.S. has its man at the helm of the May 3 election in Bolivia.

And then Trump said he is sending USAID to Bolivia to help prepare the ground for the election. On January 9, the USAID team arrived to “give technical aid to the electoral process in Bolivia.” Technical aid. The phrase should give a reasonable person pause.

Ten days later, Trump’s legal adviser Mauricio Claver-Carone arrived in La Paz and gave a series of interviews in which he accused Morales of terrorism and creating instability. This was a direct attack at MAS and interference with Bolivia’s electoral process.

If the U.S. intervenes in Bolivia, that is just “democracy promotion.”

But even with the violence from the government and its fascistic paramilitaries, even with Romero at the helm of the TSE, even with USAID on the ground, and even with the shenanigans of Claver-Carone, MAS is fighting to win. The candidates for MAS are Luis Arce Catacora (president) and David Choquehuanca Céspedes (vice president). Catacora was the minister of economy and public finance under Morales and the architect of the administration’s economic success. Céspedes was the foreign minister in that government. He managed Bolivia’s policy of international sovereignty and is an important person to Bolivia’s indigenous and peasant movements. Early polls show that the MAS ticket is in first place.

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

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Rodney Garcia Epitomizes Trump’s Brand of Political Intolerance

Montana didn’t need the very negative worldwide press it got last week when Billings Republican legislator Rodney Garcia decided to inform us that according to the U.S. Constitution, it’s OK to “shoot socialists.” For those who doubt the dangerous effects of President Trump’s unhinged rants against “socialism,” Garcia’s acceptance of personal violence against those with whom he disagrees on public policy should be a blaring warning sign — and one Montanans should universally reject.

Those who have long familiarity with Montana’s politics may recall that Garcia was not always a Republican. In 1985, he was a Democrat member of the House of Representatives — a seat he held for exactly one term. Even then, Garcia exhibited exceptionally bad judgment on a host of issues, including joining a handful of Democrats who voted for then-Gov. Ted Schwinden’s foolish move to slash Montana’s coal severance tax in half to, according to Schwinden, make Montana more competitive with Wyoming coal.

Of course slashing the severance tax on a non-renewable resource like coal didn’t magically reduce the transportation costs by moving Montana’s coal closer to markets. And transportation costs to markets were the main advantage Wyoming had over Montana. What it did do, however, was cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, which it continues to do not only in the lower tax rate, but also in the loss of interest income from the Permanent Coal Severance Trust Fund established in Article IX, Sec. 4 of the Montana Constitution.

One can, however, be sure old Rodney didn’t figure out way back then that chopping severances taxes in half on a publicly held natural resource like coal to benefit one corporation, the now-defunct Montana Power Company, was a classic case of the very “socialism” he now professes to despise to the point of violence. Were Garcia to look for it, he would find rampant “socialism” in the vast expenditures by the federal government to subsidize the entire fossil fuel industry.

Or hey, if that’s too tough, maybe he can explain what exactly they call the billions in federal taxpayer dollars Trump is joyfully doling out to farmers and ranchers — and big ag corporations — to ameliorate the fiscal impacts of his trade wars. If that’s not socialism, what is? It’s certainly not the so-called “free market” Republicans supposedly love but repeatedly manipulate.

Of course Garcia couldn’t cite the section of the Constitution where it says it’s O.K. to shoot socialists because it doesn’t exist. That didn’t stop him, however, from explaining that America’s system of government is a “Republic Constitution” — which also doesn’t exist, but apparently in Garcia’s mind allows one to shoot those with differing political affiliations.

To its credit, the Montana Republican Party did chastise Garcia. But they didn’t throw him out of the GOP, as Donald Trump Jr. demands be done to Utah’s Republican Sen. Mitt Romney for voting to impeach his corrupt father. What’s hypocritically good for the Trump goose is apparently not good for the gobbling Garcia gander.

Montanans have a long and proud history of respecting each other’s individuality — including in public policy debates. Garcia’s sentiments have no place in the conduct of the Montana Legislature and he should not be returned to public office.

But make no mistake; as witnessed by Garcia’s outrageous statements, Trump’s endorsement of hatred and violence against his political opponents has now surfaced in the Big Sky State. But here in Montana, where we gladly help fellow citizens in need without regard to political affiliation, those violent sentiments should find no home.

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Guaido is Ending His International Tour to Return to Venezuela to His Divided Opposition

We have to admit that the US public relations apparatus played a good stint at leaving Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s visit with president Trump last in what seemed an afterthought. When many thought that Trump had snubbed him in Davos and Miami, Washington gave him its full attention, normally reserved for real presidents, following the recent international trip that Guaidó took to muster abroad the political support that he cannot get in his own country.

As a special guest at the State of the Union speech Trump praised Guaidó as a “very brave man” and “the true and legitimate president of Venezuela”. He avoided altogether the use of the extra label “interim”, never mind the fact that Guaidó was never elected and that recently lost the title of speaker in the Venezuelan National Assembly.

Both Republicans and Democrats gave Guaidó a standing ovation, which must be interpreted as a sign of the common goal of the two parties on US foreign policy.

Guaidó met with several people of the US political bureaucracy that would give him a reason to brag at home about his popularity and his cause; the cause being to overthrow Nicolas Maduro to the pleasure of the regime change proponents.

Based on his own posts on his Twitter account Guaidó has met with a number of US personalities in Washington. Aside from the obvious photo-ops with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi he met with US envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, and a number of mostly Congresspeople from the Democratic Party. Additional meetings were held with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, as well as with Inter-American Development Bank and USAID heads. Standing next to Guaidó, USAID Mark Green felt he had to remark that all of the organisation’s funding goes to Venezuelan NGOs and not to the opposition leader. Explanation not needed. We all know where USAID money comes from and how it’s used. There were also face-to-face meetings with president Trump and vice-president Mike Pence but there have been no joint statements or media conferences.

The extent of Guaidó’s message has been underwhelming and predictable, limited to a repetition of accusations of the Maduro government as being a “dictatorship, “drug trafficking” and “promoter of international terrorism”. He used precisely the standard language of the US Hybrid War script as explained by analyst Andrew Korybko: “The US then wages information warfare against the targeted government in order to delegitimize it by usually portraying the authorities as part of a ‘dictatorship’ that is ‘attacking innocent civilians for no reason’”.

He also repeated self-praising catch phrases in the typical US-style as “lover of liberty and a free world”, and the “need to re-establish democracy” in Venezuela, exposing the incongruence with his past as a violent guarimbero (rioter) on the streets of Caracas.

What is quite significant is that, at least at the time of this writing, there have been no plans of a visit by Guaidó to the UN in New York, just a short distance from Washington. However, it is quite understandable. A Venezuelan opposition attempt last September to receive the desired recognition at the UN was frustrated.

Further, the UN currently recognises the Maduro government and its representatives. The UN has been under pressure by the US to recognise Guaidó and withdraw the credentials of the legitimate Venezuelan envoy. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has made it very clear that the recognition of the government of a member State is the function of the General Assembly and not of any individual State. However, this is an option that will not be considered by Washington given that its claim of 50+ governments recognising Guaidó is countered by at least 120 governments of the non-aligned Movement that have explicitly recognised the legitimate government of Nicolas Maduro.

Concluding thoughts.

Clearly Guaidó has a political vision of Venezuela as the US backyard. He has proven that much with his visit to Washington. This is a tragic attitude that feeds into the on going Hybrid War approach towards Venezuela. At present, his photo-ops with foreign dignitaries is working against him in the eyes of those Venezuelans who aspire for a sovereign and independent Venezuela as an organic member of a multipolar world. He seems to forget that he needs the support of Venezuelans in Venezuela if he wants to be president of the country by democratic means and not by means of a Bolivian-style coup.

The current Maduro government has been given a strong anti-imperialist mandate by the engaged political majority in Venezuela through a widely accepted fair election in 2018. This is a primary component towards building Hugo Chavez’s Socialism of the 21st Century. The goal has not changed and the project is on course. Washington’s relentless determination to destroy the project confirms the unipolar and imperial view of the US in the hemisphere.

Now Guaidó must return to Venezuela. He might have to sneak back in via Colombia by land-crossing as he did when he left. It is not clear what the Venezuelan government will do following his leaving the country against a travel ban. Elliott Abrams has already “warned” the Maduro government in case any action should be taken against Guaidó.

Given the deep divisions within the Venezuelan opposition, upon his return to Venezuela Guaidó must confront that reality and he should not fear the actions of the Maduro government, rather the actions of his own opposition “allies”.

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When CNN Introduces Bernie-Bashers Only as “Former,” CNN is Lying to You

CNN and CBS do it. NPR and PBS do it. They all do it.

It’s a “gentleman’s” agreement between elite media and their establishment guests – a courtesy major news outlets bestow upon former officials who get to pontificate and editorialize about today’s events with no worry they’ll be identified by their jobs TODAY.

On Wednesday night, CNN’s Don Lemon hosted ubiquitous Bernie Sanders-basher Jim Messina – solo, without an opposing view – to slam Sanders and his Medicare for All proposal.

Messina was introduced and repeatedly identified only by his former positions: “Former Obama Campaign Manager” and “Former Deputy Chief of Staff, Obama Administration.”

As is typical, viewers weren’t told what Messina’s current job is – perhaps far more relevant information than his positions years ago.

Messina is now a corporate consultant. He is CEO of The Messina Group, whose website boasts corporate clients such as Amazon’s pharmaceutical subsidiary PillPack, Google, Uber, Delta  – and the slogan: “Unlocking Industries So Businesses Can Win.”

If properly introduced, it would have been no surprise to CNN viewers that a corporate consultant would malign Sanders, the most popular anti-corporate politician in recent US history.

Host Lemon also neglected to inform viewers that since leaving Team Obama, Messina has been paid handsomely to elect conservative politicians across the globe, including Tory Prime MinistersDavid Cameron and Theresa May in Britain, and Prime Minster Mariano Rajoy in Spain. Messina’s company website features an image of Cameron next to the banner: “Campaigning for candidates we believe in.”

In U.S. corporate media, such misidentification is a hoary tradition, and a dishonest one. More relevant to news consumers in judging the quality of information from a former government official would be the current employment and entanglements of that ex-official.

In the months after the Chinese government massacred students in Tiananmen Square in 1989, no voice in U.S. media was more prominent or ubiquitous in apologizing for China than Henry Kissinger, usually identified only as “former Secretary of State.” Consumers of news were almost never told that Kissinger at the time was a consultant to corporations doing business in China – and the head of China Ventures, a company engaged in joint ventures with China’s state bank.

When healthcare reform was being hotly debated in 1993-94, NPR presented point-counterpoint face-offs between a former GOP congressman and a former Democratic congressman, both of whom were quick to deride the proposal in Congress for a single-payer system of government-provided health insurance.  NPR didn’t tell its listeners that both of its “formers” were current lobbyists or consultants for private healthcare corporations.

A lot of the corruption in Washington – the kind Sanders and Elizabeth Warren criticize – stems from former officials, whether Democrat or Republican, leaving government to work as consultants or lobbyists for greedy private interests. Mainstream news outlets work hard to look away from this corruption, and one way they do so is by dutifully identifying their “experts” only as formers.

Anita Dunn will always be the “former Obama White House Communications Director” – and in that job, she assisted first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign. After leaving the White House, Dunn became a consultant for food companies seeking to block restrictions on sugary food ads targeted toward children.  She also consulted for TransCanada in its push for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Today, Dunn is a senior adviser on Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.

A warning to news consumers: When CNN or NPR or PBS introduces a guest only as a “former” official, you are being lied to more often than not.

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The Problem With Wilderness Collaboration

Mt Thielsen. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Recently there has been a spate of commentaries advocating collaboration as a means of resolving issues surrounding which public lands should be given the “Gold Standard” of wilderness protection under the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Advocates of collaboration, including some representatives of Montana’s various conservation organizations, argue that only collaboration can “resolve” the issues in today’s world.  Advocates of the compromise suggest that garnering support for wilderness is more complicated than in the past.

What is incredible to me is that back in the day, nearly all successful wilderness campaigns were organized and run by volunteers. Today many groups have dozens of paid staff, several million-dollar budgets, and yet suggest that it is more difficult to garner support for wilderness than in the past.

They don’t know the history of wilderness efforts.  Compared to today when most communities recognize that wildlands protection is good for wildlife, climate change, and even local economies, back in the 1970s, 1980s, and even into the 1990s, Montana was much more reliant on resource extraction industries. There were far more timber jobs, more mining operations, more high elevation livestock grazing, and so forth. To suggest that it was easier to garner wilderness designation in the past demonstrates a real failure to understand conservation history.

In the past, conservationists did accept compromises, but only at the end of a long process of wilderness advocacy. As David Brower, former ED of the Sierra Club quipped about compromise: “We are to hold fast to what we believe is right, fight for it, and find allies and adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or them to win, then let someone else produce the compromise. We thereupon work hard to coax it our way. We become a nucleus around which the strongest force can build and function.”

Because of Brower’s steadfast efforts, we have protected old-growth redwoods in Redwood National Park, a North Cascades National Park, and several large wilderness areas in the North Cascades, and there are no dams in the Grand Canyon as once proposed.

David Brower’s campaign to keep dams out of the Grand Canyon is worth reviewing. Imagine what an impossible task it may have seemed to any outsider to oppose building dams in the Grand Canyon? You had the entire Congressional Delegations from all nearby states supporting the barriers. You had the support of the Corps of Engineers, cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas, irrigators in the surrounding region who wanted more water storage and motor boaters who suggested that the resulting reservoirs would make it easier for visitors to “see” the canyon.

But Brower did not accept the idea that dams were inevitable. He led a brilliant campaign that included ads in the New York Times that asked the question as to whether we should flood the Sistine Chapel so visitors could get closer to Michelangelo’s paintings.

Responding to growing opposition to Grand Canyon dams, proponents of the reservoirs offered as a “compromise” to construct only one barrier in the canyon instead of two if Brower would accept the compromise.

Brower did not accept that compromise. Instead, he led a national effort to safeguard the Grand Canyon’s integrity. Today there are no dams in the Grand Canyon.

Montana’s early wilderness advocates were proteges of Bob Marshall. Upon founding the Wilderness Society, Marshall proclaimed: “We do not want those whose first impulse is to compromise. We want no (fence) straddlers for in the past they have surrendered too much good wilderness and primeval areas which should never have been lost. ”

Unfortunately, Bob Marshall’s organization, The Wilderness Society, is now one of the organizations whose first instinct appears to compromise-and in the process giving up “too much good wilderness.”

Many of today’s paid staff conservationists seldom know from firsthand knowledge the lands they are so glibly trading way. They are, it would appear, more interested in claiming success by putting “acres “designated up on the scoreboard than whether they are protecting biodiversity, wildlands, and engendering a respectful ethic towards Nature.

The contrast between today’s “collaborative” approach and the successes of the past grassroots efforts are evident to anyone who knows conservation history.

The very first citizen-initiated wilderness in the country was the Lincoln Scapegoat Wilderness (LSCW) near Lincoln, Montana. Back in the late 1960s, the Forest Service proposed a major “scenic” highway through the heart of what is now the LSGW with plans for massive logging operations.

Imagine how difficult it was when timber was king in the 1960s and 1970s to oppose a significant logging proposal, not to mention support for that logging from some of the major timber corporations.

Yet a storekeeper in Lincoln named Cecil Garland, along with an outfitter named Hobnail Tom, felt the Lincoln Backcountry deserved a better fate than being cut up by clearcuts. They mounted a grassroots effort to designate 240,000 acres of what was known as the Lincoln Backcountry as wilderness.

They did not negotiate with the timber companies, the ORVers, and other opponents to wilderness designation. They did not ask where do you want to log or drive, and we’ll accept what’s left as wilderness as today’s conservationists are apt to do.

Some politicians and the timber industry offered Garland a “compromise”  protecting only 75,000 acres as wilderness and allowing logging and the scenic highway to go forward.

But Garland, who by then was President of the all-volunteer Montana Wilderness Association (MWA), refused to accept compromise. Instead, he mounted a grassroots effort to garner more support for the 240,000-acre wilderness. Today when we can contemplate the Lincoln Scapegoat Wilderness vastness and we can be thankful for Garland’s unwillingness to accept collaboration and compromise.

Another example is the history of the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, a wilderness campaign where I played a small part. Back in the 1970s, Montana conservationists proposed an immense wilderness that would unite the Beartooth Range with the Absaroka Range to create a 900,000 plus-acre wilderness.

Opponents to the 900,000-acre proposal included eight local sawmills, ranchers who grazed sheep and cattle in the high country, the oil industry which hoped to drill for oil on the fringes of the area by Red Lodge, miners who wanted to operate gold operations, and ORVers. Adding to the opposition was every Chamber of Commerce from Billings to Bozeman, who thought protecting the wildlands of the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness would harm the local economy.

One of the most significant controversies of the AB Wilderness campaign was what was known as the Slough Creek Corridor, which ran from the Boulder River south of Big Timber over the mountains to Cooke City on the northeast edge of Yellowstone. A primitive “road” split the AB Wilderness in half, and some people traveled the route by dirt bike and snowmobile. Chamber of Commerces also envisioned paving this route to shorten the distance required to get to Cooke City and as an alternative route to Yellowstone Park.

Because of this opposition to the full 900,000 plus acres proposal, some members of the conservation community, including some in the MWA,  wanted to “compromise.” They were ready to accept protection for only the high elevation lake country of the Beartooths and allowing the road proposal to go forward. But other conservation leaders, including Bob Anderson of Livingston, and other wilderness advocates said only the whole 900,000 acres adequately protected the wildlands.

Fortunately for all of us, including the wildlife that roams this 900,000 plus acre wilderness can rejoice that at least some wilderness advocates held steady. They worked hard to raise awareness of the AB Wilderness wildland’s values.

Luckily today’s collaborators working for the MWA, GYC, and TWS weren’t the ones negotiating the AB Wilderness back then, or we would likely have a major road through the heart of the AB area, and far fewer wildlands acres protected. Indeed, I have no doubt that had the collaborative strategy of today’s conservation organizations prevailed back in the 1970s, we would have gotten a much reduced Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness.

These groups would have been crowing about “win-win” because some wilderness was protected. However, they would have ignored the reality as Bob Marshall so eloquently suggested, “they have surrendered too much good wilderness and primeval areas which should never have been lost.”

I do not enjoy chastising my fellow conservationists. I am sure they sincerely believe that collaboration results in some limited wilderness protection. And it often does, but the question is whether it is the best we can expect? Given what I know about conservation history and past wildlands campaigns, I am certain that more grassroots organizing and stronger advocacy for wildlands based on maintaining ecological integrity, restraint, and humility towards the natural world resonates with most people.

It’s not that compromise doesn’t’ occur in any political system, and wilderness designation is a political activity. But “when” you compromise is the question. Do you negotiate upfront primarily with people who are not allies of wilderness? Or do you do work hard for wilderness protection and garner more wildlands supporters as David Brower, Bob Marshall, Brock Evans, and other old wilderness advocates advised?

I am convinced, in most instances, and conservation history suggests I am right, in the end, you often wind up with more wildlands protection by holding fast to what you believe. Let the politicians do the compromising-that is what we are paying them to do. We can then decide whether to accept (often reluctantly) the compromised outcome or oppose and hope for a better result in the future.

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What the Impunity Commission Taught Guatemala

On August 31, 2018, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, a comedian by profession, accompanied by his cabinet and the high command of the army, convened a press conference where he unilaterally announced that he would not renew the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). He declared that as of September 3, 2019 the CICIG, established by an agreement between the government of Guatemala and the United Nations in 2006. would completely cease functions.

The CICIG fulfilled its mandate to end impunity and dismantle illegal security forces and clandestine devices, but despite international support and the endorsement of the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, the Commission could not stand against the power of the Guatemalan millionaire elite. Last September, it was forced to finish his work after 12 years. However, the CICIG left an invaluable legacy of in-depth investigations, which working with the Public Ministry allowed it to take a sizable number of formerly untouchables to court.

Its work also showed that the unequal situation of approximately nine million Guatemalans who are struggling in poverty and extreme poverty is a consequence of the co-optation of the Guatemalan state by legal and illegal political-economic elites that have become an institution and reduced the country to a bounty for its own  enrichment. President Morales himself was investigated by CICIG and charged with illicit financing during his campaign, while his son and brother were taken to court for fraud.

This takeover of all three branches of government—the executive, legislative and judicial—by political and economic elites of Guatemala has also occurred in neighboring countries. This explains why the signing of peace agreements in Central American in the 1990s, contrary to expectations, brought about the beginning of a mass exodus of people of all ages, especially from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

That silent exodus that nobody wanted to notice, has resulted in the current humanitarian crisis on the border between Mexico and the United States that came to public attention with the caravans that began in October 2018, when thousands of women, teenagers, boys and girls they left their places of origin to try to reach– by any means possible– the United States.

On the one hand, the Central American countries have culturally diverse populations and a wealth of water, mineral and natural resources, but on the other hand, they are countries where widespread corruption and impunity have taken root. An alliance between traditional capital and emerging capital, increasingly represented in different aspects of organized crime, make life unsustainable for families and young people who decide not to ally or work for them.

These are also countries characterized by an excessive concentration of wealth. In Guatemala in 2010, 10% of the population obtained 43.4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while the poorest 20% survived with 2.9%. By 2014, the top 10% of the population came to concentrate 45% of the wealth. An Oxfam report from 2016 indicates that only 260 people concentrate 30 billion dollars.

The figures show the increase in the concentration of wealth among about 14 family corporations, making Guatemala one of the most unequal countries n the world, only surpassed by African countries. This reality has forced the poor majorities to emigrate, although simultaneously the best professionals also flee as soon as they can leave Central America.

In Guatemala, the old and new elites fed off the national budget  This became the main booty, which ended up being controlled by small sectors that excluded the majority and exacerbated poverty and extreme poverty, especially for indigenous peoples.

The National Institute of Statistics (INE) reported in December 2015, that poverty increased 8.1 percentage points, reaching 59.3% in relation to the data obtained in 2006, and national extreme poverty increased from 15.3% in 2006 to 23.4% in 2014. National poverty is currently estimated to affect 9.6 million Guatemalans out of a total of 16 million–about 60% of the total national population is poor, of which 3.7 million live in extreme poverty. General poverty reached its highest peak in 15 years by 2016.

CICIG and the fight against corruption
The impact of corruption was to destroy lives, institutions and slowly devour the country. Given this, it was not surprising that the Guatemalan public of different social conditions was outraged when on April 16, 2015, the  CICIG revealed a multi-million dollar tax fraud, headed by the Private Secretary of the Vice President of the Republic, Juan Carlos Monzón. After months of hard work, the investigation led to accusations against President Otto Pérez Molina (2012-2015) and Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who resigned to face trials.

And so the CICIG, in attacking an impunity rate exceeding 97 percent, went from being an unknown entity in terms of its functions to one of the most respected institutions.

As of 2013, CICIG, under the leadership of the Colombian jurist Iván Velásquez Gómez, had the responsibility of revealing more than 60 complex criminal networks operating in Guatemala. Further revelatons in 2016 could not have been more inopportune for the government and timely for the citizens, since the CICIG was about to be canceled as its mandate expired in September of that year. The Pérez and Baldetti government had been explicit in stating that it would not renew the mandate, while minimizing the achievements of the Commission. Exposure of the existence and form of operation of the customs fraud ring led by the executive branch under Pérez Molina, was the catalyst for various sectors to stand up and protest peacefully and massively in 2015. To this day it is not known exactly how much was stolen by the Pérez Molina administrations, previous governments and the current administration of Jimmy Morales, who finally cut off the CICIG’s mandate.

Pérez and Baldetti’s theft scandal created massive outrage in Guatemalan society, which allowed the public, from April to September 2015, to overcome class divisions and tensions with respect to the complex ethnic relations between the indigenous population and the urban Ladino populations. Mass mobilizations with  some indigenous authorities, representatives of organizations, grassroots leaders, local officials and  communities briefly participated together after learning about the corruption structures led by Pérez and Baldetti.

The demonstrations demanded the resignation of the Vice President of the Republic, Baldetti, which was achieved two weeks after the mobilization began, on May 8. Later, several members of the government cabinet began to resign or were removed because they were cited in the corruption investigations. President Otto Pérez held on to his position for almost four months, but hanging on a thread, supported by the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations, CACIF, and the United States Embassy. Finally, given the serious accusations generated by the investigations, Pérez left power on September 2, 2015.

History of corruption

In Guatemala, the scandalous corruption dates back to the colonial era (1524-1821), but the contemorary phase began with the government of Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes (1958-1963). During this period,  corruption flourished and was backed by acts of terror executed during the armed conflict, especially those of the late 1970s and early 1980s that had the effect that the regimes expected. For example, on May 21, 1981, Arturo Soto Avendaño, a professor of medicine, was kidnapped when he was going to the place where his father had allegedly suffered a traffic accident. Three days later, his body was left at the entrance of the university, with signs of torture and five bullets to the head.

More than 150  students and professors of the University of San Carlos de Guatemala were murdered. Historians report that hours before the murder of Soto Avendaño, the dean received letters from more than 50 professors, resigning or requesting leave.  Almost 30% of the teaching staff retired in fear, days later the dean himself resigned.

The murder of two generations of women and men, leaders, intellectuals, professors, politicians prepared the stage for the spread of networks of corruption that through abuse of power, bribes and manipulation, took power over the public university and the rest of the institutions of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. They corrupted the unions, which in the bloodiest era were persecuted, but which after the signing of the peace (1996) became negotiators and operators. That is, the political and institutional system was built around corrupt schemes embedded in expressions of daily life that affected all peoples, social classes and geographical spaces of country.

In Guatemala, it is no secret to anyone that to be treated at any public institution, you have to pay or have contacts that can grant access to care. For example, to receive emergency health care or to obtain one of the mere 200 beds in any of the seven specialized hospitals in the country (four in the capital, one in Quetzaltenango, one in Sacatepéquez and one in Izabal), regardless of your condition, you must know someone who works inside to receive state medical services, otherwise you die in the hallways. To access any service in the municipalities of the major cities, it is necessary to bribe the people in charge of the different areas if you want the procedure carried out normally, otherwise, you have to wait between 12 to 18 months for the request to be addressed.

Similarly, to apply for a position in any of the 14 ministries of  the State or in Congress, it is not necessary to show technical capacity or credentials, and much less experience in the area. One case is the contracts under lines 029 and 022 of the Congress on temporary employees, where the former official party deputy and former president of the Congress (2012-2013), Gudy Rivera Estrada, controlled had 24 posts, including seven assistents  with salaries of an average of $ 1,500.00 per month , several of whom never showed up for work.

To get a job in Guatemala what is required is affiliation with the political party in government, or in any case  high-level contacts ranging from access to district deputies to the departmental governor. This way you can get a position, but you must be willing to give between ten and twenty percent of your monthly salary to the party or the politician who gave you the post. Given this, most bureaucrats get positions they know little about. In part, this policy of sale and purchase of positions is what has caused the inefficiency of the State of Guatemala. Women of any age, but especially young women, are often harassed and pressured to yield sexual favors in exchange for employment.

Since the last century, the Congress of the Republic became the main manager of jobs throughout the republic. These corruption processes have strengthened national and regional cacicazgos, who temporarily endorse deputies, who rise to become public servants with more national power. The system facilitates misery and corruption. In the departments, it became common to see rows of people outside the homes or offices of government officials with a resume in hand and a copy of their party affiliation, to apply for employment for themselves or their family members. The demand for jobs became so high that some deputies placed signs in their residences asking that all requests for posts be made directly in the corresponding departmental offices and no longer through them. If the public posts assigned from 1986– the beginning of the “democratic era”– to present were reviewed, the data would show the percentage of positions that were hadned out by political affiliation and not by technical or professional capacity .

Guatemalan deputies have long neglected the responsibility of legislating for the population and have also become the main construction managers in the interior of the country. To take advantage of any opportunity to get richer, they created their own NGOs managed by family or friends, creating new national and local elites around the profits generated by construction companies whose objective has been to enrich themselves in the shortest possible time with public funds, regardless of the quality or usefulness of the projects. It is normal to see that more and more the main roads of the country deteriorate, and lack controls or minimum studies in dangerous areas where a week doesn’t go by without an accident and losses of human lives.

For Indigenous Peoples, the urban and Ladino state influences their lives and determines policies that affect   their lives daily, forcing the rural poor, especially children and adolescents, to abandon their lands and choose to try to reach the U.S. Although this could mean losing one’s life in the attempt, if they no longer have hope in their places of origin, it is still worth losing their lives to reach a different life.

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House Approves Worker Rights Bill in Face of Growing Labor Backlash Against Trickle-Down Policies

For years, workers have been sounding a clarion call to those in power: they’re tired of being left behind in an allegedly booming economy. Hundreds of thousands are taking to the streets and flooding statehouses to demand better working conditions, and by extension, stronger communities.

The number of workers walking off the job to achieve a more equitable economy is greater than at any time since the mid-1980s. These workers, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., are modelling the power and importance of collective action and democratic principles — and in so doing, “enlarging the strength of the nation.”

On February 6, the U.S. House of Representatives took a major step to recognize and advance workers’ hard-fought efforts by voting 224-194 to pass with bipartisan support the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

landmark bill that would dramatically reform federal labor laws, the PRO Act strengthens workers’ ability to unionize and collectively bargain for a contract; imposes stronger remedies when employers interfere with workers’ rights; and cracks down on employers’ ability to mislabel their workers as contractors and therefore deny them the opportunity to organize under federal law.

It is a fundamental right for working people to join together to collectively bargain for fair pay and working conditions. Union jobs pay, on average, 16 percent higher wages than non-union jobs because workers can bargain collectively for higher pay and transparent hiring and promotion policies. Unions are crucial in fostering a vibrant middle class and reducing income inequality.

Unions also help to combat racial wealth gaps. Unionized Black workers, for example, receive significantly higher wages than their non-union counterparts (by 19 percent), and have a markedly higher chance of getting an employer-sponsored retirement plan (by 15 percent) and employer-provided health insurance (by 13 percent). Had unionization rates stayed at the 1970s rate, some estimate that Black-white weekly wage gaps would be nearly 30 percent lower among women and 4 percent lower among men.

Even still, powerful corporations and their well-paid lobbyists have worked for decades to pull the wool over lawmakers’ eyes. It’s getting harder, however, to ignore workers’ collective action when thousands of fast-food and hotel workers take to the streets to protest the dangers and indignity of sexual harassment and workplace violence.

Workers who have been dispossessed of their rights and protections by employers cheating the system are demanding that companies quit pretending that they’re independent contractors. Public school teachers across the country are fighting for increased health care staff, more librarians, smaller class sizes, and supports for homeless students, not just for their own well-being but to dramatically improve our nation’s education system.

By passing the PRO Act, House lawmakers have heeded the call from workers across the country. If, as some expect, the Senate will not take up the bill, at least some in our nation’s capital have shown they value protecting workplace democracy for all of us.

Still, to prognosticate over whether the bill will be signed into law — in 2020, 2021, or beyond — is to miss an important point. The PRO Act stands as a testament to labor’s repudiation of a half-century of trickle-down neoliberalism, concentration of capital, and politics of austerity.

Workers are increasingly standing up against a vicious system of chronic insecurity and atomization, a pattern of activism that’s only likely to grow as workers learn from one another and as others see how collective activity improves entire communities. With this bill, lawmakers are just catching up to the moment.

Anastasia Christman is the Worker Power Program Director.

Brian Chen is a Staff Attorney for the National Employment Law Project.

First published by the National Employment Law Project

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Out of Their Grip: Ending the Repetition of Defeat

I’m sure that there must be at least a few of you out there who remember the frustration, the insult and the pain of trying to move our country out of the grip of the two major parties political stranglehold and the ongoing tug-of- war between the greater and lesser evils of the Democratic and Republican parties back in 2016. As these two parties each decided to offer up their own versions of “most hated candidate ever”, a few voters had the sense and courage to use the moment of failure on their parts to attempt a breakaway by supporting, promoting and trying to elect one of the more progressive candidates ever to run for president, the Green Parties Jill Stein. I sure do. There were many long and bitter arguments that lost  some of us more than a few friends when we decided to stand-up for ourselves and our interests and refuse to accept the trash they were handing us for presidential candidates. Here we found ourselves in the vulnerable position of having to explain the horrors of Donald Trump and by no pleasure of our own, we also found ourselves in the position of having to remind everyone who Hillary Clinton was and why we preferred to not be voting for her either. Those were some interesting though unfortunate days, caught between the two evils, as they say and damned by our friends and foes alike for attempting an escape.

The image has been burned into my memory, the famous photo of Hillary, Bill, Melania and “The Donald” at Ivanka’s wedding. This picture told us a little about friendships and a lot about social and political life here in the USA. It told us all we should have needed to know about the relationships and “electability” of these two candidates for president and to who and what they both committed themselves.

But somehow, like the Emperor’s naked body in that story of his new clothes or the fables about natives not being able to see Columbus and his ships arriving off the coast of “the new world”, about half of the country just couldn’t seem to see what was right there in front of their eyes. The Trumps and the Clintons were old friends, besties, birds of a feather and why not after spending such quality time together like those times they enjoyed at society’s best parties, golfing on perfect sunny days and trips to Epstein’s pleasure island.

There in the photo was Donald in his tux, most likely fascinating his guests with some tale of his grandeur, Hillary there in her gold gown, beaming like a school-girl up into his face, Bill and Melania standing by waiting for the after party I suppose. A most elegant foursome of some of society’s most sociopathic people, just on the verge of destroying what was left of the American experiment.

Strange times those were indeed. I had made up my mind about the Clintons years ago under Bills administration and as for Hillary the horrors of “the war on terror” that Clinton wholeheartedly supported, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya…my God, laughing out-loud over the destruction of a man and his nation, I just couldn’t stomach that. Hillary was not my kind of hero.

It was in 2014, I remember how plain it had become to me that there were deals made inside the Democratic Party and that Hillary would follow Obama as the Democratic nominee without the party first doing its job and checking in with the voters. That kind of hierarchal arrangement has always bothered me when I see it. I’m an American and a little old fashioned in that way. I feel that politicians should be elected not anointed. The Clintons, I felt, had become too powerful in their party and besides, they were not good people. So I was already looking towards Jill Stein in the hopes that we were ready for some real change, not some promised hopey change but the real thing, some real change towards progressive governance.

Stein and the Green Party certainly carried the progressive platform many of us had been clamoring for for decades. Jill was one of us, not some politician cultivated by one of the parties and their big donor friends.

t was after this that Bernie caught my attention, after I was already very interested in Stein that Bernie came into the presidential contest. I remember being warned early on in the season’s campaigns to watch out for Bernie, the sheepdog who would herd the disenfranchised and hungry flock back from leaving the safety of the herd for better, greener grass. The sheepdog theory sounded reasonable and there were indications that that might be the case. Bernie wasn’t a Democrat for one thing, why wasn’t he running with the Greens to show solidarity with true progressives and then too he could avoid the Democratic resistance to him that one could only expect, the resistance that eventually brought him down.

Hillary sure came through for America’s ruling class, promoting Trump behind the scenes so he would go on to get the Republican nomination, offending what support she had by constantly moving to the political right with every word and then her terrible choice of Tim Kaine for V.P. which clearly showed Hillarys’ hopes for the future should some accident overcome her in her term as president.

Then after disillusioning what might have been her supporters, Hillary went further, failing to run a sincere campaign, practically ignoring whole states, important states, the ones she would go on to lose in the election.

Bernie came through, too. After the results were in of the questionable and still contested democratic primary, Bernie and his bird quietly exited the stage leaving the promised Clinton endorsement, the political revolution and the hopes of millions falling off behind him like some turd on the floor.

And there we were, some of us that is, with nothing left for us but our now ridiculed and hated morals and principles and to hopelessly defend the old “Russian asset and Trump enabler” Jill Stein against all odds.

I met Jill during the campaign. I was one of only two reporters who showed up at her press conference which she held for a handful of people on the steps of our city hall. Dr. Jill Stein impressed me as a truly lovely woman through and through. Highly educated and refined, obviously as smart as the Harvard educated Dr. that she is. Jill was also calm, focused and never displayed any trace of anger, frustration or bitterness, even when I asked her about the Green Parties offer to Sanders to run on the GP ticket which he didn’t even honor with the courtesy of an answer returned. Jill calmly, professionally and sincerely I might add, laid out the Green Parties platform. A green new deal, free collage, single-payer health-care, ending the wars, legalizing marijuana, voter reform, reigning in corporations, fair taxation, money out of politics, you know, all of those things that progressives claim to love.

Jill Stein was and is as cool as they come. Fearless, hip, revolutionary and full of vitality and “good energy” as we used to say, Stein was the perfect candidate for the boomer generation and relevant right on up to and for today’s new young generation of concerned activists, movers and voters.

It was bad enough having to watch Clinton supporters turn away from the possibility of a truly progressive candidate out of fear and insecurity but it was down-right sad and lonely when they started the smearing of this good woman’s character. I’ve never been more disappointed or ashamed of my generation, the boomers than during those times. That we were not able to rip ourselves away from the trap imposed by the two main parties and forge a path of our own  without them, their corruption and their two evils was extremely disappointing and the end of my hopes for the boomer generation. When we had the perfect opportunity for breaking free and living up to our own earlier expectations of ourselves and at a time when we might have shown a light ahead for our children and children’s-children we instead hid behind our fears and doubts and forgot who we were and where we came from.

Here we have the generation that had gone through the social and personal changes and turmoil of rock n roll, the sexual revolution, drugs, spiritual awakening and the birth of the internet suddenly frozen in time unable to move even an inch towards our old vision or a new vision or a new day and freedom from the corruption of the two party stranglehold in US politics, things they had been thinking on and hoping for, for the last forty, fifty or sixty years. The karma of those decisions and actions we live with today in the form of the Trump presidency and the continued splintering of the Democratic Party. After Trump was elected the blame game kicked in immediately with the Democrats blaming Russians, third-party voters, couch-sitters anyone to blame would do better than to honestly consider how we had lost the fight by our collective inability to challenge the system, corrupted as we knew it was with something better.
Caving to the system, the one we so earnestly criticized back when we were young and healthy, was our response to the power and influence of Bush, Obama, Clinton and Trump.

It turns out that the hope and power of the 99% and the “Political Revolution” were nothing but decoys, false flags, distractions, temporary release valves for the frustration and resentment building on the left side of the political spectrum. What we needed, what we really needed was a true escape from the same old politics and one was there, available to us for the taking and my generation chose to leave one of our very own standing there, practically alone, covered in liberal smears. Look at us now, Bill Clintons dream come true, we find ourselves with, as he once so cynically said, with nowhere else to go.

So what now, where do progressives go from here as we struggle for some small bit of political power? Where is Woodstock? Where does the sun rise? What became of the dream, what became of the new age and what became of liberation and freedom from untenable systems of destruction of the earth and its people? Who will be our hero? Where is the party that wants our aid and assistance? Sometimes I just want to howl!

In the last couple days we’ve seen and are now watching the collapse of the checks and balances that we hoped would save us from dictators and a further building of the suspicion and possible demise of what is left of a fair and free election. There is some hope for progressives in a Sanders victory some might say but that hope we know rests not only on getting the votes but also on many things that are outside of our control. As the primaries roll on we will shortly see whether there is any possibility of a fair election within the structure of the DNC and if that is won then it’s on to the gerrymandering, voter suppression and questionable voting machines of the general election. If that is won, then it’s back to trying to push some progressive legislation forward in a country where any attempt by the government to promote the general welfare of its citizens is viewed as bringing the greatly feared and hated socialism to the US.

There is only one thing left now to the vision of the American experiment in democracy, the people. Any experiment in democracy is and always has been about the people. By definition if it’s a democracy it’s about the people but here in America the mass of people have given themselves over to the whims of oligarchs, over-lords, propagandists, manipulators and worn out hopes of change.

We just witnessed the acquittal of Donald J. Trump for High Crimes and Misdemeanors and Obstruction of Justice. The day before that we had the much anticipated first caucus in Iowa which still today is under question and will likely go into history under the shadow of suspicion. Americans are nervous and scared and there’s a question hanging over our heads, what now? Where do we go from here? As much as it is possible there is still the hope that the future that we have will be the future we choose to create but behind every choice there must be an action that supports that choice. What action will we choose to take? Will we continue to wallow in the muck of yesterday’s false and limited choices imposed on us by our rulers and by those friends who support the obstruction of new ideas and possibilities? Didn’t someone say, I see it often quoted, that to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results was the definition of insanity*?

I understand the fear and the doubt, there are remedies for those deficiencies, courage and faith. I understand that hope for a strong and honest leader to save us; it’s not too late to become or find a strong and honest leader, they are out there.

Where we go from here is going to be determined of course by many factors but none so much as to determine who is going to be doing the driving as we move down the road. We have allowed not only the surrender of our system to these rulers but also we’ve surrendered the narrative of our past and present situation and even worse than that we are surrendering the dream to them. This Orwellian outcome is guaranteed in a world where corporations are people, love is a compact car and democracy is left to a handful of sociopathic elites.

In our brave new world where every outcome is pre-determined by our ability to purchase the next trialed and tested product unexpected results have become anathema to American tastes and expectations. We eat at, sleep in, wear clothes, drive cars, go to shows, make love and worship our gods in ways and with products where the pre-determined results are literally guaranteed to us by the sellers and proponents of the unexplored life.

Our job, the task before us from the climate emergency to endless wars to the possibility of families living in relative health and peace will be determined by our unique ability to explore new, sometimes untested, but original and creative ideas and options. We can’t clearly see where we’re going because our destination is over the mountain and around the bend. But as any explorer or pilgrim or pioneer knows, we can’t describe the land until we’ve crossed over it, we can’t see the view from the top of the mountain until we’ve climbed to the peak and we can’t understand the current of the river until we jump in.

If we wish to proceed or awaken the dream or arrive at other destinations or end the repetition of defeat we will surely have to take a few chances, create new paths and go forward fearlessly as those before us were able to do.

*Albert Einstein.

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My Mom Died

It is tempting, when a parent dies, to center your remembrance of them through the lens of your relationship to them as a child.

Self-centered as we are — at least as self-centered as I am — we ignore their individuality in favor of their effect upon us, especially the things that they taught us.

My mother, who died last night at the age of 84 (I always knew she would die midwinter, she so hated the Midwest’s relentless cloud cover), of course taught me many things. She was supposed to.

She raised me alone so she did some of the things that fathers were supposed to do too.

She taught me how to ride a bike, running and hanging onto the back of the banana seat of my Schwinn and then letting it go when she thought I was balanced properly, urging me back on after I fell, insistent that I keep doing it until I got it right which of course I did after some scrapes.

When we figured out that I had an interest in cartooning, she took me to the now-long-closed Fernandez art supply store at Town and Country shopping center, bought me “fancy” paper and then showed me how to make my own comic book by holding the pages and cutting them and stapling them together.

She taught me things her generation mistakenly believed that my generation would need, like ballroom dancing. I balanced atop her feet as she showed me the steps in our living room, music playing on records she later gave away without asking me along with the colonial-style console stereo system. We laughed.

She messed things up too. When the long-haired blonde girl from the supermarket checkout gave me a ride home, my mom came out of the house to see why I was taking so long to come inside. Rapping on the window with her knuckles, she cried: “What are you doing?” So much for my first kiss. Parents are supposed to mess things up.

So many memories, too many to share, boring to anyone but me, swirling around right now. Soon I will share the ones you might care about. Personal stories only have relevance if they have relevance.

For now she deserves to be remembered more than the mother of Ted Rall the Cartoonist, and that’s how I’m going to write her obituary. She was a remarkable person with an interesting life in her own right, a woman who had an impact on thousands of people, and not just her students. That woman deserves to be celebrated.

She was cool as shit, striding toward me waving her arms at me in her white men’s Levi’s hiphuggers (they didn’t sell jeans for women yet), a bright smile and a kiss, asking me how was school.

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The Rage of the Barred Owl

Barred owl, Whitby, Ontario. (Wikimedia).

The Rage of the Barred Owl

When Moon unmasks your naked face
And gilds your gun with diamonds green
I mark your progress from afar.
You stumble toward my roosting place,
Studying your tiny screen,
Tracking  an  artificial star.

You killed my wife some dawns ago,
Fooled by your telescopic sight:
She was a Northern Spotted Owl!
You threw her feathers in the snow
No measurements of  weight or height:
Bars or spots, murder most foul!

Management stalks through the trees
Plying the Endangered Species Act
And shifting its dynamic core.
We will be gone when, by degrees
The  soil will  sicken, parched and cracked:
Then fire, desert, nothing  more.

I, Owl, now curse your species’ birth:
No Permit comes from Mother Earth.

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The Survival of the ILWU at Stake!

This is a logo owned by International Longshore and Warehouse Union for International Longshore and Warehouse Union – Fair Source

Coastwide Port Action Can Stop Union Busting! 
Labor Solidarity Must Prevail

A recent federal court decision in Portland, Oregon poses an immediate existential threat to the strongest union in the U.S. today, the ILWU, and ultimately to the labor movement as a whole. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), arguably one of the most militant unions in the U.S., has been hit with a union-busting $93.6 million dollar court-imposed fine for a secondary boycott deemed illegal under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. The plaintiff, International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) is owned by the third richest man in the Philippines, billionaire Enrique Razon Jr. and operates in 27 ports worldwide, mainly in poor, developing countries.

The maritime company claims it was run out of business in Portland because of a secondary boycott by the longshore union during a long-running dispute over two mechanics jobs which are presently done by another union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). ICTSI argues the primary employer is the Port of Portland which hires the mechanics, so they claim the longshore union organized an “illegal” secondary boycott. For the ILWU’s part, it was a foolish top down campaign organized by the dubious Leal Sundet, then, an ILWU Coast Committeeman who had previously been an Oregon area executive for the employers group, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

On February 14 in Portland, this capital vs labor battle may be decided by a federal court judge. The response of the ILWU to the union-busting verdict should be to take the struggle out of the courts and onto the docks where our strength lies, as it did so many times in the past. Otherwise the union leadership is agreeing to let this battle between labor and capital be decided by a capitalist judge. Some members don’t want to declare bankruptcy but that would mean an exorbitant assessment of all longshore workers. Others want to re-join the AFL-CIO but that doesn’t necessarily mean real support for the ILWU. The main obstacle is that the leadership is offering no kind of active labor defense, only a deadly silence in the media.

Known as the slave labor act by the organized labor movement, the Taft-Hartley Act bans solidarity actions or secondary boycotts as the government’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) refers to an action not directed against the primary employer. But it was solidarity actions that built the labor movement during the Great Depression and it was solidarity actions that won and sustained ILWU’s victories that are recognized internationally.

*In 1984, during the repressive Reagan years San Francisco longshore workers boycotted a ship from South Africa for 11 days to protest apartheid. After Nelson Mandela was freed from prison he addressed a packed Oakland Coliseum on his 1990 world tour. He praised ILWU Local 10’s action for sparking the anti-apartheid movement in the Bay Area.

*In 1997, longshoremen refused to work the Neptune Jade, a ship from England, in solidarity with locked out Liverpool dockers. The action, with the backing of ILWU President Brian McWilliams, sparked a boycott in three consecutive ports across the seas that displayed a union power that frightened maritime employers.

*That international solidarity action was followed with a campaign to defend the predominantly black longshore union, ILA Local 1422, against union busting in Charleston, South Carolina. That campaign, initiated by the ILWU and Local 1422, became a cause celebre of the entire AFL-CIO, peaking with a march of several thousand trade unionists protesting at the state capitol which was flying the Confederate flag.

*In 1999, President McWilliams addressed a rally of thousands in Seattle announcing that the

ILWU shutdown West Coast ports in solidarity with anti-WTO demonstrators including Teamsters and other unions and in protest against police brutality.

*That same year ILWU led a march of 25,000 through the streets of San Francisco, supported by the San Francisco Labor Council, to demand freedom for innocent political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. His death sentence was rescinded but he still remains imprisoned after 38 years.

*In 2008, ILWU shut down all West Coast Ports to protest the “imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan” despite vicious PMA threats to sue the union under Taft-Hartley in the NLRB.

*In 2010, Local 10 shut down Bay Area ports to protest the BART police killing of Oscar Grant and has continued protest actions against racist police and fascist terror.

*In 2010 and 2014, Local 10 members refused to work ZIM Lines ships to protest the Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and on a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid. These actions drove ZIM ships out of the port of Oakland much to the dismay of the Zionist government.

*And in 2011, When Wisconsin workers were under attack by Governor Scott Walker and had occupied the state capitol building, AFL-CIO President Trumka and ILWU President McEllrath sent out calls for solidarity with the state workers. ILWU Local 10 answered that call with job action, shutting down all Bay Area ports in a solidarity strike action.All these actions were in violation of Taft-Hartley’s secondary boycott provision.

ILWU’s history shows that labor’s strength lies in union solidarity actions not in kangaroo courts.

Yet, this new ILWU leadership has limited the fight against Taft-Hartley to the courtroom. ILWU’s International President William Adams states in the November 2019 issue of The Dispatcher, the union’s newspaper, “While we respect the process, we disagree with the excessive damages award”. Respecting the anti-labor Taft-Hartley process means an unprecedented course of navigation for the union into treacherous waters with a broken sextant. This strategy rejects ILWU’s history of challenging Taft-Hartley from the very start. Adams, who has never played a leading role in solidarity job actions, claims ILWU may declare bankruptcy but will survive. Veteran activists know that accepting such an onerous fine will not only bankrupt the union but chill solidarity actions, stifling the future of ILWU’s proud legacy. Adam’s demagogic calls for “unity” behind this defeatist strategy will land the union’s ship on the rocks. The ILWU must appeal, publicize its case broadly and initiate labor solidarity actions.

ILWU’s Historic Role in Fighting Taft-Hartley and Building Labor Solidarity

West Coast maritime workers have long been in the forefront of U.S. labor struggles. In San Francisco in 1934 longshore workers and sailors led a mighty maritime strike in the midst of the Great Depression. A general strike in San Francisco was provoked when police killed two strikers. Today, in front of the Local 10 union hall a “Bloody Thursday” sidewalk mural of the fallen martyrs defiantly proclaims,”Men Killed, Shot in the Back, Police Murder.” The news media railed against communists, socialists and anarchists during the General Strike but to no avail. San Francisco was shut down tight with solid support from the Bay Area’s working class. Despite the conservative San Francisco Labor Council bureaucrats ordering all workers to return to work after a few days, maritime workers refused and returned to the picket lines with a new resolve and in the end won their key demands, including the hiring hall, union recognition, a coastwise contract, a six-hour shift and safe working conditions. That radical image stands the test to time and is instrumental in ILWU’s recent organizing drives at Anchor Steam brewery and Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.

In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act,(on which ICTSI owner Razon hangs his litigious hat) was passed with support from both Democratic and Republican parties at the beginning of the McCarthy witch hunts. It banned all manner of class struggle: solidarity strikes, mass picketing, closed shops, including union hiring halls, and communists from holding union office. ILWU was one of the first unions to challenge the law and became a haven for workers purged from the CIO and the AFL by anti-red union leaders. These workers led struggles in the ’30’s that built the unions: Blackie Meyers (NMU), Bill Bailey (MFOW), Shaun Maloney (SUP and the Teamsters), Morris Wright (MMSW) and Jim Herman (MCS). As West Coast maritime unions began negotiations in 1948, ILWU members at the recommendation of its Coastwide Longshore Caucus voted 89% to authorize a strike. However, in 2002 after the 9/11 attack and the subsequent government anti-terror campaign, the Longshore Caucus stopped that standard practice of backing the Negotiating Committee with a strike authorization vote, an early sign of union’s departure from its militant past.

Phil Drew cartoon from The Dispatcher, 1948.

When President Truman invoked Taft-Hartley, longshoremen responded with class struggle, a work slowdown. (What McEllrath/Sundet did in 2013 at ICTSI’s terminal in Portland was in the service of class collaboration.) After the 80-day cooling off period, Truman’s National Labor Relations Board tried to bypass the union leadership by ordering longshoremen to vote on the employers’ proposed contract. The two outstanding issues were both banned by Taft-Hartley: the union hiring hall and a union leadership that employer propaganda accused of being “dominated by the Communist Party.” Of the 26,695 members on the entire West Coast not a single ballot was cast in the NLRB vote. Later, another vote was taken on the employers’

proposals but was rejected by 96.8% and a second vote on forcing union officers to sign a non-communist affidavit was again rejected by 94.39% of the membership. Then, the ILWU went on strike. European dockworker unions expressed solidarity sending telegrams to President Truman warning that any ships loaded by the military would not be unloaded in Europe. That’s the way working class struggles are won!

During the repressive McCarthy period ILWU President Harry Bridges was jailed and threatened with deportation. Other ILWU officials including Jack Hall and Bob McElrath of the “Hawaii 7” were accused of being communists and jailed under the Smith Act. (Robert McElrath, husband of the late ILWU firebrand Ah Quon McElrath, was no relation to “Big Bob” McEllrath.) ILWU Hawaiian plantation workers struck to demand their leader Jack Hall’s freedom. He was released from jail the next day. The Communist Party (CP) had applauded the jailing under the the very same anti-communist Smith Act in 1941 of their Trotskyist opponents in the Socialist Workers Party, including leaders of the militant Minneapolis Teamsters strike of 1934. That political transgression only emboldened the government to use the Smith Act against the leadership of the CP seven years later.

In 1964, ILWU Local 10 Executive Board member Archie Brown, an open member of the Communist Party, was indicted for violating a key provision of Taft-Hartley. He was tried, convicted and arrested. Brown, with backing from the union, appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. The communist-exclusion clause was ruled invalid, although AFL-CIO tops still try to use it to keep reds out of office, but the law as a whole still stands.

The West Coast longshore union was forged in the cauldron of class struggle in the ’30’s. Victory was achieved by mass picketing, appeals for solidarity and racially integrating the union. That was 30 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed. The ILWU went on its own fight for reforms— building affordable housing for working people in St. Francis Square and negotiating with Kaiser to establish one of the first comprehensive medical plans for its members on the West Coast and Hawaii. These stories,  portrayed in murals all over the Bay Area by WPA muralists, Victor Arnautoff and Anton Refregier, were targeted for destruction by right wing nuts during the McCarthy period because the muralists were members of the Communist Party. Today, the SF School Board and Democratic Party identity politics individuals want to cover up or destroy Arnautoff’s murals at George Washington High School. The ILWU defended those murals then as it does today.  ILWU now has a majority African American, Latino, Asian and Hawaiian membership that has continued its militant history of defending immigrant workers’ rights, organizing protest actions against racist police and fascist terror and in solidarity with workers struggles internationally. All this is threatened by the verdict against the ILWU.

Razon’s Rogue Business Gambit

Razon’s modus operandi for ICTSI is raw, aggressive neo-liberal capitalism, buying up public-owned ports in developing countries, busting unions, suing competitors or government agencies and making billions in the process. Razon, like the rest of the Philippine elite, keeps close ties with the military, which is noted for its relentless repression of labor, left populist protests and the Muslim rebellion in the south. Last year, he was awarded alumnus status by the Philippine Military Academy. The pugnacious image which Razon likes to cultivate fits well into his latest venture to build luxurious super casino resorts in the Philippines to compete with Macau.

Razon, like many in the ruling class of the Philippines, are descendants of the Spanish colonists, who have waged a vicious campaign against working people whether at home or abroad. Many Filipinos work as seamen aboard foreign-owned ships. Labor contractors and shipowners exploit these crews by paying slave wages and often not remitting allotments from wages to their families back home dependent on them for survival. The ILWU has fought to defend these workers. In 1980, while Reagan was firing PATCO strikers, Philippine dictator Marcos’ agents killed two ILWU officials Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes in the Seattle Local 37 union office. Marcos was successfully sued by the families for that crime.

In Honduras in 2013, Victor Crespo, General Secretary of the Sindicato Gremial de Trabajadores del Muelle (SGTM), received threats on his life for organizing dock workers shortly after Razon’s ICTSI was granted a lucrative 30-year contract to operate in Puerto Cortez, Honduras. Crespo fled the country but the following year his father was murdered outside the family home.

Where the ILWU Went Wrong: Putting the ICTSI Dispute in Context

This battle between ICTSI and the ILWU began in 2012, shortly after a year-long lockout by the international grain conglomerate Export Grain Terminal (EGT) in Longview, Washington downriver from Portland. Longshore members did everything in their power to win that conflict— blocking grain trains on the tracks, and when they were slapped with injunctions their wives and daughters stood fast on the tracks. They occupied the EGT facility, defended themselves against violent police attacks and went to jail for picketing. When ILWU President McEllrath was called to the front of a protest on the railroad tracks by members he was arrested. All Northwest ports shutdown and marched on Longview the following day. That’s the power the union wields.

Yet, the moment of truth came February 2012, as a scab grain ship was escorted by an armed Coast Guard cutter dispatched by President Obama. State and local police forces were mustered. Faced with an all out fight on the docks with mass support to be mobilized in caravans committed by labor councils in Longview, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco and the burgeoning Occupy movement, the ILWU International President Bob McEllrath and Coast Committeeman Leal Sundet, fearful of a serious class battle, capitulated and forced local officials to sign the contract. Longview union members were incensed by this betrayal. They were not even given the right to vote on the contract which violates the ILWU Constitution but not capitalist law. The ILWU was able to maintain jurisdiction, but the loss in working and safety conditions was devastating. The union tops had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Dan Coffman, Longview Local 21 President, and Byron Jacobs, Secretary-Treasurer, tried to call for a Longshore Caucus, an elected body representing all ports, at the start of the EGT struggle to build solidarity actions on the Coast. International Officers blocked that effort, stopped Local 10 from implementing solidarity actions and kept the locked out workers isolated from the major ports in California. Moreover, union members like Longview Local 21’s Byron Jacobs and others were arrested for picketing and left in jail for weeks without bail or union defense. Tragically Byron died 2 years ago while working on the Longview docks because of unsafe working conditions. Many were inspired by Byron’s brave class struggle actions during that hard-fought battle.

Veterans of historic ILWU actions in defiance of Taft-Hartley against solidarity actions opposed the EGT contract in a signed leaflet, Danger! ILWU Headed in Wrong Direction! EGT-Longview Contract -Worst Ever! June 12, 2012 because it undermined basic union principles, gains and for the first time codified Taft-Hartley into a longshore contract. Apparently, this ILWU leadership has learned nothing from the union’s long and storied history. Signers of the leaflet included Local 10 members Leo Robinson, Howard  Keylor and Larry Wright who led the 1984 anti-apartheid strike and Herb Mills who organized protests against the 1960 HUAC hearings at San Francisco City Hall and the 1978 refusal of longshoremen to load bombs for Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile; Jack Mulcahy, longtime Local 8 activist who participated in the militant actions of the Northwest longshore grain workers and Jack Heyman, Local 10 who initiated the 2008 May Day West Coast ports shutdown against the imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a union action stridently fought for and won against by PMA’s obstinate opposition with dire threats of suing the union over Taft-Hartley. All of these labor actions were initiated and organized from the bottom up not the top down.

ICTSI Campaign Was Top Down and Wrong—Union Solidarity Actions Are Bottom Up

Shortly after the EGT debacle was over, Sundet directed the “job trusting” campaign, actually union raiding, in Portland to get the two electrician jobs at ICTSI. Sundet, in an act of class collaboration, even got PMA to join the lawsuit jointly with the ILWU against ICTSI but the employers bailed out later. The “slowdown” claimed by ICTSI only reduced container handling by 5-7 cans an hour. ICTSI said ILWU was gimmicking safety issues. The truth is union members were being fined by Local 8 officials for raising safety beefs, shamefully doing diligent work for the employer. To top it off the judge wouldn’t allow this scandalous discipline by union bureaucrats to be introduced in court! Many members were frustrated by Sundet’s long-running top down job action. In any case the capitalist courts shouldn’t determine union jurisdiction. A job trust is an employer-worker monopolistic scheme for the benefit of the employer and labor aristocrats. An all port workers council should have been organized with longshoremen, electricians, mechanics, port truckers and other port workers to make the Portland waterfront 100% union and democratically decide jurisdictional disputes amongst the workers excluding the employers. Real class unity can challenge the employing class and even stop the fascist attacks in the Portland/Vancouver area.

At the start of the EGT campaign Sundet directed longshore workers to cross picket lines of AFL-CIO construction unions who were picketing the use of non-union labor to build the new EGT facility. Sundet’s scabrous action made it difficult later to get unions to honor ILWU picket lines and to get resolutions passed at the Oregon and Washington state AFL-CIO organizations. A couple years later during master longshore contract negotiations ILWU International Officers extended the expired agreement in order to help employers in Los Angeles quash a picket line of port truckers, mainly immigrant workers. That scam allowed the PMA arbitrator to rule it was an “illegal” action. Union officials then directed longshoremen to cross the truckers’ picket line breaking the action. It was these kinds of traitorous acts that earned ILWU President McEllrath and PMA President McKenna a joint Connie Award from the maritime capitalists.

Worse still, ILWU officials have continued to direct longshore workers to cross truckers picket lines. Local 13 president Ray Familathe, (who lost to Adams in the last election) even warned striking ILWU Boron miners in 2010 not to set up picket lines in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach under pain of losing their strike fund benefits. Other officials directed ILWU longshore workers to cross picket lines of the striking ILWU Local 63 Clerical Unit, largely women workers. ILWU’s Ten Guiding Principles have been jettisoned down the hawsepipe sending the union in a downward tailspin. The need for a class struggle leadership is abundantly clear for the sake of all divisions of the ILWU.

Honoring ILWU’s “Ten Guiding Principles” and Building a Class Struggle Leadership

At the peak of the McCarthy witch hunts, the ILWU concerned about the survival of the organization, hammered together “Ten Guiding Principles”, one of which is to never cross or work behind a picket line even if ordered by your union officials. The last ILWU president, Brian McWilliams who understood the importance of labor solidarity and picket lines, was instrumental in supporting international solidarity for the Liverpool dockers struggle and shutting down West Coast ports in solidarity with the WTO protesters in Seattle.

A defining moment in the ILWU occurred at the 2002 Longshore Caucus. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Homeland Security Czar Ridge threatened the union that if there were any jobs actions on the docks, troops would be called out to occupy the ports.  The leadership did not call for international labor solidarity actions as in the past but requested the delegates not to vote for the traditional strike authorization to bolster the Negotiating Committee.

“Homeland Security,” cartoon by Mike Konopacki 2002.

ILWU officials have continued to direct longshore workers to cross truckers picket lines. Local 13 president Ray Familathe, (who lost to Adams in the last union election) even warned striking ILWU Boron miners not to set up picket lines in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach under pain of losing their strike fund benefits. Other officials directed ILWU longshore workers to cross striking ILWU Local 63 Office Clerical Workers picket lines. ILWU’s Ten Guiding Principles have been jettisoned down the hawsepipe sending the union in a downward tailspin. The need for a class struggle leadership is abundantly clear for the survival of the ILWU. Such a leadership would honor picket lines, unite warehouse and longshore workers with port truckers who’ve been seeking unionization and take action in the ports to stop this union busting fine.

Labor Must Defend the ILWU 

If ICTSI’s owner billionaire Enrique Razon is successful in his court suit, it would be a body blow to labor’s solidarity actions. Union bureaucrats, whether in ILWU or in any union, before taking any action will first consult with attorneys which means no action because of the fear of fines. Given the long history of ILWU’s labor solidarity, often challenging Taft-Hartley, it’s high time for other unions in the U.S. and internationally to reciprocate even if the ILWU isn’t at this time affiliated to the AFL-CIO.  The old syndicalist motto must prevail, “An injury to one is an injury to all!”

Has the labor movement learned its lesson from the defeat of the 1981 PATCO strike? President Reagan attacked the striking air traffic controllers, shackling its union leaders and hauling them off to jail in front of TV cameras, Trump style. The AFL-CIO leadership remained criminally silent, refusing to lift a finger to support the strikers’ picket lines and shut down the airports. Reportedly, when ILWU President Jim Herman suggested to IAM President William Winpisinger that airports and seaports be shutdown in an act of solidarity he was rebuffed. The trade union movement has paid a heavy price for the betrayal of PATCO strikers. Union membership has atrophied for the last 40 years, peaking in 1979 with 21 million members and atrophying to less than half that figure today.

In 2011, when AFL-CIO President Trumka issued a call for unions to support the besieged Wisconsin state workers. Only ILWU Local 10, again in defiance of Taft-Hartley and in the face of PMA employer threats, took on-the-job action and shut Bay Area ports down in a bold act of solidarity. The S.E. Wisconsin AFL-CIO issued a letter stating: “Whether it’s racist apartheid in South Africa, imperialist war in Iraq, or fascist plutocracy in Wisconsin, Local 10, over and over again, shows us “What a Union [should] look like!!” Please convey our appreciation to your members and kick some PMA ass on April 25. In Solidarity, James A. Cavanaugh, President.”

Now the survival of the ILWU is at stake. If the ranks follow ILWU’s militant history, West Coast ports will be shutdown against a union-busting, government-imposed fine. Other unions must join the fight. The ball is in the court of the working class, organized and unorganized. If Trumka doesn’t act in defense of the ILWU and call for solidarity actions, workers must pick up the cudgel. This anti-labor court decision in Portland is a decisive moment for organized labor and all working people.

Jack Heyman, a retired member of the ILWU Local 10 Executive Board, writes on labor. He was an organizer of many longshore solidarity actions since the1984 anti-apartheid strike and addressed 1,500,000 participants at the 2003 anti-war rally in London. ( He chairs the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee 

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Wall Street Invading Wet’suwet’en Territory

Wet’suwet’en fishing site on Bulkley River and the entrance of Moricetown Canyon, in Moricetown, British Columbia, Canada. Photograph Source: Jerome Charaoui – FAL

The uprising across Canada in support of Wet’suwet’en First Nation land defenders shows no sign of stopping. As of February 11, ports, bridges, rail lines, highways and roads have been blockaded across much of the country by solidarity protesters, who have also occupied the offices of politicians and at least one bank.

These actions were prompted by the RCMP’s invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory on February 5, after which they began arresting Indigenous members opposed to the 670 kilometers (416-mile), $6.2 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline being constructed on their unceded territory in B.C.

The Wet’suwet’en have never signed a treaty and in 1997 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that they hold “Aboriginal title” to the land on which the pipeline is being built.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline will carry fracked natural gas from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat, B.C., where a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal is being built by LNG Canada – a partnership of Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, Mitsubishi, and Korean Gas.

While protesters have rightly condemned the RCMP actions, they (and the corporate media) have largely overlooked the role of a major player in this whole debacle: Wall Street titan Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., better known as KKR.

Mega-Rich Titan

On December 26, 2019 KKR announced the signing of a “definitive agreement” to acquire – along with Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) – a 65 percent equity interest in the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project from TC Energy.

Only days later, on December 31, a B.C. Supreme Court judge extended an injunction to stop Wet’suwet’en members from blocking access to Coastal GasLink’s work camp. The injunction will reportedly be operative until the pipeline project is completed.

KKR is mega-rich, even by Wall Street standards. It has US$208 billion in assets under management and US$153 billion in fee-paying assets under management. [1] AIMCo has $108.2 billion in assets that it manages on behalf of 31 Alberta pension, endowment and government funds. [2]

KKR is what is now called a “private equity” firm – a rebranding of what used to be called “leveraged buyout firms,” which pump money into struggling companies and then re-sell them for major profits. In 2014, KKR opened an office in Calgary with a $2 billion fund to find Canadian energy investments, especially in unconventional oil and gas projects.

In its December 26, 2019 press release, KKR’s Brandon Freiman stated that “Coastal GasLink represents our third investment in infrastructure supporting Canada’s natural gas industry.”

When contacted, KKR’s media office told me that the “other projects Brandon was referring to in his quote are Veresen Midstream and SemCams Midstream.”


Buying Up Midstream

In oil-industry parlance, midstream refers to the equipment and pipelines that transport oil and gas from “upstream” production facilities to the “downstream” users such as refineries or LNG terminals.

Shortly after KKR set up its Calgary office, in December 2014 Encana Corp. sold its natural gas pipeline and processing assets in Western Canada’s Montney region to Veresen Inc. and KKR for $412 million. The deal allowed Encana to concentrate on drilling and fracking (“upstream”), while Veresen Midstream LP handles transportation and expansion of infrastructure. The assets sold in this deal “comprise those in the Dawson, B.C. area operated by Encana independently and in a partnership it has with Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp.” [3] At about the same time, the partnership committed to invest $5 billion of new midstream expansion in the Montney region.

By October 2015, that expansion included Veresen’s announcement of approval of the $860 million Sunrise Gas Plant, which can process 400 million cubic feet per day. Located near Dawson Creek, the Sunrise Gas Plant has been described as “the largest gas plant to be commissioned in western Canada in the last 30 years,” with Veresen Midstream’s President and CEO David Fitzpatrick stating that his company’s “footprint in the Montney will grow substantially.” [4]

KKR also entered into a joint venture with Energy Transfer on SemCams Midstream, which owns and operates six gas processing plants and 700 miles of natural gas pipelines in the Montney and Duvernay areas of Western Canada.

You may recall that Energy Transfer is the company involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests of 2016, when NoDAPL indigenous protesters from the Standing Rock reservation in the U.S. were met with severe corporate and state-supported opposition.

So KKR not only has a primary position in the midstream natural gas industry of Western Canada, it also has scandalously partnered with a company well-versed in stopping indigenous protests.


Equally odious, in 2007 KKR teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on something called the Green Portfolio Program through which participating companies could “develop eco-beneficial products and services and develop ways to grow revenue through environmental improvements.” [5]

That decade-long greenwashing effort has especially been useful for KKR’s financial investment in fracking. In 2012, Forbes magazine (not known for its radical environmentalism) singled out KKR in a piece called “Guess Who’s Fueling the Fracking Boom?”, revealing how KKR has been pumping money into expanded fracking by upstream drillers, and then flipping the companies in sales deals that bring billions in profits to KKR. [6]

Perhaps not surprisingly, KKR Global Institute’s Chair is David Petraeus, the former Director of the CIA, who has wholeheartedly endorsed fracking. [7]

In the KKR Global Institute’s latest report (issued on January 15, 2020), the company touts itself for partnering “with companies that mitigate climate change, enhance resilient development [and] protect water quality … As a result, ‘doing well by doing good’ remains a growing investment theme in KKR in 2020.” [8]

LNG Canada in Kitimat, where the Coastal GasLink pipeline will bring the fracked natural gas, has claimed that it will be the lowest carbon-emitting LNG plant in the world, and that LNG exports will substitute for dirtier fuels like coal. But critics such as the Pembina Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have seriously questioned this notion of LNG as a so-called “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future, especially because of the methane leaks implicit in upstream, midstream and downstream processes. In terms of the climate emergency, methane is dozens of times more polluting than CO2.

Indeed, The Georgia Straight recently highlighted a statement by Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson about methane leaks from an ExxonMobil fracking site: “Next time some paid liar in the fossil fuel industry insists fracked gas is helping solve the climate crisis, remind them a single @exxonmobil fracking site ‘leaked more methane in 20 days than all but 3 European nations over an entire year’.” [9]

Paid Liars

Wall Street’s KKR private equity titan appears to be packed with some very well-paid liars, who croon about “doing well by doing good” while invading Wet’suwet’en territory with their Coastal GasLink project and watching while the RCMP carry out the arrests. It’s time the focus should be placed on them.


[1] Charlie Smith, “Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs reject ruling by B.C. Supreme Court judge to extend Coastal GasLink Pipeline injunction,” The Georgia Straight, December 31, 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jeffrey Jones, “Encana sells midstream assets to Veresen, KKR,” The Globe and Mail, December 23, 2014.

[4] Veresen Inc. press release, “Veresen Announces Approval of the $860 Million Sunrise Gas Plant,” October 6, 2015.

[5] Elizabeth Seeger, “Environmental Innovation: A Journey with No Destination,”, December 21, 2016.

[6] Halah Touryalal, “Guess Who’s Fueling the Fracking Boom?” Forbes, October 3, 2012.

[7] Steve Horn, “Revealed: Gen. David Petraeus’ Course Syllabus Features ‘Frackademia’ Readings,” Huffington Post, July 19, 2013.

[8] Henry H. McVey, “Play Your Game: Insights Global Macro Trends,” KKR Global Institute, January 2020.

[9] Quoted in Charlie Smith, “TC Energy agrees to sell 65 percent interest in Coastal GasLink pipeline project to KKR and AIMCo,” The Georgia Straight, December 26, 2019.

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