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If Herman Cain Asked You to Vote For Trump, Would You?

Mother Jones Magazine -

Last week, President Donald Trump went to Atlanta and with much fanfare announced that his re-election campaign was launching a coalition that would convince Black people that they should reelect him in 2020. He cited the unemployment rate and the First Step Act, legislation that aimed to reduce the sentences of certain incarcerated people (but it has been criticized because the Department of Justice is trying to put newly released people back behind bars). The Black Voices for Trump Coalition began with a rally in a hotel that featured speeches from Vice President Mike Pence and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson before Trump’s hour-long speech—but not much else. No spokesperson appeared as the leader of this new movement. 

After some searching on Facebook, I sent an email to blackvoices@donaldjtrump.com asking who was involved in the coalition, and how they planned on reaching out to voters. But it went went unanswered. The Trump campaign advised the public on Twitter to text “WOKE” to 88022 to learn more, but after I did that, I was automatically added to a campaign list. Was I ever going to be able to know who the members of the coalition even were?

Late Tuesday night, Katrina Pierson, who is a Black former tea party leader and now senior adviser to Trump, tweeted out the official website, which answered my questions. “Black Voices for Trump will encourage the black community to re-elect President Donald J. Trump by sharing experiences and successes of everyday people as a result of the Trump administration,” the otherwise sparse website explains. Beneath this description is a list of the 35 people who will serve as magnets, bringing the African American community to the polls for Trump and erasing any memories they may have of his racism. Absent from the list, probably because the Hatch Act  forbids campaign involvement by those who work in government, are notable Trump political appointees Ben Carson and Lynne Patton. 

Instead, topping the list is Herman Cain, who is listed as a co-chair. Cain, like the president, was first a successful business man. He served as an executive of Godfather Pizza from 1986-1996. He first entered the national spotlight in 2011 with hopes of challenging President Barack Obama, and he announced he would run in the Republican primary. He unintentionally served as comic relief during the 2012 campaign with some notable gaffes. During an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, he referred to Uzebkistan as “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan.” But things took a darker turn when multiple women who had worked with him accused him of sexual harassment. He denied the claims but suspended his candidacy in December 2011 seven months after it began.

Cain as a presidential hopeful may have become a faded memory, but still exists in the form of this awkward smiling gif.

Giphy

 

But in April, Trump told reporters  that the former pizza executive was “the man” for the vacant seat on the Federal Reserve Board, the body that oversees the US Central Bank. Critics immediately asked if Cain, who is deeply conservative, could hold a job that has traditionally been non-partisan, not to mention the still-lingering sexual harassment scandals from his presidential campaign. If Cain were officially nominated, he’d have to pass a background check and sit through a potentially grueling Senate confirmation hearing. Three weeks after Trump floated his name, Cain withdrew, saying taking the job would require him to take a pay cut.

Among Cain’s fellow co-chairs are YouTube stars, Fox commentators, and ardent Trump fans Diamond and Silk. In July 2016, the pair posted a video criticizing Megyn Kelly for her questions challenging then-candidate Trump at the Republican primary debate, and the video went viral. They had begun supporting Trump in late 2015 after being lifelong Democrats and concluding that Hillary Clinton’s overtures to Black people were insincere. Their weekly show on Fox News’ streaming component is spent praising the president, calling Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) socialist, and criticizing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

In order to appeal to Black voters, there should be a religious element, and Pastor Darrell Scott checks that box. He founded the New Spirit Revival Center, which describes itself as a “Bible-based, Non-Denominational church with a Pentecostal/Charismatic persuasion” in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He met the president in 2011, when Trump was first considering a presidential run. Scott is really excited about the coalition, even going on Twitter to sarcastically question the Black support of some Democratic candidates. (Scott had apparently forgotten that Beto O’Rourke dropped out of the presidential race on November 1.)

Wonder how the “Black Voices for Beto” is going. Or “Black Voices for Kamala, or Corey, or Elizabeth Warren, or Buttige, or Tulsi. Wonder how “Black Voices for Biden” is doing, too.

— Dr.Darrell Scott (@PastorDScott) November 11, 2019

The list has the usual suspects, the same prominent Black people who vocally support the Republican party, like Alveda King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece, who was a early supporter of Herman Cain, and Stacey Dash, the actor most known for her role as Dionne in the 1996 movie Clueless and for her public support of Mitt Romney in 2012. But then I saw the names Keith and Kevin Hodges and wondered who they were. It turns out the twin brothers are comedians, podcasters, and YouTube stars. They don’t appear to have any political experience, and their social media presence is a confusing mix of comedy, conservative commentary, fitness, and food videos.  

The food videos about various fast food franchises are an improvement over their previous Instagram offerings, which were dominated by videos depicting them reading alleged emails asking for advice about what to do when you get an ugly woman pregnant (subscribe to their paid website to find out) or what to do if your boyfriend is incarcerated (dump him). Today, their more sedate account looks more like a mouthpiece for Fox News, with videos about how guns and Donald Trump are both great. Their YouTube channel, named TwinMuscle, consists of dozens of videos of the twins eating fast food like Chik-Fil-A and Taco Bell. I reached out to their agent to learn more about how they became involved with Black Voters for Trump, and what they hope to achieve. I have not yet received a response to my request for comment. 

In 2016, Donald Trump insisted he’d get 95 percent of the black vote in 2020. But even if he just wants more than the 8 percent he received last time, it’s unclear how this coalition of failed presidential candidates, C-list celebrities, and opportunistic pastors will help. 

A Complete Guide to the Impeachment Podcastpalooza

Mother Jones Magazine -

We’re only one day into public hearings and it feels like every media outlet—and possibly even a major player in the scandal!—is starting an impeachment podcast. This is the world we’re living in, people.

Whether the thought of listening to an impeachment podcast fills you with dismay or delight, we’ve pulled together a handy rundown of what’s out there so far. These podcasts run the gamut of formats, from daily to serial, scripted to call-in. (The only thing that’s missing is some impeachment fanfic, though perhaps someone will read this and immediately rectify that.) 

While Mother Jones is not coming out with a new, standalone impeachment podcast, readers can follow the Mother Jones impeachapalooza conversation on our blog and listen to individual impeachment episodes on the weekly Mother Jones Podcast. Like this one:

You can also hear all the different impeachment news and takes on the podcasts below:

“Impeachment Today”

Who makes it: BuzzFeed News and iHeartRadio 

Episode length: Between 10 and 20 minutes

The gist: An upbeat, highly produced podcast that treats the impeachment debacle like the political circus it is. Hosted by BuzzFeed News senior reporter and editor Hayes Brown, it features many interviews with BuzzFeed reporters. 

Who is it for: People who want an impeachment update every day, but also feel like laughing. Expect segments like the “Nixometer,” which ranks the daily news on a 10-point scale, with zero being “a normal day in a normal White House” and 10 being “President Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine 1.”

When it comes out: Every day

“Impeachment: A Daily Podcast”

Who makes it: WNYC Studios  

Episode length: About 30 minutes

The gist: With excerpts from Brian Lehrer’s daily radio show, the Brian Lehrer Show, the pod features interviews with key lawyers and politicians, call-ins from guests, and appearances from the reporters behind WNYC’s podcast Trump, Inc

Who is it for: People who love public radio and want to hear Lehrer’s dulcet tones and informed takes on impeachment, not to mention those who want more of the great investigative reporting on Trump, Inc.

When it comes out: Every day

“The Daily DC: Impeachment Watch”

Who makes it: CNN

Episode length: About 15 to 20 minutes

The gist: A straightforward, end-of-day show to summarize the impeachment news of the day. It’s hosted by CNN’s political director David Chalian. A slew of CNN correspondents and contributors make frequent appearances. 

Who is it for: People who want a newsy, concise recap of impeachment news to close out the day.

When it comes out: Every day, in the evening

“Impeachment, Explained”

Who makes it: Vox

Episode length: About 50 minutes

The gist: An antidote to the frenetic pace of news in the Twitter era, this podcast embraces deep conversations and nerdy digressions. It’s hosted by Vox founder Ezra Klein and features interviews with policy experts, historians, and Vox reporters.

Who is it for: People who enjoy long, fact-filled discussions about the Federalist Papers on a lazy weekend morning.

When it comes out: Weekly on Saturdays

“Rubicon: The Impeachment of Donald Trump”

Who makes it: Crooked Media

Episode length: Between 25 and 40 minutes

The gist: Crooked Media’s editor-in-chief  Brian Beutler is obsessed with the impeachment proceedings. He gets on the microphone and gives his thoughts on what’s going on, interspersed with news clips and interviews with guests like former Justice Department official Matt Miller.

Who is it for: People who like a dose of personality with their news. Beutler is careful to lay out the chronology of events, but he also offer his personal opinions and fears. It is very much in line with Crooked Media’s other shows, though less conversational. 

When it comes out: Weekly on Fridays

“Article II: Inside Impeachment”

Who makes it: NBC News

Episode length: Between 10 and 25 minutes

The gist: NBC News national political correspondent Steve Kornacki talks to reporters and correspondents covering the impeachment story and it features regular interviews with NBC reporters.

Who is it for: People who want a show that’s a happy medium between straight news and something more conversational.

When it comes out: Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with bonus episodes for breaking news

“Slow Burn”

Who makes it: Slate

Episode length: About 40 minutes

The gist: Over two seasons in 2017 and 2018, now-former Slate reporter Leon Neyfakh returned to Watergate and then the Clinton impeachment, breaking down the history and interviewing the key players of the time. This one is scripted, highly researched, and writerly. 

Who is it for: People who want to know more about the history of impeachment without ever hearing Donald Trump’s name. (Well, maybe you hear it a few times.) It’s a highly-acclaimed, non-news podcast that dives into history to deliver that impeachment fix. 

When it comes out: The two seasons about impeachment are all out and available. There is a third season on now, with a new host, reporter Joel Anderson, about the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.

Trump Ag Secretary to Struggling Farmers: Get a Job!

Mother Jones Magazine -

Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue maintains a, well, sunny view of the current farm economy. “I don’t think there could have been a better time to be in agriculture than today, I really mean that,” he recently mused on his podcast, The Sonnyside of the Street. In the latest episode, “Do Right and Feed Everyone,” Perdue chatted with veteran farm broadcaster Max Armstrong. “I’m bullish on agriculture—with the diversity, with the opportunity of e-commerce and direct sales,” Perdue gushed. “People are still fascinated with the way food is produced!” 

Armstrong mostly played along with Perdue’s schtick, but at the end of the interview, he pushed back: “What do you say to that younger operator who entered this industry maybe five, six, seven years ago, and doggone it, things have gotten a lot tougher?” Armstrong asked, adding: “This is long, dark tunnel for them.”

The question wasn’t frivolous. Away from Perdue’s recording studio, the farm economy is circling the drain. The trade war initiated by Perdue’s boss, President Donald Trump, shows no sign of abating. Prices for corn and soybeans—by far the two biggest US crops—hover near or below farmers’ production costs. Cotton farmers and winemakers are also being slammed by the trade war, and dairy farmers are in the grip of a long and brutal slump. Then there’s climate chaos: Record rains in the spring delayed planting through much of the Midwest, and early blizzards slammed the fall harvest. (Here’s a report from the ground I did for Bite podcast.) 

The Trump administration has responded to its trade mess by essentially parachuting cash into farm country, handing out $12 billion to farmers hurt by the trade war in 2018 and another $16 billion this year. In 2019, trade aid and other government programs will account for nearly 40 percent of farmer profits, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. As trade talks flounder, “a third round of payments for farmers increasingly is seen as inevitable, particularly if a trade deal with China is not reached soon,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing anonymous sources within the agriculture department. 

Despite the influx of government cash, conditions are so bad that the farm economy is tanking anyway. Farm bankruptcies spiked 24 percent in September, compared to the same month a year before. With debt loads rising and commodity prices stuck in the mud, conventional agriculture banks are “placing stricter terms on farm loans and doling out less money,” the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. As a result, farmers are increasingly turning to “more lightly regulated entities” for financing to buy the season’s seeds and chemicals. These new-wave banks offer loans with “interest rates double those of traditional farm banks,” the Journal added—putting farmers at risk of catastrophic losses if the season goes badly. 

While data on farmer suicides are scant, there’s evidence of an uptick amid all the debt and bankruptcies. In a wrenching article published this week, the Washington Post’s Annie Gowen reported that “leaders and social workers in rural America say that, anecdotally, they’re seeing more” suicides, and calls to crisis hotlines are rising. Gowen goes on to tell the story of South Dakota’s Chris Dykshorn, who, as financial troubles mounted on the corn, soybean, and cattle farm he took over from his father, killed himself this summer at the age of 35.

Dykshorn is exactly the generation of farmer Armstrong asked Perdue about on the taxpayer-funded Sonnyside of the Street podcast: one who entered the business amid a “long, dark tunnel” of low prices. “What kind of words of encouragement do you offer?” Armstrong wondered.

“What we see happening is what farmers have done over the years—many of them have to have off-farm jobs in order to survive during this period of time,” Perdue advised. In other words: get a job. In early October, Perdue delivered a similar lecture to struggling dairy farmers at an industry expo: “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out…I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.”

Commodity farmers supported Trump overwhelmingly in 2016, and they’ve stuck with him, according to a recent poll. It remains to be seen whether the ongoing crisis, and Perdue’s public posturing, will change that. 

Trump’s Ambassadors Are Uniquely Unqualified. The Ukraine Scandal Proves It.

Mother Jones Magazine -

Gordon Sondland would not have been any reasonable person’s first choice for a senior State Department post. Or their 20th choice. Before he found himself at the center of the Ukraine scandal, Sondland was a hotel magnate with zero relevant expertise or diplomatic experience. President Donald Trump nominated him to be ambassador to the European Union largely because of his status as a GOP megadonor who contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration.

“Not only are these people more common, but they’re less qualified than their predecessors.”

Rewarding political supporters with ambassadorships they aren’t qualified for is a bipartisan tradition dating back centuries. But Trump has elevated the practice to new heights—a disturbing development at a time when experienced staffers are leaving the State Department in droves.

Most ambassadors are career foreign service officers, highly trained professionals who have worked their way up through the diplomatic ranks. But a significant minority are so-called “political ambassadors” who come from outside the diplomatic corps—generally a mishmash of campaign donors, ex-lawmakers, and retired military officers. Under President Obama, these political ambassadors made up 30 percent of total appointees, according to a paper by Ryan Scoville, an associate professor at Marquette University Law School. Under Trump, that figure has ballooned to more than 40 percent, the highest number in nearly eight decades.

Presidents tend to appoint political ambassadors early in their terms, so Trump’s percentage could fall over time. Still, his picks have been uniquely unqualified—even when compared to the political ambassadors chosen by other presidents. “Not only are these people more common, but they’re less qualified than their predecessors,” Scoville told me. Twenty-six percent of Ronald Reagan’s political ambassadors had at least some experience in the region where they were sent, according to Scoville’s research. For Trump’s nominees, that figure is just 5 percent. Nearly every other metric—knowledge of the country’s primary language, foreign policy experience, prior leadership positions—supports the same conclusion: Trump’s diplomatic nominees are less qualified than their predecessors by a significant margin.

With more of his donors receiving top diplomatic assignments, Trump has broken precedent in another significant way. Normally, geopolitically sensitive postings in places like the Middle East are reserved for experienced envoys. But last year, Trump picked John Rakolta, a Michigan businessman with no relevant experience, to lead the embassy in the United Arab Emirates, an important regional ally that for much of the past four years has been embroiled in the bloody conflict in Yemen. Rakolta had given $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee. 

That’s far from Trump’s only bizarre diplomatic nomination. His ambassador to Hungary, David Cornstein, is a jewelry magnate and member of Trump’s West Palm Beach golf club who is apparently fond of stripping down to his underwear to nap alongside President Viktor Orban during their flights together. Cornstein has uncritically supported Orban, even as the right-wing leader has grown increasingly hostile to civil liberties and evicted the American-supported Central European University from Hungary. Doug Manchester, who gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, recently withdrew his bid to become ambassador to the Bahamas—two years after mistakenly asserting during his confirmation process that the island nation was part of the United States.

These oddball picks, coupled with a devastating hiring freeze during Trump’s first 16 months in office, have damaged morale and pushed veteran foreign service officers into an early exit from government employment. “We’ve had a wave of retirements of our senior people,” Eric Rubin, former ambassador to Bulgaria and president of the American Foreign Service Association, told me. The problem has been compounded by Trump allies’ efforts to undermine career diplomats like Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly recalled from her post as ambassador to Ukraine in May. She later told House investigators that “people with clearly questionable motives”—including Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani—smeared her reputation, paving the way for her ouster.

Trump’s critics have taken notice. Elizabeth Warren vowed in June that as president, she would not give diplomatic posts to wealthy donors and blasted Trump for letting the State Department wither through “a toxic combination of malice and neglect.”

In recent weeks, Sondland has emerged as the poster child of the diplomatic spoils system because of his role in the impeachment inquiry. As ambassador to the EU—an entity that does not include Ukraine—he somehow became a key participant in what Bill Taylor, the top US envoy in Kyiv, called a “highly irregular” channel of outreach to the Ukrainian government. The goal of this shadow diplomacy, led by Giuliani, was to get Ukraine’s leader to issue a statement saying it was investigating Trump’s political enemies, including Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. In a September meeting with an adviser to the Ukrainian president, Sondland made clear that US military aid would be contingent on those probes. “I said that resumption of the US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Sondland recently told lawmakers—a fact that he had omitted from the original version of his testimony.

Various national security officials have blasted Sondland’s meddling. “I stated to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security,” Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who serves on the national security council, told House investigators. “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and [acting White House chief of staff Mick] Mulvaney are cooking up,” then-national security adviser John Bolton said, according to one of his colleagues.

Sondland’s admissions have proved extremely damaging to Trump—something Trump seems to have recognized. As recently as last month, the president called him a “really good man and great American” in a tweet. But by Friday, Trump had firmly driven a bus over Sondland’s back. “I hardly know the gentleman,” Trump told reporters.

House Republicans have followed Trump’s lead, attempting to portray Sondland, Giuliani, and Mulvaney as the true masterminds of the Ukraine strategy. Despite the fact that Trump, both publicly and privately, endorsed the campaign to pressure Ukraine, his defenders claim that Sondland was acting without the president’s knowledge or approval.

Sondland has now become as useful to Trump as Michael Cohen, Jeff Sessions, or any of the other erstwhile allies who quickly turned into objects of his wrath. Sondland testified last month that he was “disappointed by the president’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani” in the national security process, saying that in his view, “the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of US foreign policy toward Ukraine.”

Loyalty has long been the currency underpinning the donor-to-ambassador pipeline. But Sondland—out of fear for his own well-being or, perhaps, an inclination to finally tell the truth—showed there are limits to what a plum diplomatic posting can buy.

Mexico’s LeBaron Massacre and the War That Will Not Cease

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Photograph Source: Zapata – CC BY-SA 4.0

Just as the post-mortem analyses of the botched capture and release of El Chapo’s son, Ovidio Guzman, was dying down, Mexico suffered another atypical act of violence. The execution of three women and six of their children in the state of Sonora shocked the public in Mexico and the United States, where the family held dual citizenship, and once again put President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on the defensive.

Murder by organized crime, the presumed culprit, is the stuff of daily news here since the drug war was launched in late 2006. But the massacre of women and children, members of a powerful and well-known agribusiness family, in a remote area on the border of Chihuahua and Sonora where they have lived for a century, on the surface makes no sense. A crime this notorious, involving US citizens, brings down major binational heat on a drug cartel, something they normally try to avoid.

Information has been confused and contradictory, The Secretary of Public Security and Protection, Arturo Durazo, stated the day after, Nov. 5, that it could be a case of mistaken identity. Media and social media have rejected the claim, and with good reason. Over the years, the “mistaken identity” or “it was an accident” motive in Mexican forensics has become shorthand for “we’d rather not talk about this”. We saw it in the 1993 killing of the Catholic Cardenal Posadas, and the inexplicably high number of cases of security forces and high-level government officials who have fallen from the sky. Local reporters have confirmed that the drug cartels that control this part of the country know who travels these roads. A child who survived described that assailants fired on his mother as she pleaded for her family. Also the vehicles were not together when the attacks occurred, a sure-fire sign that this was neither a mistake nor “crossfire”.

There has also been a startling lack of clarity on exactly where the crime occurred, what direction the caravan of three vehicles was traveling, why security forces took so long to arrive on the scene, and who did what, when. The government’s chronology records that the crime was reported at 1:00 PM, and the military arrived six hours later– despite the fact that they have headquarters located in Agua Prieta and Casas Grandes, both just several hours away from the scene of the crime.

López Obrador responded to a question on the delay saying that the National Guard, located in nearby towns of Janos, Moctezuma and Zaragoza, arrived earlier, but he did not say when and there is no data to back it up. He also did not explain why the Army confirmed the number of dead four hours after arriving and then undercounted by five. Or why Sonora and Chihuahua state security forces launched the operation to seal off the area at 8:30 PM—seven and a half hours after the first report. By that time, all you can expect to catch in the net are other security forces and the press, which rapidly swarmed to this usually forgotten part of the country.

In addition to being a highly militarized area, the place where the massacre took place is the home turf of AMLO’s Secretary of Security. Durazo was born and raised in Bavispe, Sonora, the town near the site. For many Sonorans, this is not a coincidence. They believe that the crime could be a message to the Secretary. The night before the ambush, there was an attack in Agua Prieta that left two dead. Durazo’s cousin is mayor of Agua Prieta.

The Sonora state government is in charge of the investigation, with assistance from the federal Attorney General’s office. The governor, Claudia Pavlovich, has requested assistance from the FBI, although Lopez Obrador has stated repeated that Mexico has the capacity to solve the crime.

Durazo and the president requested that the press not speculate until the results of the investigation are in, but social media and the press have been ablaze with speculation.

Send in the Marines?

Donald Trump fired out a series of tweets on the shooting Nov. 5, portraying a family from Utah trapped in crossfire. He used the tragedy to relaunch the war on drugs in Mexico and offered to send in the army: “If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively. The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!

He followed up: “This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!”

AMLO rejected the warpath as a failed strategy from the past, while thanking Trump for his offer, which he insisted “was not interventionist”. But openly proposing sending in a foreign army is the definition of interventionist, and an outright provocation for Mexico, which has historically been sensitive about protecting its sovereignty after centuries of US. Invasions.

More information will emerge, but what’s important is to find out the motive of the massacre, to read this crime in the context of this phase the public security crisis and its implications. Women’s bodies have long been used to gruesomely mark territory and this is disputed turf, but this crime goes further.

To murder mothers and babies is a macabre way to challenge the power of the state. Why would the cartels throw down the gauntlet in this place, at this time? There are three main hypothesis and quite possibly the truth lies in a combination: First, the ambush was a response to what a criminal group perceived as a direct threat from the LeBaron family to its interests in the area. This part of Mexico is an important drug trafficking route and family members have also mentioned “huachicoleo” or gas theft in the area. There have also been pitched battles over water use.

Second,  it is a message for Durazo and the federal government to back off. What specific measure could have provoked such a strong message is unclear. Third, it is part of a broader plan to destabilize the new government. The attack comes on the heels of the bizarre and embarrassing failed arrest in Culiacan, and triggers critics at home and interventionists abroad. It has put an international spotlight on violence and insecurity in the country which, according to the president himself, is the biggest challenge his government faces. The crime has prompted a revival of the spurious “failed state” accusations against Mexico from those who would like to see the nation folded into the U.S. security perimeter.

In any case, something big and uncommon is at stake here. Any attempt to chalk it up to a turf battle between local crime groups should be met with skepticism.

And even before the reports come in and a clearer picture emerges, one thing is certain: for those who benefit from war in Mexico—and there are many, on both sides of the border—the LeBaron massacre is the perfect crime.

The post Mexico’s LeBaron Massacre and the War That Will Not Cease appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Oppose the Military Coup in Bolivia. Spare Us Your “Critiques”

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Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

It would be hard to point to a country whose president who has more democratic legitimacy than Evo Morales. Nobody can seriously dispute that he won the first round of the presidential election on October 20 by a landslide. He reviewed 47% of the vote in an election with 88% turnout, as most polls predicted. That doubles the percentage of the eligible vote that US presidents generally receive. I’ll say a bit more about that below, but it’s crucial to note that he was elected to his present term (which does not expire until January) with 61% of the vote in an election with roughly the same turnout.

Morales’ recent “resignation” came at the point of a gun.  He fled to Mexico whose government offered him asylum. The unelected military and police forced him out. Generals openly “suggested” that he resign and both the police and military made clear that they were not going to defend him from armed opponents.  Most of the democratically elected members of congress are now in hiding.  As in all military coups, it has come with a media blackout to help the security forces brutally suppress protests.

If you support democracy, then you call on Bolivia’s security forces to let Morales return and finish out his term. You call on them to do their job, which is to protect all elected representatives and everybody’s right to free expression and peaceful protest. That’s their only legitimate function. You should also call on your own government to refuse to recognize any “authorities” in Bolivia who stand in the way of Morales’ return and who seek to criminalize his political movement.

No matter how popular a president, there will be a segment of the population who dislike him or her – and a hardcore segment willing to lynch the president if the police and military would let them. If you think US presidents are protected from this nightmare scenario because they have more legitimacy than Morales then you don’t understand your own country. The fact that prominent people as supposedly diverse politically as Trump, the New York Times editorial board, and Human Rights Watch (with varying degrees of bluntness) have helped support the coup in Bolivia is an indication of how shallow support for democracy really is in US political culture. Alan McLeod pointed out in FAIR that the western media has done its part to support the coup by refusing to call it what it is. Here is a petition to the New York Times asking it to retract an editorial that endorsed the coup.

But didn’t Morales make “bad moves”?

In 2016, Morales tried to abolish term limits through a referendum but lost it by two percentage points.  A year later Bolivia’s elected Supreme Court (which is elected to a six-year term) ruled that term limits are unconstitutional and thereby nullified the results of the referendum. The ruling was debatable, but not outrageous like many Supreme Court rulings around the world have been. Citizens United comes to mind. The Supreme Court ruling that Handed George W. Bush the US presidency in 2000. The Honduran Supreme Court ruling in 2009 that effectively outlawed a non-binding opinion poll and thereby sparked a military coup from which Honduras has yet to recover.

Also, Bolivians who disliked that ruling had many democratic and constitutional ways to reverse it. They could vote in a new Supreme Court (US citizens can’t) or simply vote Morales and his allies in the legislature out of office – which they didn’t.

Principal aside, was it tactically dumb of Morales to run again? Perhaps, but it’s easier to raise other tactical questions that are much more important.

Why did he allow OAS bureaucrats who are 60% US-funded to have any role in monitoring the election? An analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) showed that the OAS has no basis for impugning the results. Kevin Cashman has elaborated on why the “preliminary audit” issued by the OAS weeks later was similarly baseless.

It is not the first time OAS bureaucrats have impugned a clean election to devastating effect as Mark Weisbrot pointed out in the Nation. In 2000, it helped unjustly discredit legislative elections in Haiti. That helped justify harsh US sanctions which were followed ultimately by a US-perpetrated military coup in 2004. Since then, Haiti has never had elections as free and fair as the ones they had in 2000. In 2011, the OAS struck again and inexcusably changed election results in Haiti.

Why did Morales let them near the election?  If he didn’t that would be grounds for his enemies – with Washington’s backing – to say he wanted to rig the election. US sanctions- which don’t require a credible pretext or respect for international law – would likely have followed. He may well have calculated that his popularity and achievements in office would be more than enough to offset OAS corruption. If so, he was wrong.

Why didn’t he do a better job of getting the military under control? He obviously should have done better on that front, but worth remembering how such moves are demonized in the western media and by local adversaries.  That would especially true if he had made use of Cuban expertise for example. What about arming his supporters in militias? Same problem.

We are the problem

Name a democratically elected president overthrown by a US-backed coup who was not flawed in some way, or whose hard core opponents, even though clearly a minority, were unable to put a lot of protesters on the streets? That list could obviously not include Goulart, Allende, Aristide, Arbenz, Chavez, Zelaya, or anybody who failed to walk on water.

An honest look at Morales tactical dilemmas shows that the political culture of the US and its top allies is the big problem facing any democracy in the Global South.  Democratic legitimacy does very little to protect you when the US and its propaganda apparatus targets you for destruction. The coup against Morales should be an incredibly easy one for any “progressive” to unreservedly oppose – and by oppose I mean demand Morales finish off his term. People eager to highlight their “critiques” of Morales are part of the problem.

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Trump’s Drug Deal Goes to Congress: Impeachment, Day One

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Photograph Source: Paul Sableman – CC BY 2.0

It’s almost always kind of a circle jerk when congressional committees interrogate those involved with the Executive Branch. One can’t help but think that many of the folks doing the questioning have dreams of being part of that branch some time in their political career. This applies to members of both parties. Most of the politicians and bureaucrats who are in the hearing room share a basic mindset. They believe in US exceptionalism and most of its wars. They tend to ignore the bloody reality of the nation’s history and act as if its mission truly is blessed by their god, which for most of them is some version of Jesus Christ, although not one that the New Testament necessarily agrees with. In other words, there are lots of rich men ignoring that admonition from Jesus about camels, eyes of needles and rich guys getting into heaven. Most of them probably believe they’ll defy the odds. If they can’t buy off St. Peter, they’ll take him out. Kind of like what Wall Street and its friends just did in Bolivia.

In other words, most of these elected representatives of the people and the bureaucrats they are questioning think more alike than they do differently. Everything was going smoothly until Donald Trump and his minions convinced the rightwing Republicans (a redundancy, I know) to make a deal. Get him in the White House and he would get all their reactionary legislation done. Make a deal with the bloated dealmaker and goddammit he’ll get those oil wells in the ocean and sell off the public land, get gays out of the military, lock up immigrants, and just well you know make this a safe place for white people again. No more Black presidents, even the kind that doesn’t do much for Black people. The rest of the political world didn’t know what hit them at first. They thought they were dealing with a man who respected them and they kept bending to his will in the hope that he might give them something, just a little something to bring home to those who elected them. Almost four years in, the Democrats realized that this scenario just wasn’t going to happen. Trump wasn’t going to play the game according to the rules. He was establishing his own regime, tossing those who didn’t go along out on their asses, bullying timid lawmakers and making a huge joke of the entire system those founding fathers designed. The rubicon was crossed when that phone call was exposed. Extorting a foreign ruler for personal gain and pretending it was diplomacy-as-usual was a step too far. If it isn’t too late, he is going to pay, one hopes with a vicious wound to his over-developed ego.

Trump’s primary defense as argued by his tools in Congress and through his own tweets seems to be “I know I am but what are you?” He isn’t denying his misdeeds and abuses of power, just arguing that he can do whatever he wants because he’s president and that every other politician does the same thing so what’s the problem? It’s not really much of a defense, but in the puerile world that is US politics and especially Trumpist politics, he could get away with it. Any explanation that Trump demanded what he did from Zelensky is because he is a businessman only serves to verify my understanding of Trump’s businesses—that they are essentially criminal enterprises depending on lies, intimidation, and fraud. Representative Stewart almost told the truth about how corruption pervades governments round the world. That is, until he focused his questions solely on Biden, ignoring the corruption that pervades the Trump administration, as evidenced by numerous Trump officials convictions.

The morning begins. Mr. Schiff begins the process by ignoring the US-sponsored coup that put the government populated with fascists into power in Kiev and jumping into the war between Moscow and Kiev. Naturally he portrays the Ukrainian motives as heroic and the Russian forces as imperialist. He may be right about the latter anyhow. Anyone hoping for something other than a US imperial framing of the situation in Ukraine should look elsewhere. This is the US Congress we’re watching here. Once that stage is set, Schiff jumps into the meat of the issue. Succinctly, Trump used his official power as president in an attempt to extort political benefits from the Ukrainian president in exchange for foreign aid. The point of the hearings is to prove that Trump initiated the process and then tried to cover up what he knew to be a potentially impeachable act. This has meant a refusal to allow his minions to testify, labeling those who do so as traitors and attacking bureaucrats in public and private. “If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” Will they answer this without rancor or politicking? Unlikely, given the nature of the GOP congresspeople on the committee. Nunes jumped in with the FOXNews interpretation of the Mueller report, pretending that the facts are just more rumors. This is what FOXNews is. A series of lies presented as facts and facts presented as lies. This is the United States in 2019. It’s a poorly scripted crime show and Nunes plays the part well; almost as well as he plays the role of Donald Trump’s handmaid, cleaning up his mess and covering up his mistakes, denying his faults and ignoring his boorishness. Ultimately, his statement pretends that the president can do whatever he wants because he is president. Before he stops talking he also lies that the Obama presidency did nothing but send the Kiev government blankets when in fact they assisted in violently installing the government.

The GOP knows that they have nothing but questionable procedural issues and lies (for example, that Schiff knows the whistleblower which he claims he doesn’t) to divert the process. It’s fun to watch them squirm. One thing that becomes clear is that Nunes really is arrogant and unoriginal. The most laughable part of his pronunciations is that he thinks the charges he makes are equivalent to the extortion Trump is being investigated for. The question is not whether or not there is corruption in Ukraine (there is), but whether or not Trump tried to use his presidential power and US aid money to force Zelensky to help him get re-elected by joining the campaign’s investigation of Biden. Equally laughable is the attempt by the lawyer for the GOP (was he a wrestler on Jim Jordan’s team?) to pretend his purely political challenges are something else. His aggressive and nervous style remind me of a ferret outside their cage. The constant references to the 2016 election cycle are not absolution of Trump’s abuses, but merely confirmation of the corruption in the US electoral system. Jordan’s questions are not questions but talking points that sound like they were contrived in Sean Hannity’s living room. His inability to understand parts of Sondland’s depositions proves his own ignorance. Anyone who has paid attention knows that Jordan was brought on to this committee just a week or two ago certainly not because of his intelligence but because of his obnoxious personality and his attempts to intimidate those testifying. As I listen to the questions of the GOP representatives, I am astounded at their refusal to listen or their inability to think critically. I’m not sure which of these “informs” their questioning, but it says something about this nation. I can put up with Nunes’ arrogance, the Republican from Texas and his folksiness, and even the GOP counsel’s arrogance. However, the only reaction I have when I watch Jordan is a desire to slam a door in his face as if he were a Mormon missionary. Or maybe just a body slam on a nearby wrestling mat. Taking down the female representative from upstate New York in the process, who hails from a district populated by prisons and incredibly right wing despite its relatively poor population. Once again, this representative talks about Obama, not the issues at hand.

The first witness, a diplomat in a bowtie named George Kent who could be a character in a Graham Greene novel, begins, establishing his credentials in the service of the Empire and telling the committee that the Ukrainian government is the equivalent of the Colonial Army under George Washington. He even compares the US role in Kiev to the role of the Prussian Von Steuben in that war against the British. These are the myths US liberals and neocons adhere to in their pursuit of markets and the expansion of the US Empire. They are myths that ignore the fact of the attempts to overthrow democratically elected governments in Latin America, the numerous wars against nations that oppose the US, and its support of reactionaries around the world. Giuliani seems to be a key individual in the Trump attempts to force Ukrainian involvement in the investigation of Biden. Somebody talks about Rudy ginning-up the demand for Ukrainian assistance in the investigation of Biden. Ambassador Bill Taylor, a man who seems a contrast to Kent, ramps up the imperial rhetoric, placing Ukraine in the middle of the on again off again tussle between Moscow and Washington. The Russians remain the bogeyman, no matter what happens. This is what inter-imperial rivalry looks like in the Congressional committee room. The questioning by the attorney Goldman provides one interesting point beyond the substance of the questions: text messages are the Trump impeachment equivalent of Richard Nixon’s tape recorders. Naturally, one wonders if there’s the equivalent of a missing eighteen-and-a-half minute gap—minutes removed at Nixon’s request. When the Supreme Court told Nixon he had to turn those missing minutes over, it spelled his end. The question today is whether or not today’s Supreme Court would demand similar compliance if there were emails and text messages similarly removed from the evidence provided to the investigating committee. Of course, this is just the beginning. The Judiciary Committee takes the floor after the Intelligence Committee is through. That is where the focus shifts to drawing up the charges themselves. That’s where obstruction of justice questions will certainly become part of the inquiry.

Those called to testify and those doing the questioning are all somewhat culpable in the crime known as the United States, yet this exercise could be a step in the nation’s eventual reconstruction. Or in its ongoing disintegration into a fascist dystopia. The hearings reveal the nature of establishment thought. They also reveal the intentional nature of the chaos created by the trumpists—a chaos designed to allow the nation’s most reactionary elements in politics and business to install their permanent rule.

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Peak Hubris

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Illustration for John Milton’s Paradise Lost by Gustave Doré (1866) – Public Domain

“Hubris” is defined as rash and foolish pride, a dangerous overconfidence, manifested with arrogance.  The Deep State vaunts our “exceptionalism”, and since Reagan’s “City on a HIll” trope Americans have been assured by all succeeding Presidents that ours is the “indispensible nation”. The word describes the way America sells itself to the world, and has for generations.

The yawning cognitive gap between our nomenklatura’s relentless self-promotion and its pathetic history of botched, humiliating failures in every single act of Imperial overreach, demands examination.  Are we at Peak Hubris?  When exactly should the hubris of a vicious, lying, sloganeering criminal state be identified as what it is, a cover for unhinged stupidity?

Viz. the deranged, hysterical Democratic Party, a subsidiary of the Deep State, led–if that term applies–by a geriatric clutch of morally squalid throwbacks and vacuous nonentities, which has its Depends in a knot in the effort to blame the entire debacle of recent U.S. historic crime on the repulsive Yahoo squatting in the White House.  As Einstein observed, all explanations should be as simple as possible…but no simpler.

Of all the villainies attributed to Trump by Democrats and the Deep State–the Power Elite, Establishment, Ruling Clique, Permanent Unelected Government–the most egregious and only unforgivable one, is that his gross and vulgar bathos in Holy Office has exposed and profoundly embarrassed them, punching holes in their diligently crafted image.  The Masters of Disaster can’t tolerate open revelation of their evil, witness the methodical crushing of a roster of whistleblowers, among whom the most damning and brutally handled are Manning, Assange, and Snowden.  Two are jailed on bogus “charges” in peril of their lives, and Snowden is in exile, only free because the vengeful engine of American “justice” can’t nail him.

The three have exposed the hubris of “Exceptional America” far more substantively and damagingly than any of Trump’s galumphing, butthead blundering has done, and produced damning indictments of its despicable nature that assured their dragooning.  Their work has done much more to trash and pulverize the mythology of The Empire but the operators of the propaganda machine have managed to hide the vast bulk of it from public awareness, a feat they couldn’t manage with Trump’s ranting, erratic, Pig-Town Jig diplomacy, and his imbecile, chunk-blowing Twitter yammer.

Moreover, the Deep State has been able to crush or stifle these heroes, but  can’t seem to find a way to give His Bloviance the hook short of terminating him with extreme prejudice, which they haven’t had the balls to do… yet. They’ve had to settle, so far, for anathematizing him as the sole source of the betrayal of America’s exalted values and principles.  As if we had any…

The reality is that America has made it ironclad policy to install, support and  enrich a gang of the vilest, most murderous dictators, tyrants, caudillos and royal brutes in history behind its sinister fairytale of principled benevolence.  Their names fill pages but let Pinochet, The Shah, Mobutu, Papa Doc, Marcos, Somoza, Kagame, and Mubarak stand as examples.  To be “our sonofabitch” was simple: crush your people’s aspirations, kill their leaders, drain their economic blood, sell off their resources to Rape Capitalism for pennies on the dollar, and borrow billions from our IMF, taking only a modest 10% or so for your trouble.  And keep the clamps on hard with torture, rape and murder so nothing queers the deal for you and Uncle.

The only “dictators” America despises are those who refuse, as Qaddafi, Saddam and Assad did, to knuckle and suck, or those with the muscle, wisdom and grit to balk and baffle our folly, as Putin and Xi do routinely.

This dirty hidden history that the three heroes’ work has revealed is the reason the Deep State knows it has to destroy Trump.  His loose cannon, ADD follies, and zany, autistic impulses draw attention to their documenting of American crimes while blocking The Empire from retaking control of the game so it can function as it goddam pleases, the way it always has.

The single paramount commandment in the Deep State’s tablet of laws is that nothing must threaten the profits of the War Machine, and certainly not anything that benefits only The People.  Very clear on this, the Democratic Party, richly suckled by the “defense industry”, excoriates Trump for his sophomoric efforts to end a small war or two, while whorishly advancing the Totenkopf Banner of the War Machine to the satisfaction of the Deep State.

Major problem, though.  Americans not braindead are sick of endless war, which puts them at serious odds with the War Machine and the party that glorifies it.  Virulent hatred of Putin and Russia, coupled with the raging lust to murder ignorant, guiltless peasants and destitute slum dwellers is no longer a foolproof formula for swelling the ranks of the liberal faithful. Which raises (but does not beg) the key question: are we indeed at Peak Hubris?

Judging by the loss of traction that pure American horseshit braggadocio from our organs of propaganda is having internationally, one would have to say we have.  After the long line–beginning at division of Europe, solidified by stalemate in Korea–of shameful military muggings, half-assed regime change pratfalls, and humiliating downright defeats, it is at last becoming clear to the wizards behind the curtain that hubris ain’t cuttin‘ it no more.

The powerful Exceptionalist Myth, the central tenet of our catechism, which is the basis of the whole crevassed, dissolving superstructure of The Empire, the supreme Big Lie upon which our entire culture of fraud, falsity and philistinism is predicated, has buckled at last under the strain of our malevolent history, and is spectacularly shattering and decomposing.

The fact that The Myth and the hubris that buttressed it so forcefully are disintegrating does not mean they will be abandoned by the powers and dominions that have used them so long and so fruitfully.  Absurdity in action is perhaps the most defining single quality of expiring empires.  Buffoons and Snake Oil men will continue to pitch The Myth, stinking and decayed, long after its sell-by date as long as it keeps them on the payroll but where the opinion of the great world is concerned, the party’s over.

What follows?  There is no reliable template for expiring empires.  The end can be anything from devastating physical destruction, to ungovernable social chaos and barbarism, to just collapsing quietly into poor and feeble senescence.

Kipling said it best of an expiring British Empire:

Far called, our navies melt away,
On dune and headland sinks the fire.
Lo! all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre.

 

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US and Corporations Key Factors Behind Most Violent Year Yet in Mexico

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A Mexican Army technical equipped with a Mk 19 grenade launcher at a random checkpoint – Public Domain

This year has been the most violent year on record for Mexico, with almost 26,000 intentional homicides between January and September. Following the murder of nine US citizens last week, US president Donald Trump offered to send the US army to “help” fight drug cartels in Mexico. The comment lacked awareness of the already disastrous outcomes of the so-called “war on drugs” in Mexico and of the role the US and transnationals have played in fomenting the levels of human rights abuses here.

Murder rates are up by 2.4% compared to the same period last year, despite President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) swearing in last December. As the US itself heads into an election year, any criminalization of Mexicans should be countered with a profound understanding of the impact of US foreign and economic policy in the country.

In September, Amnesty International declared that Mexico was experiencing “one of the worst crises in human rights.” Femicides are also increasing, with 748 so far this year compared to 654 in the same period last year, and migrant detentions also rose by 69%, with 123,000 in the first seven months of this year.

Official figures cited are the minimums, as people are reluctant to denounce crimes, and many aren’t tracked, with various states not registering kidnappings, femicides, or acts of extortion at all. Nevertheless, the human rights violations are broad, with estimated impunity rates (unpunished crimes) at 99.3%, 389 attacks on journalists last year, children in rural areas working for around 20 pesos (US$1.10) per day, nine women killed daily on average, and well over 40,000 people are currently forcibly disappeared (the figure is from early 2018 as the new registry of disappeared people has yet to publish any data). There were some 7.5 million extortions in 2017, of which only 1.7% were denounced, with an investigation opened.

Human rights abuses and crimes have significantly increased since 2006, when Mexico and the US’s relations became extremely close and the “war on drugs” kicked off. And this year, Trump has forced Mexico to send troops to its southern border and detain documented and undocumented migrants, by using threats of tariffs.

***

September 26 this year was the fifth anniversary of Ayotzinapa, when 43 student teachers were likely murdered. No one has been punished yet. There was a rally in Puebla’s main square and a range of speakers, rappers, and singers took to the stage. One speaker handed out copies of a poem he had written to people in the crowd and he asked them to read out a verse each over a roaming microphone. The first person to read began crying within the first two lines and had to pass the microphone on to someone else. There was the strong sense that the impact of the murders and disappearances here go beyond those directly affected and permeate people’s every day.

“If you think differently, you could disappear,” Luis Armando Soriano Peregrino, a defender of human rights activists, and president of Citizens’ Voices for Human Rights, told the crowd.

Later, in an interview, he denounced US and Canadian companies for directly violating human rights in Mexico. Soriano originally worked as a lawyer for the Puebla state government, but after speaking out against the government for firing hundreds of workers, he switched to defending workers and activists. In the process, he lost his office after officials threatened his clients, and he was fired from the institute where he gave classes after his boss was also threatened. He then lost his house and car as he sold them to survive, and he lost friends and family, he said.

“Whoever ends up as president of the US, ends up being a leader of Latin America,” Soriano said. “Mexico is close to the US, and that is fundamental in almost all the policies that Mexico implements. A lot of what the government decides on has to be agreed on with the US first, because if it doesn’t, we’re vulnerable to attacks.” He also pointed out that most of Mexico’s trade is with the US and Canada, and that also makes it hard for the country to go against orders from the US.

“Mexico is rich in resources, so it is a treasure chest for many countries. Some people in the US see Latin America as their backyard – the region that gives them avocados and beans, and parties in Tijuana, and that’s what we’re here for,” he added.

Mexico is run by transnational interests and a US-backed “war on drugs”

With the onset of NAFTA in 1993 and the government of Vicente Fox (previously head of Coca Cola) in 2000, Mexico became further entrenched as a country that gives transnationals free reign. And these corporations, in their reckless race for profits, trample all over human rights. Just last month here in Puebla, a judge ruled in favor of Walmart and against indigenous Totonaca people, paving the way for a hydroelectric plant that will only serve Walmart, and will cause environmental damage and leave locals with less access to water.

“Mexico creates all the right conditions so that the US and Canada can profit here – they benefit from a network of corruption when they buy our avocados, when they buy property cheaply and build tourist paradises. Canada, through its mining and fracking, and the US are both benefiting from human rights violations and from trafficking in Mexico,” Soriano argued.

The other anti-human rights front waged against Mexicans is of course the so called “war on drugs” (2006-present) and the Merida Initiative (2008-present), where the US collaborates with the Mexican military to supposedly combat drug trafficking and organized crime. Some 70% of murders in Mexico are committed using guns that came from the US and cartels here grew by 900% during president Felipe Calderon’s administration (2006-2012), with researchers behind that figure at the Center of Research and Economic Development (CIDE) saying the so-called fight against drug trafficking decreased security conditions in Mexico.

Blaming Mexico as the point of origin of violence criminalizes Mexicans while in reality most crime networks are international, as are the drugs and arms trades (though most arms manufactures are US-based). Transnational organized crime groups make US$2.2 trillion per year, and their industries – including trafficking of arms, people, drugs, and natural resources – involve bankers, politicians, and arms manufacturers.

The lucrative business of human rights in Mexico

In a country where neoliberal policy permeates everything, even human rights themselves have become a way to make money. Soriano described how national and international organizations and government agencies fund projects, but that money is often siphoned off into individual’s pockets.

“A person says they have an organization and that it has 200 affiliates, then they send proposals to the state or national government, and they are given resources, multiplied by their 200 supposed affiliates. And so that one person gets all the money. Unfortunately, yes, it’s a business,” he said.

“Human rights defenders are often people who hand out balloons in squares, or academics who give classes in human rights. Others are working for the government. That human rights are portrayed like this means a lot of people think that it probably isn’t worth doing anything,” he said.

What this all amounts to is a climate where businesspeople and criminals can do what they want. Activists opposing large developments are killed with impunity while there is little separation between corporations, the judicial power, institutions, and government.

Corporate criminals join institutions and use their structures, while the legal system is run by “judicial powers involving a mafia of families, and there are no organizations that monitor these bodies,” Soriano argued.

Traumatized nation

The murders and disappearances are the tip of the iceberg. The fear, impunity, violence, and lack of rights together make most people here feel like they are not looked after or considered and that there is little point in standing up for yourself.

“Here in Puebla, and in Mexico more broadly, violence and human rights violations are normalized,” Soriano said.

“Living daily with terror, clandestine graves, with dismembered and decapitated bodies and with the normalization of violence, we understand that the boundaries of what is permissible are broken daily,” Mexican sociologist Raul Romero wrote for Memoria.

***

In Venezuela and Ecuador, where I’ve also lived, when a bus driver, for example, would skip a stop, everyone on the bus would cry out. Standing up for what was right was the dominant way of being. In Mexico, people tend to stay quiet. The other day, a man wouldn’t get off the women’s train carriage (a measure in place to prevent sexual assault). No one said anything as I firmly told him to get off.

Resistance happens when we believe we are deserving of reasonable treatment and dignity. But in Mexico, daily life is about not denouncing injustice because it is so often committed or supported by the police, and it is about staying quiet about the broken roads and buses or the institutional hoops to prevent people getting a pension or the lack of water. People stand down because there are too many battles and few are worth it. They are exhausted, stressed, bitter, and unvalued.

“I’ve been in a lot of battles – participating or leading them. And we’ve lost almost all of them. But the few that we’ve won tell us that it is possible to win … Every action that we take has to break with individualism and neoliberalism and see us as a community that seeks more from life than generating wealth,” Soriano concluded.

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Love and Death in the Age of Revolution

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“When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’

– Radical priest John Ball to English peasants, 1381

It’s unlikely that many TV viewers will remember that veteran Welsh actor, Vincent Regan, played Colonel Edward (“Ned”) Despard in the show Poldark, which is based on the novels of Winston Graham, and that traces the life and times of a British soldier during the time of the American Revolution. Ned Despard is a minor character in the TV series that ran on the BBC for five seasons, and, while it won some applause, a reviewer in the Guardian noted that in the final episode, “There were times when as a viewer you just didn’t know whether you were coming or going.” Historian Peter Linebaugh, a contributor to CounterPunch, has made Despard into a kind of major minor figure in his tome Red Round Globe Hot Burning (University of California Press; $34.95). The book is subtitled “A Tale at the Crossroads of Commons & Closure, of Love & Terror, of Race & Class, and of Kate & Ned Despard.”

The title comes from a poem by William Blake, who wrote “They inclos’d my infinite brain into a narrow circle,/And sunk my heart into the Abyss, a red round globe hot burning/Till all from life I was obliterated and eraded.” Linebaugh think that Blake’s image might refer to the war between France and England, or the rebellion of slaves in Haiti, or the industrial revolution, or the planet Earth itself on fire. The image also suggests torture and death, which Ned Despard experienced as a prisoner, held without bail and identified by government informers as a conspirartor in a plot to foment rebellion by seizing the Bank of England, the Tower of London and assassinating King George III. A jury found Despard guilty of high treason. The Lord Chief Justice sentenced him and six other men to be hanged, drawn and quartered. After public protest, the drawn-and-quartered part of the punishment was removed. On February 21, 1803, before a crowd of at least 20,000, Despard was executed on the roof of the gatehouse at Horsemonger Lane Gaol. So much for British civilization.

Linebaugh uses Despard and his wife and comrade, Catherine (“Kate”), as signposts of a sort in an epic tale about life in Europe and in the Americas at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, with special attention to the revolutionary changes that turned the world upside down, transformed relations of property and labor and touched every aspect of rural and urban existence. Ned and Kate were an odd couple, indeed. He was born in Ireland in 1751, and for a time was a loyal son of the British Empire. She was probably born in what is now Belize. She has been identified variously as Creole and Jamaican. Linebaugh calls her an “intrepid African-American revolutionary,” who apparently vanished from “the archival record into historical silence.”

He went looking for her grave, and, while he didn’t find it, he says that he did find “some expressions of the causes for which she lived.” Those causes are the subject of his book, along with the social and economic conditions that prompted Ned and Kate to become lovers and rebels, and in Linebaugh’s eyes, heroes for our time who would not be driven apart by all the powers of the state.

Red Round Globe Hot Burning offers unconventional biography and unconventional history. Linebaugh goes where biographers and historians are often taught not to go: to places where there are no archival records and where a writer has to be inventive and imaginative. In the last chapter of his book, the author asks what Kate and Ned meant when they expressed the desire that “the principles of freedom, of humanity, and of justice will finally triumph over falsehood, tyranny and delusion, and every principle inimical to the interests of the human race.”

Linebaugh is especially curious about the phrase, “the interests of the human race.” He wonders what Kate and Ned had in mind and suggests that, “we can conjecture or speculate.” He adds that “though frowned on by historians, speculation is essential when documentary evidence is slight,” and that “to speculate is to gain knowledge of the soul.” In this book Linebaugh occasionally suggests what might have been or what could have been. He doesn’t fictionalize, as Edmund Morris did in his 1999 book Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. Linebaugh doesn’t have to fictionalize. His material is fictional enough as it is. The real historical figures who appear in this book—Toussant L’Ouverture, Gracchus Babeuf, Sally Hemings, the Marquis de Sade and Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as Ned and Kate—could be characters in a novel set against the backdrop of the global movement of capital and labor from Ireland to Haiti.

There are times when a reader doesn’t know for sure if the author is coming or going, and whether his story is moving forward or backward, but Linebaugh usually provides big signs that make it clear where his characters are headed and why the forces of history unfold as they do. Few tomes are as much fun to read. On almost every page there are memorable phrases, such as “coal brings an end to human happiness,” “the French Revolution opened prisons, while the English counterrevolution built them,” and “plantation workers produced calories for factory workers”—with help from dock workers. Linebaugh calls factories places “where humans were consumed,” soldiers “dealers in death,” and a commodity “that form of wealth separating desire from possession.”

The author hasn’t just speculated and conjectured. He has also mediated and reflected and combed history for timeless quotations that appear in his text, such as Mary Wollstonecraft’s question, “Was not the world a vast prison, and women born slaves?” which she asked in 1798 but that a latter day feminist, socialist, communist or humanist might ask in 2019. Linebaugh doesn’t offer the John Ball quotation that appears at the top of the piece, though he might have. It’s right up his alley.

Red Round Globe Hot Burning ought to be assigned reading for history graduate students from Harvard to Berkeley and beyond. For the rest of us, who can choose what to read or not to read, and who won’t be tested on our understanding of the text, Linebaugh’s love story calls out passionately and asks freely, “Won’t you open these pages and see a world you’re missing?”

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Climate Confusion, Angst, and Sleeplessness

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Climate change is a nagging issue for many people because it is so big, diverse, and overwhelming, as big as the planet itself. So, how to explain climate change?

Sociologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and even anthropologists and economists have tackled the phenomenon of Climate Weltschmerz, meaning people experience angst as the enormity of climate change overrides sensibilities, and sanity, and sadly some go insane.

Not only that, but dishearteningly, it’s been reported that couples refrain from having children because of the overbearing threat of global warming spoiling a child’s transcendent (hopefully) future. Also, there are abundant reports throughout the world that the uncertainties surrounding climate change inhibit hopes, dreams, and wishes for a bright future, as tinges of impending darkness supplant fantasies of buoyant cheerfulness.

Well, relief can be found in Mark Jaccard’s The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

He tackles the world’s biggest issue head-on, while implicitly making the assumption that “we still have time,” a subjective comfort factor. Of course, there are scientists that wonder if “we still have time,” but that’s for another time, another story, and certainly worth pondering.

Mark Jaccard, professor of Sustainable Energy at the School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia, offers relief for citizens that feel overwhelmed by the complexities and overarching enormities of global warming. After all, by all appearances, it’s way too big to wrap one’s arms around all by oneself. But, that does not inhibit professor Jaccard, who astutely separates myth from reality, a problem that’s found all over creation, making it so much easier to come to grips with one of the most complex existential threats of all time.

He not only takes a lot of the mystery out of the climate change imbroglio, but he also tackles the myths that drive, and divide, public discourse, while proffering novel answers for citizens that want to “make a difference.”

The Citizen’s Guide belongs on the bookshelves of people who (1) search for answers (2) want to separate truth from fiction, and (3) want to sleep nights without bolting up in the midst of the night, screaming!

Jaccard’s book is an antidote to the global warming heebie-jeebies, so, don’t jump off that steep ledge until first reading it. It’ll soothe rattled nerves. Bury your nose in his wonderful, easy-to-read, yet academically oriented book filled with everything you should know but don’t know about climate change, thereby, inspiring a great sense of even greater relief!

In professor Jaccard’s words: “Think strategically about how to apply one’s efforts to greatest effect. This book is for these people. Drawing on leading independent research, I provide guidance for citizens seeking to act more effectively as consumers, neighbors, investors, participants in social and conventional media, voters, and political and social activists.”(pg. 22)

Additionally and usefully, it’s nice to know some of the interesting facts about global warming such as when and how Jean-Baptiste Fourier, a French mathematician and physicist, discovered the “atmosphere’s greenhouse effect” way back in the mid 19th century.

As follows, Jaccard does not miss a beat in providing the reader a self-educating manual of academic standing from A-to Z, as for example, the Irish scientist John Tyndall’s calculation in 1859 of the heat-absorptive properties of the greenhouse gases, these being (1) water vapor, (2) carbon dioxide, (3) nitrous oxide, (4) methane, and (5) ozone. Really! Most people only know about Carbon Dioxide (CO2) with little or no knowledge of other greenhouse gases.

Thus, assorted tidbits of critical knowledge scattered throughout the book give the reader a strong sense of understanding, smartness and swagger. For instance, global warming was intricately involved in the strengthening of Hurricane Katrina. Jaccard explains how that happened in easy to understand terms.

Indeed, the book covers the basics. After all, most people don’t even know what “albedo” means, which, by the way, is not surprising as it’s “shop talk” verbiage for science-heads. Still, it’s a must know term for climate activists.

He also goes behind the scenes to explain the towering immensity of dark money with consequential sneaky, underhanded gimmickry by the “denial camp,” and how they use “the honesty of scientists” to “confuse the public.” For example, scientists by training cannot be 100% certain about when and how events will transpire. By definition, science is all about probabilities, which creates openings for deniers to “cheery pick facts” to create doubt in the public mindset. Once their tactics are understood, it is much easier to combat their endless streams of blah, blah, blah!

And, Jaccard goes behind the scenes of international negotiations and climate change conferences among leading nations where he personally participated, providing a peek behind the curtain of intricacies of negotiation, including his personal involvement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”). Of interest: “In 1992, I (Jaccard) was appointed to the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development as one of the six ‘foreign experts’ on its energy subgroup.” (pg. 69)

Jaccard’s chapter on “We Must Change Our Behavior” addresses both the simplicity as well as the complexities of “changing our behavior.” It is an eye-opener for uninitiated “Greenies” as well as those who feel they are experts, or so they think? Read the chapter… you’ll discover why an automobile is really a “PMD – Personal Mobility Device” which has direct bearing on how people do or don’t “change their behavior” to adapt to climate change.

More to the point “changing our behavior” really should focus on universals rather than individual behavior, as individual acts/behavior in the background serve as catalysts for change, to wit: “The next time someone tells you we must change behavior to reduce GHG emissions, ask them how they changed behavior to reduce emissions that were causing acid rain, smog, dispersion of lead, and destruction of the ozone layer. You will get a blank stare. No one changed behavior. Instead, we changed technologies, with considerable success. We did this with compulsory policies, especially regulations.” (pg. 154)

And, he puts some fire in the belly of conscientious activists by warning: “The fossil fuel industry and insincere politicians would like nothing better than to delay compulsory policies by claiming that we need behavioral change. We must not play into their hands…”

Unfortunately, when individuals are left to “change behavior” on their own to help lessen the carbon footprint, here’s what experience tells us: “With climate change, everyone has had the option over the last three decades of changing their behavior. We know the result. On average, we built larger houses and transported more goods and people – and even produced more emissions….” (pg. 156)

In point of fact, changing behavior is a “good news, but more likely bad news” story. The bad news is that unless ‘everybody lives like a monk’ to reduce the carbon footprint, those few that do ‘live like a monk’ encounter the bad news that the world’s energy system is still dominated 80% by fossil fuel usage, regardless of their individual heroics. Thus, it’s far better, and more rewarding for the individual, to focus attention/effort as an “activist pushing for a technological and regulatory change of 80% fossil fuel usage.” Otherwise, it’s not going away.

Jaccard’s The Citizen’s Guide is full of surprises in a balanced approach to the climate change issue. He looks at both sides while focusing on the necessity of getting off fossil fuels. Interestingly, back in 2012 Jaccard upstaged today’s Extinction Rebellion notoriety for rambunctiousness, as explained in his book: “So 13 of us blocked a coal train as a public wake-up action in May 2012. We were arrested and jailed for a few hours.” (pg. 263)

He discusses important issues that help citizens know how to achieve powerful activism, as well as personal peace of mind, including chapters on: (a) How Energy Efficiency is Profitable (b) How Renewables Have Won (c) We Must Abolish Capitalism – Fans of Naomi Klein will find this chapter intriguing, as Jaccard wrote a highly critical review of her wildly popular book: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, and he closes with (d) The Simple Path to Success.

The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success is an excellent easy-to-read and politically balanced book (with one foot in the moderate camp). It also serves as an important fact-checking resource. And, as for relevancy and timeliness, it’s indispensable as a solid source. Don’t leave home without it.

The post Climate Confusion, Angst, and Sleeplessness appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

To Confront Climate Change Humanity Needs Socialism

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Humans may not survive. Reports from the UN’s Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change provoke images of land masses drowning, fleeing populations, starvation, terrible droughts, terrible storms, migrating diseases, new deserts, and intolerable heat. It’s an “ecological Armageddon,” says one expert. We hear about “the sixth extinction,” the geologic epoch that is our own. It’s called the “Anthropocene.” The name suggests human activity and human responsibility.

It’s bad enough to imagine blame and scenarios of dread, as if from science fiction, but add in the presently feeble response to dire threats and we’re in a funk. If tools were available, we’d get a lift. Marc Brodine’s book Green Strategy, reviewed here, is about tools.

It’s about capitalism too. For Brodine, that’s “the root cause of most of the environmental problems we face, and is also the biggest obstacle in finding real solutions.” Those problems stem from “wide-ranging imbalances between the ways that humanity impacts nature and the limits of the resources that nature is able to provide.” For Brodine, environmental abuse manifests as climate change and also vanishing fresh water, toxins and pollutants on land and in the sea, ocean acidification, deforestation, topsoil losses, decreasing soil fertility, disappearing species, and the spread of infectious diseases.

Brodine apparently regards scientist and environmental activist Barry Commoner as a mentor. In 1997 Commoner attributed the environmental crisis to “our systems of production – in industry, agriculture, energy and transportation.” That year he predicted “global human catastrophes: higher temperatures [and] the seas rising to flood many of the world’s cities.”

Ever-expanding production is the hallmark of capitalism, and the role of capitalism in causing environmental devastation is under the microscope. “[T]his new ecological stage was connected to the rise, earlier in the century, of monopoly capitalism,” Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster claimed in 1994. Judgment as to who is responsible for global warming turns to the association of production, fossil fuel, and emissions as the “smoking gun.”

Knowledge of cause might have brought about strategizing. That hasn’t happened. Naomi Klein in her 2016 book This Changes Everything blamed capitalism for disturbing the climate, but limited her remedial proposals to civil-disobedience and life-style alterations.

Now the Green New Deal surfaces in response to the environmental challenge. Separate proposals sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others and by Senator Bernie Sanders contain what Foster calls “revolutionary reforms.” In his opinion and that of Naomi Klein, whose views have evolved, these reforms could lead to transformational changes. What’s needed, says Foster, is “a mass mobilization of the entire society.”

Neither Green New Deal proponents nor commentators have explained how that might happen. How to launch education, organization, and unified action is left for another day. The Labor Network for Sustainability, The Atlantic magazine, the People’s Policy Project, and Resilience instead focus on feasibilities or on the availability of resources. The Nation magazine calls for mobilization, but offers little more.

Marc Brodine’s Green Strategy fills the void. The book is about developing political will, specifically about creating a movement “capable of building the political power to implement fundamental change.” Brodine envisions a giant coalition in which political struggle for nature would merge with other struggles.

Or more precisely: “A massive movement is needed, worldwide in scope, to fight defensive battles against environmental degradation and exploitative development. Then the movement can proceed to fight for long-term fundamental transformation of our economies.” The object is “broad-based unity to reach and organize millions of people.”

His book discusses context, science, philosophical underpinnings, environmental organizations, past political movements, mass protests, and socialism. Facts, observations, verdicts, and proposals fill a book larger by far in content than in physical size.

Brodine calls for defenders of the environment to organize politically and make linkages in many directions to build “political force.” He envisions alliances with “struggles for peace, justice, equality, health care, immigrant rights.” People will be “gaining strength from each other” from a “network of mutuality,” an expression of Martin Luther King.

Coalition-building will be reciprocal: “All progressive struggles have an environmental component, and successful alliances have been built … uniting environmental concerns with economic ones.” Environmental struggles will join with peace and justice movements throughout the world.

In his survey of U.S. movements for civil rights and labor rights, for ending apartheid and the Vietnam War, Brodine finds precedents for achieving unity and avoiding hazards. He discusses problems posed by far-left politicking, mixing moral imperatives and practicalities, and confusing tactics with strategy. He would pursue reforms and revolutionary goals simultaneously and work with “cross-class elements.”

The labor movement is a crucial player, both because of labor’s organizational expertise and because the enemies of labor are the enemies of other progressive causes. And, “Only workers have the power to shut down the economy [and to] wrest control of production decisions away from the capitalist class.”

Indeed, “Working class power is the only force capable of saving humanity from capitalism and creating a sustainable economy and sustainable environment.” The author identifies the working class as the “vast majority of humanity that works for a living.” He calls for collective solutions for environmental problems, social control of resources, and “fundamental changes to our economic system.” In essence, “socialism is a necessary precondition for the survival of the human race, for the kind of fundamental solutions humanity needs.” The socialism Brodine wants is “based on a scientific understanding” of human-caused risk to nature.

Socialist assumptions in Green Strategies are frequent but unobtrusive. The chapter on “environmental socialism” is a high point. While perhaps not the author’s prime goal, the book provides the reader with useful information on the workings and aspirations of the socialist movement, which includes the author’s own U.S. Communist Party. Socialists reading the book might be reminded as to who they are. For the others, says Brodine, fight for the environment may be “a new path to socialist consciousness, a new way to understand the need for fundamental economic change.”

Marxist theory explains how change occurs. Brodine cites interconnections, “feed-back” loops, and contradictions affecting natural and social phenomena. They lead to tensions and thus to change, which is constant. Small quantitative changes accumulate and then manifest as one big change, a qualitative one. That’s the so-called “tipping point.”

Looking at societal problems, he describes new realities and struggles impinging upon the political status quo. In theory, new political solutions follow, one after the other. Those political processes dealing with environmental challenges are under stress. They misfire and go on a new tack. Eventually they solidify into a collective human effort aimed at rescue. That’s another tipping point

Brodine is well-equipped to author a book outlining society’s response to environmental disaster. He has long headed the Communist Party’s environmental program and the book demonstrates his familiarity with research findings and dialogue in the natural sciences. Socialism, he writes, “harnesses the latest in science, technology, and social organization.”

Virginia Brodine, Marc Brodine’s mother, must have had a lot to do with why this book exists. A colleague of Barry Commoner, she was a prominent anti-nuclear and environmental activist and an author (Air Pollution and Radioactive Contamination, 1972). Her writings are collected in book Red Roots, Green Shoots (International Publishers, 2007).

Brodine’s writing style is clear and cogent. The book is well organized. Readers may object to repetition of insights and conclusions. But for this reviewer, reiteration was useful in reinforcing the author’s main points. Any future edition of the book – potentially a prize as the crisis advances – would benefit by the addition of an index.

From this vantage point, Green Strategy is a valuable and much appreciated book. It’s a primer on forming a mass movement serving the people. Grounded on science and on political and social realities, it’s well suited to have an impact on what counts, which is conscious-raising in favor of collective solutions. Above all, the book is about the survival of living things and the integrity of nature and so has ethical thrust.

Green Strategy: The Path to Fundamental Transformation
Marc Russell Brodine
(International Publishers, NY, 2018)

The post To Confront Climate Change Humanity Needs Socialism appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Examining Trump World’s Fantastic Claims About Ukraine

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In fantasy sports, participants draft their own dream teams out of the rosters of existing players. That’s what Donald Trump has done with Ukraine.

He and his advisors have created a fantasy team involving a number of key players, including the Ukrainian president, the former U.S. ambassador, and the former vice president’s son. Then they’ve created a fictitious narrative that brings these players together in what amounts to the president’s own geopolitical game.

And the president continues to bet that his fantasy narrative — a misreading of Ukrainian politics that lies at the heart of the impeachment inquiry — will ultimately win the jackpot. He’s still banking on acquittal in the Senate, reelection in 2020, and all the economic rewards that come to a president unshackled by constitutional restraints.

But the real Ukraine — as opposed to Trump’s fantasy version — may well lead to the unmaking of the president. Revelations from the real Ukraine, also known by the quaint shorthand phrase “facts on the ground,” have already produced a jail term for Trump’s former campaign manager and are threatening to bring down his personal lawyer.

The real Ukraine unseats corrupt autocrats. And Trump may well be next in line.

Trump as Marionette

Trump didn’t come to office with any particular view of Ukraine. He knew Russia to a certain extent, and he liked Russia because Russians invested in his properties and he dreamed of building a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Ukraine, however, was a mystery to him. The Trump Organization contemplated building a hotel and golf course in Kyiv and a resort in the coastal city of Yalta, and Trump’s children (Ivanka, Trump Jr.) visited the country in the 2000s to push these deals forward. But politically Ukraine didn’t register on Trump’s radar as anything other than Russia’s poorer stepbrother.

Take a look at this video of George Stephanopoulos interviewing Trump in July 2016 on the Republican Party’s position on military aid to Ukraine. First, Stephanopoulos had to remind the candidate about the relevant portion of the party platform:

STEPHANOPOULOS: They took away the part of the platform calling for the provision of lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves. Why is that a good idea?

TRUMP: Well, look, you know, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine, OK?Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?

TRUMP: OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet. You have Obama there.

It’s quite clear from the interview that Trump didn’t have his own ideas. He had no ideas at all other than the ridiculous notion that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “not going into Ukraine” even though the Kremlin had already incorporated Crimea and provided support on the ground for secessionists in the eastern flank of the country. With only a tenuous grasp of what was going on in Ukraine, Trump soon lapsed into utter incoherence.

But as president, Trump quickly developed a view of Ukraine that was built on a number of fanciful tales fed to him by advisors at home and abroad. Trump thinks of himself as an unconventional actor on the world stage, someone who listens to his own gut.

When it comes to Ukraine, however, he has been manipulated as deftly as a mindless marionette.

The Charge of Corruption

Ukraine is one of the few countries that Donald Trump routinely calls corrupt.

He has never called out Russia, for instance, on corruption, though it routinely ranks as a more corrupt country. But the president doesn’t care about corruption in general in Ukraine. He is only obsessed with how Ukraine’s corruption intersects with his own political ambitions. Thus, he has focused on two false narratives: how Hunter Biden’s involvement in a Ukrainian energy company influenced U.S. policy during the Obama administration and how Ukraine tried to undercut the Republican Party in the 2016 campaign.

There’s no question that Ukraine has been very corrupt since it became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Partly, this corruption has been a legacy of the Soviet system and the highly irregular transition from communism to crony capitalism. The privatization of state resources — and the privileged position of canny insiders — produced the same kind of economic oligarchy that prevails in neighboring Russia.

The concentration of economic wealth and its myriad connections to political power inspired two social uprisings in Ukraine. Both were centered around the Maidan Nezaleznosti (Independence Square) in the capital of Kyiv and the various malfeasances of the very Trump-like figure, Viktor Yanukovych.

In 2004, the Orange Revolution targeted Yanukovych’s electoral fraud and managed to force a revote that went in favor of Yanukovych’s opponent. The second uprising in 2013, the Euromaidan, protested the deal that Yanukovych, having become president in the interim, made with Russia at the expense of closer association with the European Union. At the heart of this second uprising, however, was Yanukovych’s rampant corruption, which he even boasted about to other heads of state. During his mafia-like rule, criminal activities spirited as much as $100 billion out of the country.

But this isn’t the corruption that Trump and his allies have fretted about. In fact, they’ve been all too cozy with precisely that set of corrupt actors.

Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, for instance, helped remake Yanukovych in the wake of his electoral loss in 2004 and helped him win the presidency in 2010, earning tens of millions of dollars in fees. Manafort would eventually be convicted of corruption himself — bank and tax fraud — as a result of the Mueller investigation.

Beginning in 2016, Manafort also began pushing the idea that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Writes Michelle Goldberg, “Manafort seems to have picked up that narrative from his associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a former Russian intelligence officer who, according to federal prosecutors, ‘has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.’”

After Trump’s election, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani made his own connections to Ukraine, signing on to help improve the image of the city of Kharkiv in 2018. But Giuliani has had links to shady operators in the region for some time, people like Ukrainian real-estate develop Pavel Fuks, who was part of the effort to try to build Trump Towers in Moscow.

Also in 2018, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, both Soviet-born American citizens, hired Giuliani to construct a shadow Ukraine policy designed to promote Trump’s interests over the national interests of both countries. The trio visited Ukraine at different points to dig up dirt on Trump’s political opponents and pressured the president to remove U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who was devoted to cleaning up Ukrainian corruption.

Giuliani also took advantage of former President Petro Poroshenko’s desperate desire to curry favor with Trump, which basically put prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko at Giuliani’s disposal. Lutsenko, a thoroughly unsavory character, very conveniently blocked investigations connected to Mueller’s inquiry and moved forward on investigations into Joe Biden and family.

Both Parnas and Fruman have been arrested and charged with campaign finance irregularities. When Trump denied knowing Parnas, who’d been an obsequious devotee of the president, the businessman reversed himself and decided to cooperate with the impeachment investigation.

Why the campaign to remove Yovanovitch? She was knowledgeable and clearly unwilling to be a Trumpian brownnose. She’d alienated Lutsenko by putting pressure on him to clean up his act. But the precipitating factor was the embassy’s decision, on her watch, to block Viktor Shokin, another Ukrainian prosecutor general, from visiting the United States. According to The Washington Post:

Consular staffers at the embassy blocked the application because of Shokin’s “known corrupt activities,” Yovanovitch testified. “And the next thing we knew, Mayor Giuliani was calling the White House” to inform Trump loyalists that Yovanovitch was denying entry to a Ukrainian who could provide Trump “information about corruption at the embassy, including my corruption.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Not only was Giuliani working with corrupt forces in Ukraine, he wanted the Trump administration to focus on an entirely different hotbed of corruption: the American embassy.

Trump, in other words, has never been concerned about the real corruption going on in Ukraine. As the impeachment inquiry has revealed, corruption had nothing to do with Trump’s holding up of military assistance to the country.

Trump has only ever been concerned about the imaginary corruption that Giuliani, Manafort, and others had manufactured to fit the president’s conspiratorial worldview: by a government that didn’t interfere in the 2016 elections (non-spoiler alert: it was Russia), by a vice-presidential son who didn’t affect U.S. policy (Hunter Biden’s presence on the board of Burisma was stupid and nepotistic but there’s no evidence of wrongdoing), and by an American ambassador who was trying to help clean up corruption in the country (she deserved a commendation, not expulsion).

Foreign Entanglement

It’s bad enough that Trump was misled by his corruption cronies, one who’s in prison and another who, if there’s any justice in this world, will soon join him there. The president’s view of Ukraine was also being influenced by two leaders who have had designs on that country.

The first is the most obvious: Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader has wanted to keep Ukraine as weak as possible and disrupt any potential military deals between Washington and Kyiv so as to consolidate dubious territorial claims on the country. Toward that end, he has emphasized that Ukraine is a “den of corruption,” according to a former U.S. official familiar with the phone calls between Putin and Trump.

Like Giuliani and Manafort, Putin was not referring to the corruption of Yanukovych, whom he counted on as an ally. He had more contemporary targets, including Volodymyr Zelensky, who’d been elected president in 2019 on a wave of anti-corruption fervor. The Washington Post reports:

Trump turned to Putin for guidance on the new leader of Ukraine within days of Zelensky’s election. In a May 3 call, Trump asked Putin about his impressions of Zelensky, according to a Western official familiar with the conversation. Putin said that he had not yet spoken with Zelensky but derided him as a comedian with ties to an oligarch despised by the Kremlin.

Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, shares Putin’s worldview on many issues, including Ukraine. Added to that is Orban’s not-so-hidden desire to expand his influence over the trans-Carpathian section of Ukraine that was part of Hungary prior to World War I. On May 13, over the objections of National Security Advisor John Bolton and the National Security Council’s Fiona Hill, Trump invited Orban to the White House for a meeting. Orban, who has steered Hungary away from democracy and many European Union norms, had been persona non grata in Washington until Trump took office.

Orban has not been enthusiastic about Zelensky and the faction within Ukraine eager to repair its relations with Europe. Following Putin, he prefers those in the country who lean toward Russia. To that end, the Orban government has referred to Ukraine as “semi-fascist” to make it as undesirable as possible to European sensibilities.

This narrative pushed by Putin and Orban, that Ukraine is a semi-fascist den of corruption, is worth examining more closely.

Ukraine Today

Corruption has been rampant in Ukraine. The country ranks 120 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International list, which puts it behind Pakistan and Moldova. A number of journalists have been attacked and killed for covering the corruption beat.

But even before the current president took over, there were signs that the government was getting a handle on the problem. As Karl Volokh wrote in The National Interest in March:

Reforms now in place in Ukraine have reduced national corruption by a staggering $6 billion per year — a figure equivalent to nearly six percent of the country’s official GDP. These reforms, and the increased effectiveness of state tax and revenue authorities have also helped to significantly reduce the size of the country’s once-formidable shadow economy.

And instead of encouraging corruption in Ukraine, the Obama administration (including Biden) did the opposite. “Back in 2015, we relied on the solidarity of our U.S. and European allies to push our elites to take the right steps — steps that would make Ukraine less corrupt and strengthen the rule of law,” writes Maksym Eristavi in Foreign Affairs. One of those steps was firing Viktor Shokin, which Trump has repeatedly pointed to as exhibit number one in his case that Biden, who wanted Shokin out, is the corrupt politician, not him.

Zelensky, despite his anti-corruption exhortations, has faced charges of being too close to a corrupt oligarch, in this case Ihor Kolomoisky, who owns the TV station that aired Servant of the People, the show that brought the president-cum-comedian to worldwide notice. The station was a big supporter of Zelensky’s campaign. Kolomoisky himself left Ukraine in the wake of embezzlement charges connected to the bank he owned, PrivatBank, and took up residence in Switzerland and then Israel.

In what looked a lot like a quid pro quo, Kolomoisky returned to Ukraine just before Zelensky’s inauguration. A district court in Kyiv, meanwhile, ruled that the government’s nationalization of Privatbank was illegal, which means that Kolomoisky might be able to regain control of it.

So, when it comes to corruption, Ukraine is in a better place now than a few years ago, but it’s not out of the woods.

The assertion that Ukraine is semi-fascist is more problematic. True, in the wake of the Euromaidan protests and Russian intervention, far-right and neo-Nazi formations became more powerful. In the government, the Svoboda party controlled three ministries; in the military realm, the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion acquired battle-hardened credibility.

Nationalists have meanwhile attempted to enforce Ukrainian language laws and resurrect far right figures from history. Right-wing paramilitary formations still launch pogroms against Roma and try to terrorize the LGBTQ population. The far-right National Militia served as official monitors in the 2019 elections.

But fascism has little popular appeal in the country. Svoboda, though it created an electoral alliance with several other parties for the 2019 elections, couldn’t get anywhere near the electoral threshold of 5 percent to get into parliament (though it did win a single constituency seat). As a result, the infamous head of the Azov Battalion, Andriy Biletsky, lost his seat in parliament.

The government, meanwhile, has shed any connections to the far right. The current president and previous prime minister are both Jewish (though non-practicing). The president is also, primarily, a Russian speaker, and is not happy with the language law crafted by his predecessor that makes Ukrainian mandatory for public servants.

Ukraine has 99 problems, but a fascist state ain’t one. The organizing of the radical right remains a major problem in the country, as it is throughout Europe and in the United States. But in Ukraine, the radical right has virtually no political power.

So, to recap, a group of self-serving statesmen and craven consultants created a fantasy Ukraine that fed into Trump’s primary preoccupations: the supposed crimes of his political predecessors, the embarrassment of his loss of the popular vote in 2016, and his ruthless determination to win a second term.

That fictitious narrative prompted Trump to break the law. And now he is scrambling to prove that he didn’t do anything wrong and that his understanding of Ukraine is correct. If this were a real fantasy league, Donald Trump’s team would be in last place.

When ousted by popular demand in 2014, Viktor Yanukovych had few places to turn. He ended up in exile in Russia. Booted from office by impeachment or popular vote and hounded by investigations into his myriad financial improprieties, Trump may discover that he, too, might need Putin’s protection. Nancy Pelosi’s challenge to Trump that “all roads lead to Putin” may turn out to be prophetic.

The real Ukraine of anti-corruption advocates will have had its revenge once again.

 

The post Examining Trump World’s Fantastic Claims About Ukraine appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

“What About the Children?” Youth Rights Before Parental Police States

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“What about the children?!” Some haggard disembodied voice wails from my flickering TV set, jerking me awake from the Ambien-grade slumber that any more than 15 minutes of C-Span inevitably delivers. It’s happened a thousand times before. The voice almost always belongs to some sobbing middle-aged white woman, overdressed like June Cleaver for some senate hearing on the dangers of one victimless crime or another, online prostitution or E-cigarettes or satanic Portuguese techno, always something new, always something to be terrified of. Part of me feels for the woman, I really do. She’s usually lost a child to something or other. She’s clearly in pain. But another disgraceful part of me wants to tell her to shut the fuck up and take some goddamn responsibility for your own life. Because, beneath the theatrics, 9 times out of 10, this pearl-clutching stock character is really saying “I couldn’t find the time to parent my dead child, so now the police state has to pick up the slack!” And the Wall Street whores of Washington take their cue and start passing more pointless legislation.

I know, I know, I’m a cunt. In today’s era of 24/7 stage 4 late capitalism, many parents are too busy working 80 shifts for peanuts to so much as even check in on their kids. But the wailing woman on C-Span is rarely a blue collar casualty. She and her ilk, who fill the ranks of an endless barrage of parental guilt trip lobbies like MADD are almost always well connected, upper middle class, office drones, who’s kids dropped dead while they were busy paying off the Beamer or banging the European tennis instructor. And now they’re busy boycotting Juul or Marilyn Manson or whatever suburbia’s chosen monster of the week happens to be, while the rest of their brood are at home with some over medicated nanny, experimenting with dryer sheets or some such nonsense. This army of rambling soccer moms call themselves children’s rights advocates and “What about the children?!” is the manic war cry they shout just before decapitating your, as well as their own damn children’s rights.

I have long considered myself to be an advocate of youth rights, the bra-less lesbian sister of the children’s rights movement. I don’t have any kids, nor do I really want them, but I identify very strongly with kids because, in a sense, I still am one. Most queer people, especially trans people like me, never really leave their teens emotionally. That’s where the trauma of having a biological determination that seems to belong to every adult in your life, from your parents to your teachers to your doctors, begins. And in a odd sense, all kids are queer in that they still haven’t done enough experimenting to figure out who or what the fuck they really are yet. And that’s the divide between children’s rights and youth rights. Youth rights acknowledges the basic fact that kids have a right to experiment, they have a right to fuck up, and they’re going to do it with or without the approval of the adults in the children’s right’s nanny state.

Who were you when you were 14? It’s a simple question that the C-Span barkers never seem to find the time to contemplate. What did you do with your misbegotten youth? If you were lucky, you had the time of your life doing stupid shit, smoking and drinking stupid things and crashing your parents car afterwords. Getting knocked up by some twenty-something parking lot urchin and then selling your old bike to pay for the Plan B. You fucked up. You did thoughtless moronic crap just to see if you could and you survived. And every once in a while somebody didn’t, and it was tragic, but it was also inevitable. Not every hatchling tortoise survives the gulls. What makes humans so goddamn special. Trial and error is how all animals evolve. Remove that imperative and you cripple a generation or worse.

But the children’s rights set doesn’t see it this way. That’s because what they really advocate has nothing to do with their children’s rights. It’s all about parent’s rights. They infantilize their own children and reduce them to the voiceless property of the state, to be molded and guided by a managerial class of tenured teachers, overworked bureaucrats and professional adults. And this is where kids really get hurt. When you deny someone’s basic rights to individual autonomy, you make abuse by those who police it inevitable. Just ask anyone lucky enough to survive the foster care system. They’ll tell you they would have been safer on the streets. Equality matters in this country for blacks, queers and disabled folk. Why not for children? You really care about the fucking children? Then treat them a little more like people and a little less like pets.

So what is the answer then? How do we keep kids away from vaping and “assault style” weaponry? The hard answer is you don’t. If you really want democracy, it almost always comes with a side of danger. But I do have two suggestions on what we could do, and you’re probably not going to like either of them. The first is lower the age for everything to 14, voting, drinking, sex, driving, smoking. I know, blasphemy right? I’m not saying that we should do this to encourage such behavior (especially voting.) I’m saying we do this to acknowledge the very simple fact that we can’t prevent young adults from engaging in consensual behavior, even stupid consensual behavior. They’re going to find a way to do it anyways. We all did. Let’s at least take it out of the shadows and leave these kid’s decisions up to them and their families to figure out, rather than the cold probe of the faceless federal government.

My second suggestion is much easier but no less provocative. Turn off the TV, put down the picket sign, shut the fuck up and listen to your kids. You might be surprised to find out that they’re human beings too. Give them the respect they deserve by allowing them to speak for themselves and maybe they’ll return the favor with an honest relationship. Crazy hippie shit from the tranny anarchist, I know. But give it a shot, at least before you end up on C-Span wailing “What about the children?!” Your kids will thank you by pissing you off six feet above sea level.

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Incinerating Logic: Bush Fires and Climate Change

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Despite the Internet, connectivity, and linking technologies, distance has not shrunk the Australian sense of self, an often provincial appraisal of the world seen in slow motion and stills. Whether it’s the “flower revolution” or Michel Foucault, trends and ideas are often delayed, and seem almost cutely anachronistic by the time they make landfall down under. Wedded to the insatiable urge to reap, rent and remove from the earth, and you have the ultimate myopic: Australia, the exceptional country, outside the stream of history and, dare it be said, the inconveniences of science.

With some 11,000 scientists warning that planet Earth “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency”, some sense of it was registered on the Australian political scene, if only barely. The “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” published in BioScience does not shy away from the language of catastrophe and emergency. “Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations… we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament.” Climate change had not merely arrived but bulldozed itself into recognition, “accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

The authors and signatories suggest that, “An immense increase of scale in endeavours to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis.” Public debates on the subject of climate change had mostly focused on global surface temperature, a clearly inadequate approach that avoids “the breath of human activities and the real dangers stemming from a warming planet.”

Areas of urgent redress were also suggested. Energy efficiency and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels are high on the list. “We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly.” The call for a change of language is encouraged: rhetoric of GDP growth and affluence needs to be replaced by sustainability “and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.” Not exactly music for the muscular fossil fuel lobby.

Another song sheet that would not have impressed the fossil fuel industries was an event that barely disturbed the press releases. This month, the National Electricity Market in Australia received a contribution from wind, solar and hydro energy amounting to half of the total energy production. Rooftop solar contributions came in at 23.7 percent, with wind (15.7 percent), large-scale solar (8.8 percent) and hydro (1.9 percent) bringing up the rear.

With the release of the report, Australia braced itself for the incinerating fury of bush fires that have arrived earlier this season. The state of New South Wales is anticipating what the Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons describes as “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”.

The warnings were already pressing through the policy pipeline in the last decade. The National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management’s 2004 report to the Council of Australian Government warned that, “Fires’ frequency, intensity and size are expected to increase under climate change as temperatures rise, rainfall variability increases, droughts become more severe and ecosystem dynamics alter, resulting in changed biomass fuel loads and types.”

The authors of the report go on to suggest that “projected hotter, drier and windier conditions associated with climate change caused by greenhouse warming would extend the period of fuel drying and increase rates of fire spread.”

Earlier this year, former NSW Fires Chief Greg Mullins and 22 other emergency honchos warned Prime Minister Morrison of the dangers that would face Australia this summer, suggesting that the government meet to discuss some form of action against risks of conflagration. The meeting has yet to take place, leaving such politicians as Adam Bandt, the Greens MP for Melbourne, certain that Morrison “bears some responsibility and must apologise to the communities impacted”.

Various Australian politicians, as then, were having none of it. Charged with the task of keeping a plunderer’s lifestyle in perpetuity, the well-fed pigs in clover, the following words of the BioScience report sit uncomfortably with members of the Morrison government. “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle. The most affluent countries are mainly responsible for the historical GHG emissions and generally have the greatest per capita emissions.”

The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack preferred some tea and sympathy in responding to the victims of the fires, not policy and prognosis. “They don’t need the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time when they are trying to save their homes.”

McCormack’s primary target was the Green party itself, which he accused of fiddling politically while Australia burned. “That’s what Adam Bandt, and the Greens, and Richard Di Natale, and all those other inner-city raving lunatics – and quite frankly, that’s how he was carrying on yesterday – that’s what they want, we’re not going to go down that path.”

Other politicians have adopted a similar approach: the now is what matters, and never mind previous failings and future disasters. NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian provided the stellar example. “For any of us on the ground, speaking to people traumatised, speaking to people fighting fires for weeks… know exactly what the priorities should be, and that is saving life and property”. Climate change, in other words, was something for another day, another slot in the packed meeting schedule.

Morrison reiterated the position. He was “focused on the needs of the people”. He spoke of having “firefighters out there saving someone else’s house while their own house is burning down, and when we are in that sort of situation, that is where attention must be.”

Mayors from the areas most affected by the recent conflagration have been crankily unimpressed by the platitudes. Climate change literature, they surmise, is being assiduously avoided by the government. The unfortunately named Carol Sparks, Mayor of Glen Innes, site of two deaths over the weekend, suggested that McCormack needed “to read the science, and that is what I am going by, is the science.” Forget, suggested the mayor, the politics here. Science had imposed its cold, objective hand on the matter. Mid Coast Mayor Claire Pontin was similarly riled, notably by suggestions that fires were the staple of Australian life and landscape. “We’ve not had situations like that. Fifty years ago, this would never happen.”

There are few incentives for humanity to adapt than through the infliction of catastrophic conditions. Pandemics, world wars and existential risk have done their bit in propelling change. But luxury produces complacency; well fed bellies induce sloth. Come the writing of humanity’s extensive biography of preying on the planet, Australia and its political classes will have much to answer for.

The post Incinerating Logic: Bush Fires and Climate Change appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Joshua Tree is Us

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For hundreds of years, the Joshua tree has been a source of inspiration for not only Americans but people all around the world. Its branches reaching to the sky reminded early settlers of the biblical story of Joshua raising his arms in prayer. My prayer, today, is that it’s not too late to save this American treasure so that future generations may likewise be inspired by its majestic beauty.

Born of the Pleistocene epoch, Yucca brevifolia has outlived mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. But without dramatic action to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, Joshua trees may not live into the next century.

But prayer is not enough to prevent the Joshua tree from extinction. It’s also going to take robust action to defend the Joshua tree. Last week, WildEarth Guardians filed suit against the Trump administration to force it to do its job – to safeguard the Joshua tree under the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit stems from a petition to the Interior Department that WildEarth Guardians’ filed more than four years ago, asking it to invoke the ESA’s protections for the Joshua tree.

Since the time of our initial petition, the situation for the Joshua tree has become even more dire. This June, scientists from the University of California, Riverside released a study which found that even under the best case scenario–meaning with bold, aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions–only one in five Joshua trees will survive the next 50 years. Without such steps, the population will be virtually wiped out.

In the midst of such apparent hopelessness, I remain faithful in the power of the public voice. After all, there’s a long history of inspired citizens and a caring government protecting the Joshua tree. In August of 1936, in response to the relentless advocacy efforts of Minerva Hoyt, a southern Californian resident enchanted by the Joshua tree, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an Executive Order designating what would later become Joshua Tree National Park—which just this past week celebrated its 25th anniversary.

I am not naïve. Even if marshalling science and engaging in legal action extend the Joshua tree a lifeline, these acts alone can’t save it. What will save the Joshua tree are its millions of fans–famous musicians, poets, writers, and mystics among them–who speak out and who refuse to allow the loss of such a beloved and irreplaceable figure of the natural world.

When the very icons and namesakes that define our national parks can no longer survive, we have a problem that should alarm every citizen of our great nation. Sadly, that is the reality we’re facing not only with the Joshua tree, but also with the disappearing glaciers of Glacier National Park and the declining Saguaros of Saguaro National Park.

If we are to save the Joshua tree, as well as countless other species that are suffering due to the climate crisis, there is little doubt we need a new president. A president who will appoint a cabinet that will cherish and celebrate the beauty and diversity of nature.

I’ve been around long enough to know that sometimes presenting the mere facts isn’t

enough. Logic alone can’t move the human heart. But beauty and diversity held as moral imperatives can.

For 2.5 million years, the Joshua tree has survived on this planet. We desperately need new leaders to take dramatic, bold action to protect our endangered web of life and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The fight for wild nature is now a battle against time, and it’s one we can’t afford to lose.

The post The Joshua Tree is Us appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Noel Ignatiev and the Great Divide

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One of the finer scholars of his generation, a mighty class warrior, and an unapologetic emblem of his ideological tendency has joined the pantheon of great revolutionaries. Noel Ignatiev, whose classic monograph How the Irish Became White and an anthology co-edited with John Garvey, Race Traitor, belong on every shelf in Trumpland, passed away on November 9, 2019.

Ignatiev’s major contribution was proliferation of the argument that abolition of racism was the catalyst to workers revolution in America. Fusing the thought of C.L.R. James, W.E.B. Du Bois, Karl Marx, and Antonio Gramsci, he articulated with his comrades a refined analysis of white skin privilege as the chief ideological project retarding revolution in America. At the moment when the academic Left was reverting to the nebulous incomprehensibility of postmodernism and poststructuralism run amok in the 1990s, Noel and his comrades created Race Traitor, a thoughtful but also quite accessible magazine that sought to speak to working people about shucking off the poison chalice of white supremacy and racism in all its formulations.

As an organizer-activist today with Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a national network dedicated to organizing so-called whites to oppose white supremacy, this periodical is perhaps one of the most important of the past 30 years, far more helpful than the incomprehensible Derrida, Chantal, Mouffe, and so many other Marxist intellectuals who seemed to wander off to Laputa (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laputa) when Francis Fukuyama tricked them into believing History was over. In a world where so many Sandernistas seem intent on using an obscure 1960s photo of the holy guru being arrested for participation in a desegregation protest as the imprimatur’s seal that their candidate is absent all racial prejudices and shortcomings, Noel’s work sets a high watermark for basic decency in political discourse. Sure, Sanders probably has some great racial politics when compared with Charles Schumer. But the lack of critique of systemic white supremacy and the refusal to argue for racial abolition is a shortcoming he needs to own rather than a crass workerism that invites white supremacist logic.

Noel’s writings on James were numerous and useful. His comparative textual critique of Eric Foner’s history of Reconstruction against Du Bois’ magisterial Black Reconstruction in America will remain a classic of both political as well as historiographic and literary scholarship for decades to come. At a time when Democratic Socialists of America, the Communist Party USA, and many other Left political groups cry havoc about Trump and loose the dogs of the Popular Front, it is useful to reread “”The American blindspot”: Reconstruction according to Eric Foner and W.E.B. Du Bois” (https://libcom.org/library/american-blindspot-reconstruction-according-eric-foner-W.E.B.-du-bois-noel-ignatiev) and understand why today’s radicals have much to learn from the failures of the white Left during the postbellum years.

I spoke with Noel a few times. At first we were able to have some very cheerful conversations. As we began to further discuss issues, things soured, concluding with a phone call that left me in tears.

Forgive a digression for the moment here but I think it is worth consideration. It underwrote my differences with Noel and it is my way of mourning.

I start with a quote from Slavoj Zizek:

We don’t need local democracy. Of course, when it functions, it’s nice. But isn’t it that all the big challenges that we have today are challenges that need even more than state power, we will have to organize ourselves at a trans-national level. Jean-Pierre Dupuy…was in Fukushima two days after the earthquake, the tsunami, all that. And he told me that for one day, a little bit less, the Japanese government was in a total panic because they thought that the pollution will be so strong that will have to evacuate the entire Tokyo area, 30 million people. If this were to happen, can you imagine, where will they put them? The rational solution would have been, of course, to ask Russia to give part of Eastern Siberia… But how can you do it? No mechanisms [exist] to do it! We have to confront these problems! No, we need larger global organisms!

I’ve overcome my onetime over-estimation of the Slovenian Elvis of philosophy, particularly in light of his rather disgusting comments pertaining to Muslim immigrants in Europe. But this point he raises, that the challenges of multinational neoliberal corporate power, biogenetics, catastrophic climate change, and other struggles of this increasingly-repulsive century requires a reformulation of internationalism that entails the holding of state power and even blocs of states on a geopolitical stage, is an important one.

Right now, America and Europe are witnessing a reversion to the most reactionary strains of politics within liberal democracy seen in over 80 years. The xenophobia of Trump, Orban, and AfD in Germany all stem from a kind of laissez-faire approach on a geopolitical level to the administration of Global Southern refugee relocation and resettlement. Yes, refugees have human rights to migration, but those rights include the right to not being left to rot in a gutter or a cage, something that is the default receiving position of the liberal democratic North. The EU, UN, and the vast assortment of NGOs that proliferate across the Global North, politically-neutral by design, do not incubate the growth of a politicized cadre of Left officers that can effectively challenge the rise of the right while implementing a humane and meaningful refugee settlement policy. The Soviet Union and its various institutions were certainly flawed in a multitude of ways, many of which Noel’s hero-cum-philosophical inspiration C.L.R. James elaborated upon.

But the ideal that the Soviet Union’s project aspired to, the formation of an inter-state revolutionary project that would articulate a meaningful and practical method for taking state power worldwide, is something that our current political moment requires.

We do not need a repetition of the Comintern’s top-heavy, dictatorial, “Bolshevized” schematic that failed to accommodate the nuances of the constituent national Communist Parties within their local contexts.

Likewise we do not need the overly-submissive Eurocommunism that began as a project that was skeptical of subservience to Moscow’s agenda but ended as warmed-over social democracy (cf. Syriza’s genuflection to finance capital to see what that tendency remains capable of once elected to power).

We as a species have little to gain from Trotskyism (Autonomism is a form of Trotskyism owing to its orientation, inherited from Old Man Leon by way of C.L.R. James, towards individualist analysis), Maoism, or its various offspring. (And we also do not need the sorts of misbehavior that led to the collapse of Students for a Democratic Society, a matter Ignatiev played an important role in, which included as a result the birth of the Weathermen…)

We need governments that take power for the people, build institutions that serve the most vulnerable, and militantly oppose, to the point of state violence if necessary, biases like xenophobia, racism, sexism, and other chauvinisms, to take a term from the era Noel hailed from.

And we need these things on a timetable that regrettably will not accommodate the project of building bottom-up local democracy and neighborhood assemblies that C.L.R. James and Ignatiev’s Autonomist Marxist current uphold as their political goal. It very well could be less than 12 months from now when a catastrophic storm, such as a hurricane, causes a massive displacement of populations on a scale that reaches upwards of the millions. Syria is in the midst of a war, lasting close to a decade, that was catalyzed in no small part by the Assad government’s mishandling of droughts that caused the immiseration of millions of rural farmers. New Orleans is an absolutely-privatized school system, exclusively charters, because of Hurricane Katrina. Catastrophic climate change is on a calendar that is not the same as the framework that local democratic assemblies occupy.

In short, we absolutely need states, now more than ever, controlled by the people, to form a viable form of protection from the ravages of what Naomi Klein called ‘disaster capitalism.’

Noel and I disagreed over Israel-Palestine. To be absolutely clear, my position is simple: Do the absolute most possible to alleviate the maximum amount of harm for the largest number of people facing the violence of the Israeli state by whatever means will be most productive.

Americans have a key role to play in reaching that goal and I cannot comprehend how anyone does not see things in terms of a first responder during a major emergency, pull the most vulnerable (those in Gaza and the Occupied Territories) out of the firing line of the Israeli state as quickly as possible.

The harms done the Arab minority in Israel proper are profound and unforgivable.

But to flatten that and argue that there is no difference in degree or brutality between what happens in Gaza, the Occupied Territories, and Israel proper is simply at odds with reality.

The Arabic minority in Israel proper is not forcibly compelled daily to poison their children owing to lack of potable water, which is the case in the Gaza Strip following the catastrophic Operation Protective Edge.

If there be a much more immediate way than the international legal route, so be it, but right now the international consensus (as well as most predominant currents of the Palestinian solidarity movement) rely upon the international legal framework in order to articulate their demands. This is a return to the query raised by another of Noel’s heroes, Rosa Luxemburg: Reform or revolution…

Noel argued that the one state solution was the only acceptable thing in the world. There’s nothing in the international legal opinion calling for that and trying to build consensus for that in America could take another decade, thereby prolonging the suffering of the most vulnerable. He argued that international law was “pirate law,” certainly true.

But the contradiction, of course, is that calling for the foundation of any sort of state anywhere in the world is to make an appeal to international law and the creation of a legal apparatus/structure that materializes within the auspices of international law. (Incidentally, if the Soviet Union were still in existence this might be a quite different discussion…)

That is the ultimate dialectical divide inherent in the Zionist settler-colonial project and struggle to unmake it.

This also defines a stumbling block of the Left in the United States, the matter of taking state power. If there is one major lesson of twentieth century Marxist-Leninist governments, it is that there is a profound and distinct difference between leading the movement to take power and the actual act of governing. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, and the rest made mistakes not because of their character failings (well, not entirely), it was because they were not technicians with training to take over the administration of the state. Che Guevara alluded to this in 1965 when he said “Socialism is young and has its mistakes. We revolutionaries often lack the knowledge and intellectual audacity needed to meet the task of developing the new man and woman with methods different from the conventional ones; conventional methods suffer from the influences of the society that created them.”

Our words were heated and he cut off from me there. I tried to email him to clear things up but it didn’t work. This perhaps will be a great regret for the rest of my life.

C.L.R. James was a great man but he died before the onslaught of the End of History. Would he have seen the collapse of the Soviet Union as a great outcome for humanity after thirty years have seen the immiseration of the Russians under Yeltsin? Would he have said the defeat of Stalinism was still justified despite the most extraordinary hardship of workers worldwide, both in the remaining Marxist-Leninist states and in the liberal democracies? Would he have subscribed still to the idea that local assemblies are the way to go despite the fact a properly-functioning municipal state requires a vast, alienated apparatus of plumbing, electric, and other municipal and state services to function? Would he have been found every week at his local farmers market or said “oh wait, I like eating fresh fruit in the winter, bring back the interstate food transport system”? The notion of local assemblies he and later Noel advocated is a beautiful one in an ideal world. (In fact James modified his views on the postwar Southern Marxist-Leninist projects of Castro and Maurice Bishop…)

But with the calamities at hand, I wonder if we have the luxury for ideals anymore. As it currently stands, the most powerful counter to American economic power is China, which doesn’t sound to encouraging.

But if it’s a choice between Beijing and the Koch brothers, with your rinky-dink local assembly playing no major role in the discussions…

What is to be done?

Noel claimed Du Bois as one of his heroes. I find no finer tribute to such a revolutionary than this passage from “The Comet,” a short science fiction story in the anthology Darkwater. In this brief moment, during a post-apocalyptic reprieve when a Black man and a white woman find themselves to be the last two humans on earth, Du Bois simulates the abolition of the white race. We need to dream of this future in tribute to Noel so to best work towards its materialization in history.

“Have you had to work hard?” she asked softly.

“Always,” he said.

“I have always been idle,” she said. “I was rich.”

“I was poor,” he almost echoed.

“The rich and the poor are met together,” she began, and he finished:

“The Lord is the Maker of them all.”

“Yes,” she said slowly; “and how foolish our human distinctions seem—now,” looking down to the great dead city stretched below, swimming in unlightened shadows.

“Yes—I was not—human, yesterday,” he said.

She looked at him. “And your people were not my people,” she said; “but today——” She paused. He was a man,—no more; but he was in some larger sense a gentleman,—sensitive, kindly, chivalrous, everything save his hands and—his face. Yet yesterday——

“Death, the leveler!” he muttered.

“And the revealer,” she whispered gently, rising to her feet with great eyes. He turned away, and after fumbling a moment sent a rocket into the darkening air. It arose, shrieked, and flew up, a slim path of light, and scattering its stars abroad, dropped on the city below. She scarcely noticed it. A vision of the world had risen before her. Slowly the mighty prophecy of her destiny overwhelmed her. Above the dead past hovered the Angel of Annunciation. She was no mere woman. She was neither high nor low, white nor black, rich nor poor. She was primal woman; mighty mother of all men to come and Bride of Life. She looked upon the man beside her and forgot all else but his manhood, his strong, vigorous manhood—his sorrow and sacrifice. She saw him glorified. He was no longer a thing apart, a creature below, a strange outcast of another clime and blood, but her Brother Humanity incarnate, Son of God and great All-Father of the race to be.

He did not glimpse the glory in her eyes, but stood looking outward toward the sea and sending rocket after rocket into the unanswering darkness. Dark-purple clouds lay banked and billowed in the west. Behind them and all around, the heavens glowed in dim, weird radiance that suffused the darkening world and made almost a minor music. Suddenly, as though gathered back in some vast hand, the great cloud-curtain fell away. Low on the horizon lay a long, white star—mystic, wonderful! And from it fled upward to the pole, like some wan bridal veil, a pale, wide sheet of flame that lighted all the world and dimmed the stars.

In fascinated silence the man gazed at the heavens and dropped his rockets to the floor. Memories of memories stirred to life in the dead recesses of his mind. The shackles seemed to rattle and fall from his soul. Up from the crass and crushing and cringing of his caste leaped the lone majesty of kings long dead. He arose within the shadows, tall, straight, and stern, with power in his eyes and ghostly scepters hovering to his grasp. It was as though some mighty Pharaoh lived again, or curled Assyrian lord. He turned and looked upon the lady, and found her gazing straight at him.

Silently, immovably, they saw each other face to face—eye to eye. Their souls lay naked to the night. It was not lust; it was not love—it was some vaster, mightier thing that needed neither touch of body nor thrill of soul. It was a thought divine, splendid.

Slowly, noiselessly, they moved toward each other—the heavens above, the seas around, the city grim and dead below. He loomed from out the velvet shadows vast and dark. Pearl-white and slender, she shone beneath the stars. She stretched her jeweled hands abroad. He lifted up his mighty arms, and they cried each to the other, almost with one voice, “The world is dead.”

 

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