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Trump’s Tweets and Retreats on Syria

Mother Jones Magazine -

March 16, 2012

We should have gotten more of the oil in Syria, and we should have gotten more of the oil in Iraq. Dumb leaders.

June 15, 2013

We should stay the hell out of Syria, the “rebels” are just as bad as the current regime. WHAT WILL WE GET FOR OUR LIVES AND $ BILLIONS? ZERO

August 30, 2013

The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria—big mistake if he does not!

September 5, 2013

The only reason President Obama wants to attack Syria is to save face over his very dumb RED LINE statement. Do NOT attack Syria, fix U.S.A.

August 25, 2014

We will now be helping Syria and Iran by attacking ISIS—ironic, isn’t it!

March 24, 2016

Europe and the U.S. must immediately stop taking in people from Syria. This will be the destruction of civilization as we know it! So sad!

July 27, 2016

Crooked Hillary Clinton wants to flood our country with Syrian immigrants that we know little or nothing about. The danger is massive. NO!

April 8, 2017

Congratulations to our great military men and women for representing the United States, and the world, so well in the Syria attack.

April 11, 2017

RT @foxnation: Grateful Syrians React To @realDonaldTrump Strike: ‘I’ll Name My Son Donald’ #SyrianStrikes

September 15, 2017

We have made more progress in the last nine months against ISIS than the Obama Administration has made in 8 years. Must be proactive & nasty!

April 8, 2018

Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria… President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price…

April 8, 2018

If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!

April 11, 2018

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!

December 19, 2018

We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.

February 1, 2019

Syria was loaded with ISIS until I came along. We will soon have destroyed 100% of the Caliphate, but will be watching them closely. It is now time to start coming home and, after many years, spending our money wisely. Certain people must get smart!

Why You’re Not Hearing About America’s Wars

Mother Jones Magazine -

James Foley, a 38-year-old former prison literacy teacher, went to Syria in 2012 to cover a civil war in which the United States was a major player—and which Americans were largely ignoring. He believed in the power of witnessing, and in the human capacity for empathy. “Journalism in a war zone should not be just about conflict,” says Charles Sennott, a veteran foreign correspondent who was one of Foley’s editors. “He had the most extraordinary talent to tell the story of the people caught in the middle of it.”

It’s an impulse that has always motivated journalists to head into the line of fire, from WWII Europe to Vietnam, Central America, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Foreign bureaus were a fixture even at regional papers like the Baltimore Sun and the Boston Globe. They were America’s eyes on the world. At its peak, international news filled 10 percent of newspaper space and 45 percent of news broadcasts.

Sennott was among them. He’d been a police reporter at the New York Daily News in 1993, and one night he headed downtown to check out a report of a loud bang. “Everyone kept saying, it’s probably a generator that exploded. It’s really a remarkable fact that in 1993, no one’s first thought about an explosion was ‘terrorism.’” 

Sennott had stumbled onto the beginnings of a defining 21st-century story—the first World Trade Center bombing. He filed a story that night, but his editor told him to dig deeper, and the research took him to New Jersey, then Sudan, then Egypt. “I was a New York police reporter knocking on doors in Sudan,” he recalls. “These international stories explain what is happening to us back home.”

But by the time Foley headed into Syria, America’s newsrooms were very different places. Few editors were in a position to assign a reporter to head overseas to explore the global ramifications of a local story. Foreign reporting and investigative journalism were being cut as advertising revenue dried up.

“It’s a full-on house on fire for all of journalism. The roof was foreign coverage, and then it burned through the floors and now we’re into the foundation.”

Yet editors still wanted international coverage, especially from war zones. And so they turned to freelancers. Where media companies previously paid for salaries, insurance, and security, a freelancer would shoulder all that while earning a few hundred dollars—or in some cases, nothing—for a story or a photo.

One of those freelancers was Shane Bauer, whose special report on what Americans are doing in Syria is publishing on our website today.  

Like Foley, Shane first headed to the Middle East because he knew there were stories to be told that Americans were no longer seeing. We got a pitch from Shane in April 2009, about how the United States was paying off warlords around Fallujah. It was a good story, and we assigned him to do it right away. We didn’t talk about his safety—he’d already done the reporting and returned to his home base in Damascus—and that was a typical arrangement at the time. Freelancers made their own decisions; editors focused on the story, not the risk.

Shane’s story, The Sheikh Down, was slated to be published in late August 2009. On August 3, we learned that Shane, along with his friends Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal, had been arrested by Iranian security forces while hiking in northern Iraq. (You can read their account of the ordeal that followed here.) Shane was held, mostly in isolation in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, for 26 months. The Iranian government wanted concessions to release him, Sarah, and Josh, but the US government was not too interested in negotiating.

The three were ultimately released after the sultan of Oman provided the $1.5 million “bail.” But by the time Shane got out, in 2011, an even more dangerous dynamic had taken hold. Hostage-taking was becoming a big part of the business model for militias and terrorist groups. The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi calculated in 2014 that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates had made at least $66 million from ransoms in just one year, with payments as high as $10 million. It was understood that most European governments would pay, but the United States would not; Obama administration officials even warned Foley’s family that they could be prosecuted if they arranged a payment. ISIS murdered Foley, and another freelancer, Steven Sotloff, in the summer of 2014; at least 139 journalists, most of them local, have died in Syria since 2011, along with more than 400,000 other civilians.

Shaken by the killings, a group of journalists including Sennott drew up guidelines for news organizations and freelancers and created a group known as A Culture of Safety Alliance. Thanks to them, when Shane—who’s now on the Mother Jones staff—told us last year that he wanted to find out what America is really doing in Syria, we had a blueprint for the questions we needed to ask. How would we stay in touch in places without internet? If he was arrested, how would we remotely wipe his phone to protect his sources? If he was kidnapped, how would we get him out?

The month that Shane spent in and around Syria was expensive (by MoJo standards)—some $30,000 for insurance, local helpers, satphones, and other forms of risk mitigation. The months of additional reporting, editors’ time shaping the story, in-depth fact-checking, data journalism, and distribution add to a rough total of $400,000. We’ll never make even a fraction of that money back; the best we can hope from advertising is probably in the $2,000 range.

So why did we do it? Because Mother Jones readers want us to dig into crucial stories that others may not. You want us to uncover what it means when American planes flatten a city, why oil fields are turned into bases for troops, and how an Oklahoma-born woman ends up in an ISIS prison under a soccer stadium. And because donations from our readers ­are the backbone of our sustainability, not advertising, we can take risks and protect our journalists.

For most of America’s newsrooms, though, this kind of reporting is no longer in the cards. Back in 2008, when Sennott took a buyout from the Boston Globe to start a site called GlobalPost, foreign coverage was in crisis. Now, he says, “it’s a full-on house on fire for all of journalism. The roof was foreign coverage, and then it burned through the floors and now we’re into the foundation.” Statehouse coverage, city hall reporting—accountability journalism of any kind is going up in smoke.

The danger we face is not just losing the capacity to understand the world. It’s losing the capacity to understand ourselves, our government, and the corporate and political forces that seek to manipulate it. Exposing those stories, and the impact on people’s lives, is often risky and never cheap. But it’s absolutely worth it. 

A Timeline of the Syria Conflict

Mother Jones Magazine -

1970

Hafez al-Assad seizes power in a coup within the Baath Party. He becomes president of Syria the following year.

1980

Syria and the Soviet Union sign a treaty of friendship and cooperation.

1982

In response to a Sunni rebellion in Hama, Assad’s military destroys the city and kills at least 20,000 people.

2000

Assad dies. He is succeeded by his son Bashar, who many Syrians hope will be a reformer.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on a visit to Greece in December 2003 Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters

2002

Undersecretary of State John Bolton includes Syria in a list of countries “beyond the axis of evil” that are seeking weapons of mass destruction.

2004

President George W. Bush imposes sanctions on Syria, asserting that it has ties to terrorism.

2005

Tensions between the United States and Syria escalate after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is assassinated by a truck bomb, allegedly with help from Assad’s regime.

A massive bomb killed Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut in February 2005. Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

2010

The United States renews sanctions against Syria, saying that it seeks weapons of mass destruction.

March 2011

Protests begin in Daraa after police torture teenagers who had painted anti-regime graffiti. As mass demonstrations spread, the Assad regime cracks down violently.

July 2011

Military defectors create the Free Syrian Army, Syria’s first armed opposition group.

July 2011

Assad sends troops into Hama and Deir Ezzor, killing hundreds of civilians.

August 2011

President Barack Obama calls for Assad to step down.

December 2011

Al Qaeda’s new Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, stages a suicide bombing in Damascus.

May 2012

The United States begins sending “nonlethal” aid to Syrian rebels.

June 2012

The United States, Russia, Turkey, Iraq, and other countries meet in Geneva to discuss a transition to a “democratic and pluralistic” Syria.

August 2012

Obama warns Assad that using chemical weapons would cross a “red line,” triggering US military intervention.

April 2013

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forms.

May 2013

Hezbollah forces launch an offensive “to aid the Assad regime.”

July 2013

Congressional intelligence committees approve CIA arms shipments to the Syrian opposition.

August 2013

The Syrian government uses sarin in an attack on Ghouta, killing more than 1,400 people. The following month, Congress rejects Obama’s request to approve a military response.

September 2013

The Syrian government agrees to hand over its chemical weapons stocks for destruction.

November 2013

Kurdish parties establish the autonomous region of Rojava in northern Syria.

June 2014

ISIS declares the creation of a caliphate across its territory in Syria and Iraq.

September 2014

Congress authorizes the Pentagon to train and arm Syrian rebels. In what will become known as Operation Inherent Resolve, the United States and its coalition partners begin airstrikes against ISIS.

September 2015

As the number of refugees tops 4 million, a photograph of a drowned Syrian toddler provokes international concern over the humanitarian crisis. After reaffirming its treaty with Syria, Russia officially joins the war, carrying out airstrikes and providing military aid to Assad.

A drowned Syrian boy lies on the shore of southern Turkey after a boat carrying refugees sank in September 2015. Nilufer Demir/AFP/Getty

December 2015

As the Obama administration’s focus in Syria shifts toward ISIS, the Pentagon says special operations troops will be deployed “to fight in Syria and Iraq.”

December 2016

Supported by Russian planes, the Syrian government retakes Aleppo, a major rebel stronghold.

January 2017

President Donald Trump blocks Syrian refugees from entering the United States. (Fewer than 3,100 have been admitted since he took office.)

March 2017

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley says the Trump administration’s “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

April 2017

Following another chemical attack by the Syrian government, Trump announces a missile strike.

May 2017

Over Turkey’s objections, Trump approves a plan to arm Kurdish forces in Syria.

July 2017

Trump ends the CIA program to support anti-Assad rebels.

October 2017

After months of heavy coalition bombing and ground assaults by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, ISIS is driven out of Raqqa, losing its self-proclaimed capital.

February 2018

Pro-Syrian government forces, including Russian mercenaries, attack the US-held Conoco gas plant outside Deir Ezzor city. The Geneva peace process that opened in 2012 ends.

March 2018

Turkey and the FSA seize Afrin, a Kurdish region in northwest Syria.

April 2018

After a chemical attack in Douma, the United States, Britain, and France launch airstrikes against Syrian government targets.

July 2018

Assad’s army recaptures part of southern Syria from rebel forces.

October 2018

US military officials report that an SDF offensive has isolated the “last pocket of ISIS resistance” in eastern Syria.

December 2018

Trump announces the withdrawal of all US troops from Syria. Defense Secretary James Mattis resigns in protest.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis and President Donald Trump in October 2018 Leah Mills/Reuters

February 2019

ISIS’s remaining fighters are trapped in shrinking enclaves. Trump says he should receive a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in Syria. “I stopped the slaughter of perhaps 3 million people,” he says. When members of Congress request that some troops stay in Syria, Trump writes back, “I agree 100%.”

How Not to Honor Jamal Khashoggi

Counterpunch Articles -

Photograph Source: U.S. Department of State from United States – Public Domain

Trump Rewards Saudi Arabia with Nuclear Secrets

After the Saudis murdered dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their consulate in Istanbul, the Trump Administration swung into action—and approved permits to transfer US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. We learned this from Senator Tim Kaine on June 4. Senator Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate, represents Virginia where Khasshogi was a permanent resident.

We already knew part of the story. In March, the public learned that Trump’s Secretary of Energy Rick Perry had approved seven permits allowing American companies to transfer nuclear tech to the Saudis. We did not, however, know when the permits were issued.

We do now. Senator Kaine, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had badgered the Administration for two months to disclose the dates when the permits were granted. Senator Kaine’s inquiries went unanswered until the Committee’s Chairman, Republican James Risch of Idaho, interceded. This led to Secretary Perry’s disclosing that he approved two of the seven permits on October 18, 2018—sixteen days after Khashoggi was murdered—and on February 18, 2019.

* * *

Even before President Donald Trump entered office, future members of the Trump Administration, most prominently General Michael Flynn, who would briefly serve as President Trump’s first National Security Adviser, were planning—“conspiring” might be a better word—to sell two American nuclear reactors to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Trump Administration’s apparent willingness to circumvent Congress is described in an interim report released in February by the Democratic majority of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The report also raises concerns about possible conflicts of interest among past and present members of the Trump Administration who stand to benefit handsomely if the sale goes through.

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is compromised because of his close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.[1] In addition, Kushner was bailed out of a disastrous real estate deal by the investment firm Brookfield Asset Management which now owns Westinghouse Electric, one of the promoters of the Saudi nuclear deal. In a June 4 statement, Senator Kaine said: “I have serious questions about whether any decisions on nuclear transfers were made based on the Trump family’s financial ties rather than the interests of the American people.” Was Senator Kaine referring to the millions of dollars the Saudis have spent on stays at Trump hotels? (Tip to Iran: if you want to avoid a US invasion, invite Trump to build a hotel in Tehran.)

* * * * *

The Trump Administration and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been attempting to hammer out a nuclear cooperation agreement as mandated by section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (hence a “123 agreement”). According to the Congressional Research Service, a 123 agreement must satisfy “nine nonproliferation criteria.”[2] Along with provisions on storage of fissionable materials and prohibitions against retransfer of materials or classified data, the receiving state promises not to build nuclear weapons. A 123 agreement must be in place before US material or technology can be transferred from the US overseas (with a loophole discussed below).

The deal has stalled over Saudi insistence on the right to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium: two paths to producing nuclear bomb fuel. The Saudis maintain that the reactors will be used solely to meet the energy needs of the kingdom’s rapidly growing population, thus freeing up more Saudi oil for export. However, fears of a Saudi bomb were stoked when Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, said during an interview with 60 Minutes that “without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, [Saudi Arabia] will follow suit as soon as possible.” London Guardian columnist Simon Tisdall points out that “Since Saudi and Israeli officials maintain that Iran is already doing exactly that, the implication is clear.” We may be in the first stage of a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous region on Earth.

Even if the Trump Administration and the Saudis manage to conclude a 123 agreement, there is a real possibility that the agreement may not make it through Congress. Since Khashoggi’s murder, even members of the president’s own party have shown increasing displeasure with the Saudis. In October of last year, Senator Marco Rubio and four other Republican senators wrote to President Trump to urge him to suspend nuclear talks with the kingdom. On March 15, Senator Rubio and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the proposed tech transfer. Congress has introduced legislation denying enrichment and reprocessing capability to the Saudis and reasserting Congress’ prerogative to approve any transfer of nuclear tech. And, in an historic move, Congress passed a resolution which would have invoked the Vietnam-era War Powers Resolution and put an end to US assistance to the Saudis in their genocidal war on Yemen. Congress was unable to override Trump’s subsequent veto. Most recently, Trump has declared an emergency in an attempt to push through $8 billion of arms sales over Congress’ opposition.

Sneaking Nukes Through the Back Door

This brings us back to the seven permits issued by the Department of Energy. The permits were issued under Title 10, Part 810 of the Code of Federal Regulations (thus, “Part 810 Authorizations”). Unlike 123 agreements, Part 810 Authorizations do not require Congressional approval. Part 810 authorizations often precede a 123 agreement and allow limited, routine transfers of non-classified information such as reactor designs. Is the Trump Administration trying to exploit a loophole in the law in order to transfer nuclear tech which needs Congressional approval? At this point, we don’t know. We won’t until we know the 810 authorizations’ contents or what companies they were issued to. The Administration says it is keeping the information confidential because the 810 authorizations contain proprietary technology.

Seeking answers, Senator Rubio and Senator Menendez wrote to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry on April 2 to ask what tech is covered under the permits and who the permits were issued to.[3] The answers to these questions can help determine whether the Administration is acting within the law.

The Saudis cannot be trusted with nuclear power. Henry Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, an NGO in Washington DC, calls nuclear reactors “nuclear bomb starter kits.” We can best honor Jamal Khashoggi’s memory by making sure that his murderers never get technology that could lead to a nuclear weapon.

Notes.

1. Echoing Saudi propaganda, Kushner has smeared Khashoggi as a “terrorist masquerading as a journalist,” according to a new book by Michael Wolff, author of the bestselling Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (2018).

2. Congressional Research Service, Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer (Updated April 15, 2019), page 2.

3. The “who” most likely includes the companies President Trump met with behind closed doors on February 12, 2019, among them Exelon Corp., Westinghouse, and General Electric. Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Ari Natter, and Jennifer Jacobs, CEOs Ask Trump to Help Them Sell Nuclear Power Plants Abroad, Bloomberg.com, Feb. 12, 2019. The gathering was orchestrated by IP3 International, a shadowy collective of retired US admirals and generals which has been trying to broker the US-Saudi nuclear deal. IP3 figures prominently in the February 19 House Interim Report.

 

What Everyone Knows About D-Day

Counterpunch Articles -

Photograph Source: Chief Photographer’s Mate (CPHoM) Robert F. Sargent – Public Domain

Four days of coverage of D-Day on CBC radio and no one explains “free world”. After seventy-five years, everyone knows what it is.

Evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould said nothing is as dangerous as what “everyone knows” but no one remembers the arguments for. Che Guevara called out the US president, at an economics conference, for what “everyone knows” democracy is.[1] Guevara said the conference was political, not about economics. JFK made no arguments.

But there were arguments and Che Guevara knew them. He refuted them, as Gould refuted scientific arguments for white supremacy. Today the arguments for “free world” are forgotten, even by some who study such things. Nothing is as dangerous as ideology not recognized as ideology.

Gould knocks out one peg of that ideology: an idea of reason. Evolution has no final purpose, Gould argued. It aims for no ideal. Yet if you wind back the tape of evolution to any point, the next steps are constrained by myriad causal factors.[2] Gould used the word “contingency”. It means dependence.

Marx had this view of reason, radically contingent upon circumstances and conditions. He got part of his view from Hegel, who saw reality structured organically and developmentally.[3] Marx accepted Hegel’s vision but found Hegel’s explanation “mystical.” For Marx, it was just a fact that the world is structured dialectically, and so the best way to know it is in terms of organic tendencies and systems.

Einstein agreed. He criticized US schools for emphasizing end results: success. Students should feel their relationship to their work, knowing through their own bodies how engagement with the world creates them. When we focus on end results, we focus on what is expected, not what is. We miss out. [4]

In theory, the view is appealing. Connectedness is trendy. Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Leonardo da Vinci upholds such a view and then denies it, in practise. Isaacson doesn’t know that he does this.[5]

He doesn’t bother with philosophy. It is not a luxury, although it seems so, the way it is done, in rarified language, accessible to few. Gramsci said everyone is a philosopher. It is because we all, at some moments of reflection, rely on ideas like “freedom” or “human”. If you don’t think critically about such ideas, you’re a slave of convention, for instance, of the “free world”.

Isaacson tells us the Mona Lisa is “a distillation of accumulated wisdom about the outward manifestations of our inner lives and about the connections between ourselves and the outer world.” It is, we learn, “Leonardo’s profound meditation on what it means to be human.” For him, it means contingency. It is what Leonardo lived: the intersection of mind and body. It is how he saw himself.

It is how Leonardo thought. It is not how Isaacson thinks. He insists, irritatingly, that we should be like Leonardo by asking questions, as if questioning is an act of will, something decided. In fact, we ask questions when surprised by what is unexpected, and expectations are part of who we are. Asking questions, when it matters most, is a way of letting go of expectations.

It is a kind of renunciation. We must care. Leonardo asked questions not because it is good to ask questions but because he cared about what those questions explained: what it means to be human. Caring is an orientation. It is not something you do because your life coach tells you to.

And this is how the book ends: talking points for a life-coach. We get a list, for an entire chapter: We are to “retain a childlike sense of wonder”, “go down a rabbit hole”, “start with details”, “get distracted”, “procrastinate”, “make lists”, and on and on. A formula.

If we learn anything from Leonardo’s life, it is that the intersections his art expressed are not formulaic. No formula. But why look for one? It is for control. We can’t trust relations.

Sensitivity to relations is insecure. No straight lines in nature, Leonardo noted. He knew we are part of the unfolding of the universe, complex and mysterious, but beautiful for being so. We are not discreet beings, the lie of the “free world”. We live well, and better, without complete control: because of contingency. Marx knew this too. So did Lenin and others not part of the “free world”.

Feminism, since the 80s, is the area of scholarship in North American universities most attentive to relations, most expressive of Marx’s dialectical vision (although he doesn’t get much credit). The ends-dependent view of reason is refuted by insistence on interdependence.

But the vision is elusive. The Apology, by radical feminist Eve Ensler, is an imagined letter from her father, dead 31 years, apologizing for abuse. Why it is liberating for the abused to tell this story, so long after the fact, as if it is the father’s story, when in fact it is not? Why invent a story about oneself, conforming to one’s own expectations, as a “way to be free”?

We don’t get an answer. Perhaps “everyone knows”, and the arguments are forgotten. Interestingly, in 7,200 pages of notes, covering a remarkable range of scientific passions, Leonardo says little about himself. Or so says Isaacson. In fact, it is all about himself. Leonardo knew human beings by intensely studying nature. He knew himself that way.

We know ourselves, as human, through dependence, through solidarity. This is part of the argument against the forgotten arguments for the “free world”. It is a more interesting vision, acknowledging the myriad causal relations constituting human community and through which we know that community, and ourselves.

As Patrick Mondiano describes in Sleep of Memory, such encounters might “drag you in their wake when they disappear”. But they’re real.

Notes.

1) Punta del Este, Uruguay, 1961

2) Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (Norton 1989)

3) A. Wood Karl Marx (Routledge 2004) 197ff

4) Ideas and opinions (Wings 1958)

5) This book is reviewed at https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/ along with the two referenced below.

Doublespeak in Israel as the United States Targets “the Left” as Traitorous

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Photograph Source: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv – Public Domain

No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

~ Umberto Eco

In spite of a seemingly convincing victory in Israel’s recent elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a right-wing coalition, which would secure him the premiership for an additional four years.

The reason: hard-right Member of Knesset (MK), former Israeli Security Minister, and leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party Avigdor Lieberman – a settler in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, ex-nightclub bouncer and convicted child beater – refused to budge on a draft bill for ultra-orthodox Jews. In response to Lieberman’s opportunistic move, a disheveled-looking Netanyahu spoke to reporters claiming: “Lieberman is now part of the left”.

Yet Lieberman is as far from left wing politics as can be. In fact, his signature fascistic opinions are no secret – e.g. he has openly endorsed expulsion of Palestinians from Israel and spearheaded attempts to legalize execution and even beheading of Palestinian prisoners, whom he collectively refers to as “terrorists”.

Across the pond in the United States, President Donald Trump has adopted the term “radical left” to describe his opponents in the media and the Democratic Party. With the ramping up of the 2020 election fever, Trump will likely soon drop the “radical” and simply scapegoat the “left”.

These instances of illogical characterization of critique as coming from “the left” are a form of reactionary doublespeak, well-established in Israel and the United States of America. Those who challenge members of the ruling class are stereotyped, smeared and nonsensically labelled as traitorous lefties regardless of true political orientation.

Big (white) brother

According to Collins dictionary, the term “doublespeak”, widely attributed to George Orwell’s 1984 though it was never explicitly mentioned in the book (Orwell coined the terms “newspeak” and “doubletalk”, among others), is a means of ‘… presenting things in a way that is intended to hide the truth or give people the wrong idea.’

Doublespeak is a propaganda tool which purposefully obscures, falsifies, and/or reverses the meaning of language. It is used to shift the conversation away from the content of criticism illustrating logical fallacies, uncomfortable truths and corruptions of the ruling class, toward an illogical, emotional, and cognitively dissonant reaction to an established stereotype – a “leftist” as contemptible, disloyal, hypocritical and cowardly.

According to this narrative, the leftist seeks to weaken the “freedoms” and identity of supposed merited elements of society by promoting, at their expense, lazy freeloaders.

Thus, doublespeak serves to hardwire oppression, misogyny and the status quo of white male supremacy, protecting its accumulation and hoarding of resources at the expense of vulnerable societal groups.

Individualism versus collaboration

As a social species, humankind relies on its members for survival and progress. The modern scientific framework promotes a collaborative model in which conflict rooted in the premise of a critical interchange of ideas is encouraged as part of a need for constant evolution of understanding and consequent ideas, ultimately leading to an equitable and sustainable existence.

In contrast, an individualistic approach animates an inherently oppressive cult of xenophobic identity and destructive conflict, discouraging collaboration and sustaining privilege through a denial of inconvenient facts and an ongoing obstruction of collectivism.

Instead of perceiving challenge, peer review and the scientific method as necessary for truth, subsequent accountability and consequent growth of humanity as a whole, it is perceived by individualists as an existential threat to their privilege. As such, reactionaries typically villainize academia and science, media and the arts and rely on celebritized pseudo-intellectuals to justify their privilege and oppression of others.

Pseudo-intellectuals and cults

Ben Shapiro, social media celebrity, pseudo-intellectual and inspiration to anti-Semites and white supremacists worldwide, recently exemplified doublespeak in an interview with BBC’s right-wing journalist Andrew Neil. When Neil challenged his opinions, Shapiro pleaded with the veteran Brit to admit he was “on the left” and abandoned the interview in protest, claiming Neil was “badly motivated”.

Pop psychologist Jordan Peterson is an additional noteworthy example of a pseudo-intellectual outside his own field who has become a cult-like thought leader amongst reactionaries. In his work, Peterson justifies inequality by claiming humans are naturally inclined to form hierarchies. He compares humans with lobsters and suggests neural systems involved in hierarchy formation in both species are controlled by the neurotransmitter molecule serotonin.

Peterson ignores and disappears studies of evolutionary biology and behavioral neuroscience which have demonstrated repeatedly the deep flaws of such a reductionist approach to human brain and behavior. Drawing conclusions about complex social behaviors from comparisons between humans, a species with highly evolved brains with complex structures and many neurotransmitter systems, to lobsters, crustaceans with a comparatively primitive nervous system (comprised of ganglia and no brain) is blatant propagandistic pseudoscience.

This misuse of science to code cult dogma has its roots in the now highly discredited and racist theory of social Darwinism.

Trump and Netanyahu follow the fascistic playbook

Human progress – defined as sustainable, equitable and just – occurs when societies rely on historical precedents to build a framework of norms and taboos. In turn, these serve to promote progress by social enrichment on the one hand and a curtailment of abuses of vulnerable and disenfranchised elements of society, on the other.

A divided, poorly educated and uncritical society is particularly susceptible to a reactionary leader who can syncretize identity constructs and scapegoat others while gutting the public sphere. The use of fear to instill complacency, a sense of powerlessness and an addiction to aggression at the behest of expansionism is characteristic of white supremacist, settler colonialist countries such as the US and Israel.

Both charismatic leaders, Trump and Netanyahu skillfully use doublespeak to promote their reactionary, capitalist and white supremacist agendas. Alongside the degradation of intellectualism and collectivism, they employ trial balloons as a means of assessing public resistance before creating precedents and slogannistic memes, which serve to shatter acceptable taboos as preludes to authoritarianism.

Both Trump and Netanyahu have been able to manipulate a corrupt and often times subservient media to serve their purposes of distraction and scapegoating, which mask their ongoing looting of their country’s public domains.

The deployment of a barrage of manufactured spectacles produces an apathetic, distracted and fragmented public less likely to protest when its civil liberties are attacked and more likely to engage in infighting rather than confront the white patriarchal ruling class hegemony.

Whether it is Trump’s lies and daily tirades on Twitter or Netanyahu’s racist calls to his fanatical supporters on election night, both are adept at manipulating the public and media to serve their purposes.

With the growing tide of the global right, education of the public to the importance of reason, the scientific method and skills necessary for collaborative creation utilizing the power of conflict rooted in the premise of a critical interchange of ideas, are crucial to combat the contradictions of ruling class dogma and the complacency it manufactures.

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.

~ Paulo Freire

On Superstition

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Photograph Source: Jean-Christophe BENOIST – CC BY 2.5

A beneficial consequence of studying ancient, medieval, and modern Greek history was my rethinking of Christianity, which ancient Greeks and Romans basically ignored for nearly 400 years.

Fear of the gods, deisidaimonia

The Greeks accused the Christians of deisidaimonia, superstition, because of their fear of the gods. Yet, in the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion.

Once in power, Christianity revealed its true colors. It set aside its public relations message of “love” and went straight for the jugular. It declared war against all non-Christian “pagans” and, especially, Greeks. With the support of the Roman government, it made the worship of the gods a crime punishable by death.

Destabilizing and destroying millennial traditions was the most revolutionary project in human history. It lasted for several centuries.

The first genocide in Europe

What the Christians did to the Greeks was the first genocide in European history. Their war against science included the burning of libraries, stopping of the Olympics, and wrecking of the material culture of Greece – smashing of hundreds of temples, government buildings, stadia, theaters and schools —  precipitated the dark ages, turning off the lights of Greek learning and pushing humanity back by about 2,000 years.

Christianity forced on the Greeks soul-crushing, anti-Hellenic religious practices and way of life. It made Greeks palimpsests: scraping their Hellenic poetry, myths, philosophy, science and civilization and in their place inserting alien Judeo-Christian hymns and myths. Greeks found themselves foreigners in their own land.

Yet historians rarely if ever teach this barbaric and epoch-changing episode of European history. Writers either downplay the Christianization of Hellas or avoid it all together. In my medieval Greek history studies at the University of Illinois, my major professor, Deno Geanakoplos, spoke about a “smooth” transition from Hellenism to Christianity.

After graduate school, I dug into the original historical sources and discovered Christian terrorism and war, not smooth transition, undid the Greeks. This discovery weakened and severed my tenuous connections with Christianity. It did not bring me close to Judaism or Islam because they are made of the same cloth – monotheistic sister religions all.

Nature of one-god religions

These one-god faiths are still crusading against each other. On September 11, 2001, Moslem Saudis launched attacks against America. They became suicide bombers and drove highjacked airplanes against skyscrapers in New York and the Pentagon. President George W. Bush responded not by attacking Saudi Arabia, center of Islamic fanaticism against Christians and Jews, but by destroying Moslem Iraq that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks or the possession of “weapons of mass destruction,” as the State Department and CIA claimed. Bush said America was fighting “a war on terror.”

The continuing crusades of Islamic and Christian armies (largely American) are proof that monotheism is antithetical to human nature and life on Earth. Christianity and Islam, daughters of Judaism, are largely political forces of states acting like empires. The religions themselves and their state overlords want to conquer the world. Nothing else will satisfy them.

This imperial attitude is incompatible with freedom, democracy, and human and biological diversity.

Ceaseless wars go hand-in-hand with careless technologies and pollution. The broadest impact of this form of human development is the slow but steady warming of the planet.

Both wars and global warming are products of practitioners  of capitalism — on steroids and monotheistic metaphysics.

In late 20thcentury, communist states changed heart and attached themselves to the ideology and application of capitalism.

The worshippers of capitalism are well aware of the destruction and suffering they cause. In fact, some of them among Christians (primarily in the United States), willfully are striving to end life on Earth because, they are under the delusion, such holocaust will trigger the second coming of Christ. These are fanatics that threaten America and the world.

Tax-free commercial religions

In the United States, Americans have “freedom of religion,” which gives tax-free status to all kinds of groups claiming belief in, usually, monotheistic sects. The Constitution also prohibits Congress from making laws on religion.

This is as it should be because state favoring one religion over another may trigger discrimination, violence, and genocide. However, this free-market capitalism on religion also converts each religion to profitable business.

The Catholic church

The Catholic church has probably been the largest non-profit business on the planet. It led crusades against Moslems and Christians, and tortured and killed heretics for centuries. It made and unmade states and civilizations.

Now, in the last century or so, the Catholic church has been made infamous by the sexual perversions of its priests and bishops. These celibate men think they are living Christ.

Catholic priests, however, are far from being better than other people, much less the fictional Jesus-like models of piety. They have been molesting children by the hundreds of thousands for several decades all over the world.

Despite the gravity of this chronic ecumenical crime, nearly nothing is being done because states are afraid to enforce the law within the Catholic church. They could be accused of religious bigotry. They also know their active intervention in a major religion like Catholicism could trigger religious war.

Just like his predecessors in the Vatican, Pope Francis looks the other way. He knows the history of Catholicism, but prefers silence to responsibility. He pretends he is angry with molesting priests, bishops and cardinals. But, in reality, he refuses to face up the  ridiculous policy of the Catholic church: its obsession of enforcing unenforceable celibacy (“Standards of sexual continence that run contrary to human nature”) among its priesthood. So, Francis is covering up. In August 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano  accused him for tolerating sexual misconduct among Catholic clerics. He urged Francis to step down.

James Carroll, a former Catholic priest, calls Pope Francis a liar, but urges him to dismantle the priesthood in order to “save” the church. That is unlikely. Dismantling the priesthood will surely bring the dismantling of the Catholic church. Yet why does Carroll wish to save the church? After centuries of crimes, is it worth saving?

Polygamist Mormons

Another example of reigning superstition comes from the polygamist sect of Mormons in Utah. The Mormons claim Judaic and Christian origins. They insist they are the latest version of “saints” in Christianity and Judaism. They were persistent in their religious claims and the Internal Revenue Service granted them tax exemption.

The Mormon church was probably embarrassed by the habit of male Mormons having several wives – a characteristic of uncivilized people. The Mormon church prohibited polygamy, but to no avail. Some Mormon men keep reigning over several wives.

A group of these men, about 7,500 strong, are members of the Kingston clan. They have been living with several wives each – and specialize in crime. Each would sire dozens of children and then cheat the federal government, especially IRS and the US Department of Agriculture, of millions of dollars from food stamps and welfare payments. Meanwhile, they own several businesses and live in luxury like medieval landlords. They exercise feudal control over women whom they keep in the dark. They live in grand houses and drive sports cars.

Hierarchies of monotheism

These two stories of deception and fraud speak for the long-standing vulnerabilities of the one-god religions.

The hierarchies of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are probably not that much different than the hierarchies of Catholicism and Polygamist Mormonism. They have been taking advantage of the millennial fears people have of the divine and the natural world and the cosmos. In addition, they exploit the privileged position they enjoy in their societies. They convert their religions into power, large and luxurious houses for themselves and for worship, and financial gain. They become the parties that are usually in bed with the governors of their countries or, like Saudi Arabia and Iran, they are the rulers.

Polytheism

The alternative to monotheism is polytheism. The Greek version of polytheism had no holy books, priesthood, and desires for crusades.

I returned to Greek polytheism because of what the Christians did to my ancestors. Second, Plato said the Earth was the oldest of the gods. Seeing the Earth as sacred and alive is essential for the survival of life. Polytheism is also democratic.

In addition, the creators of Greek civilization: poets, heroes, politicians, philosophers, artists, historians, soldiers and scientists (Herakles, Jason, Homer, Achilles, Odysseus, Hesiod, Thales, Anaximander, Herakleitos, Pythagoras, Parmenides, Aeschylus, Herodotus, Hippocrates, Pericles, Democritus, Sophocles, Polykleitos, Phidias, Euripides, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Alexander the Great, Ktesibios, Aristarchos of Samos, Archimedes, Hipparchos, Galen and Ptolemaios) respected the gods and built magnificent temples in their honor. In fact, Ptolemaios, second-century astronomer, geographer, and mathematician of Alexandria, Egypt, said that though mortal, each time he studied the heavens, he no longer touched the Earth but he was near Zeus eating nectar.

That is good enough for me.

More US Dictatorship Against Cuba

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Photograph Source: Marco Zanferrari – CC BY 2.0

Lamenting dictatorship in Cuba, the U.S. government has decided to tighten restrictions on the freedom of Americans to travel to Cuba. Never mind that the restrictions were not enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Trump. When it comes to fighting totalitarian dictatorship, the reasoning goes, it’s necessary to adopt dictatorial policies here at home.

Freedom of travel has long been considered a fundamental, natural, God-given right with which no government, not even the U.S. government, can legitimately infringe. Recall the Declaration of Independence, which Americans will be celebrating on the Fourth of July. It holds that liberty is among the rights with which all people have been endowed by their Creator. When God endows people with certain rights, including the right of freedom of travel, it goes without saying that Caesar behaves illegitimately when he infringes on such rights.

The U.S. national-security establishment, which has long been the driving force behind the U.S. government’s forever war against Cuba, would no doubt point to the fact that Cuba is still headed by a communist regime. That of course was the mindset of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA throughout the Cold War, when, U.S. officials maintained, the communists from Russia, China, and elsewhere were coming to get us and take over our nation as part of a supposed worldwide communist conspiracy that was supposedly based in Moscow. Cuba, they steadfastly maintained, was part of that worldwide communist conspiracy — a communist dagger pointed at America’s neck from only 90 miles away.

The reasoning was idiotic at the time and continues to be idiotic. The communists were never coming to get us and they are still not coming to get us. And communist Cuba is not going to stab us in the neck.

You’d have a hard time, however, convincing the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA of that. Along with Trump, they have succeeded in initiating a new Cold War against China, especially with Trump’s trade war, which is designed to produce economic impoverishment in China. And of course there is the ongoing effort to reignite another Cold War against Russia.

There are problems, of course, with this anti-communist narrative. Notwithstanding the supposed nuclear threat posed by communist North Korea, which is used to justify keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Korea, President Trump has stated that he has fallen in love with North Korea’s communist dictator. As the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA are learning, it’s difficult to get Americans all hyped up about the threat that a poor Third World nation supposedly poses to “national security” when the president and that country’s dictator are loving and embracing each other.

Of course, there is also communist Vietnam, which is situated in a part of the world where more dominoes could begin falling to the communists any day now. Okay, sure, South Vietnam fell to the Reds more than 40 years ago and more dominoes have not yet started falling. But that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t start falling tomorrow. Maybe the Pentagon and the CIA should present a secret invasion plan to the president, one that could entail bombing Hanoi and mining Haiphong harbor. There could also be an Operation Northwoods or Operation Tonkin to make it clear that we are just defending ourselves from a communist attack on the United States.

Isn’t it time for Americans to demand a stop to all this anti-Cuba, anti-China, anti-Russia, anti-North Korea, anti-Vietnam, anti-Venezuela, anti-Nicaragua, and anti-communist idiocy, especially given that so many Democrats and their supporters are now self-avowed socialists? What business does the U.S. government have trying to increase the suffering of the Cuban people or waging a forever war against communism when we could easily end up with a socialist in the White House?

More important, isn’t it time for Americans to demand a stop to the destruction of their own liberty, even when it’s done in the name of protecting our liberty from a supposed communist threat? Isn’t it time for Americans to clarify that they have the natural, God-given right to travel anywhere they want and trade with whomever they want anywhere in the world?  What is the point of celebrating the Declaration of Independence when the president and his minions have omnipotent dictatorial rein to destroy our natural, God-given rights whenever they want and without even the semblance of a law enacted by Congress? Given that the U.S. government has become the biggest destroyer of our freedom, isn’t it time to exercise the right in the Declaration of Independence for Americans to alter our form of government by dismantling its post-World War II national-security state structure and restoring the limited-government republic originally envisioned by the Framers and that remained our form of government for more than 150 years?

This column first appeared on the Future of Freedom Foundation.

The Irish Language and Marxist Materialism

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“The night of the sword and bullet was followed by the morning of the chalk and the blackboard. The physical violence of the battlefield was followed by the psychological violence of the classroom. But where the former was visibly brutal, the latter was visibly gentle”

The above, written by renowned Kenyan thinker Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, sums up much that is at the heart of Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin’s persuasive book here under review. Language From Below: the Irish language, ideology and power in 20th century Ireland examines the relationship between material forces and the ideology surrounding the Irish language during the past century or more.

Little treatment has been given to this subject, especially in book length. Hence, the reasons for the varying attitudes that exist towards the Irish language – some of them positive, others hostile, many apathetic – are not well understood. Often, in the face of opposition, instead of turning to class or economics as explanatory factors, proponents of the language frame hostility to An Ghaeilge in simplistic “anti-Irish” terms.

Ó Croidheáin admits that Irish occupies a strange place in the national consciousness; “it is true that not many Irish people speak the Irish language, yet many Irish people still define their identity in terms of the Irish language”. He thus seeks not only to address common misinterpretations, but to offer solutions that may remedy the current decline the Irish language is facing in its western communal heartlands, and the pressures it faces in other spheres.

By getting to the economic “root” of language decline, as it were, he sets out his stall for a reversal of fortunes in explicit Connollyite terms.

The book consists of five chapters and Ó Croidheáin opens with a theoretical exploration of Marxism, ideology and language. As he explains, “in each historical period the ruling ideology is separated from the ruling class itself and given an independent existence”. At times, according to French philosopher Louis Althusser, this phenomenon could be relatively autonomous and act as a “social cement” even among non-élite sections of the populace.

For a period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Irish fulfilled this role. It became first a “political weapon” and marker of autonomy, and then, once the state was founded, an instrument of social cohesion – only to be replaced later in the Free State’s existence by Catholicism during the 1930s.

In writing about colonialism and language Ó Croidheáin turns frequently to Ngugi, the Irish educationalist and revolutionary Pádraig Pearse, and Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. He outlines the ideological power of the English education system in Ireland, Kenya and further afield in turning the colonized against their own cultures.

He also explores the debates among what might be termed decolonial literary figures around the use of the native tongue, the tongue of the colonizer, and translations, in their writings. For Frantz Fanon, in his essay “On National Culture”, in The Wretched of the Earth:

“The crystallisation of the national consciousness will both disrupt literary styles and themes, and also create a completely new public. While at the beginning the native intellectual used to produce his work to be read exclusively by the oppressor, whether with the intention of charming him or denouncing him through ethnical or subjectivist means, now the native writer progressively takes on the habit of addressing his own people”

The author is always aware, however, of how resistance to colonialism in the form of nationalism could be manipulated by the ruling class. Thus, the advent of a cultural nationalism and its attendant “class conciliatory ideology” in Ireland with the arrival of Thomas Davis and the Young Irelanders, writing in The Nation during the 1840s, is viewed as the starting point for this opportunity for social control by later nationalist leaders.

Ó Croidheáin subsequently utilizes the work of early modern English and French philosophers, such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rosseau, to explain “the conflation of nation and state”. For Rosseau, as a member of the rising bourgeoise, the state exists above all to defend individual rights of property in the face of tyrannical monarchy.

As the bourgeoisie came to rule France following the revolution of 1789, the French state consolidated to the detriment of the various nations within it, not least of which were the Bretons and the Basques. The languages of both, as with various French dialects, or patois, came under increasing pressure from a centralized Parisian French language.

This type of utilitarianism also manifested in Ireland regarding Irish. The thinking of English political economists such as John Stuart Mill were readily absorbed by Catholic nationalist leaders like Daniel O’Connell during the mid-nineteenth century who proclaimed of the language that he was “sufficiently utilitarian not to regret its gradual passing”.

A cultural revolution or a material one?

Others, however, such as Douglas Hyde, had different ideas and wrote of the necessity of “De-Anglicising” Ireland. A cultural revolution gained traction in the 1890s – the establishment of Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League) in 1893 a seminal moment.

The Conradh waged – in a modern, secular way – several rights-based battles in its early years, attaining an improved status for Irish within the British-run education and postal systems. At its Ard Fheis (annual meeting) in 1915, radicals staged a coup and moved the organization towards inserting itself at the heart of the tectonic shifts underway in Irish politics by taking a separatist stance. Hyde, who contended that the language issue should remain apolitical, resigned.

Yet, six of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation were members of the Conradh. Their involvement in the Easter Rising, and the series of events in subsequent years, not least the Black and Tan War, left an indelible mark on Irish society, culminating in quasi-independence and the foundation of the Twenty-Six County Irish state in 1922.

However, the Civil War of 1922-23, where British-backed Free State forces, allied with the Catholic Church, strong farmers, and big business, suppressed the radical republican forces, heralded a new dawn for the Irish language. As Ó Croidheáin explains, “the desire for genuine social change behind the revolutionary movement was diverted into cultural change in the form of Gaelicisation policies”. The language was essentially wielded as a tool of counter-revolution.

These policies, moreover, were largely confined to the education system, and there was a lack of fundamental change in the social structure that might allow the language to thrive once more. Thus, any gains made through schooling in the 1920s “were constantly being undermined by the reality of unemployment and education”.

In the 1930s, Éamon De Valera, Taoiseach (Prime Minister), and leader of the populist nationalist Fianna Fáil party, placed Catholicism centre-stage as a marker of Irish identity – particularly during the Eucharistic Congress of 1932.

During the inter-war years, nationalist ideology, incorporating both the Irish language and Catholicism, served as an instrument of state consolidation. Élites utilized this communal “glue” to bind ordinary people to the ideology of the state – particularly at points when the state felt itself under threat, as it did from the IRA during the 1930s and into the 1940s during the Second World War, when the Free State sought to preserve its neutrality above all else. But this unholy alliance between state and language was counterproductive in many ways too:

“The status of Irish in the education system and state institutions, burdened the language with an ideological slant that had implications for the working-class and the people of the Gaeltacht. Language policy was perceived as discriminatory among the poorly educated who saw Irish in terms of reward or sanction for social mobility”

Measures to restore the Irish language to national prominence as anything more than a symbolic marker of identity began to be reversed in the 1960s. Following the adoption of T.K Whittaker’s Programme for Economic Expansion by these same élites in 1958, appealing to external market forces, rather than economic nationalism, became the order of the day.

With the demise of economic nationalism, came a corollary demise in cultural nationalism, and the status of the Irish language in the civil service began to be eroded. This process, whereby the language no longer served the ruling-class, was only intensified with the joining of the European Economic Community in 1973. Now wealth was to be gained, and protected, through economic liberalism and English monolingualism.

The situation has remained largely unchanged since, as Ó Croidheáin is keen to point out; “today, neo-colonialism in the form of Anglo-American mass culture and multinational industry provides the engine for a new language colonialism as the English language gains dominance in global culture”

Empowerment

However, Ó Croidheáin is not despondent, and throughout the book, but particularly in the final chapter, he goes to great lengths to highlight the transformative nature of struggle. One example he provides is that of Norway during the late nineteenth century where the Landsmål movement, proponents for a peasant dialect, in opposition to speakers of the upper-class Bokmål dialect, managed to inspire “the peasantry to question and challenge the power relationships inherent in the centre/periphery of the society”.

In Ireland, he points to the transformative struggle taken up by the people of Ráth Chairn, a small Gaeltacht colony in the east of the country in Co. Meath. Led during the mid-1930s by the great literary figure and activist, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, the activism required to establish the settlement, achieve recognition as a Gaeltacht, and attain the necessary infrastructure over the course of years, empowered those involved, making them keenly aware of their rights as citizens. Likewise, during the late 1960s and early 70s in Gluaiseacht Chearta Sibhialta na Gaeltachta (Gaeltacht Civil Rights Movement), a similar empowerment was also discernable.

For Ó Cadhain, this struggle was not only about the preservation of the language as it was for some (what Ó Croidheáin calls the “culturalists”), nor was it simply for more “rights”, but it was far broader than that. During the fiftieth commemoration of the Easter Rising in 1966, Ó Cadhain argued that;

“henceforward the Irish language movement would have to play an active role in the struggle of the Irish people to fulfill the aims of the 1916 Manifesto. This is the Reconquest of Ireland, the revolution, the revolution of the mind and heart, the revolution in wealth distribution, property rights and living standards”.

Other positive developments such as the surge in all-Irish language schooling, the Gaelscoil movement, from the 1970s, in both the southern and northern states in Ireland, are identified by Ó Croidheáin. Taking the case study of Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch in working-class north Dublin, he demonstrates how the struggle for resources by parents in the face of opposition by church and state, led to the cultivation of “self-respect, self-sufficiency and fearlessness”.

Even here, however, he offers a salutary caution – and one that has proven prophetic, whereby the years 2017-2018 were the first where the state has arrested the growth of the Gaelscoil movement since its inception in 1973. Ó Croidheáin, writing in 2006, warned that “without developing a wider political critique of society such movements may lose their collective force and be assimilated back into the dominant ideology of the state”.

All told, the author makes a forceful case for Irish language activists, atá ag treabhadh an ghoirt, to move from a simple “culturalist” or rights-based discourse and activism to a philosophy which unambiguously advocates for a wholesale redistribution of power and wealth. As he affirms, “linguistic issues can only be resolved when class questions, such as the ownership and control of resources, becomes part of the overall objective of political movements”.

Or, as Ó Cadhain boldly stated, “sé dualgas lucht na Gaeilge bheith ina sóisialaigh” (it is the duty of Irish speakers to be socialists).

Finally, and perhaps without realizing it, Ó Croidheáin also demonstrates clearly the untapped potential for a progressive movement that combines the socialism of James Connolly with the cultural qualities and socialism of Ó Cadhain, the Gaelscoil movement and the struggle to maintain the Gaeltacht. Recent surveys, for example, have demonstrated how 25% of parents in the state would send their children to a Gaelscoil if the opportunity existed, but that around only 4% can avail of this, while another poll showed that 60% believed the language was very important and should be supported.

Yet, certain sections of the Irish left adhere to a minimalistic rights-oriented discourse when it comes to the Irish language. There is a refusal to seriously engage with this dormant potential for fear of being branded “nationalist” and “reactionary”.

The recent local and European elections – in which the radical and broad left took a hammering – have demonstrated once again that another layer of activism, above and beyond mere economism, is required to keep people engaged, especially in times of limited political mobilization.

It is not enough to complain that there was no fervently active social movement on housing to galvanize workers into turning out and voting, like there was around the issue of water in 2014. The same groupings, despite the fact they count many Irish speakers among their ranks and in prominent positions, have never run an Irish language class for the benefit of the public in the entirety of their existence.

Identity is important to people. Additionally, as Freire remarked, “without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle”. Unlike transient moods surrounding politics and the economy, identity tends to remain fixed. Crucially, the Irish language, as a signifier of identity, transcends ethnic divisions and is no longer rigidly associated with “white ethnic Irish Catholicity” – if it ever really was.

The Irish language could be harnessed through a grassroots movement to build a new, secular and inclusive Republic, encompassing all colors and creeds. It is up to the left to muster the political will to do so.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Language From Below: the Irish language, ideology and power in 20th century Ireland

Peter Lang, 345 pp., $72.

Dr Kerron Ó Luain is an historian from Dublin, Ireland. His latest journal article, featured in Irish Historical Studies, examines the links between agrarian violence and constitutional politics on the Ulster borderlands in the wake of the Great Famine. Twitter @DublinHistorian

A Green Global Party?

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Following the lead of the late Ulrich Beck in works such as Risk Society and Power in the Modern Age the time has now come to ask ourselves whether or not the Green party is already or is about to become a global political party.

First a little background in theory. Beck was, of course, famous for introducing the idea of a “risk society” and “second modernity”. What he meant by these phrases was that the modern world had left behind earlier forms (First Modernity) of national community and entered a phase where the complexities and uncertainties of the modern world led to the creation of a “global risk society”. In other words, a global technical modern society creates problems that only a global political response can effectively solve.

Related to these ideas, Beck also thought that traditional notions, practices, and institutions of the nation state would not be up to the job of meeting complex global challenges whether in the environment, finance, or the political sphere.

What was needed among other things was a new “cosmopolitan politics” both as a form of world consciousness and global practice.

For the latter, Beck proposed the formation of a global political party.

He supposed, quite rightly, that such a party would grow from urban, “world city” roots. In this, he was not mistaken.

For the modern Green party is most definitely a progressive, urban political phenomenon.

Its recent impressive showing in the European Parliament elections (particularly in Germany) seems to tell a story of a growing regional (if not yet global) political consciousness that is frightened of the future and is ready for present political action on a local, region, and worldwide scale.

The Green party due to the nature of the threat it wishes to solve is well suited to play the role of a global political party able to transcend its various national roots.

All Green parties are focused on the global nature of climate change, in order for each of them separately to achieve their self-professed goals they must to a much greater extent than other political parties work across borders which is to say transnationally.

This is exactly what Beck had in mind.

A world political movement, capturing the attention of the most progressive elements of both Western and (eventually) non-Western societies (many of them located in Global cities such as London, Paris, Frankfurt, New York, Sao Paulo) working transnationally to affect change in global society.

The Green party has all the potential elements of a world political party focused on the environment and social justice.

One of the key questions now is: will such a party be able to take effective root in, at least, two of the world’s greatest polluters: China and the USA?

Without the participation of these two nations (regions?), the Green party movement will ultimately prove ineffectual.

In the US, either the Green party will find ways to make itself more palatable to the American electorate or the most progressive fractions of the Democratic party will have to declare common cause with the world’s potentially first global party.

For now, we must agitate, advocate, and assist by all reasonable means the necessary birth of this potential global instrument of collective salvation.

 

Why an “Apology Tour” Is Needed: An Open Letter to Joe Biden

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Dear Mr. Biden:

News outlets are reporting that you’re determined to prevent your campaign from turning into an “apology tour” this summer. But your only other option is a campaign of denial — sinking deeper into a quagmire of unsustainable pretense.

After your flip-flop late last week that finally renounced your 40 years of support for the Hyde Amendment’s discriminatory limits on reproductive rights for low-income women, the New York Times reported that your campaign’s “larger concern” has been “the implications of Mr. Biden spending too much time reversing or expressing remorse for his past policy stances.”

Those implications are easy to understand. Your “past policy stances” have done so much harm — to so many people for so long — that if you start “expressing remorse,” there might be no end in sight.

“Before entering the race,” the Times reported, “Mr. Biden and his inner circle resolved that while he would have to take steps to assuage liberal reservations about his record, he could not afford to make the first few months of the campaign an extended apology tour.”

But an extended apology tour would be entirely appropriate. Pretending that you don’t have much to apologize for is not viable.

That’s because the Democratic Party of your political glory days is gone. At the grassroots, millions of attentive voters — the ones most likely to volunteer, to repeatedly donate money (albeit not in the large bundles you’re relying on), and to vote in all kinds of weather — are more informed and better networked than during the last decades of the 20th century.

The days are past when vast numbers of Democrats won’t notice that you’re uttering platitudes about the middle class and being touted as “Lunch Bucket Joe” after serving the interests of corporate giants as Wall Street Joe. And a whole lot of people will really care as they learn about your political backstory of not-so-subtle appeals to racism on such matters as busing for school desegregation and the draconian 1994 crime bill that fueled mass incarceration.

In the current campaign, your above-the-fray strategy probably won’t work. As the Iowa Poll released over the weekend reflects, support for you has started to recede: “About six weeks after he announced he would run, Biden’s support has fallen by a third,” The Hill reports. “Biden’s declining support came even before this week’s controversy over his flip-flop on the Hyde Amendment.”

While I’m an active Bernie Sanders supporter, I have to say that I don’t believe any of your Democratic opponents have nearly as much to apologize for as you do.The more you deny the need to apologize, the more your denials seem off-kilter. Even while you were executing that Hyde flip-flop with a speech in Atlanta days ago, the Times pointed out “Mr. Biden took pains to state explicitly that he was not repudiating his previous stance on abortion funding and would make ‘no apologies’ for it.”

For decades, you helped block federal funding for low-income women to have access to abortions. Then you affirmed the same position on Wednesday last week, only to do a 180 the next day after putting your finger to the political wind — and you make “no apologies”?

What might an apology tour look like? Here are five recommendations for acknowledging key realities and expressing remorse:

Teaming up with segregationist senators to oppose busing for school desegregation: “I’m sorry I joined forces with bigots.”

*  Treatment of Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas hearings: “I deeply regret that I ended up showing more concern for the sensibilities of Republican colleagues than respecting Ms. Hill’s rights.”

*  Leading role — while pandering to racism on the Senate floor — in passage of the 1994 crime bill: “I was wrong, and I wince while watching video of my Senate floor speech.”

*  Career-long services to corporate elites with avid mutual support that continued during the launch of this campaign: “I apologize for catering to credit card companies and other huge corporations.”

*  Powerfully supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq: “I hate to think of how many people have suffered and died because of the Iraq war that I helped bring about as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

For such aspects of your political record, apologies are long overdue. They won’t bring back the dead, undo suffering, retroactively nourish those who’ve gone hungry or repay the debts that millions of Americans continue to face. But unless you clear the air hovering over your campaign, its messages will be enveloped in an unforgettable stench of evasion.

The Danish Elections: Social Democracy with an Inhumane Face

Counterpunch Articles -

The great centrist European tradition of social democracy has been receiving a rattle for the last few decades.  The European Parliament elections were a reminder how much their appeal has diminished.  In Denmark, by way of contrast, they have established something of a bridgehead, defeating the centre-right coalition led by the Venstre party’s Lars Løkke Rasmussen in Wednesday’s election.  The Left parties won some 52.1% of the vote with 41% netted by right wing opponents. Extreme parties such as Stram Kurs were kept out.

But the analysis from outside the country is typically skewed, seeing such a victory as a return to worn social democratic clothing with a grand spring clean.  The votes, seen in raw terms, do show a return to form for the left.  This ignores the actual change of political attire. Danish voters did not return to any temple of the left and renew progressive vows.  The left, more to the point, has edged, in some cases leaped, to the right.

The response of the Danish Social Democrats in 2015 was not to convince voters about an existing vision for a future vote, but to ape that of the victors.  That year had seen the arrival of 21,000 migrants, causing disruption in the electoral mood.  “I know that many Danes are worried about the future,” claimed the newly elected leader of the party, Mette Frederiksen. “Worried about jobs, about open borders. About whether we can find a balance in immigration policy.”  In an interview with TV2, she opined that Denmark was not good at integrating refugee arrivals; nor was it “heroic or humane to bring so many people here that the problems become huge in our own country.”

Frederiksen’s policy has been to play the devil, the humanitarian and the dissembler.  Social welfare has been returned to the centre of political discussions, but the issue of refugees and asylum seekers has also prominently, and negatively featured. To TV2 on Monday, she spoke of her interest in implementing “an economic plan that benefits the fight against inequality and invests in welfare.”  The civic compact of the welfare state is to be renewed, but the outsiders, those desperate to be admitted to it, are to be kept at arm’s length.

In the last four years, strict immigration laws passed by the Rasmussen government have received approval from the Social Democrats.  Frederiksen was doing everything to shrink the gulf with her opponents, not accentuate the difference.  To that end, her party, in 824 legislative votes since 2015, has voted with the government in over 90% of instances.

Nasty measures sharpened for populist appeal have gotten the nod of approval: the banishment of rejected asylum seekers unable to return home and foreigners convicted of crimes to the island of Lindholm, known for hosting cattle and swine said to possess viral diseases worthy of studying; the grant of intrusive police powers enabling the confiscation of goods held by refugees deemed non-essential and worth more than 10,000 kroner; and fining those wearing garments covering faces in public places.

In February, the Danish parliament passed the L 140 bill shifting the focus on immigration away from integration to that of repatriation, including those who do not have permanent status and UN quota refugees.  The Social Democrats went along with this “paradigm shift”, despite disagreeing with the reduction of the social welfare benefit known as the integrationsydelsen.  The crude note behind the bill was struck by their spokesperson for immigration Mattias Tesfaye: “People will be given the more honest message that their stay in Denmark is temporary.”

Spokesperson for the Red-Green alliance Pelle Dragsted summed up the view in some disgust. “The essence of this is about making life harder and more unpleasant for people who have come here to escape Assad’s barrel bombs and the sex slavery and terror of Islamic State.”

The Social Democrats have also campaigned on shifting the focus from Denmark the processing state to countries, and regions, of origin, dubbing it a “Marshall plan for Africa”.  Go to the source of ruination, and improve it with structural and financial incentives.  We shall help more, goes the party’s policy, though “we cannot help all in Europe and Denmark.”

Despite a collapse in the 2019 election (their number of 37 mandates shorn by 21), the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti) supplies a text book example of how parties of the far right can terrify and convince their opponents into shifting ground.  When its candidates first started finding a voice in Denmark’s parliament in 1998, the focus was always on tightening immigration, with a conspicuous anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant bias.  The welfare state would take pride and place, but outsiders would be frowned upon.

The DPP, in other words, sounded much like convinced Social Democrats incarnations, at least on social and economic policy. They proved religious defenders against any increases in the legal retirement age, advocates for lower taxes for low wage earners and promoters of better labour conditions.  In 2001, 2011 and again in 2015, they made good their reputation of being kingmakers but would often to do with forces infected by economic rationalism.

While disaffected Social Democratic voters would find a temporary home in the DPP, this was done at some cost.  Knowing this, Frederiksen was always careful to keep the DPP close, mindful of any future power arrangements.  “In Denmark,” she claimed in 2017, “you are entitled to almost all benefits from day one.  It’s a difficult system when large numbers of people come into the country.”

Frederiksen was also handed a pre-electoral gift by her opponent.  A day before the poll, Prime Minister Rasmussen was keen to shake off some of the more influential rightist groups that might have a say in a future government.  The New Right and Stram Kurs, for instance, were not going to be “realistic” partners in any conservative bloc.  “If there’s a blue majority tomorrow, I feel convinced that it would include parties that I will not accommodate.”

Rasmussen saw the situation mirrored on the part of his Social Democrat opponents.  Should the progressives do well in the elections, Frederiksen would have to share with parties of the far left persuasion.  “The alternative is there will be no blue majority.  And then we have a situation in which a Social Democratic prime ministerial candidate must accommodate the far left.  Neither option is in Denmark’s interests.”  The desired route?  A partnership with the Social Democrats to push the extreme wings of both sides out.  The idea lacked wings, and never took off.

The pooh-poohing of fellow conservative members so close to the vote did Rasmussen few favours.  Frederiksen found herself able to muster the numbers of a red bloc, though its shape is still forming.  The extreme voices of the Stram Kurs movement were kept out.  Denmark has confirmed its status as a political mutation parochial of the welfare state but sharply sceptical about refugees.  What this says about social democracy is also significant: to be relevant, argues Frederiksen, the movement must be able to “appeal to those who are most strongly affected by the challenges of the future and the changes in our society”.  If this demands dry tear ducts and a hardening of the heart towards outsiders, then so be it. To the victor go the dubious and tarnished spoils.

 

 

Politicians Should be Doing the Jobs They Have, Not Campaigning for the Jobs They Want

Counterpunch Articles -

The 2020 elections are almost a year and half away, yet Montana’s politicians elected to statewide positions are now concentrating not on the jobs they were elected and paid well to do, but on campaigning for their next job. Montanans are fully justified in asking why, since they all stressed how much they wanted to do these jobs in “service” to the state, but are basically putting those jobs on hold – or delegating the work – so they can travel around the state and nation trolling for future votes. If they tried to pull this stunt in a normal job, where you’re expected to show up and put in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, they’d all be fired.

Leading the pack in absentee officeholders is none other than Governor Steve Bullock, who has been distracted by his presidential ambitions well before this year’s legislative session started and continues to think his job is to go to Iowa and New Hampshire to beat his chest about being the only Democratic presidential wannabe who “won a Trump state.”

Why anyone would think a middle of the road coal and fossil fuel advocate is what Democrats need right now to energize voters is a mystery to many — so many that Bullock continues to hang near the bottom of the two dozen Demo presidential hopefuls. That he may well be excluded from the first Demo primary debates because his support is so low elicited a high-pitched whine from his campaign late last week.

The truth, besides his non-existent chance to win the Democratic nomination, is that national Democrats want Bullock to run against Republican Senator Steve Daines where, if Bullock is so confident of his ability to win in a “Trump state,” he is the natural choice to pick up a seat in the narrowly-divided U.S. Senate. But Bullock says he wants to be “in the executive,” not the legislative, and thus he’s now spending his time in states other than the one he was elected to govern.

Bullock is not alone in being mightily distracted by chasing the job he wants instead of the job he has. Montana’s lone congressman, Republican Greg Gianforte, has announced he’s running for governor. So have a pile of other Republicans including Attorney General Tim Fox, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, and State Auditor Matt Rosendale. While Bullock and Fox are both term limited, none of the other top officeholders are — they just want to follow their political ambitions despite telling Montanans how critical it was that we put them in their current positions.

Abandoning his office to campaign is nothing new for Rosendale, who ran for Senate and lost against Jon Tester last year. As for Stapleton, he angered election officials statewide by falsely accusing them of allowing voter fraud. Then, being so laser-focused on his job, he cost Montana taxpayers $250,000 to reprint voter information pamphlets because he didn’t have time to proofread them. Why we’d want him in the governor’s office to make even more costly blunders is a dang good question.

Political campaigns are grueling affairs. They consume vast amounts of money, time, and physical and mental energy — the same time and energy that should be used to do the jobs these politicians now hold. While there’s no law to prevent officeholders from being distracted by campaigning for higher office, voters should weigh their promises to do their jobs in the future against their willingness to do the jobs they’re already paid to do.

Corporate Debt and the Great Recession: the Press Still Doesn’t Get It

Counterpunch Articles -

The Washington Post had another column telling us about the run up in corporate debt and how this is going to be 2008 all over again.  This is a popular one with the media. William Cohan has a regular feature in the New York Times telling us how a collapse of the debt bubble is imminent, giving us another financial crisis.

While excessive corporate debt can pose problems, nothing we see now, or will plausibly see in the near future, looks anything like 2008. The fact that ostensibly knowledgeable people can say this shows that they not only missed the housing bubble as it was growing, ten years after it burst, they still don’t have a clue as to what happened.

So let’s try our Econ 101 lesson once again.

The reason the economy collapsed in 2008 was that the housing bubble that had been driving the economy collapsed. The financial crisis was lots of fun (always good to see billionaire types sweating), but it was very much secondary. The issue was that the housing bubble created a massive amount of demand in the economy, which disappeared when the bubble collapsed.

Most economists probably didn’t recognize the impact of the bubble because you would need access to GDP data, as in the data that is readily available on the Commerce Department’s website any time anyone cares to look. Those who did think that GDP data are useful in understanding the economy would see that residential construction, which had averaged a bit more than 4.0 percent of GDP in the 1980s and 1990s, soared to a peak of 6.7 percent of GDP in 2005.

This surge in construction spending was not associated with any developments in the fundamentals of the housing market. After all, the baby boomers, the largest demographic group, were seeing their children move away from home and downsizing. Rents were not sharing in the upswing in house prices, moving more or less in line with inflation. And, vacancy rates were hitting record highs.

All of this should have suggested that the surge in residential construction was transitory and likely to end when house prices came back down to earth. In fact, construction was likely to over-correct since the construction boom meant there was a lot of overbuilding. Construction ultimately bottomed out at 2.4 percent of GDP in 2010 and 2011. (It is 3.8 percent in the most recent data.)

In addition to the construction boom, surging house prices also led to a consumption boom. This is based on an economic concept that is probably at least a hundred years old, known as the “housing wealth effect.” The idea is that when people see the price of their house double from $200,000 to $400,000, as many did in the bubble years, they will look to spend more based on the $200,000 in additional equity.

This could mean borrowing against their new equity to do renovations on their home, take a vacation, pay for their kids’ college, or it might just mean putting less money in a 401(k). (Saving less, means spending more – it is definitional, saving means not spending.) To know about this bubble induced consumption you would have to had been paying attention to some guy named “Alan Greenspan” who wrote a number of papers on the topic in these years. (I have more of the details in a ten-year anniversary piece from last fall.)

Anyhow, the bursting of the housing bubble meant that the demand generated by it disappeared as well. The 4.3 percentage points of GDP drop in residential construction from peak to trough would translate into more than $860 billion in annual demand in today’s economy. Add in a couple of percentage points of GDP from lost consumption demand, due to the massive disappearance of housing wealth, and we’re talking about a loss of almost $1.3 trillion in annual demand. This is an amount that is almost nine times as large as the Trump tax cut.

What did economists think would replace this massive loss of demand?  Was there a plausible story where some component(s) of private sector demand could just jump up by six percentage points of GDP? Had we ever seen anything like this happening in the past?

The point here is that there was no plausible story whereby the demand generated by the housing bubble could be readily replaced by other forms of demand in the private sector after it burst. We could of course replace it by additional public sector spending, but we would need a stimulus that was two to three times as large as the one pushed through by President Obama.

Even if a much larger stimulus might have been politically plausible, the point is that massive government intervention would have been necessary because the collapse of the housing bubble meant that the private sector was not keeping the economy anywhere close to full employment. The collapse of the housing bubble would have meant a deep recession, barring a strong government response, even if the financial sector had been just fine.

I realize that economists and economics reporters like to focus on the financial crisis. After all, it is pretty embarrassing to admit that they somehow hadn’t noticed the huge upsurge in residential construction and consumption that were plainly visible in the quarterly GDP data. It’s much less embarrassing to say that they didn’t know the liabilities and poor quality of assets held by many financial institutions, especially since much of this data was not public.

But moving beyond the misconceptions about the Great Recession, the question is what risk does the current buildup of corporate debt pose? The first point to note here is that just looking at debt levels, or even debt as a share of GDP, is misleading. Interest rates are considerably lower today than they were before the Great Recession.  The interest rate on high quality long-term bonds, which had been in the 5.0 percent to 6.0 percent range before the downturn, has been under 4.0 percent for the last seven years. The rates on high-yield bonds are correspondingly lower.

This means that a larger debt can still mean a lower interest burden. In addition, the profit share of income has increased considerably. This has been partly at the expense of wages, as the profit share soared in the weak labor market following the Great Recession, and partly as a result of the Trump tax, which radically reduced corporate tax burdens. Therefore, the ratio of debt service to after-tax corporate profits is not especially high.

But carrying this a step further, let’s suppose investors suddenly lost confidence in the corporate bond market and interest rates soared, especially on high-yield debt. What would be the devastating consequences in the real economy?

With the housing bubble, it was easy to answer that question. When house prices plummeted, so did residential construction. Consumption also took a nose dive. But what component of GDP do we expect to see crash following a flight from corporate debt?

Anyone who answers “investment” has not been looking at the data. Investment has been very mediocre in this recovery. Even after the Trump tax cut last year, investment only grew modestly. It would be very difficult to make the case that there is some big investment boom that will come to an end if the market in corporate debt takes a plunge.

Of course this doesn’t mean that there will not be some firms that have to cut back investment if they lose access to credit. Many firms are highly leveraged. This is especially true of firms that are owned by private equity companies.

As my colleague Eileen Appelbaum and Rose Batt have pointed out, most of the big retail chains that have failed in recent years have been owned by private equity (PE) companies. Invariably, the PE owners load up the companies they buy with debt and strip them of assets. This makes them especially vulnerable to any downturn in demand. While this is not the sort of thing that gives you another Great Recession, it certainly is bad news for the workers at companies owned by PE firms.

The PE companies use the debt incurred by their portfolio companies (not the PE companies) to pay themselves large dividends. The PE companies then treat the heavily leveraged company as a longshot bet, with a potential for a very high payoff and little downside risk.

If the company manages to survive in spite of its debt and lack of assets, they can have it go public again, and have a really big payday. In the event it goes bankrupt, they have typically already covered the cost of the purchase with the dividends they paid themselves.

It’s a great game for the PE companies, although not for the workers at the companies they control or their creditors. The latter include not just banks and other investors, who explicitly lend them money, and should understand the risks, but also suppliers, landlords, and other businesses that may find themselves owed money at the time of a bankruptcy.

Anyhow, in the event of a downturn, there will be many heavily leveraged companies, including many owned by PE firms, that will face bankruptcy. This will be very bad news for lots of workers and creditors. This won’t give us another financial crisis, with cascading bankruptcies, nor will it give us a Great Recession, but it is not a pretty picture.

This article first ran on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

US Ambassador Quietly Delivers West Bank to Israel in NY Times Interview

Mint Press News -

JERUSALEM, PALESTINE — In a highly provocative statement — one that was most likely well planned — United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in an interview this week to the New York Times that “Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

Responses to this statement were quick to pop up, with the Israeli “Left” condemning and the Right expressing their agreement. Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gil’ad Erdan said:

The Trump administration’s view, which was expressed by Ambassador Friedman, is the only one that might bring about change and make the Palestinians understand that boycotting Israel and the United States and supporting terror and incitement won’t achieve anything.”

Erdan continued: “For years the Palestinians were told that time is in their favor and therefore (in addition to many other reasons) they refused.”

Bezalel Smutrich, chairman of the “National Unity” Party said that it seems the Americans finally understand that Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Smariah will “uproot the Arab desire for an independent state,” and that this desire is what is “fueling terrorism and the violent struggle for over one hundred years.”

It seems interestng that the Zionist perception is that more opression and more exclusion will convince the Palestinians to stop fighting for their rights.

On the Israeli Left the responses were quite strong. Ofer Cassif, of Hadash-Ta’al Party, tweeted “Neither the government of Israel nor the U.S. administration can hide the truth – the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are occupied Palestinian territories that will be released and lawfully returned to their owners as part of a just peace deal.”

לא יקום ולא יהיה! לא ממשלת ישראל ולא ממשל ארה"ב יסתירו את האמת: הגדה המערבית, רצועת עזה וירושלים המזרחית הם שטחים פלסטינים כבושים שישוחררו ויוחזרו כחוק לבעליהם במסגרת הסכם שלום צודק.

— Ofer Cassif עופר כסיף (@ofercass) June 8, 2019

Cassif went as far as publishing a letter he wrote to Ambassador Friedman, which was also turned into an ad saying, “We are not a US Protectorate.”

Mtanes Shehadeh, head of Balad Party, also tweeted, saying that permanent Israeli sovereignty of Palestinian territories would be a violation of International law.

ממשלת ישראל וממשל טראמפ חושבים שהם יכולים לכפות על העם הפלסטיני ועל האזור הסדרים הזויים וחד צדדיים, ולהפר את החוק הבינלאומי בכזאת קלות.
סיפוח הוא פשע מלחמה, ולישראל אין ולא תהיה שום ריבונות במ"מ אחד מהשטחים הכבושים.

— Mtanes Shihadeh (@MtanesShihadeh) June 10, 2019

 

The truth hurts

It is true everywhere that the truth hurts, but perhaps nowhere as much as in Palestine. In this particular case the truth is that if one accepts the legitimacy of Israel in the Galilee, the Naqab, Jerusalem or any other part of Palestine, then there is no room to draw an artificial line and say “this is as far as it goes and Israel has no right to Judea and Samaria.” Not to even mention the fact that the line that is used here — the “Green Line” that delineates the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — was drawn by Israel, based on Israeli interests when the Zionist state was established. And then — in 1967, when it no longer suited Israel’s needs — it was de facto eliminated by Israel.

When the cease fire lines were drawn in 1949, lines that defined the state of Israel and are known as the pre-1967 borders, it was Israel that decided what parts of Palestine would be included within the newly established Zionist state. It was clear to the Israeli military and politicians that these were not permanent boundaries. Israel’s first foreign minister, Moshe Sharet, mentions in his memoirs an occasion when important Jewish leaders came for a visit to Jerusalem. They were invited to a gathering where several speakers presented, one of whom was my father, then a young lieutenant colonel. Sharet notes with great pleasure how the young Peled made it clear that the eastern boundary of the State of Israel needed to be the Jordan River. He added that the military is prepared for the day when the government will give the order to complete that task.

It was about ten years later, and almost exactly 52 years ago, that my father was now one of the Israeli army’s generals and the job was completed. Israel’s eastern boundary was pushed all the way to the Jordan River and Judea and Samaria came within the boundaries of the state. Needless to recall here that Jewish settlements in these areas were built almost immediately and any talk of giving them up was considered treasonous.  

Just as we either accept racism as legitimate or we reject it, we either accept the legitimacy of Zionism or we reject it. There is no room for a middle way. If any proof is still needed that as long as Zionists control Palestine Palestinians will enjoy no rights, the past seven decades supply ample proof. As long as there is an “Israel,” Palestinians will continue to suffer from forced exile, arbitrary detention, and ongoing killing of civilians.

Is David Friedman, the former Trump lawyer and major supporter of settlements, right? No! However, if one accepts the legitimacy of the Zionist state then one might as well accept Ambassador Friedman’s statement and Israeli sovereignty over all of Palestine. The Zionist state claims all of Palestine to be “The Land of Israel,” and has in fact taken over and settled all of Palestine.

Consecutive Zionist governments have made it clear that there is no West Bank, only an area of The Land of Israel called Judea and Samaria. Israel makes it clear that settling Jewish people anywhere in the Land of Israel is a right that is not negotiable. No single form of opression by Israel will end until the entire system of Zionist occupation and oppression is brought to an end. It is like trying to put out fires while allowing the arsonist to keep pouring fuel into them. The arsonist is the Zionist state.

 

Not a random statement

David Friedman’s statement was not random and was not made out of the clear blue sky — he does, after all, represent the United States government. The statement is well timed and goes along with policies we have seen enacted by the Israeli government and supported by the Trump administration: recognition of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel; defunding UNRWA; closing the Palestinian mission in Washington, and in fact deporting the head of the mission along with his family; the recognition of Israeli sovreignty over the Syrian Golan Heights; and the proposed state of “New Palestine.”

All of these point to the inevitable recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, and are part of the grand, so-called Deal of the Century.

Feature photo | President Donald Trump, left, turns to give a pen to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, after signing a proclamation in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019. Trump signed an official proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Other attending are, from left, White House adviser Jared Kushner, U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Israeli Ambassador to the U. S. Ron Dermer, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post US Ambassador Quietly Delivers West Bank to Israel in NY Times Interview appeared first on MintPress News.

The State of Social Media Today

Mother Jones Magazine -

Every year, Bond Capital’s Mary Meeker produces an immense slide deck of internet trends. You can see the whole thing here. I’ve chosen two slides to highlight. First, there’s this one. Before you look, see if you can figure out what I find interesting about it.

Granted, this is only two years of data, but what I found interesting was how static it is. YouTube and Instagram have grown, but the other platforms are all basically flat. There’s nothing new making much of an impact in the social media space, and Facebook, for all the flak it gets, continues to putter along in first place.

Then there’s this, just because:

The worst aspect of social media is that . . . it wrecks your sleep. It’s pretty astonishing that so many people recognize this, but go on being addicted to social media anyway. It’s no wonder so many people complain about sleep these days.

The other thing I find interesting is that, apparently, all of the good and bad averages out almost perfectly to zero. This doesn’t necessarily mean that social media actually has a null effect on your health, since some of these things might count more than others. Still, it’s intriguing to think that the net impact of this enormous industry might be precisely nothing.

Kushner as a Colonial Administrator: Let’s Talk About the ‘Israeli Model’

AntiWar.com News -

In a TV interview on June 2, on the news docuseries "Axios" on the HBO channel, Jared Kushner opened up regarding many issues, in which his "Deal of the Century" was a prime focus. The major revelation made by Kushner, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, was least surprising. Kushner believes that Palestinians are not … Continue reading "Kushner as a Colonial Administrator: Let’s Talk About the ‘Israeli Model’"

The post Kushner as a Colonial Administrator: Let’s Talk About the ‘Israeli Model’ appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

How War Created Taxation

AntiWar.com News -

"Liberty tends inevitably to lead to the just equivalence of services, to bring greater and greater equality, to raise all men up to the same, constantly rising standard of living, […] it is not property that we should blame for the sad spectacle of grievous inequality that the world once again offers us, but the … Continue reading "How War Created Taxation"

The post How War Created Taxation appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Jon Stewart Lashes Out at Congress Over 9/11 Victims Fund

TruthDig.com News -

WASHINGTON—Comedian Jon Stewart scolded Congress on Tuesday for failing to ensure that a victims’ compensation fund set up after the 9/11 attacks never runs out of money.

Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, angrily called out lawmakers for failing to attend a hearing on a bill to ensure the fund can pay benefits for the next 70 years. Pointing to rows of empty seats at a House Judiciary Committee hearing room, Stewart said “sick and dying” first responders and their families came to Washington for the hearing, only to face a nearly deserted dais.

The sparse attendance by lawmakers was “an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution,” Stewart said, adding that the “disrespect” shown to first responders now suffering from respiratory ailments and other illnesses “is utterly unacceptable.”

Lawmakers from both parties said they support the bill and were monitoring the hearing amid other congressional business.

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., predicted the bill will pass with overwhelming support and said lawmakers meant no disrespect as they moved in and out of the subcommittee hearing, a common occurrence on Capitol Hill.

Stewart was unconvinced.

Pointing to rows of uniformed firefighters and police officers behind him, he said the hearing “should be flipped,” so that first responders were on the dais, with members of Congress “down here” in witness chairs answering their questions.

First and foremost, Stewart said, families want to know, “Why this is so damn hard and takes so damn long?”

The collapse of the World Trade Center in September 2001 sent a cloud of thick dust billowing over Lower Manhattan. Fires burned for weeks. Thousands of construction workers, police officers, firefighters and others spent time working in the soot, often without proper respiratory protection.

In the years since, many have seen their health decline, some with respiratory or digestive-system ailments that appeared almost immediately, others with illnesses that developed as they aged, including cancer.

More than 40,000 people have applied to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which covers illnesses potentially related to being at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the attacks. More than $5 billion in benefits have been awarded out of the $7.4 billion fund, with about 21,000 claims pending.

Stewart and other speakers lamented the fact that nearly 18 years after the attacks, first responders and their families still have no assurance the fund will not run out of money. The Justice Department said in February that the fund is being depleted and that benefit payments are being cut by up to 70 percent.

“The plain fact is that we are expending the available funds more quickly than assumed, and there are many more claims than anticipated,” said Rupa Bhattacharyya, the fund’s special master. A total of 835 awards have been reduced as of May 31, she said.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat whose district includes the World Trade Center site, said a 70% cut — or any cut — in compensation to victims of 9/11 “is simply intolerable, and Congress must not allow it.”

Just as Americans “stood together as a nation in the days following September 11, 2001, and just as we stood together in 2010 and 2015 to authorize and fund these vital programs, we must now join forces one more time to ensure that the heroes of 9/11 are not abandoned when they need us most,” Nadler said.

The post Jon Stewart Lashes Out at Congress Over 9/11 Victims Fund appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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