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Paternalistic Noninterventionism: The Examples of Venezuela and Hong Kong

AntiWar.com News -

The summer of 2019 saw a series of events in Hong Kong beginning with two massive demonstrations that called for the withdrawal of the Extradition Bill to Macao, Taiwan and Mainland China. The demonstrations were peaceful and the bill was quickly "suspended" and labeled "dead" by the Hong Kong government and then withdrawn by summer’s … Continue reading "Paternalistic Noninterventionism: The Examples of Venezuela and Hong Kong"

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Trump’s Ending of Wars Could Derail the Democrats

AntiWar.com News -

This article originally appeared at TruthDig. I hate to say I told you so, but well … as predicted, in the wake of Trump’s commanded military withdrawal from northeast Syria, the once U.S.-backed Kurds cut a deal with the Assad regime. (And Vice President Mike Pence has now brokered a five-day cease-fire.) Admittedly, Trump the … Continue reading "Trump’s Ending of Wars Could Derail the Democrats"

The post Trump’s Ending of Wars Could Derail the Democrats appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Media Alarmed by Imaginary US Pullout From Syria

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

by Gregory Shupak

President Donald Trump’s modification of the US’s Syria policy has generated a torrent of confusion, so it’s worth reviewing the record.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham announced on October 6:

Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria . The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial “Caliphate,” will no longer be in the immediate area.

The statement is notable both because it declines to oppose the Turkish invasion—aimed at the Kurdish-led, US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—and because it suggests that the US will stay in Syria, but will move its forces from the “immediate area” that Turkey is attacking; nothing in these remarks can be read as saying that the US would be withdrawing from Syria.

The initial report from AP (10/6/19) described US troops not “pulling out” but “step[ping] aside.”

An anonymous senior US official quoted by the Associated Press (New York Times, 10/6/19) said that the US will “pull back [its troops] from the immediate area” in northern Syria that Turkey is assaulting. The official, however, went on to say that the Turkish onslaught “is expected to trigger a large combat response from the SDF, and US troops will almost certainly withdraw completely from Syria.”

Trump tweeted that, of the 1,000 troops the US admits to having in Syria, “we only had 50 soldiers remaining in that section of Syria, and they have been removed.” But he has also framed this development as part of a longer term process of getting out of wars in Syria and elsewhere, tweeting, for example, that “we are slowly & carefully bringing our great soldiers & military home.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon statement on Syria said nothing to suggest the US would be withdrawing from the country.

To summarize, an anonymous official speculated that the US might eventually leave Syria, while Trump tweeted that the US was merely shifting “50 soldiers remaining in that section of Syria,” at the same time indicating that he eventually wants to bring the troops home and leave Syria alone, without offering anything close to a concrete plan or timeline. Neither of the two official US government statements—the one from Grisham or the one from the Pentagon—can possibly be taken to mean that the US is taking its hands off Syria, and there is simply no evidence that that’s what’s happening.


Yet you wouldn’t know it from media coverage of these developments. Just like last December, when Trump suggested he might soon withdraw from Syria, and when Trump floated the same possibility in March 2018, news outlets consistently and baselessly reported on the issue both as though the US had announced plans to leave Syria, and as though the US has a right and possibly a duty to permanently occupy Syria.

A New York Times headline (10/7/19) described the redeployment of troops within Syria as the “Pulling of US Troops”—helping to spread the misimpression that troops were being pulled out.

The New York Times (10/7/19) ran an article with the headline “Pulling of US Troops in Syria Could Aid Assad and ISIS.” It would be natural to assume that this meant that US troops were being pulled out of Syria, even though that’s not what was occurring.

A report in The Hill (10/7/19) was headlined “Trump Knocks ‘Ridiculous Endless Wars’ Amid US Troop Pullout From Syria,” which suffered from one minor shortcoming, namely that no “US troop pullout from Syria” is taking place.

An Associated Press story (10/7/19) was headlined “US Troops Begin Pulling Out of Syria, Leaving Kurds Without Support.” As noted, there was no evidence that the US was actually “pulling out of Syria.”

USA Today (10/7/19) warned its readers about “’A Reckless Gamble’: Four Reasons Critics Decry Trump’s ‘Impulsive’ Syria Withdrawal.” But those critics can rest easy, since Trump hasn’t withdrawn from Syria.

NBC News (10/8/19) had a segment called “How Allies Are Responding to US Troops Pulling Out of Syria,” but a day earlier, a senior Trump administration official told reporters that the government’s “announcement did not constitute a full US withdrawal from Syria, and that only 50 to 100 US special operations forces were moving to other locations in Syria.” “Moving to other locations in Syria,” clearly, is not the same thing as “pulling out of Syria.”

Still, a Business Insider headline (10/8/19) offered, “Here Are the 5 Major Players That Will Feel the Impact From Trump’s Decision to Withdraw Troops From Syria.”

It’s going to be difficult for Americans to develop an informed opinion about their government’s continuing occupation of Syria, one which lacks a basis in international law, when US media keep wrongly suggesting that the US is exiting the country.


Doctors Without Borders (10/11/19) describes the human cost of the Turkish invasion.

Much of the coverage professes concern for people living in the parts of northern Syria that Turkey is attacking. These worries are well-founded. In the first days of this invasion, Turkish airstrikes and artillery fire hit several villages and towns, already killing dozens and sending thousands fleeing from their homes. In the border town Tal Abyad, shelling has forced the vast majority of people to leave, while Doctors Without Borders

is concerned that the many thousands of women and children living in camps such as Al Hol and Ain Issa are also now particularly vulnerable, as humanitarian organisations have been forced to suspend or limit their operations.

The United States is directly implicated in this, beyond even Trump’s initial greenlighting of the assault. Turkey is a member of NATO, an alliance in which the US is the most powerful member, and NATO declined to suggest that Turkey not invade its neighbor, or even offer explicit criticism of this illegal aggression, with the organization’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg offering remarks that served to legitimize the “security” pretext that Turkey is offering as a justification for the attack.

Stoltenberg said on a visit to Turkey on October 11, “While Turkey has legitimate security concerns, I expect Turkey to act with restraint.” He went on to describe “serious concerns about the risk of further destabilising the region, escalating tensions and even more human suffering.”

Moreover, two US military officials told the New York Times (10/11/19):

As Turkish military officials planned the assault, they received American surveillance video and information from reconnaissance aircraft. The information may have helped them track Kurdish positions. Because of an American counterterrorism partnership with Turkey, Turkish aircraft were given access to a suite of American battlefield intelligence in northeast Syria. Turkey was removed from the intelligence-sharing program only on Monday, a Defense Department official said.

One official said that United States warplanes and surveillance aircraft remained in the area to defend the remaining American ground forces in northeast Syria, but said they would not contest Turkish warplanes attacking Kurdish positions.

In 2017, the most recent year for which the numbers have been fully reported, Washington gave Turkey $154 million in aid, the fourth-highest amount of US aid sent to any country in Europe and Asia. From 2011–18, the US sold $3.7 billion worth of weapons to Turkey. Though the US has no right to occupy Syria, it needn’t do so to stop the Turkish attack: If the US said its support and collaboration were at stake, it’s a virtual certainty that Turkey wouldn’t be attacking northern Syria; Turkey wanted to carry out this invasion for months, and didn’t do it until the US gave its blessing.

Calling for the US to get out of Syria and for an end to the Turkish attack is a consistent position: When Turkey attacked largely Kurdish Afrin in Syria in early 2018, plundering the area and driving out 220,000 civilians, the US had forces in Syria, as it does during the present onslaught. The demand that the US keep its forces in Syria to prevent Turkish violence against Kurdish and other Syrian people ignores the fact that US forces in Syria are not an obstacle to Turkish violence.


In fact, US intervention is a central reason for this bloodshed, and much more, in the Middle East. Aiding Turkey in its invasion is the Syrian National Army (SNA), a rebrand of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an umbrella group that the US spent years nurturing to fight the Syrian government; the same scenario unfolded in Afrin, when the FSA also fought alongside Turkey.

US intervention against the Syrian government directly drove violence against minorities in Syria, including Kurds: The US supplied weapons to anti-government groups in Syria that ultimately empowered ISIS, who carried out “attacks on family members of Kurdish fighters and kidnappings of hundreds of civilians on the basis of their ethnic identity.”

The US government can no more be expected to protect Kurds or any other group than can Chevron be expected to undertake green initiatives, because protecting people isn’t the goal of US policy. Seen in the context of longer-term US ruling-class approaches globally and in the Middle East, there is every reason to conclude that US policies towards Syria have been about building military bases, and bleeding and weakening rivals like Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian government.

Thus, Washington’s efforts to control the Middle East are a driving force behind the violence in the region. That points to the conclusion that the answer to violence in the region isn’t more US involvement, but less. Yet my research produces no evidence of discussion of this perspective in US corporate media.


There is, however, a great deal of coverage asserting that the US should continue occupying Syria so as to weaken its government and other US rivals. The New York Times new headline “Pulling of US Troops in Syria Could Aid Assad and ISIS” (10/7/19) unambiguously indicates that the US should keep its forces in Syria because removing them would benefit the Syrian government. This perspective assumes that the US has a legitimate right to use its military to shape, and perhaps outright dictate, the relative strength of other countries’ governments. The attached article went on to say that the shift in US policy

could also create a void in the region that could benefit President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Russia, Iran and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. And it would likely further limit the United States’ influence over the conflict.

The article seems to endorse the view put forth by Brett McGurk, a former presidential envoy, that if Turkish attack forces a Kurdish redeployment, it would put “American objectives at risk” by benefiting “Russia, Iran and ISIS.” According to this point of view, the US should do what it can to keep Syria in a proxy war for as long as possible, because that state of affairs is bad for the US government’s international rivals.

A Times editorial (10/7/19) advocated subjecting Syria to that condition indefinitely—to maintain an open-ended occupation of Syria as a “counterweight to Turkey and Syria’s Russian and Iranian allies”—because otherwise unspecified “foe[s]” will not “look at [America] and fear a determined adversary.” Intimidating unnamed political forces is, to say the least, an unconvincing justification for maintaining an illegal military occupation.

A Washington Post editorial (10/7/19) starts from the premise that “President Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria”–displaying an ignorance that would be stunning if one were unfamiliar with the standards of the Post editorial page.

A Washington Post editorial (10/7/19) opined that

the 1,000 US troops in Syria could be forced to withdraw entirely, which would be a major victory for Russia and open the way for Iran to entrench its forces along Israel’s northern border.

For the Post, Syrians are pawns whose fates the US should hold hostage because of a grander imperial game. Another reason the paper gave for supporting a US presence in Syria is that

the United States was able to partner with the SDF to destroy the would-be Islamic caliphate and gain de facto control over a large swath of eastern Syria. That impeded Iran’s expansion in the country and gave Washington vital leverage over any eventual settlement of the Syrian civil war.

Why it’s “vital”—or even legitimate—for Washington to have “leverage over any eventual settlement” of the war in Syria is unexplained. It’s simply taken for granted that the United States should play a major part in shaping Syria’s future.

Influential sectors in corporate media clearly believe that US policy in Syria should be tailored toward assuring worldwide US hegemony. That’s necessarily going to entail Kurdish and many other peoples winding up in body bags.


Presidential Candidates Refuse to Discuss the Country’s Worst Crisis

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In September 2015, I wrote a threepart series for Truthdig on homelessness. “Homelessness doesn’t rate a mention on the presidential campaign trail,” I wrote. “The subject is ignored or followed sporadically in the national media outside of policy oriented journals. Washington is happy to leave it in the hands of local politicians, cops and reporters who cover city halls and city streets. Out of sight and out of mind is the American treatment of the homeless.”

Since I wrote those articles, the homeless population in Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous county, has grown from more than 44,000 to about 59,000. In the city of Los Angeles alone, the number of homeless people has increased from more than 25,000 to over 36,000. Nationally, the homeless numbers have grown, too.

Yet, as another presidential campaign gets underway, the homeless remain out of mind, although in many places they are no longer out of sight.

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I’ve followed this issue during the campaign. Some candidates have made passing mention of the need for affordable housing, a popular issue related to homelessness. But where are the ringing cries for mobilization for the very poor? “I see one-third of the nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished,” Franklin Roosevelt said at his second inaugural. Harry Truman passed the Housing Act of 1949, which financed public housing. Jimmy Carter, who once lived with his family in public housing, continues to bring the issue into the public view with his work for Habitat for Humanity.

As a humanitarian crisis grows in the wealthiest country in the world, most of the media attention goes to President Trump and his expected impeachment by the House and trial by the Senate. Donald Trump has so overwhelmed politics that dialogue consists of his shouted lies, insults and threats and the Democrats’ scattered efforts to respond to them.

I confess that the drama obsesses me, too. As part of my daily morning ritual, I turn on cable news for the latest evidence of Trump’s insanity. I read the morning paper, drink coffee and pet one of our cats in a burst of multitasking. Then I go for a walk around the neighborhood.

That’s when I am reminded again that the homeless and their troubles haven’t made it onto the presidential campaign agenda. That omission is painfully evident as I pass by the increasing numbers of homeless who live in tents or under blankets on the streets of Los Angeles. Where were the homeless in the Democratic presidential debate this week? They got barely a mention.

At a Starbucks a few blocks from my house, an elderly African American man seated in a wheelchair on the sidewalk recently asked if I could help him out. I gave him some money.

“Where did you spend the night?” I asked.

“In a tent, near downtown,” he replied. He took the Expo Line commuter train to this more affluent neighborhood, where he had a better shot at some handouts. When he said “near downtown,” he likely meant skid row, the largest of the city’s ragged encampments, where the tents are packed so tightly on the sidewalks that passersby must walk in the street.

The man in front of Starbucks reflected much about the American homeless crisis. It is, to a large extent, a black crisis, inextricably linked to the systemic racism directed against African Americans.

African Americans make up 40% of the nation’s homeless, but only 13% of the population, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. In California, blacks are 6.5% of the population but comprise 40% of the homeless. This is a higher percentage than for Latinos, Asian Americans and whites.

There are many causes of the high rate of black homelessness, but behind them all is invariably the great affliction of American society: racism.

As the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the area’s main anti-homeless organization, put it recently:

<blockquote>”The impact of institutional and structural racism in education, criminal justice, housing, employment, health care and access to opportunities cannot be denied: Homelessness is a byproduct of racism in America.”</blockquote>

It is also a byproduct of income inequality, as racism and income inequality are also related.

Racism dooms too many African Americans to poor education, a fact that plays a key role in depriving them of the possibility for economic upward mobility. It maroons them in poor neighborhoods with substandard schools. This makes it hard to climb out of poverty and homelessness. Add to this that the poor need two or three jobs to survive, and you begin to see how they live in constant peril of losing their housing.

“We see that just one expense, one emergency of $500 or $1,000, throws them over the edge,” said Megan Joseph, executive director of Rise Together, a San Francisco Bay Area anti-poverty group. “We’re talking about a huge percentage that’s living on the edge and barely [making] ends meet.”

I am among many reporters who have spent years examining homelessness. I’ve interviewed people of all races who have become homeless at one point or another. I’ve talked to the admirable people who are dedicating their lives to fighting for the homeless, working in the streets, in medical care facilities, drug rehab clinics and jails. I still wonder how they keep at it day after day.

It is an endless war. And with Trump and the right in power, I don’t see the end to it. The president’s only interest in the homeless is to blame them for violating homeowners’ and merchants’ rights, and to somehow link them to the Democrats, as he does with undocumented immigrants. That’s what he did on a recent visit to California.

The homeless have no political clout. There are no votes for politicians to gain for helping them. They don’t do much marching or demonstrating. Political organizers don’t bother with them. The people who care are the volunteers, unpaid or low-paid, trying to steer them into the limited number of housing and aid programs that exist.

There seems to be no place for them in the presidential campaign.

I don’t have solutions. I once made the mistake of confessing that to Roosevelt Grier, the great National Football League star turned minister, when he asked me for my ideas on solving some problem. I said I was just a reporter. He looked down at me from his lineman’s bulk and in a powerful voice said it was my duty to have solutions. I believe he said that God wanted me to have them.

So here are some ideas, although not solutions: Raise taxes on the rich and big corporations, with the money going for housing for the poor, along with medical and mental health services.

Build public works projects in the hardest-hit areas. Many of the homeless are just a job away from making it. Give them a break.

And here is one more idea: The presidential candidates should talk about the homeless, visit the encampments, hear the stories and convince their more fortunate constituents to help. Out of sight, out of mind is no longer acceptable.

The post Presidential Candidates Refuse to Discuss the Country’s Worst Crisis appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

US-Turkey Frictions Raise Doubts About Nukes at Turk Base

TruthDig.com News -

WASHINGTON—Frayed U.S. relations with Turkey over its incursion in Syria raise a sensitive question rarely discussed in public: Should the United States remove the nuclear bombs it has long stored at a Turkish air base?

It’s a tricky matter for several reasons, including the fact that by longstanding policy, the U.S. government does not publicly acknowledge locations of nuclear weapons overseas. Still, it is almost an open secret that the U.S. has as many as 50 B-61 bombs stored under heavy guard at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey.

President Donald Trump implicitly acknowledged the stockpile this week when asked by a reporter how confident he was of the bombs’ security.

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“We’re confident,” he said.

Turkey, a NATO ally, has reportedly hosted American nuclear weapons for 60 years. The bombs could be dropped by U.S. planes in a nuclear war. The arrangement at Incirlik air base is part of NATO’s policy of linking Turkey and other member countries to the alliance’s aim of deterring war by having a relatively small number of nuclear weapons based in Europe. Removing them, therefore, would be a diplomatic complication.

There is no known evidence that the nuclear weapons at Incirlik are at direct risk, but relations between Washington and Ankara are at perhaps a historic low and the war in Syria has grown more complex and unpredictable. Incirlik is about 150 miles from Syria by road.

Thursday’s announced U.S. deal with Turkey to pause its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria may have slowed the deterioration of relations. But the overall direction has been decidedly and increasingly negative.

“The arc of their behavior over the past several years has been terrible,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last Sunday, noting that Ankara defied repeated U.S. warnings not to purchase a Russian air defense system that the White House has likened to a portal for Russian spying. He added: “I mean, they are spinning out of the Western orbit, if you will.”

In July, the Pentagon kicked Turkey out of its F-35 fighter jet program because Turkey refused to halt its purchase of the Russian-made air defense system. This was a major blow to U.S.-Turkey relations and raised questions in Washington about whether Turkey was a reliable ally.

Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and senior Pentagon official, said Friday he believes the nuclear weapons are safe and secure. He sees risk in removing them.

“I’m not in favor of taking any actions that would potentially accelerate Turkey’s thinking about pursuing its own independent nuclear deterrent,” he said, noting that Erdogan as recently as September mentioned this possibility.

Some American arms control experts say the U.S. bombs at Incirlik would be safer in another NATO member country.

Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, who has followed the issue for many years, said in an interview that a review of options for the U.S. bombs at Incirlik, near the city of Adana, is long overdue. He believes the Air Force, which is responsible for the bombs, has grown concerned about their security in recent years.

“The Air Force is concerned about not only the standard physical perimeters — whether they are good enough — but also about the manpower on the base, whether they have enough to hold back an attack from someone,” Kristensen said.

The conflict in northern Syria, which has only grown more complex and unpredictable with a U.S. troop withdrawal, has added a new layer of worry for American officials, he said.

“They’re afraid of the spillover” inside Turkey, he said.

The Pentagon has declined to comment on the matter.

“It is U.S. policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence or absence of nuclear weapons at any general or specific location,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Uriah Orland, a Pentagon spokesman. “The U.S. does not discuss the movement of nuclear weapons, the capability to store weapons at U.S. or foreign locations or planning for any of these activities.”

Even private experts who study the matter are not sure how many weapons are stored there, but Kristensen believes there are up to 50 B-61 bombs designed to be dropped by U.S. fighter aircraft. He says the U.S. has had nuclear weapons in Turkey continuously since 1959.

The bombs in Turkey are part of a network of roughly 150 U.S. air-delivered nuclear weapons based in Europe. Kristensen says the host countries, in addition to Turkey, are Belgium, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday he and Trump share “love and respect,” but he also let little doubt that he was offended by an Oct. 9 letter from Trump telling Erdogan, “Don’t be a fool!”

Erdogan told reporters Trump’s words were not compatible with “political and diplomatic courtesy” and would not be forgotten. He said he would “do what’s necessary” about the letter “when the time comes.” He did not elaborate.

The post US-Turkey Frictions Raise Doubts About Nukes at Turk Base appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

L Devine Is Defining the Pop Music Genre—By Making It Messier

Mother Jones Magazine -

Pop music can suck—like really suck—sometimes. It also can be really good—like really good—sometimes. But for too long the genre was demeaned as exclusively “the taste of 13-year-olds.” Critics were long given license to tear into the genre and its stars. In a 2014 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair poll, they asked “Which decade had the worst music?” and an overwhelming 42 percent of respondents said it was the current decade. Pop music, according to one headline, has been “Literally Ruining Our Brains.

Of late, that critical consensus has shifted. While pop music has always had stars both mainstream and underground defying stereotypes, only recently has the modern pop genre been dissected and intellectualized with thorough fanfare. Which is good: Because artists like L Devine deserve it.

Devine—British born Olivia Devine—represents the type of pop artist that’s shaping the future of the genre. (Which is why there’s no shortage of associations between her and the often hailed “Pop Star of the FutureCharli XCX.) Pop music has always evolved through adaptation of the underground, pop forever consuming smaller genres to then spit them out mixed with the mass-produced. Devine herself put it best in an interview with Dork“I got into pop music, not because I listen to it more than other genres, but because pop music is the one you can bend the most.”

This attitude, that “pop music is the one you can bend the most,” is what’s flipping the age old genre stereotype that people listen to pop because it is formulaic. Artists like Charli XCX, Bree Runway, Dorian Electra, Slayyyter, Carly Rae Jepsen, and yes, Devine, know that the only way to break the rules is to know them. They make a type of meta-pop that is self aware.

From her heartbreaking track “Daughter” to the horny anthem “Naked Alone,” Devine has defined herself as a pop artist that pushes limits. “[Pop] doesn’t really have any boundaries,” she reiterated to Dork. “You can constantly reinvent what it is and what it means to you.”

Part of what defines pop music is its inability to be defined. As Stereogum’s Chris DeVille wrote in his annual State Of Pop Address, “the concept of pop music is slippery and subjective.” He echoed Jon Caramanica’s point that pop “can be a descriptor of audience size, indicating something that’s popular, or it can be a genre tag, specifying a sound.” Caramanica continued to note that the “meanings of pop have been so tightly tethered” that they are “difficult to disentangle.”

Devine’s newest single, “Peachy Keen,” asks: Why should we even try? “Peachy Keen” samples one of 1981’s biggest hits, Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” before launching into a mix of synthesized keys and hip hop beats. The track compresses almost 40 years of music and technological developments into a sound. All of it is pop.

Devine’s discography thrives on the mixing and matching of genres—an intertwined and tangled mess. She purposefully refashions the tropes. There’s the sampling of one of pop culture’s favorite references, 1988’s Heathers in “Peer Pressure.” Her track “Panic” clearly takes inspiration from her origins as a singer/songwriter (and yes, punk). (Plus, she does it all while being unapologetically queer.) 

Pop music has always been about being unapologetic—about doing the most and being the most. (Which is maybe why so many dislike it.) It’s an essentially queer genre of music—from yesteryear’s Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday to today’s megastars like Elton John and Lady Gaga. Devine’s blatant and casual inclusion of her queer identity further expands pop music’s fearless defiance.

As streaming continues to redefine pop music, weirder sub-genres will emerge to chase listens. (Whisper-pop anyone?) But an algorithm is still a formula. L Devine’s experimentation isn’t a quest to be part of the newest fad. Instead, with each new release, Devine proves that as much as we want to define pop, the magnetism of the genre is just how much you can do with it.

A Tool for Dismantling Capitalism Is Hiding in Plain Sight

TruthDig.com News -

“Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State”

A book by Samuel Stein

Over computerized images of a nondescript early American city and a rushing river, a man with a quiet voice and a delightful Philadelphia accent describes the process by which the city of Franklin developed its first water distribution system. The Goodhill Water Works, the voice explains, was created after a series of yellow fever outbreaks that the city blamed on contaminated local water. This led town elites to decide that a new water source was required for the growing municipality. Despite the fact that the state-of-the-art space doubled as a tourist attraction while it pumped fresh water straight into town, residents could only access the water if they had the money to pay for installation and a subscription. Otherwise, they would have to use the few free fountains placed around the city. The bulk of the city’s residents — including indentured servants, a small number of enslaved people, and free workers — had no time, money, or, in some cases, freedom to take in the beautiful grounds and stunning architecture. For them, despite this impressive achievement on the road to their city’s modernization, it was more or less as if nothing had changed at all.

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Franklin, as you may have guessed, is not a real place. It is the creation of Justin Roczniak, who publishes a series on YouTube (where he goes by donoteat01) using the video game “Cities: Skylines” to explore the historical development of cities, and to discuss how inequality has been built into American cities from their earliest moments. Starting with an Indigenous settlement along a river, Roczniak describes the displacements and conflicts that have gone into city-building, as well as developments such as the carceral system and organized labor. A self-described socialist, Roczniak uses this historical narrative to examine “how we view cities and what cities are capable of,” as he told Kotaku last year.

The series weds the often wonkish world of urban planning discourse to the pop culture juggernaut that is gaming, and in doing so claims a space in both fields for leftist analysis. And both urban planning and gaming are in dire need of some socialism. In recent years, the public urban planning conversation has been dominated by “urbanism,” a bland quasi-progressive ideology that typically lacks any coherent class or power analysis. Now a dominant tendency among city-planners and many municipal politicians, urbanism treats procedural changes like tweaks to zoning laws as key to solving the problems of the modern city.

Because urbanism dominates discussions about cities — about what ails them and how to fix them — structural analyses have been sorely lacking. The discourse around gentrification still focuses too much on fancy coffee shops and not enough on systematic disinvestment in areas inhabited by people of color and the working class. For urbanists, unaffordable housing can be solved by increasing the amount and density of housing units through “upzoning,” while a more structural analysis would focus on rent control or building more public housing.

Much like Roczniak’s YouTube series, Samuel Stein’s captivating “Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State” is an effort to shift the discussion away from urbanism and toward socialism. Stein offers a planner and geographer’s perspective on the way the city works today, but also shows that planners — even those interested in dismantling oppressive systems — often uphold the power of capital. “[C]apitalism makes the best of planning impossible,” he writes. “[A]ny good that planners do is filtered through a system that dispossesses those who cannot pay.” It is clear that Stein is interested in recuperating a more expansive set of possibilities for cities and city-dwellers than exists under capitalism, and that he sees planning as an avenue toward them. “Capital City” ultimately shows that socialists belong in the public conversation about cities — a conversation that has long been controlled by neoliberal politics ranging from austerity on the right to urbanism on the center-left.


“Capital City” begins with a brief history of planning as both practice and profession. Stein shows how race and class often determine the way that space is structured in the United States. In addition to noting the racist practices of redlining and segregation, Stein discusses a foundational aspect of American history that has often been ignored in mainstream discussions of how cities and space are apportioned: the displacement and genocide of Indigenous peoples. He shows that settler colonialism has been — and continues to be — key to the establishment and expansion of American cities. As Europeans arrived on the land now known as the United States and dispossessed Indigenous nations, they engaged in a “spatial form of primitive accumulation,” building their early towns’ street grids over top of Indigenous settlements and trails.

Click here to read long excerpts of “Capital City” at Google Books.

After outlining this history, Stein lays out his book’s central argument: in recent decades, the financialization of real estate has given rise to what he terms the “real estate state.” Real estate capital exerts inordinate power over the levers of government, he argues, taking advantage of deindustrialization to extract value from cities. “When manufacturing firms exited post-war urban centers,” Stein writes, “they left behind not just a tremendous amount of property but also a political vacuum.” Real estate capital was perfectly situated to take advantage of the glut of now-empty warehouses and abandoned space, and, because it was necessarily “place-based,” it had always been a presence in local politics.

As politicians sought to fill the gap left by the disappearance of industry, many aligned with development-friendly movements and explicitly pushed for gentrification as a way of “renewing” city cores. Desperate to retain capital investment — a desperation that remains today, as the grotesque municipal competition for Amazon’s “HQ2” illustrated — cities have taken to enticing developers and real estate investors with “geobribes.” One of the most egregious examples that Stein names is Tax Increment Financing, a “widely used development incentive” in which a city designates a “blighted” area, issues bonds to pay for infrastructure upgrades, and then gives the improved area over to a private developer to build private housing or retail space. The city is responsible for making the bondholders whole whether the area is profitable or not; meanwhile, if it is profitable, the developer accrues most of that windfall (save whatever they pay in taxes), and another neighborhood is dramatically gentrified. Strategies like these allow real estate developers to reap profits through a cruel, mutually constitutive process of dis- and hyper-investment (the latter is more commonly called gentrification).

While much of the United States is experiencing disinvestment, rarefied areas are experiencing a flood of capital invested in land and property, resulting in skyrocketing costs of living. The two processes go hand in hand, Stein explains: disinvestment causes property values to crater and leads better-heeled (often white) residents to depart, typically taking needed community services and amenities with them. These declining property values then create the conditions for a new round of hyper-investment, which takes advantage of a gap between profit potential and existing value. In other words, disinvestment causes property values to decline enough so that developers can come back, years or decades later, and make a killing, sweeping up now-cheapened real estate and “flipping” it for sale to a new round of gentrifying buyers.


Despite writing that real estate capital’s power is a global phenomenon, Stein is overwhelmingly focused on the United States, and specifically New York City; readers from outside this epicenter of real estate capital will largely be left to draw their own conclusions about how Stein’s analysis relates to their own surroundings. But there are good reasons to focus on New York City too. First, as Stein acknowledges, it is the city he lives in and knows best. More importantly, the focus on New York City allows Stein to draw on the city’s history as a site for early and extreme experiments in financializing the spaces in which we live.

The city was a leader in public housing and rent control in the first several decades of the 20th century, owing largely to well-organized tenants’ movements. Yet after the financial crisis of the 1970s, it led a different way — rapidly reversing those earlier working-class gains. Stein explains that New York was pulled back “from the brink of bankruptcy” by a coalition of “banks, real estate interests and municipal unions, who disciplined the city through a process of privatization and disinvestment from social services that continues to this day.” Local politicians, restrained and still smarting from their brush with economic disaster, were eager to appease capital. In addition to buying up abandoned industrial spaces, enterprising real estate interests began to eye neighborhoods that had low property values due to the longstanding racist practice of redlining (by which black residents were forced into specific neighborhoods that were then systematically underserviced). They saw in both locations an opportunity to capitalize on disinvestment. By converting industrial space for residential purposes, pushing out poor (mostly nonwhite) residents, improving existing housing stock, and replacing it with more luxurious spaces, landlords and developers attracted higher-income residents, raised property values, and remade whole segments of the city “from places into products.”

Today, New York is a playground for the wealthy where thousands of luxury apartments sit empty, serving as some business tycoon’s fifth pied-à-terre, as the workers who make the city run crowd into cramped apartments or, worse yet, don’t have a home at all. The situation has been exacerbated by city and state governments happy to sell out working-class residents in favor of private investment.

To illustrate this last point, Stein looks at the policies of New York’s two most recent mayors: incumbent Bill de Blasio and billionaire business magnate Michael Bloomberg. Though the two are often framed as polar political opposites, with Bloomberg prioritizing corporate interests and de Blasio a progressive, Stein shows that, in many ways, de Blasio has continued Bloomberg-era real estate policies that have allowed investors and developers to run roughshod over what was once a livable city for the 99 percent.

Both Bloomberg and de Blasio have used zoning as a way to reshape certain areas of the city. Bloomberg’s practice was to rezone neighborhoods. Stein writes that there was a specific, racist character to Bloomberg’s pattern of upzoning primarily working-class, black areas while, in essence, protecting the character and value of primarily white neighborhoods. By contrast, de Blasio has been a proponent of inclusionary zoning, and so is widely seen as progressive by urbanist types. Stein, however, does a superb job of describing exactly why de Blasio’s policy does not deserve that reputation. Because it requires some (usually small) number of housing units in a new development to be “affordable,” it relies on building more unaffordable housing in order to add a small number of affordable housing units in a given development (and even then, the measure of an “affordable” apartment is unreachable for many New Yorkers). De Blasio’s metric for “affordability,” while an improvement over Bloomberg’s, still effectively prices out 57 percent of New York’s Black and Latinx residents.


Stein ends with a set of prescriptions for how radical planners might seek to use the tools at their disposal to “unmake the real estate state.” He is attentive to the difficulties that this call to action involves: “All consciousness is contradictory,” he writes almost apologetically, “but the situation for capitalist urban planners is especially thorny. They are simultaneously far-seeing visionaries and day-to-day pragmatists.” Ultimately, however, he sees promise for radical planning within the capitalist state (and this despite his earlier claim that by helping establish spatial order in capitalist states, “planners — whatever their intention — are working for the maintenance, defense and expansion of capitalism”). At the close of his book, Stein suggests that leftist planners could both make use of existing tools and widen the horizons of what is possible. In answer to the perennial question “reform or revolution,” it seems Stein would echo the little girl in the meme who asks, “Why not both?”

In this prescriptive section, Stein has something to offer almost everyone. Are you merely dipping your toes in the idea that the capitalist city has problems? Perhaps you’d be interested in using inclusionary zoning to target wealthy white neighborhoods for integration or protecting working-class areas with preservation policies. Skeptical about the prospect of repurposing tools originally designed for the benefit of the white and the wealthy? You might want to move on to socializing land and “unmaking the social relations that produce capitalist private property.” If that gives you pause and makes you ask how, exactly, we are supposed to accomplish such a goal, it’s time to look at the final section of this chapter: politics. Here, Stein readily acknowledges that planners cannot unmake the real estate state on their own — not even close. Mass politics that both forcefully advocate for specific goals and “make the status quo untenable” are integral to the process.

It’s clear from his prescriptions that Stein sees a joint effort between mass political movements and radical, avowedly anticapitalist planners as a fruitful path. Yet this prescription, simultaneously the most ambitious and the most realistic for actually effecting lasting change, feels tacked on given how vanishingly little space activists and organized grassroots politics are afforded throughout the book. He might have discussed previous examples of collaborations between planners and activists — collaborations that sometimes worked well and other times resulted in disaster. While groups like the Planners Network put progressive planners to work with community organizations, the midcentury project of “urban renewal” involved razing “blighted” (usually poor and/or nonwhite) areas to create new and apparently improved housing or retail, displacing existing tenants and disrupting their communities. A more comprehensive exploration of the complex historical relationship between planning and activism, and the tensions and possibilities in that pairing, might have grounded the analysis in a way that would give his conclusions more force.

Nevertheless, “Capital City” is a fascinating read for anyone interested in cities, capitalism, racism, or housing. It will undoubtedly be a great resource for socialists who are looking for common ground with urbanist friends or family (or a friendly method of radicalization). Stein has produced a book that is concise and digestible, without sacrificing analytical heft. Socialists are re-entering the popular conversation about cities from coast to coast, reminding people that winning another world is not only possible but necessary, and that we can only do it together. Stein’s work is an important addition to this movement, and, crucially, a promising tool for introducing more people to these ideas.

This article originally appeared on the Los Angeles Review of Books.


The post A Tool for Dismantling Capitalism Is Hiding in Plain Sight appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Will the GOP Become the Party of Blue-Collar Conservatism?

TruthDig.com News -

From the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt onward through to the 1990s, the Democrats had long been considered the party of the working class. That perception lingered long after the fact that by the 1990s, they had more accurately become the party of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, often embracing policies at variance with their traditional blue-collar supporters. As Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen outline in a paper sponsored by the Institute for New Economic Thinking: “Within the Democratic Party, the desires of party leaders who continue to depend on big money from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, health insurers, and other power centers collides [sic] head on with the needs of average Americans these leaders claim to defend.” So the Democratic Party, a historically center-left political grouping, has increasingly embraced a neoliberal market fundamentalist framework over the past 40 years, and thereby facilitated the growth of financialization (whereby the influence and power of a country’s financial sector become vast relative to the overall economy).

Donald Trump exploited that shift during his 2016 campaign: Not only did he proclaim his love for “the poorly educated,” but he also campaigned as an old Rust Belt Democrat—not only by attacking illegal immigration and offshoring, but also coming out against globalization, free trade, Wall Street, and especially Goldman Sachs.

As president, of course, Trump has proven incapable of “walking the walk,” even as he continued to speak about “draining the swamp” and eliminating business as usual in Washington. But there is increasing evidence suggesting that some of the more ambitious and opportunistic politicians in the GOP are seeking to exploit the material abandonment of working-class voters by the Democrats. Both Senators Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio are trying to move the party in a more pro-worker direction, championing a new kind of blue-collar conservatism that is supportive of unions and policies that emphasizes the “dignity of work.” Likewise, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has recently introduced a tax rebate for lower-income Americans to offset the tariffs President Trump has proposed on Chinese goods—essentially an annual payment from the federal government to citizens to offset any increased cost in consumer goods that might arise from Trump’s proposed tariffs, thus neutralizing the economic impact, and countering the political argument that the president’s trade war on Chinese goods ultimately represents a tax on American consumers. As Henry Olsen notes in the Washington Post:

“Cotton’s approach addresses both the economic and political challenges arising from Trump’s tariffs. Economically, giving the revenue back to average Americans offsets the expected rise in prices they will face as a result of the tariffs. Consumer spending, which was feared would decline in response to the price hikes, would now likely stay high: Why cut back in spending when you’re not losing any money? That would keep the economy strong.”

In other words, it’s a tax-time Universal Basic Income.

Cotton’s proposals would augment a little-discussed feature emerging now in the U.S. labor market, as CNBC’s Jeff Cox writes: for the first time in this cycle (which started in 2009), “the bottom half of earners are benefiting more than the top half—in fact, about twice as much, according to calculations by Goldman Sachs,” using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More recently, Derek Thompson of the Atlantic cites additional work by labor economist Nick Bunker, who makes the case that “wage growth is currently strongest for workers in low-wage industries, such as clothing stores, supermarkets, amusement parks, and casinos. And earnings are growing most slowly in higher-wage industries, such as medical labs, law firms, and broadcasting and telecom companies.” Absent a significant growth slowdown, these workers might increasingly identify their economic self-interest with Republicans, not Democrats, particularly given the increasingly restrictionist stance the GOP is adopting on immigration, which will further tighten the labor market structurally and enhance the relative bargaining position of American blue-collar workers.

The one lingering question is whether or not this trend will yet supersede the power and influence of the GOP’s historic corporate constituencies, notably oil, mining and chemical companies, Big Pharma, tobacco, the arms industry, and civil aviation. On the face of it, this could well prove to be a tall order. But it is conceivable if trade policy is ultimately rendered subordinate to national security concerns, as increasingly appears to be the case today. In the words of Michael Lind, all it would take is a national developmental industrial strategy predicated on sustaining U.S. military supremacy: “to identify and promote not specific companies but key ‘dual-use’ industries important in both defense and civilian commerce.” That would seem to be a more likely scenario for the GOP, one that would build on Trump’s steady inroads into the Democratic Party’s traditional blue-collar constituencies, while simultaneously catering to the party’s strong links to national defense interests.

Although a military-industrial strategy might run counter to some of the interests of the party’s traditional corporate backers (such as Charles Koch), it would likely prove hugely beneficial to America’s manufacturing heartland, particularly the country’s disaffected blue-collar workers. Historically, these workers have been Democrats, but their livelihoods have been decimated by decades of trade liberalization and other neoliberal policies. As Lind points out, a national industrial policy based on the model of Alexander Hamilton but married to “Cold War 2.0” could, therefore, consolidate the GOP’s efforts to become more of a party of the working class. And such a policy is not historically anomalous: during the original Cold War, free trade and globalization were always subject to the constraints of containing the expansion of Soviet-led communism. A large chunk of the world under the enemy sphere of influence was off-limits to American trade and capital.

Today, even with the overriding influence of the Koch brothers, and the Mercer family, a number of Republicans are geopolitical hawks first, and economic libertarians second. They increasingly see that it makes no sense to go to war against wage earners while claiming to protect the same wage earners from Chinese competition, especially if Beijing becomes the new locus of an emerging Cold War 2.0. Furthermore, if they are in safe, rock-solid GOP districts, they are less vulnerable to a primary attack from corporate interests antithetical to those positions. As geo-economics is increasingly remarried to geopolitics (as it was during the original Cold War), “blue-collar conservativism” will likely gain increasing policy traction in certain conservative circles, even though Republicans still have a ways to go before they can fully shift their party’s agenda toward a modern-day equivalent of “Bull Moose” progressivism.

Donald Trump is, first and foremost, a wrecker, as opposed to a builder. Arguably, that is one of the things that got him elected in the first place. But he has set the stage for a further political realignment, especially as more educated whites and elites migrate to the Democratic Party, and traditional Southern populists reside in the GOP. There are very few Fritz Hollings types left in the party, whose views on trade, immigration and manufacturing are closer to the Democrats’ historic New Deal constituencies. This theory, though, is not watertight, and new coalitions are still very much in flux. But as things stand today, ironically, the Democrats now have trade and open borders policies that are closer to those of the old Reagan/Bush Republicans and libertarians such as the Koch brothers, while the GOP policy under Trump is gravitating toward the old positions of the AFL/CIO on both trade and immigration, a policy combination that makes the embrace of a kind of blue-collar conservatism even more credible for the GOP. Furthermore, as trade issues (especially in regard to China) are increasingly conflated with national security concerns, the GOP may ultimately decide to build on Trump’s attempts to re-domicile key supply chains back to the U.S. From the national security hawk perspective, this will ensure that strategic industries necessary to sustain American military power remain on home shores, even if this conflicts with the principles of free trade, limited non-interventionist government. Sustaining permanent production on U.S. soil, not just innovation in America and production elsewhere, would be profoundly favorable to blue-collar workers (hitherto among the biggest casualties of globalization) and likely consolidate the GOP’s efforts to become the future party of the American working class, unless of course the Democrats suddenly and unexpectedly reclaim their New Deal legacy.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Marshall Auerback is a market analyst and commentator.

The post Will the GOP Become the Party of Blue-Collar Conservatism? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

John Kasich Calls for Impeachment

Mother Jones Magazine -

Yesterday, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted on national TV that Donald Trump had attempted to use vital military aide to extort Ukraine into investigating Democrats. Mulvaney made a valiant attempt to un-admit that in a statement issued hours later, but the damage was already done.

For some Republicans on Capitol Hill, Mulvaney’s offense wasn’t the fact of the quid pro quo; it was that he was honest enough, albeit briefly, to acknowledge it. Here are a couple of GOP aides bravely using anonymity to tell Politico that Mulvaney should “stop talking”:

Republicans lawmakers felt exasperated by the White House’s lack of discipline and coordination. “Mulvaney needs to learn when to stop talking,” a leadership aide told POLITICO. Democrats latched onto Mulvaney’s statements as further evidence of what they consider White House wrongdoing out in the open.

“He was deeply, deeply unhelpful,” said another House GOP aide.

But other Republicans did acknowledge the damning nature of what Mulvaney had revealed, as Politico noted:

“It’s not an etch a sketch,” Republican Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida said about Mulvaney’s comments. “It is kind of hard to argue that he didn’t say it, right? if I understood it correctly, he basically cleared up what was a matter of some vagueness that he basically said it was a quid pro quo.”

“You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative. Period,” added Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Today, John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio, took the criticism of Trump a step further. Kasich, who ran against Trump in the 2016 primary and has been an outspoken critic of the president, announced that because of the Mulvaney revelations, he now supports impeaching Trump. “It’s totally inappropriate,” Kasich said. “It’s an abuse of power.”

After hearing Mulvaney's comments, I now believe that @realDonaldTrump should be impeached by the US House and face a trial in the US Senate.

This is not a decision I've made lightly, but it's clear now that a line was crossed. This is an abuse of power. Action must be taken. pic.twitter.com/5p3QGmp8YN

— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) October 18, 2019

Why is the Trump Administration Trying to Tear This 26-Year-Old DACA Recipient Away From Her Child?

ACLU News -

Anahi Jaquez –Estrada is scared. As soon as Monday, she may be deported to a country she hardly knows: away from her 8-year-old daughter and her husband, both of whom are United States citizens. She has lived in the U.S. almost her entire life and is in the process of becoming a lawful permanent resident. Her story is at once exceptionally tragic and a paradigmatic example of how our immigration legal system is failing — and tearing families apart.

I met Anahi in late July at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention site in Aurora, Colorado, where she has spent the last year and a half. She shared her story through tears. She came to the U.S. at age 3 and grew up in the small town of Wiggins, Colorado. She was president of her senior high school class, played volleyball and basketball, and graduated with honors.

“I know my story [is] maybe one of a million stories regarding immigration, but I pray many people read [it].”

We are sharing her story here in the hope that it will shame the Department of Homeland Security into putting the brakes on her deportation — a step that would not only be compassionate, but logical.

Anahi has an approved petition for residency based on her marriage to a U.S. citizen and has filed an application for adjustment of status — if she wasn’t about to be deported, she would be free and awaiting her green card. The dark irony of her situation is this: While one arm of DHS is processing her green card application, the other is fighting in court to take her from her family and deport her before her application can be approved.

“I am truly scared I will be deported before my green card gets approved. With that I will [be] leaving my baby girl behind. The only difference from her to me is she is growing up without her mother.”

Her daughter Yasailie was born with a cleft palate. Since Anahi’s detention, 8-year-old Yasailie has been diagnosed with depression and borderline bipolar disorder. She is struggling in school, back in Wiggins, Anahi’s hometown.

Anahi describes her situation in a letter from August 14 to the ACLU:

“482 days of tears, fear, stress and confinement!”

Anahi had DACA status since 2015, but her nightmare began in 2018 after she pled guilty to misdemeanor insurance fraud and lost her DACA status. An insurance agent, she improperly sold insurance due to what her lawyer called “misplaced compassion for her home-owning client.” Though she never served time, she received a deferred sentence, she lost the protection that DACA status had conferred on her. In spring 2018 ICE detained her and placed her in deportation proceedings despite the fact she’s lived in the U.S. for more than 24 years.

ICE initially released her on a $5,000 bond to await the outcome of her case, but her ordeal was just beginning. An immigration officer reached out to ask her to return to the ICE field office and fix an error in her bond paperwork. She asked if she would be detained again, since she might be making the trip with her daughter, but he assured her she would not be.

Anahi was right to be worried, it was a classic ICE bait and switch. She arrived at the ICE field office and was told to take a seat. She expected to review paperwork — as ICE had told her over the phone — but minutes later, ICE officers handcuffed her and took her away. Anahi’s detention in Aurora would continue for months at a site where the ACLU of Colorado has documented medical neglect and abuse.

“We face many challenges here, which include no contact visitations with our family, lack of hygiene products, bad medical attention, and bad nutrition. We at times do not get our blankets washed up to 2 or so months…. At times, we do not have toilet paper, feminine pads, or paper towels for our dorm.”

Anahi told me that after an infectious disease outbreak at Aurora, medical staff drew blood from detained women in the open dorm area. They reused the same examination pads for each woman, even “after having blood from [other] detainees drip onto it.” 

“This has been my nightmare for 482 days and counting. Being kept away physically from my daughter[,] not being able to even hug her is also very tormenting; which is something many mothers in this facility feel.”

Anahi’s lawyer had won a stay of removal pending a decision on her appeal and green card application, meaning ICE had to hold off on her deportation. But ICE kept her in detention and appealed the stay. On Wednesday this week, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Anahi’s stay of removal — so now ICE can deport her, despite her ongoing legal fight.

According to her lawyer, Anahi wants desperately to be out of detention. Unfortunately, ICE refuses to release her unless she consents to her own deportation. The laws and policies governing Anahi’s case are illogical, unjust, and inhumane.

And the Trump administration is deploying them to effect maximum cruelty. ICE has set an ugly price for Anahi’s freedom: losing her family and her home.

Today Is My 5-Year Anniversary

Mother Jones Magazine -

Five years ago I was  diagnosed with multiple myeloma and my oncologist told me the average lifespan following diagnosis was . . . about five years. But here I am, feeling fine¹ and testing out brand new chemo meds that didn’t even exist in 2014.

So what do I want for my anniversary? How about a donation to our fundraising campaign dedicated to corruption in politics—a timely topic if ever there was one? All contributions will be doubled, so this is a great bargain.

Still not enough? Tomorrow is my birthday. I’d like a cake and a contribution to our fundraising drive. How about it?

Still not convinced? Today’s catblogging offered you three separate pictures of two different cats. That must be worth a contribution all by itself.

Or maybe I can guilt you into it? After all, there’s no telling how many years I have left to pester you about fundraising drives. You’d feel bad if you ignored this one and it turned out to be my last, wouldn’t you?²

To contribute via PayPal or credit card, just click here.

¹Except for the Evil Dex, of course, but waddayougonnado? Things could be a whole lot worse.

²Journalistic integrity forces me to acknowledge that this is unlikely. I should have many more years ahead of me. But I could always get hit by a bus.

Friday Cat Blogging – 18 October 2019

Mother Jones Magazine -

We are all happily ensconced in the suburbs of Chicago now, and the cats have been exploring their new home. I figure they deserve a better picture than they got last week, peeking warily out of their cage in the back of a Honda, so here they are in all their natural glamor. That’s Timmy on the left and Mocha on the right:

Here is Timmy showing off for the camera:

And here is Mocha making the rounds of Dr. Marc’s study:

Patients’ Needs, Not Personal Beliefs, Come First in Health Care

ACLU News -

From the start, the Trump administration has issued one regulation after another that uses religion to deny people — particularly pregnant people, people with low-incomes, and LGBTQ people — health care access and coverage. Today, we are asking a federal district court in New York to strike down one of the most pernicious of these regulations: the refusal of care rule.

The refusal of care rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), allows health care providers who receive federal funds to withhold critical information and to obstruct patient’s access to essential health care invoking their personal religious or moral beliefs — even in emergencies. The rule means that even if a hospital discovers an employee would be unwilling to care for all patients equally, they have to remain employed.

This could be deadly for patients. When asked, HHS refused to even answer whether the rule would allow a paramedic to refuse to drive a patient with a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy to the hospital because the paramedic knows the patient will receive an abortion. You read that right: The federal agency whose mission it is “to enhance and protect the health and well-being” of all of us would allow paramedics to abandon patients in an emergency because they personally are anti-abortion. Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, but those beliefs cannot be used to discriminate against others or to deny critical health care. 

The refusal of care rule’s disregard for the harm to patients is alarming, but, unfortunately, not surprising. Early on, the Trump administration told the country that it would prioritize religious beliefs — and, let’s be clear, a very specific set of religious beliefs — above the needs of patients, regardless of the harms to individuals. And it has certainly lived up to that promise.

Indeed, the refusal of care rule is just one example of many. One of the first in this disturbing trend was the Trump administration’s move in October 2017 to roll back rules under the Affordable Care Act that ensure people have contraception coverage in their health plans without a co-pay. The Trump rule would allow almost any employer or university to block health insurance coverage for contraception for their employees or students because of their religious opposition to contraception. Fortunately, that rule has been blocked nationwide.

Then, in March 2019, the Trump administration set its sights on Title X, the nation’s only family planning program and the sole source of this kind of care for millions of low-income patients. HHS issued rules that allow health care providers to withhold information about abortion from patients — even when the patient specifically asks about it — based on the provider’s religious opposition. The administration is still trying to push trusted providers out of the Title X program and invite in religiously affiliated providers that will withhold critical information from patients. The Title X rule is already in effect, and participants across the country are being forced to withdraw from the program. Our case challenging the rules is ongoing.

Most recently, in May 2019, the Trump administration went after protections for transgender individuals and others who face sex discrimination in health care and insurance coverage. HHS has included a proposal to roll back those protections by carving out an absolute exemption for religiously-affiliated health care providers from the prohibition on sex discrimination. This would not just apply to a handful of providers: One in six patients is treated in a Catholic facility each year, and religious hospitals are also increasingly the only health care option in many regions. In 2016, 46 communities relied on a Catholic provider as their sole community hospital.

In each instance, the administration cites religious refusals as a reason to undermine the very programs they are tasked with advancing, including by pushing trusted health care providers out of those programs and by inviting providers into health care programs that withhold critical care and information from patients.

It’s clear that the Trump administration is doing everything it can to strip patients of protections that ensure that they get the proper health care, and is ignoring the devastating consequences of being denied care, including by our clients who were turned away from religiously affiliated hospitals when they needed treatment

If this rule goes into effect next month as planned, the harms to patients and the health care providers that care for them will be real and exceedingly difficult to mitigate. That’s why we’re heading to court today to protect patients and make sure that the Trump administration does not do any more damage to health care access.

‘Finance Can Be Something That Helps Rather Than Harms Our Communities’ - CounterSpin interview with Trinity Tran on public banking

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

Janine Jackson interviewed Public Bank LA’s Trinity Tran about public banking for the October 11, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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MP3 Link

Fresno Bee (10/2/19)

Janine Jackson: The October 2 Fresno Bee reported that California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law allowing cities in California to start their own public banks, to make it easier to fund projects in the public interest. Atypically for such a story, the Bee led with opponents’ argument that “such ventures are risky and impractical,” before offering supporters’ successful view, and a statement from the bill’s author, which the story then undercut with the reporter’s claim that “analyses” determined public banks “could reduce state tax revenue.” Followed by a statement from the California Bankers Association that public banks could “harm local banks,” put taxpayer dollars at risk, and “aren’t always in the best interest of the public.” Before closing with the words of the head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association that the commercial banking industry already provides any services public banks could, and “government tends to mess up most of the things it touches.”

While that story was almost humorously negative, don’t expect a lot of corporate media love for public banks, precisely to the extent that they represent, as David Dayen wrote recently, “a radical shift in understanding money, what it represents, and how it can work collectively.” Of course, that’s exactly why the idea, and this historic step, is so exciting. Joining us now to talk about what just happened in California is Trinity Tran. She’s the co-founder and lead organizer for Public Bank LA, and a founding member of the California Public Banking Alliance. She joins us by phone from Los Angeles. Welcome to CounterSpin, Trinity Tran.

Trinity Tran: Thank you, Janine, thanks for having me.

JJ: Well, this is a big deal. But I haven’t seen too much media yet, outside of California. So let’s just start with what the Public Banking Act, formerly AB 857, that Newsom signed–what does it do? Why is it historic?

Trinity Tran: “It essentially is a David vs. Goliath story of an all-volunteer group of activists that went toe-to-toe with well-funded banking lobbyists to push this bill through the California state legislature.” (image: Public Banking Institute)

TT: Yes, this has been a low-key win. But it’s been quite incredible, because it essentially is a David vs. Goliath story of an all-volunteer group of activists that went toe-to-toe with well-funded banking lobbyists to push this bill through the California state legislature. And, of course, as you just mentioned, Governor Newsom signed the bill last week.

So what AB 857 does is, it sets up a legal and regulatory framework for public banks to be regulated by the California Department of Business Oversight. It allows and empowers California cities and counties to form their own banks.

Currently in California, we don’t have a public banking option. The only public bank in the United States is the Bank of North Dakota, in the state of North Dakota, which is one of the only banks that survived the economic crash of 2008, really, and has been highly successful for the last century. Returned 18% on investment back to the general fund. So that provides a great model for us to emulate here in California.

So now that Governor Newsom has signed this bill, it opens the doors for cities and counties in California to be able to create a business plan, and submit the business plan to the Department of Business Oversight for approval, to begin the process, to be able to recapture all the interest and fees that right now we pay to out-of-state Wall Street banks, who don’t have a fiduciary duty to invest in California communities.

So this is a very exciting step for California, and is potentially going to shift the national conversation behind finance. What we’re doing is reenvisioning what finance is; it can be something that helps rather than harms our communities. We’re redirecting the flow of money. Instead of our taxpayer dollars going to Wall Street banks, who then leverage our funds to finance private prisons and immigrant detention centers and fossil fuel projects, we’re able to circulate that money back into our local economies, to actually address things that we need in California, such as affordable housing and green energy infrastructure and small business loans.

JJ: Part of what is so different about public banks is not just what they would fund, but how they work. The idea that they would be more transparent than commercial banks and more accountable and more, essentially, local. It’s not just a what; it’s also how it works and who’s involved, isn’t that right?

TT: Exactly. Deposits are made locally, investments are local, the decisions are made locally. It’s a return to local control. In California, over the last 20 years, we’ve lost over 75% of our local banks. And that means that wealth is getting siphoned out of the communities, to line the pockets of out-of-state bankers.

Cal Matters (4/28/19)

JJ: One of the most widely circulated columns was this column by Dan Walters, in which he worried that if the bill became law, we could see political pull being used to direct loans from these banks. And that made me think of how withholding loans and redlining, how much lasting damage that did and does, in the black community in particular, and the idea that somehow having it in the hands of the public would introduce the idea of this kind of interference…is very disturbing. But what I really wanted to say was, what I think is so interesting about public banking, is that it’s not trickle-down. Democratized finance really helps the worst-off first, in a way.

TT: Absolutely. Regarding the decision-making process on loans and investments, the bank will have an independent board of directors.

JJ: Right.

TT: And that’s going to be worked out in the business plan, that has to get approved by the California Department of Business Oversight, to ensure that there isn’t any political interference. And, of course, activists will be working hand-in-hand with legislators across the state to ensure that the banks are going to be the most democratic and transparent as possible.

JJ: And then, just the idea, to the point that communities of color might see themselves particularly invested in this sort of effort, as having been particularly harmed by the private banking industry.

TT: Yes, having stakeholders be a part of the buildout of the banks is going to be very critical to its success. We don’t want these banks just to be built by financial experts and bankers. We plan on, here in Los Angeles, and I know with our allies across the state, we plan on having community forums to educate constituents and bring in community leaders and stakeholders, to be part of the conversation on what the buildout of these banks is going to look like.

AB 857 was created as a very lightweight bill, so we would be able to give flexibility to localities and local governments across the state to design a bank with lending priorities that would reflect the needs of their constituents.

JJ: Some of the coverage that I’ve seen has noted that North Dakota, as you mentioned earlier, the only other state with a public bank system, or a public bank; that was 100 years ago, and now California. It seems unlikely that we will wait another hundred years to see another place take up public banking. You do see what happened in California as a flexible frame, as you’re putting it, but still a frame for something that other places could take up?

TT: Absolutely. It really is the inevitable evolution of a financial system that’s only served a very small handful of people. And this has been said many times before: It is an idea that is long overdue, it’s an idea whose time has come. So we were so thrilled to get the endorsement of over 180 organizations across the state, from grassroots to grass-tops, elected officials, including 17 cities and counties who signed on to endorse the bill, Democratic central committees from across the state, social justice groups, environmental groups; all across the board, people are unifying behind this idea. So we hope that this sets a precedent, California can set a precedent, for cities and states across the country.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Trinity Tran of Public Bank LA and the California Public Banking Alliance. Trinity Tran, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

TT: Thank you, Janine. Appreciate it.

Why I Can’t Get Excited About Impeaching Trump

TruthDig.com News -

This piece originally appeared on Chicago Reader.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has begun an impeachment inquiry into President Trump for asking Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter. I get that there is a strong desire for many Americans to be rid of what they see as the national nightmare of Trump’s presidency. But I urge caution for several reasons.

First, this impeachment inquiry will not succeed in getting rid of Trump. To win, a supermajority of the Senate must vote for impeachment. This will not happen. Even if the inquiry clearly shows that Trump withheld military aid to pressure President Zelensky to give him dirt on Joe and Hunter, the inquiry will also expose the sleaziness of the Bidens.

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After the successful overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government in 2014, Hunter Biden was paid $50,000 a month to sit on the board of Ukraine’s biggest gas producer, Burisma Holdings. While this shady deal might not provide a legal defense to Trump, an impeachment inquiry is political, not criminal, and the behavior of the Bidens will at least muddy the waters enough to assure that Trump will survive impeachment.

Second, the mere fact that our corporate-controlled Congress is willing to take up the impeachment inquiry guarantees that it will produce no major reforms to better the lives of most Americans. Keep in mind that our national politics is dominated by two political parties that are beholden to the interests of big-money donors. Sure, there are a few members of Congress who don’t rely on big donors, but they are the exception, and they do not control the agenda of their parties. Thus, rest assured that the big donors to Congress—big pharma, fossil fuel extractors, Wall Street, weapons manufacturers, agribusiness, big insurance, and for-profit health care—approve of its spending six months debating impeachment. Big business believes this impeachment inquiry will not threaten corporate profits or its ability to continue exerting control over government policy.

A dozen years ago, Speaker Pelosi rejected calls to begin an impeachment inquiry against President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for lying us into the war in Iraq. The evidence there was clear and unambiguous. Bush and Cheney told the American people that there was “no doubt” that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. In fact, as the Bush team knew, the evidence of Saddam’s WMDs was highly dubious. It was based on the word of a paid informant named Curveball, and on a crudely forged invoice purporting to show Saddam buying uranium from Africa. Both Curveball and the invoice were exposed as frauds, but Bush and Cheney continued lying to sell the war.

Bush’s lies resulted in the deaths of at least a million innocent people, the destruction of a country, and the creation of ISIS. He and Cheney committed monstrous crimes, similar to crimes resulting in the execution of German generals at Nuremberg after World War II. Why then did Speaker Pelosi announce in 2006 that impeachment was “off the table” for Bush? Because the big corporate donors didn’t want impeachment hearings over the Iraq war. Rather, the arms manufacturers, fossil fuel extractors, and other war profiteers want our presidents to be free to lie us into wars without any negative repercussions for the president, such as criminal penalties or impeachment.

The third reason I can’t get excited about impeachment hearings is that they won’t even be good entertainment. Back in October 1998, when Congress launched impeachment hearings against Bill Clinton relating to sex with an intern—another issue that was not in any way threatening to corporate profits—there were at least sordid details about a cigar and a stained dress that made it worthwhile turning on the TV.

To be sure, there are sordid details to the Ukraine story that could be exposed. After the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew the sovereign government, not only did Hunter Biden get a seat on the gas company board, but agricultural giant Monsanto got a big contract in Ukraine. Just last month, Trump’s special envoy for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, was forced to resign after it came out that he was advocating sending lethal tank-busting Javelin missiles, manufactured by Raytheon Co., to Ukraine, while Volker also worked for a lobbying firm and a think tank with financial ties to Raytheon.

These revelations about Ukraine could help expose the deep-seated and longstanding corruption of U.S. foreign policy, which includes overthrowing elected governments to serve the interests of corporations that then support the campaigns of lawmakers and presidents, producing the endless cycle of wars that are bankrupting our nation and accelerating the destruction of the planet. But this part of the Ukraine story would be very threatening to corporate profits. So don’t expect to hear much about it during the coming months of impeachment inquiries.   

Leonard C. Goodman is a Chicago criminal defense attorney and co-owner of the newly independent Reader.

The post Why I Can’t Get Excited About Impeaching Trump appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Facebook Says It’s Here to Help—But It Can’t Explain How

Mother Jones Magazine -

During a major address at Georgetown University on Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg kept hammering the same point: connecting people (on Facebook) and elevating their voices is good for society. Compromising on this (on Facebook), he argued, would stifle their free speech, which would be bad for society.

“Our mutual commitment to each other—that we hold each others’ right to express our views and be heard above our own desire to always get the outcomes we want—is how we make progress together,” he said.

The Facebook CEO made almost no effort to show how, in its 15 years of existence, Facebook actually helps.

“In the face of these tensions…a popular impulse is to pull back from free expression. We’re at another crossroads,” Zuckerberg read at another point, stressing that “the bigger story has always been regular people using their voice to take billions of individual steps forward to make our lives and our communities better. I believe in giving people a voice because, at the end of the day, I believe in people.”

Not only did this approach ignore the fact that, at least domestically, free speech is not imperiled, but it also skipped over something vital: how, or whether, Facebook can fulfill his vision that elevating free speech and giving people a voice makes anything better. While favoring abstract and theoretical—and not necessarily untrue—arguments about how connecting people and free speech can be good, the Facebook CEO made almost no effort to show how, in its 15 years of existence, Facebook actually helps serve those ends.

Maybe Zuckerberg and company think that Facebook’s contributions to these things are self-evident, but they aren’t. What is far more evident is how Facebook has undermined the well being of large swaths of the world by giving platforms to people who want to weaponize speech.

Free speech and more social cohesion, handled in a sustainable, responsible way, are unequivocally good, but Zuckerberg and Facebook no longer have the public confidence to warrant uncritical trust that they’ll handle these issues sustainably and responsibly. Over the last several years, United Nations investigators have said that Facebook helped exacerbate genocide in Myanmar, played a roll in radicalizing people to dangerous ideologies, gave Russian trolls a tool to influence the 2016 presidential election and, more generally, created a forum for the rapid dissemination of misinformation.

None of that even very limited selection of the company’s missteps came up in the speech, though Zuckerberg did briefly deviate from talking vaguely about theory to sprinkle in examples of the historic value of free speech—citing points of history that Facebook never existed in and wouldn’t be relevant to.

“In times of social tension, our impulse is often to pull back from free expression because we want the progress that comes in from free expression, but we don’t want this tension,” Zuckerberg said citing examples of how Martin Luther King Jr. was constitutionally jailed for peacefully protesting, efforts to stymy student protests of the Vietnam War, and the Supreme Court’s ruling that Eugene Debs could be imprisoned for criticizing World War I.

“In the end all of these decisions were wrong,” he solemnly told the crowd. In each of these examples that Zuckerberg plucked from high school American history lessons, the conflict is between dissidents and oppressive state power. Facebook is neither, and at this point arguably resembles the latter far more than the former.

The problems Facebook has helped cause happened because of how it was designed to make money. 

With even its own CEO stumbling to marshal evidence for his case, it’s hard to see how Facebook’s connect-people-at-all-costs mission will bend the arc of history towards justice like Zuckerberg says it will, especially given how the platform has recently helped elevate so many bad things.

Zuckerberg did make a brief, passing effort to nod to ways that Facebook has benefited America, mentioning his platform’s role in the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements. But neither example stands up to scrutiny.

“Movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo went viral on Facebook—the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was actually first used on Facebook—and this just wouldn’t have been possible in the same way before,” he said.

His particular claim—that the first mention of Black Lives Matter was on Facebook—is true, but so is the fact the white supremacist 2017 Unite The Right Rally in Charlottesville was also organized on Facebook, with the company only taking down the event page one day before the event. And Black Lives Matter probably didn’t need Facebook to thrive; the company just happened to have the dominant social media platform at the time when a community organizer first used the phrase in 2013. And yes, while #MeToo did go viral on Facebook, it first did so on Twitter and started even earlier on MySpace. It’s unlikely that Zuckerberg’s social media platform was necessary for the movement, which was charged by the work of investigative journalists.

The problems Facebook has helped cause—facilitating the spread of misinformation, exacerbating genocide, contributing to radicalization, giving massive platforms to the most incendiary and least substantive content producers—happened specifically because of how Facebook was designed to make the company’s executives, owners, and shareholders money. That’s a very real benefit accruing to a very small group. 

Perhaps there are other, revolutionary benefits to Facebook. The company certainly has a vast and vast and transformative reach. If Zuckerberg wants people to believe that that’s helping society though, he should probably figure out how.

Trump’s Evangelical Base Is Cracking Over Syria. Now He’s Scrambling to Keep His “Mandate of Heaven.”

Mother Jones Magazine -

When President Donald Trump appeared on Saturday night at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC, he was speaking to an audience of his most loyal supporters. But for the first time in his administration, he had done something that had awakened the long slumbering consciences of prominent evangelical leaders and their flocks. The week before the annual confab of conservative Christians, Trump impulsively decided to abandon the Kurds in Syria, and by the time the faithful had gathered at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, the Turks had already invaded and embarked on the slaughter of our one-time allies.

Throughout his tenure, white, evangelical Protestants have stood firm with the president; he secured 80 percent of their vote in 2016, and their approval of his presidency has hovered between 69 and 78 percent according to the Pew Research Center. In this relationship, the quid pro quo has been pretty obvious: They vote for him and ignore scandals about hush money for porn stars and children in cages. In return, he gives them conservative judges (and not just on the Supreme Court), an assault on abortion rights, jobs for many of their own in key government positions, a move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and clarion calls to safeguard a selective and weaponized idea of religious freedom whenever he can—even at the UN.

The first signs of evangelical distress began with 89-year-old Pat Robertson, the Southern Baptist minister, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, and evangelical superstar, who appeared on his syndicated program, the 700 Club, the morning after Trump’s announcement. He said he was “appalled” by the decision, concluding “I believe…the president of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of Heaven if he permits this to happen.”

Soon after Robertson’s admonition, and condemnations from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Trump acolyte and golfing partner Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the hallelujah chorus of others chimed in. Rev. Franklin Graham, who has been one of the most crawlingly obsequious of Trump’s ministers and had embarked on a thinly disguised political tour dubbed “Decision America” to further solidify support of the president, took to Twitter a few days later: 

TODAY I ask that you join me in praying for the lives affected by the White House decision to pull US troops out of northern Syria. Both Democrat & Republican leaders are deeply concerned bc this would be, in essence, abandoning our closest allies there—the Kurdish people. 1/2

— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) October 9, 2019

The backlash has led to a series of quiet moves by the Trump administration to mollify the religious right, reversing the usual dynamic between the two groups. Instead of Christians being put in the position of rationalizing Trump’s behavior, here was an instance of the Trump White House arraying itself in godliness to stay in their good graces.  

So what happened? Why would the fate of a beleaguered minority thousands of miles away embolden right wing evangelicals in a way that the president’s innumerable other transgressions haven’t?

One reason could be found praying over President Trump at the Values Voters meeting on Saturday night. Rev. Andrew Brunson was pastor with the Izmir Resurrection Church in Turkey and has been a cause célèbre for the religious right ever since he was arrested in October 2016 and told that his missionary work was a violation of Turkish national security. He was accused of being a spy for the ethnic Kurds, tried, and initially sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The evangelical community was outraged. One of its own had been persecuted for his religion by Muslims and turned into a geopolitical pawn. After he became president, Trump, with an able assist from his evangelical vice president Mike Pence pushed for Brunson’s release and, eventually, after White House pressure, Brunson was moved out of prison to house arrest. In 2018, Brunson was resentenced to three years in prison, which amounted to time served.

The pastor’s first stop upon his return to the United States was a visit with President Trump, with whom he prayed in the White House. Southern Baptist minister Robert Jeffress—who recently appeared on a Sunday edition of Fox & Friends warning of “a Civil War–like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal” should the impeachment inquiry be successful—praised the president’s accomplishment: “I join all Americans in sincere thanks to President Donald J. Trump and his administration for their relentless dedication to religious freedom and tough negotiations with Turkey to secure Pastor Brunson’s release today. Yet another example of ‘promise made, promise kept’ by the Trump administration. Praise God!”

But now the promise that was made became the promise that was broken. Certainly, Brunson’s ordeal illustrated that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was no friend of evangelical Christians. At the same time, there are many Christians among the vulnerable Kurdish communities in Syria.

“I think it gets to a loyalty and betrayal factor. The celebrity/large cash generating, influential, affinity organizational types place a real premium on loyalty—and often severely punish disloyalty.”

There is another factor at work though, one that is perhaps more difficult for non-evangelicals to fully appreciate. I reached out to an evangelical minister friend of mine and asked what he made of the unexpected criticisms from these leaders. “I think it gets to a loyalty and betrayal factor,” he texted. “The celebrity/large cash generating, influential, affinity organizational types place a real premium on loyalty—and often severely punish disloyalty.” He explained that this occurs within their organizations—not surprising given their authoritarian set up—and has been essential to maintaining their success and prosperity. Indeed it explains their previously unquestioning loyalty to Trump, “because he has delivered on his promises to us: on abortion, pounding on the evil secular, anti-Christian media, elevating our own to cabinet posts.” 

But when it comes to the Kurds, “they are known to have helped us win the war in Iraq and succeed in vanquishing ISIS in Syria,” he continued, “so people like Robertson would hold that they deserve our undying loyalty.” An unusual interplay was catalyzed in which Trump sided with Erdoğan, a persecutor of Christians, against the Kurds. He had convinced some of the evangelical leaders that the unsavory world leaders whom Trump has embraced—Putin and Kim most obviously—weren’t really so bad. But Erdoğan was different. 

So Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were deployed to Turkey to try and fix a mess that had clearly gotten out of hand. Again, the choice of these two to carry out the work was intended for both foreign and domestic consumption. They were the highest–ranking members of the administration, so they demonstrated respect to the Turkish president and a capacity to make a deal. At the same time, they are two of the truest believers, themselves prominent evangelical Christians, whose presence was another reminder that the religious right was in good hands with the Trump administration.

There were other reminders too. The homepage of the State Department website, for instance, when the Values Voters were gathering in DC, highlighted Pompeo’s speech to the American Association of Christian Counselors in Nashville, Tennessee. The title? “Being a Christian Leader.”

State Department

The same day, Attorney General William Barr stepped up and delivered his own jeremiad at the University of Notre Dame on the subject of religious liberty—a favorite of the Trump administration. He railed against “militant secularists”  who “are not content to leave religious people alone to practice their faith. Instead, they seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience.” He then spiraled into a passionate critique of secular society, ticking off its “moral chaos” and “irresponsible personal conduct” as well as “licentiousness—the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good.” The moral of his story? “Religion helps teach, train, and habituate people to want what is good.”

On October 27, the chaos following the Trump administration’s abandonment of the Kurds will be the subject of a “night of prayer” organized by Frontier Alliance International, a Christian international medical aid organization. “The event will neither be a condemnation nor a defense of President Trump or his Middle East policies,” the organizers write. “We are asking participants to leave partisan politics in the parking lot. We are gathering as Christians to consider and pray about issues that are much larger in scope than the decisions of a sitting President or the evolving dynamics of isolated geopolitical events. We aim to present the big picture, pray how the Lord would have us respond, and catalyze a Kurdish solidarity movement in the United States with the intention of also provoking the international community to do the same.” It will be held at the Trump Hotel in Washington. 


Trump’s Withdrawal From Forever War Is Just Another Con

TruthDig.com News -

On Monday, October 7, the U.S. withdrew 50 to 100 troops from positions near Syria’s border with Turkey, and two days later Turkey invaded Rojava, the de facto autonomous Kurdish region of northeast Syria. Trump is now taking credit for a temporary, tenuous ceasefire. In a blizzard of tweets and statements, Donald Trump has portrayed his chaotic tactical relocation of U.S. troops in Syria as a down payment on his endless promises to withdraw U.S. forces from endless wars in the greater Middle East.

On October 16, the U.S. Congress snatched the low-hanging political fruit of Trump’s muddled policy with a rare bipartisan vote of 354-60 to condemn the U.S. redeployment as a betrayal of the Kurds, a weakening of America’s credibility, a lifeline to ISIS, and a political gift to Russia, China and Iran.

But this is the same Congress that never mustered the integrity to debate or vote on the fateful decision to send U.S. troops into harm’s way in Syria in the first place. This vote still fails to fulfill Congress’s constitutional duty to decide whether U.S. troops should be risking their lives in illegal military operations in Syria, what they are supposed to be doing there or for how long. Members of Congress from both parties remain united in their shameful abdication of their constitutional authority over America’s illegal wars.

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Trump’s latest promises to “bring the troops home” were immediately exposed as empty rhetoric by a Pentagon press release on October 11, announcing that the Trump administration has actually increased its deployments of troops to the greater Middle East by 14,000 since May. There were already 60,000 troops stationed or deployed in the region, which the Congressional Research Service described in September as a long-term “baseline,” so the new deployments appear to have raised the total number of U.S. troops in the region to about 74,000.

Precise numbers of U.S. troops in each country are hard to pin down, especially since the Pentagon stopped publishing its troop strength in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in 2017. Based mainly on reports by the Congressional Research Service, these are the most accurate and up-to-date numbers we have found:

  • 14,000-15,000 (plus 8,000 from other NATO countries) in Afghanistan
  • about 7,000, mostly U.S. Navy, in Bahrain
  • 280 in Egypt
  • 5,000-10,000 in Iraq, mostly at Al Asad Air Base in Anbar Province
  • 2,800 in Jordan (some may now have been relocated to Iraq)
  • 13,000 in Kuwait, the fourth-largest permanent U.S. base nation after Germany, Japan and South Korea
  • a “few hundred” in Oman
  • at least 13,000 in Qatar, where the Pentagon just approved a $1.8 billion expansion of Al Udeid Air Base, U.S. Central Command’s regional occupation headquarters
  • about 3,500 in Saudi Arabia, including 500 sent in July and 2,500 more since September
  • 1,000-2,000 in Syria, who may or may not really be leaving
  • 1,750 at Incirlik and Izmir Air Bases in Turkey
  • more than 5,000 in the UAE, mostly at Al Dhafra Air Base

As for actually ending the wars that all these forces are waging or supporting, Trump escalated the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in 2017, and these bombing campaigns rumble on regardless of peace talks with the Taliban and declarations of victory over the Islamic State. U.S. air wars are often more devastating than ground warfare, especially to civilians.

Between 2001 and October 2018, the U.S. and its allies dropped more than 290,000 bombs and missiles on other countries. This reign of terror has not stopped, for according to U.S. airpower statistics, from November 2018 to September 2019 the U.S. has now dropped another 6,811 bombs on Afghanistan and 7,889 on Iraq and Syria.

In Donald Trump’s first 32 months in office, he is responsible for dropping 17,100 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan and 48,941 on Iraq and Syria, an average of a bomb or missile every 20 minutes. Despite his endless promises to end these wars, Trump has instead been dropping more bombs and missiles on other countries than George H.W. Bush and Obama put together.

When Congress finally invoked the War Powers Act to extricate U.S. forces from the Saudi-led war on Yemen, Trump vetoed the bill. The House has now attached that provision to the FY2020 NDAA military spending bill, but the Senate has not yet agreed to it, and Trump may find another way to exclude it.

Even as Donald Trump rails against the military-industrial complex that “likes war” and sometimes sounds sincere in his desire to end these wars, he keeps hiring arms industry executives to run his foreign and military policy. His first defense secretary was General Dynamics board member and retired General James Mattis. Then he brought in Boeing’s senior vice president Patrick Shanahan as acting secretary of defense, and now Raytheon lobbyist Mark Esper as secretary of defense. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his fortune as the co-founder of Thayer Aerospace. Trump boasts about being the best weapons salesman of all, touting his multibillion-dollar deals to provide the repressive Saudi regime with the weapons to commit crimes against humanity in Yemen.

And yet withdrawal from endless wars is one Trump campaign promise that Americans across the political spectrum hoped he would really fulfill. Tragically, like “drain the swamp” and other applause lines, Trump’s promises to end the “crazy, endless wars” have proven to be just another cynical ploy by this supremely cynical politician and con man.

The banal truism that ultimately defines Trump’s foreign policy is that actions speak louder than words. Behind the smokescreen of Trump’s alternating professions of faith to both sides on every issue, he always ends up rewarding the wealthy and powerful. His cronies in the arms industry are no exception.

Sober reflection leads us to conclude that Trump’s endless promises will not end the endless wars he has been waging and escalating, nor prevent the new ones he has threatened against North Korea, Venezuela and Iran. So it is up to the rest of us to grasp the horror, futility and criminality of the wars that three successive U.S. administrations have inflicted on the world and to organize effective political action to end them and prevent new ones.

We also need help from legitimate mediators from the UN and mutually trusted third parties to negotiate political and diplomatic solutions that U.S. leaders who are blinded by deeply ingrained militarism and persistent illusions of global military dominance cannot achieve by themselves.

In the real world, which does still exist beyond the fantasy world of Trump’s contradictory promises, that is how we will bring the troops home.

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

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK for Peace, is the author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher for CODEPINK, and the author of Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.


The post Trump’s Withdrawal From Forever War Is Just Another Con appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.


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