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Justice for Rodney Reed: Millions Urge Texas to Halt Execution Amid New Evidence of His Innocence

Democracy Now! -

The Supreme Court considers Friday whether to take up the case of Rodney Reed, an African-American death row prisoner in Texas who is scheduled to be executed in less than a week for a murder he says he did not commit. On Thursday, Reed’s family braved the cold to camp outside the Supreme Court for a vigil asking the justices to help halt the execution. Millions of people around the country have joined their cause in recent weeks amid mounting evidence that another man may be responsible for the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old white woman. In 1998, an all-white jury sentenced Reed to die for Stites’s murder after his DNA was found inside her body. The two were having an affair at the time of her death. But new and previously ignored details in the case indicate that Stites’s then-fiancé, a white police officer named Jimmy Fennell, may in fact be responsible for the killing. Last month, a man who spent time in jail with Fennell signed an affidavit saying Fennell had admitted in prison to killing his fiancée because she was having an affair with a black man. Despite this, Reed’s execution is scheduled for November 20. We speak with Maurice Chammah, a staff writer at The Marshall Project.

Sen. Cory Booker on Environmental Justice, Nuclear Power & "Savage Racial Disparities" in the U.S.

Democracy Now! -

The first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice, co-moderated by Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and former EPA official Mustafa Santiago Ali, was held last Friday at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey was one of six Democratic candidates to share his plans to confront environmental injustices and the climate crisis. Booker spoke about racial disparities in the U.S., the creation of renewable energy jobs and the water contamination crises in cities across the country, including his hometown of Newark. “My community is not alone,” Booker said. “Lead service lines should not be in the ground in a 21st century America, period.”

"This Is My Home": Meet the Lead Plaintiff in the Supreme Court Case to Save DACA

Democracy Now! -

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments from three lawsuits demanding the Trump administration preserve Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The Obama-era program has granted protection from deportation and a work permit to at least 700,000 undocumented people who were brought to the United States as children. The court’s conservative majority appeared poised to side with President Trump in ending the program, while some of the court’s liberal justices seemed skeptical of Trump’s efforts. In September 2017, the Trump administration announced it planned to terminate DACA, arguing the program was “illegal” and “unconstitutional,” but three lower courts disagreed and have kept the program alive, thanks to lawsuits filed by California, New York and D.C. Immigrant rights activists have been pushing the Supreme Court to save DACA, with dozens of immigrants with DACA recently taking part in a 16-day, 230-mile march from New York to the steps of the Supreme Court. We speak with Martín Batalla Vidal, the lead plaintiff in the New York federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s attempt to terminate DACA, and Trudy Rebert, a staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, which also filed suit to block the Trump administration’s cancellation of DACA.

Headlines for November 15, 2019

Democracy Now! -

Even States With Green Activist Governors Won’t Settle Youth Climate Cases. What Gives?

Mother Jones Magazine -

This piece originally appeared in High Country News and appears here as part of our Climate Desk Partnership.

In 2011, 15-year-old Kelsey Juliana and 11-year-old Ollie Chernaik filed a lawsuit on behalf of Oregon youth, charging then-Gov. John Kitzhaber and the state of Oregon with not doing enough to fight catastrophic climate change.

Eight years and about a half-dozen court appearances later, Juliana and Chernaik, now college students, are headed back to high school: On Nov. 13, Oregon’s Supreme Court convened at Portland’s David Douglas High School to hear the case. 

A similar lawsuit is bound for a Washington state appeals court. Despite the two states’ liberal legislatures and governors who cast themselves as climate activists, the cases have been met with staunch resistance.  That the young activists should face such tough sledding in the Pacific Northwest highlights the tension between the often slow-turning wheels of the democratic process and the urgency of climate action.

At the core of the youth climate lawsuits is the claim that elected officials have failed to protect the public interest of future generations from the worsening climate crisis as scientists predict and observe rising sea levels, stronger storms and prolonged droughts. Therefore, the young people’s lawyers argue, it’s the courts’ responsibility to demand that the state preserve a healthy climate for future generations by rapidly phasing out greenhouse gas emissions.

In response, Oregon and Washington have defended their actions on technical grounds—citing separation of powers and questioning the reach of the public trust doctrine—rather than denying the perils of climate change. And in the most recent cases, the courts have sided with the states. In the latest decision in Washington, for example, King County Superior Court Judge Michael Scott wrote “the issues involved in this case are quintessentially political questions that must be addressed by the legislative and executive branches of government.”

“The issues involved in this case are quintessentially political questions that must be addressed by the legislative and executive branches of government.”

As the youth face setbacks in the courts, some observers think the cases are a distraction that isn’t moving the needle on climate action. Suing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, both supporters of climate legislation, “defies logic” said Aseem Prakash, the founding director of the University of Washington’s Center for Environmental Politics: “Inslee and Brown are doing everything politically feasible.” For example, Brown said she would look into using executive authority to direct state agencies to pursue climate action following the defeat, in June, of what was seen as the most comprehensive climate bill in the country. And after voters rejected a carbon tax initiative in Washington in 2018, Inslee helped shepherd a separate set of climate legislation through the state Legislature this year. In Prakash’s view, it doesn’t make sense to target allies who are constrained by limits on their executive power. “Inslee can’t unilaterally wave a hand and change the state’s climate plans,” he said.

Though a wave of the hand might not do the trick, the young plaintiffs’ lawyers say that a pen stroke could. Either governor could choose to settle with the activists rather than argue against them in court, said Nate Bellinger, the state program manager for Our Children’s Trust, the nonprofit organizing climate lawsuits at the state, federal and international levels. “If you had a court-approved agreement, it would provide legal cover to take aggressive action on climate change,” Bellinger said. But he doesn’t see politicians willing to make that kind of end-run around legislatures that have at times been reluctant to pass significant carbon-limiting laws. “The impression we’re getting is (Brown and Inslee) don’t mind talking about climate change and taking incremental steps,” he said. “But they’re unwilling to take bold action.” 

When it comes to bold action, recent parallels at the federal level show how far executives can go to push ambitious agendas. President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration on building a U.S.-Mexico border wall has caused money to be re-appropriated and environmental laws waived while 30-foot-tall metal slats are erected in southern Arizona. This exercise of authority following the declaration of an immigration emergency has Democratic presidential candidates and lawyers considering the impacts of a future administration declaring a climate emergency. Several Democratic presidential candidates have already pledged to do so. Yet it remains unclear whether any of the candidates would direct their Justice Department to settle the federal youth climate case. 

At the state level, politicians preaching climate action continue to fight the youth climate cases. After nearly a decade in court, the plaintiffs, now young adults, still see their case as a key that could unlock sweeping change, and they are getting frustrated. In a scathing opinion piece in The Oregonian earlier this year, Kelsey Juliana questioned whether Brown could be a leader on climate while opposing the youth climate lawsuit: “If Kate Brown is so concerned that ‘kids should not have to fight this hard to protect the planet they will inherit,’ ” she wrote, “why is she fighting us tooth and nail?”

Bernie Sanders and AOC Just Unveiled a Green New Deal for Public Housing

Mother Jones Magazine -

This piece originally appeared in CityLab and appears here as part of our Climate Desk Partnership.

Socialist Democrats are pushing the progressive envelope with a new iteration of Green New Deal legislation this week, this time with a focus on public housing.

On Thursday, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a new bill that would dedicate billions of dollars to energy retrofits for America’s dilapidated public housing stock. The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act would commit up to $180 billion over 10 years to upgrading 1.2 million federally owned homes.

At a press conference outside the Capitol on Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez said a bill focused on public housing reflects the larger aim of the Green New Deal to prioritize “frontline communities”—those that are most likely to be harmed by the climate crisis. “In the Bronx alone, 2,400 public housing residents may be going without heat tonight. That is inhumane,” she said. “That is environmental injustice.”

At the same event, Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coaltion, said: “We must build the political will to combat both the affordable housing and climate crises.”

“We must build the political will to combat both the affordable housing and climate crises.”

The bill is an effort to bag two birds with one stone. America’s public housing portfolio is in a shambles, with deferred maintenance costs nationwide running into the billions. The bill introduced by AOC and Sanders would bring that backlog up to date while also reducing the energy consumption from this aging housing stock.

Overall, buildings are responsible for about 39 percent of global carbon emissions, and about one-third of emissions in the U.S. That puts energy retrofits front and center in debates about how to arrest climate change.

“For an estimate between $119 and $172 billion, you could decarbonize the country’s entire public housing stock,” said Billy Fleming, the Wilks Family Director of the Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology at the University of Pennsylvania. “If you think about that from just a pure carbon perspective, that’s the equivalent of taking 1.2 million cars off the road.”

The energy retrofits imagined by the bill run the gamut, including new cladding, efficient window glazing, and electric appliances. Building-systems modeling tools would be used to determine the best approach to upgrades in different regions. All the technology envisioned by the bill is already within reach, according to Fleming. Energy retrofits could reduce the costs of public-housing water bills by $97 million per year (about 30 percent), according to estimates by the progressive think tank Data for Progress, and bring down energy costs by $613 million (70 percent).

Fleming, an alum of President Barack Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, is also a senior fellow with Data for Progress, which has led the national conversation on policy associated with the rising socialist left and the Green New Deal. He said that Ocasio-Cortez’s office approached the think tank to discuss how deep energy retrofits could be a way of improving the lives of public housing residents while also accomplishing Green New Deal goals.

“It was a surprise to us how quickly and how cheaply this could be done,” said Fleming, who worked on the proposal with Julian Brave NoiseCat, director of Green New Deal strategy for Data for Progress, and Daniel Aldana Cohen, director of Penn’s Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative and, like Fleming, a Data for Progress senior fellow. “We began by saying, what are the things we have to do just to get public housing up to the standard that we promised residents?”

Overall costs for the program speak primarily to the dire straits of public housing in America. Estimates from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for necessary repairs for public housing nationwide through 2030 total $90 billion, work that includes abatement of lead, mold, and other toxins. Given the intrusive nature of this work, a more dramatic overhaul would not necessarily mean a much bigger lift.

“If we have to do all of this work anyway, what would it cost to take this a step further and do deep energy retrofits that get the nation’s entire public housing stock at or near a net-zero standard?”

“If we have to do all of this work anyway, what would it cost to take this a step further and do deep energy retrofits that get the nation’s entire public housing stock at or near a net-zero standard?” Fleming said.

The bill, which is cosponsored by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, would create some 250,000 jobs—including high-paying jobs and union jobs, as the proposal’s backers are quick to point out. Some of these would benefit public housing residents themselves. A bill that would actually put severely delayed federal upgrades into motion would not only spur new opportunities, it would promote economies of scale to boost industries in weatherization and energy retrofits, its backers say.

“Policies such as this which protect the needs of workers, taxpayers and community should be implemented wherever public funds are spent,” said Mike Prohaska, business manager for New York’s Construction & General Building Laborers Local 79, in a statement.

The bill would have a seismic impact in New York City, where the nation’s largest public housing agency faces deferred maintenance costs of nearly $32 billion. Federal prosecutors accused the New York City Housing Authority of “systematic misconduct, indifference and outright lies” following an investigation into elevated blood lead levels among public housing residents. A local solution to the city’s public housing crisis looks impossible. In fact, earlier this year, HUD Secretary Ben Carson named a federal monitor to oversee the the New York City Housing Authority.

“As [New York City] makes plans for a changing climate, public housing residents are often last on the list, despite being some of the most vulnerable,” said Wanda Salamán, executive director of Mothers on the Move/Madres en Movimiento, a South Bronx community organization, in a statement. “The Green New Deal for Public Housing includes opportunities for residents to finally gain access to promised jobs, while improving their quality of life and planning for climate resilience.”

Yet the benefits of a GND for public housing would not accrue to New York and other coastal cities alone. The analysis from Data for Progress finds that such a bill would create more on-site construction jobs in states that voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 than in blue states.

The original Green New Deal framework called for upgrading all buildings in the U.S. as a way to transform the nation’s economy. Republicans pounced on that proposal as impossibly optimistic, citing figures from conservative think tanks that pegged the costs for building upgrades at $1.6 to 4.2 trillion.

So the new approach from AOC’s office is more piecemeal. The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act fits within an existing policy sphere targeting the built environment to bring down the country’s carbon pollution. A new, Green New Deal–inspired law in New York aims to cut the city’s carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement. (Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris protocols earlier this month.) Numerous U.S. cities now require the owners of large buildings to measure and disclose their energy use.

The AOC–Sanders bill also promotes public housing as a goal in itself. A provision of the bill would repeal the Faircloth Amendment, a federal rule that caps the construction of new public housing units. Data for Progress has outlined a vision for a progressive housing agenda that leans heavily on public housing and other goals that current federal law (and federal funding levels) make difficult or impossible. People’s Action, a grassroots group, introduced a policy platform called the Homes Guarantee that outlines many of the same goals.

Housing has emerged as a high-profile issue in the Democratic primary, with numerous candidates touting a range of plans and reforms. In the fall, Ocasio-Cortez produced her own suite of protections for tenants, immigrants, children, and others, most notably a proposal for a national rent control policy. The left has found a policy arena in which they have common ground with establishment Democrats—at least in terms of big-sky proposals.

“The folks at People’s Action and in the housing and tenants’ rights movement really built the momentum for Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Sanders to feel like they had the cover and the urgency necessary to put this bill up,” Fleming said.

Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”

Counterpunch Articles -

Photograph Source: Rodney Foliente, U.S. Army – Public Domain

When the dust settles in a month or two, the House of Representatives will have impeached President Donald Trump with a one-sided partisan vote and then the Senate will have exonerated Donald Trump with a similarly one-sided partisan vote.  But at the end of the day, the United States will have acquired a new strategic ally in Central Europe: Ukraine. The very first day of the impeachment hearings in November has been responsible for an important national security decision that had no input from Trump’s national security team or from the congressional foreign policy committees. The implications of this decision are onerous.

The key statements on the first day of the impeachment hearing concluded that Ukraine was an “important” or “strategic” partner of the United States.  Chairman Adam Schiff opened the hearings with the view that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to “rebuild the Russian empire” by invading a “strategic U.S. ally.”  The key witnesses, William Taylor and George Kent, both senior Foreign Service Officers and seasoned diplomats, echoed the chairman’s view.  Taylor, our leading diplomat in Ukraine, referred to a “newly aggressive Russia” that invaded a “strategic partner of the United States.”   He argued that it was essential for the United States to be a “reliable strategic partner” for Ukraine.

Kent, the Department of State’s regional director for Ukraine, went even further in arguing that “U.S. national interest was at stake in Ukraine,” a country “on the path to become a full security partner of the United States within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” He believes that Ukraine occupies an “important place in U.S. national interest,” and that it is essential for Washington to “stand up to Russia.”  Kent and Taylor argued that Russian “aggression cannot stand” and that the United States must “push back.”

The strong statements from Schiff, Taylor, and Kent may well be in part a reaction to Trump’s bizarre courtship of Russia and his conspiracy-fueled antipathy toward Ukraine.  However, they point U.S. policy in a risky direction.

The decisions of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to expand the membership of NATO with former members of the Warsaw Pact and former republics of the Soviet Union have created fundamental problems for NATO decision making and weakened the cohesion of the Western alliance.  Moreover, the expansion of NATO has been the major factor in the strategic mishandling of Russian policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and has divided the members of the alliance on the important issue of threat perception in Europe.

Russian anxiety regarding the fear of encirclement on its western borders is a genuine problem that has cultural and geopolitical predicates.  The beginning of NATO’s eastward expansion in the 1990s in fact marked an expansion of U.S. political and military influence into a region that had been a Russian sphere of influence throughout the Cold War.  On various occasions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Presidents Bush and Barack Obama that expressions of interest in bringing Ukraine and Georgia into NATO represented a “red line” to Vladimir Putin and should be avoided.

NATO expansion has proven to be not only a major irritant in Russian-American relations, but the leading cause of what appears to be the start of a new Cold War.  Thirty years after President Ronald Reagan declared that the “Cold War is over,” relations between the United States and Russia have reached an all-time low.  The major factor in the improved relations during the Cold War—the arms control and disarmament dialogue—is moribund.

It has been forgotten that the President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker assured their counterparts, Mikhail Gorbachev and Eduard Shevardnadze, that the United States would not “leap frog” over East Germany if the Soviets were to withdraw their 360,000 troops from the east.  In other words, no U.S. military forces would be stationed in East Europe, which would offer the promise of demilitarization to a Kremlin that only reluctantly withdrew its military forces and agreed to the reunification of Germany.  Gorbachev and Shevardnadze’s willingness to accept these terms is the major factor in the Russian vilification of these two men to this day.

Reinhold Niebuhr concluded that one of the greatest challenges in international relations was “finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems.”  The expansion of NATO and the Russian annexation of Crimea and occupation of eastern Ukraine has certainly created one of those problems.  The current level of incompetence in the American national security team and what George Kennan called the “instinctive sense of insecurity” in Russia are barriers to a solution.

Nevertheless, a way must be found to end the toxicity in the relationship and to restore the arms control dialogue between the two sides.  Washington must stop NATO’s eastward push and rethink its sanctions policy.  Moscow must acknowledge its misuse of military power and end its interference in U.S. elections.  Both sides must put an end to the demonization of the other, and  acknowledge the primacy of diplomacy in their bilateral relations.

The post Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally” appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy

Counterpunch Articles -

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

The term ‘income inequality’ suggests the inevitability of a natural process, a division of winners from losers along the lines of hair loss or disproportionate body mass that corporate researchers are working to solve for the sake of the self-esteem of the losers. Some people are tall, others short, some people have pleasant dispositions, others not so much. Otherwise, it almost certainly isn’t the ‘winners’ for whom inequality is a problem, is it?

The term is liberal in the sense it takes the distribution of income as given while implying that it would be nice if some nebulous ‘we’ adjusted nature as an act of social comity. Apparently unbeknownst here is that a favorite saying of economists is ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ What they mean by this is that society’s losers would be better off if concentrated income were put toward capital formation rather than charity.

However, those in the know recognize out-of-date social technologies when they see them. Banks were given the sovereign’s right to create money to fund business endeavors (in exchange for promises to repay it) for this very purpose. In contemporary practice the picture is a bit more cluttered because of ‘markets,’ if not that much more complicated. So, instead of claiming that ‘we all’ benefit from concentrated wealth, the explanation is now that the rich ‘earned it.’

Graph: government policies intended to boost stock prices benefit the rich the most because they own the stocks, real estate and the businesses whose values are raised by them. The very richest get most of their income this way. This makes the Wall Street friendly Democrats the BFFTWs (best friends forever this week) of the oligarchs. This story is serially misrepresented in the mainstream press through ignoring the impact of cheap finance and financialization on private business valuations. Source: inequality.org

Herein we find the paradox that vexes liberals: 1) income is distributed according to the intrinsic virtue of one’s undertakings in this world (we ‘earn’ it) and 2) this distribution nevertheless has the stink of greed and malevolence all over it. On the one hand, there is an agreement made to exchange labor for pay, meaning that we earn it. One the other, there is a class that uses its political and economic power to pay itself more by paying everyone else less. And there is an additional time component: CEOs and Bank executives tend to be paid the most just before their actions kill the economy for a decade of more.

Here it helps to have a passing knowledge of communist propaganda. Virtue doesn’t hand out the paychecks. In fact, without the commitment of virtually unlimited state resources from 2009 through today, today’s billionaires would be closer to hundredaires. The billionaires advising the DNC to dump Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would instead be wondering how they ended up living in a country so shithole that sick people get surprise medical bills— that these billionaires thought up.

Billionaires are made billionaires through a variety of mechanisms including inheritance, finance and real estate and ownership and / or control of business enterprises. If there is no money, these have no monetary value. If there is a lot of money, these have a lot of monetary value. In 2008, money was in short supply. Federal Reserve policies and the Bush-Obama bailouts flooded the world with money. This flood of money gave the assets and enterprises the rich own trillions of dollars in monetary value. Welcome to America.

Graph: since the early 1980s the portion of income that goes to the richest 1% has doubled while the poverty rate is unchanged. Considered together with the top graph, it is financial gains—both from asset prices and business valuations, that the rich have benefited from. Then question then is: did the rich ‘earn’ these gains? Given government intervention to save Wall Street in 2009 and Central Bank efforts to boost asset prices (and business valuations) since, a significant part of the answer is that the rich are rich because of government programs to make them rich. So no, they didn’t ‘earn’ their incomes. Source: inequality.org.

This doesn’t correspond to mainstream explanations of economic growth for a few reasons. That storyline suggests small variations around a fixed and mostly stable ‘economy.’ However, the neoliberal revolution that was launched in the mid-1970s gave it a broad direction. Since then, what has emerged from economic recessions has been more insistent versions of the neoliberal ideal. Since the late 1980s, ‘asset’ prices have been the target of government policies. And most assets are owned by the rich.

What emerged from the 2009 Wall Street bailouts is a Frankenstein economy, a stock market that never goes down, a commensurate rise in the value of bank assets, and the resurrection of the speculative economy. Housing and stock values are back to pre-Great recession levels. But a stock market that never goes down isn’t a market— it is a giveaway to the already rich (graph above). And as the graph below suggests, the claim that ‘we all’ benefited from the bailouts finds the fortunes of the rich recovered while the poverty rate is where it was in 1969.

To tie this back to the widely loathed Trump: Donald Trump is the archetypal beneficiary of these policies— an inheritance wastrel who ‘achieved’ what a chimpanzee with a mediocre accountant could have over the same time frame. Lest this seem an unduly harsh, let me explain: a passive investment in New York real estate* would have put Mr. Trump’s inheritance at well over $3 billion today. Forbes estimates Mr. Trump’s fortune at $3.1 billion. And Mr. Trump benefited most from the policies of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Graph: in the housing bust of the early 2010s, fourteen million families lost their homes to foreclosure. It was therefore unimaginable in 2009 – 2010 that the Obama administration, working in conjunction with the Federal Reserve, would re-inflate the housing bubble. With catastrophe so fresh, why would anyone believe this was a good idea? The most likely explanation is that banks still held mortgages that were worth far less than the value of the houses the money was loaned against. Re-inflating the bubble is a way to make the banks whole and real estate speculators rich. Source: Robert Shiller, Yale.

In the reverso-world politics of late, liberals and some fair portion of the left argue that saving Wall Street— rather than converting it to a heavily regulated public utility, was necessary. Through the neoliberal lens that has virtue guiding the distribution of income, the actual mechanisms of economic distribution have been rendered invisible. One might imagine that through simple reverse osmosis the system that so enriched the likes of Donald Trump would prove that capitalism doesn’t operate as claimed. However, with the professional class now comprising the Democrat’s primary constituency, reverso-world is here to stay.

On the other side of the government institutions and policies designed to protect and benefit the already rich are working people and the poor who have been left to their own devices by Democrats and Republicans alike. While the rich, some fair portion of whom actively participated in creating the Great Recession, saw their fortunes quickly restored, it took a decade for unemployment rates to return to pre-Great Recession levels. And even then, the quality of the jobs is substantially degraded.

Technology— subsidized and financed by the Federal government, has wrought algorithmic scheduling, zero hour contracts and robotic micro-management. These technologies, developed in colonial sweatshops, are now common in domestic production. Add in electronic surveillance, 24/7 contact devices and full spectrum monitoring of employee activities away from work, and a more intrusive hellscape for labor is difficult to imagine. Tiered wages were codified by Barack Obama in the automaker bailouts.

While doing everything within the power of government to restore the fortunes of the Donald Trumps of the world and protect them from taxation, Barack Obama operated the levers of government in a different direction for working and poor people. By 2010— as the bailouts were still in full swing, austerity was made the order of the day. In practice, this meant that the people hired to mow the grass and shine the shoes of the rich were unable to command decent wages because there were long lines of unemployed behind them who would work for less.

Economist Dean Baker, who is bright and seemingly quite a decent fellow, made the point that ten years later, wages are finally starting to rise for working class labor. While I don’t dispute the direction of wages, the ‘base effect’ makes rates of change an inappropriate measure in this context. For example, if a worker earning $1 per hour gets a raise to $2 per hour, this is a 100% increase. If a worker making $100 per hour gets the same $1 increase, this is a 1% increase. The question is: do people have what they need to live fully realized lives?

For those who weren’t there, when Ronald Reagan promised to get government out of people’s lives, there was some sense that finally the rich were going to have to work for a living. Ralph Nader— fighting the good fight for sixty-plus years now, was all over what was at the time called ‘corporate welfare.’ Welfare, corporate and otherwise, shows up in the public budget. Using the Federal government, the Federal Reserve and Wall Street to make the rich richer doesn’t. In this sense— and many others, the Federal ‘budget deficit’ is a fraud with a political purpose.

This should all be ancient history by now. But Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Michael Bloomberg and the billionaires advising the DNC, are all trying to claim it as the future. The analysis that leads to the conclusion that Democrats have ever lost an election because they moved too far left is spurious. In the1980 presidential election usually cited, Jimmy Carter intentionally caused the worst recession since the Great Depression (at that time) to end inflation linked to a capitalist oil strike. (WWs I and II explain war inflations, Vietnam doesn’t). If you want to win an election, don’t cause massive economic misery. Mr. Carter’s loss had nothing to do with ‘moving left.’

It would be greatly preferable that Democrats are being cynical by arguing this ‘moving left’ point than the more probable case that they really are that stupid. With Medicare for All, a robust Green New Deal, a Job Guarantee and progressive taxation being popular with a majority of citizens across the political spectrum, good luck with that austerity schtick. If Donald Trump does win a second term, the establishment Democrats who oppose these programs will be wholly responsible— just like they were in 2016.

Notes.

*The challenge with this calculation is finding a representative index. Most real estate indices cover wide areas and / or relate to specific to types of real estate. I looked at a variety of real estate and stock indices and the one linked to is conservative. Mr. Trump inherited $200 million in cash and real estate holdings in the early-mid 1970s. Given where and when, — New York real estate was near Great Depression levels in the early 1970s, these increased in value between 100 and 300 times. As I wrote above, a chimpanzee with a mediocre accountant.

The post Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane

Counterpunch Articles -

Abandoned dairy barn, Mulino, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Do you ever have one of those mornings when you turn on MSDNC for the impeachment hearings and start banging the TV a few of times thinking it’s stuck on the Cartoon Network? That was me at around 6:45 AM PST on Wednesday when instead of Adam Schiff’s shimmering death-skull head, the screen depicted the strange doughboy visage of George Conway, house husband of Trump’s counselor Kellyanne, pontificating about impeachment on the Democrats’ home cable network. It sure seemed like a bad cartoon, a case of Ukraine in the membrane (apologies to Cypress Hill).

+ Who has the most unfortunate hair in the Conway family, Kellyanne or new MSDNC commentator, George? Depending on windspeed, my money’s on George…

+ I don’t know why the Democrats think having lawyers ask the questions at the impeachment hearings is going to suddenly grab the public’s attention. The questioning by Howard Liman and John Nields at the Iran/Contra hearings was so inept and confusing that they buried that scandal under hours of tedium before anyone knew what it was really all about.

+ Iran/Contra boiled down to a weapons-for-weapons scandal, TOW missiles to Iran for money to buy weapons for the Contras in violation of the Boland Amendment. Ukrainegate is also a “weapons” scandal. But in this case, the weapons were being WITHHELD in alleged violation of Congressional intent, in exchange for political dirt on Democrats, which made it a slightly less lethal transgression–until Trump released the money for the Javelin missiles, which could spark a major war in eastern Europe, a war the neocons and Democrat hawks seem eager to provoke. The difference in the 2 scandals demonstrates just how completely the Democrats have adopted the policies of the War Party since the days of the honorable Edward Boland.

+ In Watergate, the question that weighed so heavily on the mind of Howard Baker (at least) was: what did the president know and when did he know it? In the Ukraine Grift, the question appears to be: what did Trump know and did he understand it?

+ Ambassador William Taylor says that after he retired from the State Department and went to work at the US Peace Institute and has spent his entire opening statement arguing for a more militant policy toward Russia in Ukraine, which tells you all you need to know about the “Peace Institute.”

+ There are days, increasingly rare, when the Pentagon isn’t bombing someone. But the US State Department never sleeps. It squeezes people around the world into compliance with US policy 24/7.

+ According to former State Department honcho George Kent, the US-funded Ukrainian paramilitaries were the equivalent of the “Minutemen” of the American Revolution. It’s always this way the State Dept, which once tried to market the murderous Contras as the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers.

+ As a rule of thumb, it’s the State Department guys in bowties, like Kent, who are the one’s you’ve really got to look out for. They tend to have the bloodiest resumés…

+ As David Hoelscher reminded me, I.F. Stone said that the State Dept.’s foreign service people “instinctively sympathize with undemocratic forces” and that, when a journalist is well informed and asks good questions, he or she is much more likely to get honest answers from Pentagon flacks than from diplomats.

+ Just noticed during the half-time break that George Conway is wearing a soft cast on his right hand. Has Kellyanne been playing rough again at home?

+ Thanks to Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan, these impeachment hearings have the circus, but where’s the bread?

+ As I understood Taylor’s opening statement, the one new nugget he has disclosed is that when Gordon Sondland was asked what Trump thought of Ukraine, “Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.” Surely this comes as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Trump.

+ Taylor said that he was in part seduced into taking his post against the fierce objections of his wife, because he thought Trump might take a harder line against Russia on Ukraine than Obama had. Taylor was a Bush appointee for a reason.

+ Taylor described what he called an “Irregular Policy Channel” on Ukraine, excavated by Giuliani for secret transit to Kiev by the Three Amigos: Gordon Sondland, Karl Volker and Rick Perry.

+ Are the Giuliani Irregulars any more inept at making foreign policy than the Obama Regulars, like Nuland, Powers and Clinton?

+ The old hands at the State Department should relax. I’m sure Big Pharma is currently working on a drug to treat “Irregular Policy Channel Syndrome.”

+ For the Democrats, Taylor is the kind of grizzled, unrepentant made-for-TV Vietnam Vet they hoped Mueller would be.

+ It’s laughable that the US interest in Ukraine was in preserving what Taylor called a “Rules Based Order.” Our rules, our orders.

+ As the hearing rolled on, hour after improbable hour, we were presented with the preposterous spectacle of both the Biden camp and the Trump camps claiming they have been victimized by…Ukraine!

+ Are members of Congress subject to random drug testing? The old wrestling coach Jim Jordon is so jittery and hyper it looks like he’s taken a fistful of what baseball players used to call “greenies”…

+ It would be great if these hearings could impeach Trump and pre-impeach Biden.

+ Things I learned from the Impeachment hearing: Kiev is pronounced KEEV, at least by the Foggy Bottom Regulars. I don’t know how the Irregulars, like Giuliani, pronounce it. I guess we’ll have to wait for another butt-dialed message.

+ The Republican counsel, Steve Castor, projects a look of studious incompetence. You can see why he appealed to Nunes…

+ Val Demings is by far the most effective Democratic inquisitor. Typically, they waited 5 and half hours to call on her….

+ With so much smoke in the hearing room will it ever be possible to find the gun?

+ One of the piquant ironies of Ukrainegate is that Trump ended up adopting the belligerent Biden/Nuland strategy in Ukraine, which was to send the regime Javelin missiles to intimidate Russia, a policy Obama rejected over Biden’s strident objections.

+ Trump can always count on one distraction every month or so that will get the enemy of the people off his back for a day: some kind of mass shooting. If it takes place in a school, he might even get two days. He doesn’t even have to pick up his Android, it just happens like clockwork. Is this considered an “in-kind” contribution from the NRA?

+ Looks like Rudy can fail after all…

+ As the GOP and the Deep Staters hyperventilate about Trump being hoisted on his own (or Rudy’s) petard in Ukraine, the CIA actually pulls one off in Bolivia. Coups are one of the things the CIA is really good at. If they wanted to execute one here, Trump would have been gone two years ago (or never elected)…

+ Is Bolivia the first Lithium Coup? Over to you, Kurt…

[By the way, I recently watched an amusing documentary called Sunset Strip, which fingers Nirvana for destroying the glam scene which had taken root in West Hollywood. Way to go, Kurt! If we all blast “Lithium” loud enough, perhaps the same fate will befall the coup-plotters in Bolivia.]

+ Noam Chomsky: “The coup is promoted by the Bolivian oligarchy … and has the full support of the United States Government, which has long been eager to expel Evo Morales and his movement.”

+ A statistical analysis of Bolivia’s vote count reveals that the final results weren’t affected by fraud or irregularities.

+ Where was Elliott Abrams, when the Bolivian generals chased Evo out of Sucre? Someone should attach an electronic bracelet to that war criminal’s ankle so we can keep track of his nefarious migrations.

+ Who is Jeanine Anez to decide who can and can’t run for president in Bolivia, even if she claims the support of the Three Amigos: Trump, Putin and fellow pretender Juan Guaidó? One thing is for sure: this evangelical right-winger with a hatred of indigenous people of the Andes who now claims to be Bolivia’s “interim president” wasn’t elected by anyone. She seized power on her own, backed by generals, multinational corporations and their political hacks in the US, the OAS and, yes, Putin’s Russia.

+ There should be a contest to decide the greatest coup. We could call it the World Coup. Bolivia, of course, fields a strong side in each group…

Group A. Bolivia (2019) vs. Chile (1973)
Group B. Bolivia (1952) vs. Honduras (2009)
Group C. Bolivia (1964) vs. Brazil (1964)
Group D. Bolivia (1980) vs. Argentina (1976)

US (2019) has yet to win it’s qualifier.

+ “The temporary death of democracy in Chile will be regrettable, but the blame lies clearly with Dr. Allende… Pinochet and his fellow officers are only pawns. Their coup was homegrown, and attempts to make out that the Americans were involved are absurd.” -The Economist, 9/15/73.

+ Bolivia has had two national flags, the second is called the Wiphala, to represent Andean indigenous peoples. After the coup, rightwing groups are burning it in the streets.

+ Trump’s statement on the Bolivian coup targets Venezuela and Nicaragua…”These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail.”

+ It took Bernie two days to come up with this tame statement on the Bolivian coup, which is not nearly as forceful as Jeremy Corbyn’s or his own acolyte, AOC, and makes no mention of the US role in instigating and backing the coup.

I am very concerned about what appears to be a coup in Bolivia, where the military, after weeks of political unrest, intervened to remove President Evo Morales. The U.S. must call for an end to violence and support Bolivia’s democratic institutions.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 11, 2019

+ If Bernie is this cautious now in his statements on Venezuela and Bolivia, how much more timid will he become if he wins the Democratic nomination?

+ Still awaiting any word on Bolivia from Tulsi Gabbard.

+ Thanks to Jared Kushner, the White House is now live-streaming the construction of Trump’s border wall. The sequel sounds more exciting, as it follows the adventures of three Mexican teenagers who come along with blow torches and burn holes in the wall every 100 yards or so…

+ 69,550 migrant children were held in U.S. government custody over the past year, enough infants, toddlers, kids and teens to fill a typical NFL stadium.

+ If there was a pond on the Ellipse of the White House, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Mike Pence was out there drowning women to see if they’re witches, as long as Mother was available to chaperone him……

+ The Democratic Party is once again the runaway winner at this year’s Political Darwin Awards, headlined by Pete Buttigeig, who is now leading in the Iowa polls.

+ Mayor Pete, doing his best to outflank Biden on Israel.

Keep it up, Pete, and who knows, maybe Sheldon Adelson will pitch you a few bucks…

+ Mayor Pete would be the shortest president since William McKinley (and you know how that worked out for him). Only 10 presidents have been shorter, even when you count those with shrinking reputations…

Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason to rule
They got pointy little heads
And tiny little bones
Stubby little fingers
For their push-button drones…

+ Speaking of short people, the dwarf Michael Bloomberg has only two known supporters: Tom Friedman and Bret Stephens. But, hey, that’s two more than DeBlasio was able to round-up.

+ Bloomberg is apparently trying to appeal to the Clinton (Bill) demographic. What other lane would you run in when your misogyny is so robust that you allegedly told one pregnant employee to “kill it” (her fetus), quipped that “if women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they’d go to the library instead of to Bloomingdale’s,” and bragged that his Bloomberg computer terminal computer terminal could “do everything, including blow jobs.” “I guess that puts a lot of you girls out of business,” Bloomberg blurted.

+ Bernie Gantz may soon replace Netanyahu as Prime Minister and it’s likely no one will notice the difference, certainly not the Palestinians…

Gantz: "Make no mistake – on the other side there are terrorists, not Mother Teresas. They are deliberately firing rockets onto populated areas." #IsraelUnderFire pic.twitter.com/q2poAQH3gO

— Eylon Levy (@EylonALevy) November 13, 2019

+ Chew over the implications of this poll reported by Jefferson Morley showing that Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete are the two favorite candidates of National Security employees. (By the way, Morley, who now runs the ironically-titled Deep State blog, was the “left” editor at the Washington Post Outlook Section, who invited me to write occasional pieces for the Post back in the mid-90s…) His blog is must-read, as is his recent book on the CIA’s crazed spy hunter James Jesus Angleton.)

+ A Lancet analysis of 1,629,352 women and 2,354,041 children less than 15 yrs old, living within 50 kilometers of high-intensity war zones finds that “exposure to the highest decile conflict in terms of conflict-related deaths increased female mortality by 202% & increased orphanhood by 42%.”

+ At his Weds. press conference, Trump interrupts Erdogan as he points to a Turkish reporter and says, “Only friendly questions, from friendly reporters.” It’s worth mentioning that Turkey jails more journalists than any country in the world, including CounterPunch’s Michael Dickinson, a political cartoonist and member of the Stuckist Art Movement, who was jailed for a “seditious” cartoon of Erdogan and then evicted from Turkey.

+ In hawking her new book Darling Nikki Haley said that she found Trump to “truthful” and she “never doubted” his “fitness for office.” Watch your back, Mike Pence!

+ I just realized that when HRC said Many Many Many People want her to run for president that it referred to one person named Many Many Many People, a distant relative of Major Major Major Major, last seen in Catch-22 exploiting his resemblance to Henry Fonda in order to become Squadron Commander…

+ Democratic numbers among “white voters” in Pennsylvania, according to the most recent Muhlenberg poll.

Biden 46%
Sanders 44%
Warren 44%

In 2016, Clinton won 40% of Pennsylvania white voters. Even 42% would have delivered a clear win.

+ Someone said Deval Patrick, ex-gov,. ex-oil executive, ex-Bain capital hot shot, is running for president. Surely they mean president of the board of Citibank, where he belongs…

+ NYC’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has hired 500 new cops, most of them to harass poor people for “fare evasion.” Cost over four years: $249 million.

+ In Potter County, Texas, which surrounds the city of Amarillo, jailers regularly dispense legal advice to defendants; court-appointed attorneys rarely meet with their clients; and poor defendants are sent bills for their legal costs, which, given the poor quality of their lawyers, usually result in convictions. In Texas, the poor won’t get no justice tonight, but they will get a bill.

+ More than 13% of American adults — nearly 34 million people — report knowing of at least one friend or family member in the past five years who died because they couldn’t afford healthcare…

+ Citibank executives are warning of a “war on Wall Street and wealth” in the 2020 elections. Looks like somebody got Triggered!

+ Less than one in 10 Americans now oppose legalization of pot for either recreational or medical use….

91% back either policy
59% want both
32% want medical
8% oppose both

+ Trump is crediting his daughter Ivanka with having personally created more than 200 percent of all new jobs in the United States. Think what she could do as chair of the Fed!

+ The richest 1% of Americans are about to surpass the wealth of the entire middle class, controlling more than half of the equity in US companies. The bottom 50% of Americans have 35.7% of the US economy’s liabilities and just 6.1% of its assets.

+ How schools in Minnesota are teaching the merciless nature of capitalism to the kids: dumping hot meals in the trash instead of serving them to students with more than $15 in debt for school lunches.

+ Ursula K. Le Guin: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.”

+ There was some hardcore Blonde Bigot on Blonde Bigot action going on this week between Ann Coulter and Donald Trump over the fate of the Dreamers. Disgusted by Trump’s lack of viciousness on immigration, Coulter says Trump should go and the Dreamers say.

+ According to The Intercept: “Trump has reportedly continued to make calls on his iPhones, even after warnings from American intelligence officials that Russian and Chinese spies are regularly eavesdropping on his calls.” Maybe Jared Kushner will suggest streaming Trump’s calls live on Soundcloud and iTunes so we can all listen in, like the very exciting video feed of the Wall construction….

+ Here’s a convincing piece by Jack Shafer arguing that the press has been cowardly and derelict in not attempting to out the whistleblower: “Without a doubt, the whistleblower deserves physical protection from threat-making nuts—including the president. But journalists would be unwise to award an assassin’s veto to people who might read their stories and then decide to run amok.”

+ Betteridge’s Law of Headlines is a rule that states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no“. It is named after Ian Betteridge, a British technology journalist who wrote about it in 2009, although as with most adages the concept is much older. (Thanks Rudy Tucich.)

+ Speaking of the state of the press in the Land of the Free, a county resolution in Wisconsin calls for the prosecution of reporters if they don’t publish a specific press release in its entirety.

+ Q. Why is it so hard for accountants to prepare taxes for Israeli citizens?
A. Most insist that they have no occupation.

+ From Canada to the US, Brazil to India, Bolivia to Russia, indigenous people are under attack…

+ Never forget what happened at Acoma: “After a small battle with soldiers sent to negotiate, the conquistador Don Juan Oñate attacked the mesa and killed hundreds of men, women and children. He took 500 prisoners and sentenced those over 25 to 20 years of servitude. He ordered the right feet and hands of some two dozen captives amputated.”

+ Verna Teller of Isleta Pueblo, the first woman to lead a Pueblo in the Southwest, just became the first Native American woman to deliver an opening prayer in the US congress.

+ Monday marked the first day in recorded history when not a drop of rain fell on continental Australia. The fire danger warnings across the country were raised to “catastrophic” level.

+ Klimate Karma Strikes Venice: “The Veneto regional council, which is located on Venice’s Grand Canal, was flooded for the first time in its history on Tuesday night — just after it rejected measures to combat climate change.”

+ “‘We have no idea what four degrees of warming looks like from a public health perspective, but we know it is catastrophic,’ says Nick Watts, author of a new report on climate change and children’s health published by the Lancet.

+ “The public doesn’t fully see this as a human health crisis. Maybe polar bears were our early indicator — the proverbial canary in the coal mine. But when you talk about this crisis, the bear images should be replaced with pictures of children,” said Dr. Jonathan Patz, a professor and director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

+ According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the number of days per year when the Beaufort Sea is more than 30% open water has gone from “usually none” in 1980s to now more than 3 months. 2019 had 107 days, the third highest total.

+ It’s the middle of November and Our Little Mountain (elev. 11,245 feet) remains largely snow free…

Mt Hood from Oregon City, November 12, 2019. Photos: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Stop making sense! A group of California mayors is calling on state regulators to seize control of PG&E and turn into into a cooperative.

+ Onshore wind and solar power are now less expensive than any fossil-fuel-based energy option, even without subsidies. Don’t believe me? Well, try Forbes.

+ Air conditioning the outdoors. First Qatar, soon Antarctica?

+ Key West shatters record with 232 straight days with temps of 80 and above…

+ Got Almond Milk?

+ I was saddened to learn of the death of the Montana painter, writer, and environmentalist, Russell Chatham, who was a fixture in the Livingston scene for decades, along with Jim Harrison, Tom McGuane, Jeff Bridges, Richard Brautigan, Doug Peacock and Margie Kidder. We have a couple of Chatham prints, one of them is of the Gallatin Range at twilight. I told Margie about it one day and she said in her own tart manner: “Does it have a fucking moon in it?”

“As a matter of fact it does,” I said.

“Russell found out that if he put a moon in his paintings he could sell them for $500 more a piece. I told him it was a crock shit and that his landscapes were just gorgeous without the damned moons.”

“Well, this is only a three-quarter moon, Margie, which must be why we got a discount.”

Fall Moon Rising, Lithograph, Russell Chatham.

+ Cockburn’s former editor at the NY Press, Mugger Smith, has a point about Succession–”It’d be swell if HBO paired Succession with a series based on The New York Times or The Washington Post, but I doubt a pitch on that touchy topic would get much serious consideration.”–though excuse me if I binge watch Season 2 again this weekend…

+ CIA receptionist: “I’m sorry, Madame, Agent Penis isn’t available. He’s having a little, well, down time. I see Agent Anus has an opening. Shall, I ring him?”

+ Kanye trashed the racism of George W. Bush for his indifference to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, now he’s going to sell his latest record at the “church” of Joel Osteen, the guy who closed his doors to the refugees of Hurricane Harvey…?

+ Werner Herzog on taking a role in the new Stars War series, The Mandalorian, despite never having seen a Star Wars movie: “You shouldn’t feel upset that I haven’t seen the Star Wars films; I hardly see any films. I read. I was raised with Latin and Ancient Greek and poetry from Greek antiquity, but sometimes, just to see the world I live in, I watch ‘WrestleMania.’”

+ Neil Young says that his application for US citizenship is being held up by Homeland Security for his marijuana use, which the agency considers a blight on his “good moral character.” This is silly. If they’re going to delay Neil’s citizenship, it ought to be over much more serious cultural misdemeanors, like the Trans and Landing on Water albums….

+ The Mekons’ Jon Langford on the Chicago pub scene in the early 90s: “We drank at Deliah’s which always had the weirdest things you could possibly want to drink and still does. They had a lot of like, Basque seal blubber lagers, all sorts of things.”

+ Chuck Jones’ rules for Road Runner…

+ Trump Koan of the Week:  “If our [Border Patrol] people speak rudely to a person coming in, it means they get the electric chair. It’s a very unfair situation.”

Lord, Have Mercy…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

One of Us: a Biologist’s Walk Among Bears
Barrie K. Gilbert
(FriesenPress)

Janis: Her Life and Music
Holly George-Warren
(Simon and Schuster)

All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator
Barry Levine and Monique El-Faizy
(Hachette)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Live at Home With His Bad Self
James Brown
(Polydor)

Trophy
Kate Davis
(Solitaire Recordings)

Black Space Tapes
Jamael Dean
(Stones Throw)

Images in the Stream
What I’m streaming this week…

Fire in Paradise
Directors: Zackary Canepari & Drea Cooper
(2019) Netflix

Ghosts of Sugar Land
Director: Bassam Tariq
(2019) Netflix

A Worship of Gimmickry

Robert Stone: “The term ‘Americanization’ invokes the transformation of the landscape into unnatural mechanical shapes, of night into day, of speed for its own sake, an irrational passion for novelty at the expense of quality, a worship of gimmickry.”

The post Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors

Counterpunch Articles -

Photograph Source: SMSgt George Thompson – Public Domain

Claims that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons are almost as old as the Syrian civil war itself. They have produced strong reactions, and none more so than in the case of the alleged attack in April last year on the opposition-controlled area of Douma near Damascus in which 43 people are said to have been killed by chlorine gas. The United States, Britain and France responded by launching airstrikes on targets in the Syrian capital.

Were the strikes justified? An inspector from the eight-member team sent to Douma has just come forward with disturbing allegations about the international watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which was tasked with obtaining and examining evidence.

Involved in collecting samples as well as drafting the OPCW’s interim report, he claims his evidence was suppressed and a new report was written by senior managers with assertions that contradicted his findings.

The inspector went public with his allegations at a recent all-day briefing in Brussels for people from several countries working in disarmament, international law, military operations, medicine and intelligence. They included Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur on Palestine and Major-General John Holmes, a distinguished former commander of Britain’s special forces. The session was organised by the Courage Foundation, a New York-based fund which supports whistle-blowers. I attended as an independent reporter.

The whistle-blower gave us his name but prefers to go under the pseudonym Alex out of concern, he says, for his safety.

He is the second member of the Douma Fact-Finding Mission to have alleged that scientific evidence was suppressed. In May this year an unpublished report by Ian Henderson, a South African ballistics expert who was in charge of the mission’s engineering sub-team was leaked. The team examined two suspicious cylinders which rebels said were filled with chlorine gas. One cylinder was found on the roof of a damaged building where over two dozen bodies were photographed. The other lay on a bed on the upper floor of a nearby house below a hole in the roof. The inspectors were able to check the scene because Syrian troops drove rebel fighters out of the area a few days after the alleged gas attack.

Assessing the damage to the cylinder casings and to the roofs, the inspectors considered the hypothesis that the cylinders had been dropped from Syrian government helicopters, as the rebels claimed. All but one member of the team concurred with Henderson in concluding that there was a higher probability that the cylinders had been placed manually. Henderson did not go so far as to suggest that opposition activists on the ground had staged the incident, but this inference could be drawn. Nevertheless Henderson’s findings were not mentioned in the published OPCW report.

The staging scenario has long been promoted by the Syrian government and its Russian protectors, though without producing evidence. By contrast Henderson and the new whistleblower appear to be completely non-political scientists who worked for the OPCW for many years and would not have been sent to Douma if they had strong political views. They feel dismayed that professional conclusions have been set aside so as to favour the agenda of certain states.

Alex, the new whistleblower, said his aim in going public was not to undermine the OPCW, most of whose investigators are objective scientists, but to persuade the organisation’s leadership to allow the Douma team to put forward their findings and answer questions at the week-long annual conference of member states which starts on November 25. “Most of the Douma team felt the two reports on the incident, the Interim Report and the Final Report, were scientifically impoverished, procedurally irregular and possibly fraudulent”, he said. Behind his call for the Douma inspectors to address the next OPCW conference was the hope that thereby the watchdog would “demonstrate transparency, impartiality and independence”.

He told me “Ian and I wanted to have this issue investigated and hopefully resolved internally, rather than exposing the failings of the Organisation in public, so we exhausted every internal avenue possible including submission of all the evidence of irregular behaviour to the Office of Internal Oversight. The request for an internal investigation was refused and every other attempt to raise our concerns was stone walled. Our failed efforts to get management to listen went on over a period of nearly nine months. It was only after we realised the internal route was impossible that we decided to go public”.

Within days of rebel-supplied videos of dead children and adults in the aftermath of the alleged attack in Douma Francois DeLattre, France’s representative at the UN Security Council, said the videos and photos showed victims with “symptoms of a potent nerve agent combined with chlorine gas”.

The Douma fact-finding team quickly discovered this was wrong. Blood and other biological samples taken from alleged victims examined in Turkey (where some had fled after government forces regained control of Douma in mid-April) showed no evidence of nerve agents. Nor was there any in the surrounding buildings or vegetation in Douma. As the Interim Report, published on July 6 2018, put it: “No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties”.

The next sentence said “Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found”. The indirect reference to chlorine was reported in many media as proof of the use of lethal gas. According to Alex there were huge internal arguments at the OPCW before the Interim report was released. Chlorinated organic chemicals (COCs) are present in the natural environment so one crucial point in discovering what actually happened at Douma was to measure the amount in the locations where the two cylinders were found and in the other parts of the two buildings and the street outside.

As Alex put it, “if the finding of these chemicals at the alleged site is to be used as an indicator that chlorine gas was present in the atmosphere, they should at least be shown to be present at levels significantly higher than what is present in the environment already”.

But when the analysis of these key levels came back from the laboratories the results were kept with Sami Barrek, a Tunisian who was the Duma fact-finding mission’s leader. Against normal expectations they were not passed on to the inspector who was drafting the OPCW’s interim report on Douma.

The inspector did, however, have the analysis from the samples of blood, hair, and other biological data from eleven alleged victims who had gone from Douma to Turkey. In no case did the samples reveal any relevant chemicals. On this basis he wrote in his report that the signs and symptoms of victims were not consistent with poisoning from chlorine. Instead of an attack producing multiple fatalities there had been “a non chemical-related event”, it said.

The language was low-key, in part, as Alex put it, because of the tension and anxiety involved when evidence doesn’t match what it is thought that management wants to hear. But the implications of implying a non-chemical event were dramatic. Like the engineering report, it hinted that the Douma incident may have been staged by opposition activists. Alex described it as “the elephant in the room which no-one dared mention explicitly”.

When the inspector’s report was submitted to senior management, silence ensued. A few weeks later on the eve of the expected publication the inspector who had drafted the report discovered that management was going to issue a redacted version on June 22 2018 without the knowledge of most of the Douma Fact-Finding Mission. Its conclusions contradicted the inspector’s version. By then the inspector had learnt that the results of the quantitative analysis of the samples from the allegedly attacked buildings had been delivered to management from the test laboratories but not passed on to the inspectors. He got sight of the results which indicated that the levels of COCs were much lower than what would be expected in environmental samples. They were comparable to and even lower than those given in the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on recommended permitted levels of trichlorophenol and other COCs in drinking water. The redacted version of the report made no mention of the findings.

Alex described this omission as “deliberate and irregular”. “Had they been included, the public would have seen that the levels of COCs found were no higher than you would expect in any household environment”, he said.

The inspector who drafted the original report was furious when he realised it was to be replaced by a doctored management version. He wrote an email of complaint to the OPCW’s director general. The DG was Ahmet Uzumcu, a Turkish diplomat but his chef de cabinet, the man considered to have the most power in the OPCW on day-to-day issues was Bob Fairweather, a British career diplomat. (He has since been succeeded by Sebastien Braha, a diplomat from another anti-Assad government, France). In his email the inspector complained that it was wrong for the new report to describe the levels of COCs as high. He insisted that his original 105-page report be published.

This request was rejected but Sami Barrek, the team leader, was put in charge of replacing the doctored version with what turned out to be a toned-down but still misleading report. During the editing four of the Douma inspectors, including Ian Henderson, the engineering expert, had managed to get Barrek to agree that the low levels of COCs should be mentioned. On the day before the new publication date, July 6, they found that the levels were again being omitted.

On July 4 there was another intervention. Fairweather, the chef de cabinet, invited several members of the drafting team to his office. There they found three US officials who were cursorily introduced without making clear which US agencies they represented. The Americans told them emphatically that the Syrian regime had conducted a gas attack, and that the two cylinders found on the roof and upper floor of the

building contained 170 kilograms of chlorine. The inspectors left Fairweather’s office, feeling that the invitation to the Americans to address them was unacceptable pressure and a violation of the OPCW’s declared principles of independence and impartiality.

Two days later the interim report was released. That morning, Alex recalled, “a senior colleague told us: ‘First floor [management] says that for the OPCW’s credibility we have to have a smoking gun”. Meanwhile, Fairweather asked the inspectors if he could get back the emails of complaint, including any which had been put into the trash folder. They complied.

After Alex’s briefing I emailed Fairweather with a request that he explain why he had facilitated the US officials’ meeting with the inspectors as well as why he had recalled emails. He did not reply.

The final Douma report which was published in March this year also failed to give any quantitative analysis of the COC samples. But its thrust went much further than the interim report. It stated that the OPCW concluded that the evidence from the Douma investigation provides “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place”.

Alex argued that the concept of “reasonable grounds” was undefined. What should have been done in the report, he said, was to set out alternative hypotheses for what had occurred in Douma and then assess the balance of probabilities of the various options and conclude which was the most likely.

This is what was done in Henderson’s report on the provenance of the two cylinders.

I asked the OPCW’s media office to explain why the COC levels were excluded from the interim and final reports but they did not respond. Asked whether the inspectors would be permitted to address the conference of member states, they also did not respond.

An open letter to every delegate at the forthcoming OPCW conference calling for the inspectors to be heard has been signed by

Jose Bustani, first Director General of the OPCW
Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator (Iraq)
George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury
Scott Ritter, UNSCOM Weapons Inspector 1991-1998.
Noam Chomsky, Emeritus Professor, MIT.
John Pilger, Journalist and documentary film maker
Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
Oliver Stone, Film Director, Producer and Writer.

Jonathan Steele is the former chief foreign correspondent for the Guardian.

The post The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia

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Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

“War is a racket. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.”

This sounds like a modern day comment from the US far left, but the source is hardly that. It’s from a man who was the most decorated Marine ever at the time of his death. He was an expert on the topic. He served in WW I as well as the Mexican Revolution. Smedley Butler was doomed to be a largely forgotten voice in the rush to gloss over the true causes of war and regime change. He pointed out the techniques used to win public approval and the subsequent serving of the corporate needs by entering these ever-repeating violent conflicts. He described his military career as that of “a high class muscleman for Big Business, Wall Street, and the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

This man mapped it all out for us around a hundred years ago, yet the jingoism prevails. The latest bipolar foreign policy evidenced in Bolivia is just the latest chapter of the US pushing for and actively installing those who would further the interests of Big Business. Always at the cost of the poor. In this case, the cure for the bipolar policy is probably going to be lithium.

The moment that leaders begin to step out of a corporate-friendly lane, shit gets real. Fast. A treasured ally becomes the perpetrator of election fraud or the nexus of humanitarian affronts to their people. True, pretty much anyone who ascends to a leadership position has issues that can be dissected and critiqued, but even the most horrible actions can be quietly dismissed as quickly as a bone saw can dispatch a pudgy journalist to pieces—if you play the game. Amazing and graphic affronts to decency are ignored when the leaders keep the machinery oiled. Literally oiled.

Gaddafi was a bit of a back and forth US darling until he flirted too much with a gold-based dinar currency aimed at competing with the petrodollar. But things are much better now that he was murdered in the open-air and now Libya can be an open-air slave market. “We came, we saw, he died.” Hilarious. Now those that took over have some very easily refinable oil, if not refined manners.

Saddam Hussein was a similar friend to the US, even an ally– his behavior during the war with Iran was considered nifty. I don’t recall the US going in when he gassed the Kurds either. Maybe someone in DC frowned? Those Kurds sure don’t ever get a fair deal, do they? I can understand why they only trust mountains. And the moves that seemed to be regime threatening in Iraq involved that pesky petrodollar again.

I guess we’ve moved to a greener foreign policy when lithium regime change is replacing petroleum regime change. Thank you green economy.

Didn’t Morales recently step out of a joint deal  with a German firm to export lithium (which Bolivia claims to have over 70% of the world’s reserves)?  I think he did that like a second before he was discarded. Nationalized resources are not okay and the global south is supposed to be a poverty-stricken supplier. Teslas are for well-heeled Northern Californians, not Bolivians wearing those bowler hats! Ridiculous.

And all through the meddling, as well as the overt actions that cause increased misery in the world, the US public largely continues to believe in it all. The examples are all around us.

Something I noticed recently: This Veteran’s Day a spot on PBS spoke to issues of Native American participation in the military. The slant was broadly complimentary to military service (duh, of course it was on V-Day), but it was perhaps one of the worst widespread examples of Stockholm Syndrome I’ve seen. They were glorifying the sacrifices made by Natives in serving the US government, taking these dignified and proud individuals and supplanting the US Imperialism on the young people who had signed up. Don’t get me wrong, the tribal members were totally having it, deriving enormous self-worth from the experience. Even at the expense of PTSD and lost family members. It was a mind-fuck for sure. I worked on the White Mountain Apache reservation long ago and saw the manipulation first-hand–the desire many had to fit into the broader culture that had back-stabbed them and their ancestors. The end of the piece did a bit on individuals fighting against fracking and made mention that Standing Rock didn’t stop the pipeline, that the government prevailed, but it was framed like this was part of a personal journey for the veterans.  I would say this was an example of a warrior culture using that power to try to protect something sacred, the environment—to battle for something that matters, not being hijacked to go kill ________ (insert poor people of choice in latest military misadventure). It was a confused piece, made to tug at the heartstrings. Clearly you can be a minority in this country if you are a useful part of the machine is what I got out of it. This is how consent is manufactured, of course. You are revered if you do what you are supposed to do in that it helps the business of business. They get control of resources and you might get a body bag, but they will frame it as beautiful sacrifice and those of us who aren’t buying it are the ogres who hate rainbows,sunshine and motherhood. And this is just one small arena of propaganda.

The corporate agenda will continue to be pushed and despite all evidence, the average American won’t wonder why one ally can perpetrate horrific acts and another gets cast out for Trumped up reasons. Hell, most people are so tired they can’t think straight, let alone think critically.

Bolivia had a record of success in lifting many out of poverty and illiteracy. This will certainly go the other direction now that Jeanine Añez is at the helm. She seems to be quite adversarial to the indigenous, and they comprise 65% of Bolivia’s population. She has the saccharine hucksterism of a 40’s bible salesman. Definitely Trump ally material, maybe even Trump wife material?

Much like the scientific process strives to look towards the truth of how things really work, Smedley Butler gave us a framework that should be taken seriously—he described correctly how it all works and how these similar situations keep producing repeatable miserable results that keep the world in line for business extraction. He was a principled man who deserves to be remembered—his prescient warning regarding additional regime meddling and outright war have not lost the luster of truth. It’s going on as we speak.

 

The post A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Get Trump First, But Then…

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Photograph Source: Paul Sableman – CC BY 2.0

Were Donald Trump and the Republicans who support him slightly less relentless in giving reasons to despair for the human race, it would be a lot harder than it now is to maintain a proper perspective.

Trump and those hideous GOP House members defending him on TV are so execrable and pose such a clear and present danger to so much that is crucial to maintain, that we dare not forget that even mainstream Democrats, for all their many failings, are still by far less odious.

Therefore, with the impeachment hearings that Democrats are leading now bringing to center stage the several Cold War narratives they have been actively promoting since even before Barack Obama’s second term, Trump’s announcement, that he intends, if he can, to terminate the DACA program and deport all the “dreamers” his police can round up, is not entirely without a silver lining.

Lacking moral outrages of that degree or worse, people intent on keeping an annihilating nuclear war at bay might find themselves in danger of forgetting which party actually is the lesser evil.

Democrats, after all, have been working overtime, along with the base and servile “experts” and media flunkies on the liberal cable channels, to promote myopic and flagrantly misleading understandings of Russian and Ukrainian politics and history, while doing all they can to revive the anti-Russian animosities that flourished on the American side during the original Cold War.

To hear them tell it, the United States is a paragon of international morality and respect for international law that seeks only to make the lands and peoples of the world better off, while “Putin,” their term of choice for the Russian government, almost makes Stalin look good.

The level of hypocrisy is stupefying, as is the degree of ignorance required to buy into it.

But it does help donors and party stalwarts sustain the dead center of their wretched party, even if only by keeping the national conversation focused more on Trump’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” and his all too obvious unfitness for the office he holds than on the ways that Democrats, from the final days of the Carter presidency on, have helped make Trump’s rise to power possible and even inevitable.

Ordinary citizens who buy into the line that the only way to rid the world of Trump and Trumpism is for the Democrats to field candidates like Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg, candidates who reek of “moderation,” have a lot to answer for too.

Questions about how to rid the world of Trumpism, and how to assure that, under more capable hands, something like it or worse does not come rebounding back, get short shrift too, again to the advantage of the Democratic Party establishment.

To be sure, Trump is worse by many orders of magnitude, but this is a “high crime and misdemeanor” in its own right – perhaps not in the quasi-legal “originalist” sense that has somehow come to dominate our political discourse, but according to the simple meaning of the words.

Of course, the most urgent task now is to get Trump – even if that involves tactical alliances with Cold War revivalists of the Clinton and Obama variety. Much good came from the anti-fascist popular fronts of the late thirties; something like that is called for now.

But to keep it all from going astray, even as opposition to Trump’s reelection takes precedence, it is crucial, at the same time, to keep another eye on another prize – the radical transformation and reconstruction of the Democratic Party.

Trump and Trumpism must go; so too must the Democratic Party “as we know it.” These exigencies are distinct, but notwithstanding the efforts of corporate media to promote the opposite view they can be mutually reinforcing. It is better on both counts when they are.

***

With that thought in mind, and with the 2020 election about to suck up even more political oxygen than it already does, it is timely to point out that there are only two Democrats contending for their party’s presidential nomination who deserve to be taken seriously. Of the two, I prefer Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren, notwithstanding the fact that, being roughly eight years younger, she stands a better chance of keeping at it for a full eight years.

For all Sanders’ talk of a “political revolution,” efforts to implement genuinely new departures in American politics will take a lot longer than that to secure. Even if all goes better than we have any right to expect, a one term president could barely move what can only be a protracted process beyond its opening phases; other things equal, a two-term president could do better.

Also, I fear that Sanders’ election would risk unleashing an anti-Semitic scourge of a kin that had been practically unthinkable in the United States since Nazism suffered an historic defeat at the end of World War II.

This would not have been anything like the problem it now is had the DNC not rigged the nomination process in 2016 in Hillary Clinton’s favor. Had the process been more fair, Sanders would likely have become the nominee.

Then, more likely than not, he would have gone on to see to it that Trump would go back to being an ordinary hyper-rich sleazeball, and “the darker angels of our nature” would likely now be as neutered and inert as they recently were.

But, with a little help from her friends, Clinton won the nomination, and so, to everybody’s amazement, including his own, Trump became president.

In that capacity, he soon started turning over the rocks under which long dormant, effectively moribund, anti-Semitic demons slept.

With friends like Sheldon Adelson and others of his ilk, advisors like Steven Miller, and grandchildren fathered by Jared Kushner, that may not have been his intention.

But anti-Semitism was bound to revive once Trump’s vile words and viler deeds directed against Muslims, Hispanics, and black and brown people generally let vileness reign.

Those are reasons to prefer Warren, but I prefer Sanders, nevertheless.

The main reason why I do is that I think he is more instinctively on the right side of the long dormant but never even remotely superseded class struggle that has defined world politics since the days of the French Revolution; the right side is, of course, the left side. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the left side has been mainly the side of the working class.

My belief that Sanders is more securely there than Warren has more to do with intangible atmospherics than substance. At a policy level, there is not much light between them.

The difference that is talked about most is that he is, by his own account, a “democratic socialist,” while she says that she favors an indefinite continuation of a modified version of the existing capitalist order. Her more or less self-declared aim is, like FDR’s, to save capitalism from the capitalists.

Like FDR too, she, as much as he, elicits the hostility of those capitalists whose greed and venality put capitalism at risk; also, like FDR, she welcomes their hatred.

Sanders, I would expect, welcomes it too – as much or more.

In FDR’s case, the hatred was undergirded, in part, by the fact that he was, and was perceived to be, a “class traitor.” No one can accuse either Sanders or Warren of that. Both came from humble beginnings.

But this does not cause the rich and heinous to hate them any less. Neither does it cause the Democratic Party establishment to fear them less.

What a pitiful lot those Democrats are; just watch them on the liberal cable channels and read what they have to say in The Washington Post and The New York Times. They claim that their great fear is losing to Trump; what they actually fear is losing power to their party’s rising leftwing.

Their fear is so great that even one or two billionaires have thrown their hats in the ring. Imagine a President Michael Bloomberg, and cringe accordingly; only the likes of a Thomas Friedman, the Times’ sententious nitwit extraordinaire, could go for that! Now add, God help us, Deval Patrick to the list.

Listen Democrats! Get serious! Even if all you want is to defeat Trump, the way to do it is not to restore the conditions that created him. It is to start moving the country forward again.

***

Ultimately, the differences between Sanders and Warren are more verbal than substantive, but they are important nevertheless.

Sanders, not Warren, has put socialism – the word and therefore potentially some of the ideas behind it — on the mainstream agenda. Bravo to him for that. This is reason enough to prefer him to her.

It must be said, though, that, strictly speaking, Warren is the one who gets it right. Sanders’ “socialism” and her “capitalism” come to much the same, essentially capitalist, thing. They both advocate policies that have socialist aspects, but neither has proposed anything that would fundamentally alter underlying capitalist property relations.

Sometimes nowadays, Sanders – and Warren too, though less so – are called “social democrats.” This is not exactly wrong, but, applied to them, the term is anachronistic; it can also be misleading.

From the 1880s until the First World War and the Russian Revolution put European and then world history on a new track, most socialists in Europe and elsewhere, including the United States, were members of political parties affiliated with the Second, the Socialist, International. They called themselves and others called them “Social Democrats.”

After the Bolshevik led October (November in the new calendar) Revolution and later the formation of a Third, Communist, International, the term came to designate political formations descended from those Second International political parties that had rejected, and often actively opposed, Third International Bolshevism.

Before long, the term also came to describe political parties with different histories. This would include some that did not even exist when the Second International split apart. The term nowadays also designates generic political orientations associated with the Social Democratic movement.

For the most part, Social Democratic parties were and often still are closely affiliated with the labor movements of their respective countries. They were generally also nominally anti-capitalist.

Thus, they would sometimes endorse public ownership of principal means of production, though, in practice, this seldom amounted to more than helping private capital out when it was too weak to get by on its own.

Nevertheless, for a long time, they did try to maintain the pretense that their long-term goal was to overcome capitalism, not to save it. Almost without exception, they no longer try anymore. There is still a thriving Social Democratic left in northern Europe and elsewhere, but contemporary Social Democracy has ceased to be anti-capitalist, even in theory only.

This rightward drift is not as extreme as might appear. In large part, Social Democratic anti-capitalism was less an aspiration than a gimmick, concocted to keep workers who wanted a genuinely socialist economic order from defecting to Communist parties believed, not too unreasonably, to outflank them from the left.

Of course, before long, those parties became bureaucratized, denatured, and neutered, their revolutionary origins amounting to little or nothing at all. But they still served as beacons of hope for workers and others around the world, and their existence kept Social Democracy on course. After Communism imploded, that could no longer be the case; Social Democrats no longer needed to dissimulate.

But even when the need to seem anti-capitalist was at its strongest, Social Democrats seldom opposed capitalist market relations as such. They did however strongly support the establishment of state institutions to do what markets can only do poorly or not at all. They still do. This is enough, it seems, to make our leading capitalists and pro-capitalist ideologues tremble at the very thought of Social Democracy coming to the USA.

Sanders talks a lot about “democratic socialism” in the Scandinavian countries; they are, it seems, his lodestar. Good for him. Their Social Democratic achievements have lately fallen on hard times, and their Social Democracy is not quite what it used to be, but the Scandinavian countries are still home to some of the most progressive and successful egalitarian policies and institutional arrangements on the planet — even now, with forward progress stalled by the global neoliberal turn, and with xenophobia on the rise there, just as it is everywhere else.

Strictly speaking, “democratic socialism” and “Social Democracy” are not the same. The democratic socialist societies that Sanders – and militants in the DSA, the Democratic Socialists of America, and most other self-declared socialists of the so-called millennial generation – are bastions of Social Democracy, but by calling their political orientation “democratic socialist,” the intent is not so much to stress that side of them, but rather to contrast the socialism they defend with the authoritarian socialisms of the former Communist countries and with the several self-described socialisms of the less developed world.

Democratic socialism is more of a political than an economic designation; in Social Democracy the emphasis is reversed.

Perhaps when self-described democratic socialists speak of “socialism,” they are taking Social Democracy for granted, while homing in on the political forms of the states that sustain it. This would seem theoretically impoverishing inasmuch as no one nowadays defends Soviet-style Communism, but then, absent a continuously developing socialist tradition, it can become necessary, especially after a long hiatus, in whole or in part, to reinvent the wheel.

Or perhaps, wittingly or not, Sanders and the others are tapping into some of the most advanced strains of Scandinavian Social Democracy in its glory years. For a while in the 1970s, Swedish socialists did envision the Social Democratic advances they proposed – using pension fund money to buy up shares in capitalist enterprises, instituting forms of worker self-management in capitalist and state owned firms, equilibrating salaries – as ways of peacefully euthanizing the old capitalist order, and moving on, gradually but inexorably, to bona fide socialist property relations.

With the demise of the three decades long period of capitalist expansion that followed the end of the Second World War, that experiment was, unfortunately but inevitably, cut short. It was then done in more definitively by the worldwide neoliberal turn.

In any case, Sanders’ socialism is more like an up-dated version of the most progressive strains of New Deal liberalism than of Swedish or any other form of Social Democracy. Warren’s capitalism is even more plainly cut from that cloth.

Fearing a return to Depression era economic conditions after World War II, and seeing no other way to avoid that outcome except by maintaining military spending at or near wartime levels, American presidents of both parties, military Keynesians all, supported what Dwight Eisenhower called “the military industrial complex”– by keeping inordinately large chunks of public monies flowing their way.

If only Eisenhower had stood up against what he warned against while he still could have done something about it! Instead, he waited until the very last moment of his final term to speak out. This was hardly to his credit. Nevertheless, it puts him way ahead of most other contemporaneous Democrats and Republicans.

For the Pentagon brass and the death merchants to have their way, they needed a worthy enemy, frightening enough to keep a public cheated out of much of their nation’s economic surplus on board. The Soviet Union was good for that.

Thus, Truman’s Fair Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier, and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society strayed from the course Roosevelt had set, encouraging a transformation of New Deal liberalism into Cold War Anti-Communism.

Roosevelt’s Vice President in his third term, Henry Wallace, was a liberal in the best tradition of the Roosevelt era. Had conservatives in the Democratic Party not prevailed upon FDR in 1944 to run Truman for Vice President in his stead, or had Cold War anti-Communists not quashed his run for the White House in 1948 on the Progressive Party ticket, who knows what perils might have been avoided, and how much better off the world would now be.

However, Cold Warriors got their way instead. The Great Society did advance New Deal style liberalism in domestic affairs; it even partly overcame the modus vivendi that had existed between New Dealers and Southern white supremacists from the dawn of the Roosevelt era. But Johnson, like Kennedy before him, was an unreconstructed Cold Warrior. It is both fitting and telling that his best efforts ultimately came to grief in the jungles of Vietnam.

The original Cold War ended, or seemed to end, when Communism imploded, and the Soviet Union split apart. The threat to our Masters of War, and to an economic system dependent upon wasteful and socially maleficent public expenditures was palpable. However, our economic elites and our political class succeeded somehow in keeping the anticipated “peace dividend” at bay, and keeping the bottom lines of major capitalist firms on solid ground.

Russia did not fare nearly as well. Homegrown kleptocrats and liberal ideologues — some of them supported by American money, others actually coming from the United States – exacerbated the inevitable problems inherent in that country’s regression to capitalism.

The former Soviet republics endured similar difficulties, made worse by the fascists and quasi-fascists, in Ukraine and elsewhere, let loose by the demise of Soviet control.

And so, in the Clinton era and for a few years into the tenure of Bush 43, Russia was, for all practical purposes, a basket case that not even the most ardent anti-Communist or the most venal military-industrial complex promoter could turn into a credible threat.

But that was then. Now that Russia is at least somewhat back on track – though still with an economy smaller than Italy’s – Truman, not Wallace, style liberal foreign policy has returned with a vengeance, even as, on the domestic front, Democrats have become so profoundly coopted by Wall Street and corporate America that even Eisenhower Republicans look good in comparison.

If you have the stomach for it, watch a few minutes of MSNBC or CNN in the evenings, and see what I mean.

***

In his many years in public life, Sanders has sided with the U.S. foreign policy establishment more often than not – he is hardly a principled anti-imperialist like. say, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. He is no Henry Wallace either.

I am fairly confident that, throughout most of her life, Warren was as bad or worse. It is hard to say for sure however, since, before being elected to the Senate in 2012, she really had no involvement with foreign affairs, and she has not shown a great deal of interest since.

On this too, then, my slight preference for Sanders is more atmospheric than substantive.

It is also on that basis that I believe that, with the possible exception of Tulsi Gabbard, who has no chance at all to be the Democratic nominee, either of them would be better than any of the other, more “moderate,” contenders.

The only sure thing is that anti-Trumpers – and who except the most deplorable of our fellow citizens is not an anti-Trumper nowadays! –would do well to bear in mind how, in 2016 and perhaps even still, Trump’s appeal depended, to at least some extent, on the fact that, to his credit, he was less bellicose and interventionist than his very bellicose and interventionist rival, even if it was already plain three years ago that nothing much of substance would come of it.

By making impeachment hinge on fatuous mainstream foreign policy establishment narratives about Russian malevolence and plucky, virtuous Ukrainians, not a fascist among them, yearning to breathe free — confabulations that Clinton shamelessly promoted and that she and her co-thinkers continue to endorse — Congressional Democrats are again doing what might otherwise seem impossible: making the greater evil seem the lesser of the two.

Making the Democratic Party part of the solution, not part of the problem – not, of course, as much as the GOP is, but still to a considerable extent — will be no easy feat. But with the impeachment process now finally on and the caucuses and primaries not too far off, the time to start working on that, since yesterday is no longer possible, is now.

The post Get Trump First, But Then… appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton

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Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

US president Donald Trump “elevated his political interest above the national interest and demanded foreign interference in an American election,” Peter Beinart asserts at The Atlantic. “What’s received less attention is what the scandal reveals about Joe Biden: He showed poor judgment because his staff shielded him from hard truths. If that sounds faintly familiar, it’s because that same tendency underlay Hillary Clinton’s email woes in 2016.”

Beinart admits that Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s service as a very well-paid member on the board of a Ukrainian energy company at the same time his father’s portfolio included “fighting corruption in the Ukrainian energy industry” was “a problem.”

But it’s not Joe’s fault, see? His staffers didn’t want to confront him about the conflict of interest. They “feared the vice president’s wrath,” and thought him “too fragile” after one son’s death to hear “upsetting news” about the other’s conduct.

Ditto Hillary Clinton. As Secretary of State, she was briefed on (and signed papers agreeing to abide by) State Department protocols on the handling of classified information and the use of non-government email systems.  But Beinart lets Clinton off the hook because her chief of staff and other aides failed to “forcefully convey” her obligations to her.

Here’s Beinart’s case — one also made by other Democratic partisans — boiled down to its essentials:

When Republicans act criminally and/or corruptly, it’s because they’re criminal and/or corrupt.

When Democrats act criminally and/or corruptly, it’s because they’re just poor, temperamental, out-of-their-element naifs who of course have no criminal or corrupt intent, but whose staffers — whether negligently, or out of concern for feelings or fear of offending — neglect to button their winter coats for them, take them by their little mittened hands, and carefully walk them across all those busy, dangerous legal/ethical streets.

There are two obvious problems with this double standard.

One is that for the last three years we’ve been told over and over (by, among others, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden) that Trump is a loose cannon, an eternal man-child who lacks “adults in the room” to help him navigate the intricacies of governing. So why shouldn’t Trump receive the same “Blame the Aides and Get Out of Jail Free Card” that Beinart tries to play on behalf of the other two?

The other is that in arguing that Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton aren’t responsible for their actions because they’re too stupid to discern right from wrong and too simultaneously mean and emotionally delicate to be TOLD right from wrong, Beinart is necessarily also arguing that Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton were and are, by definition, unfit to entrust with responsibilities as weighty as those that go with, say, the presidency of the United States.

 

The post Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer

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Photograph Source: Dave Hosford – CC BY 2.0

Dear Dreamer,

You may not even remember the journey across the border. Maybe you tracked through a desert.  Maybe you hid in a trunk. Maybe you arrived in an airport, your passport stamped with a visa. Maybe you came here all by yourself to reunite with your mom or dad. Maybe you were excited, maybe scared. And, in the end, you stayed.

You enrolled in an American school. You grew up eating Cheerios and grilled cheese, playing softball, listening to hip hop. Then one day you were told that you don’t belong. That you are illegal. You need to go.

But go where? This is the country you know. This is your home.

Culturally integrated but legally excluded, you are assimilated and alienated at once.

How daunting it must be to realize that once you graduate from high school, you will find yourself barred from government financial aid, student loans, and legal employment. How frightening, to contemplate the possibility of being forced into an underground economy of temporary jobs, unfair wages, unsafe working conditions. How hard, to watch your American-born classmates move on with their lives, while you watch over your shoulder for cop cars driving by. How exhausting to live in fear. Fear of arbitrary detention, deportation. Fear of being separated from your family. Fear of what the future may or may not hold.

How hurtful it must be to be taught the American Dream, yet told you are not to dream it. To be told that you are overcrowding the schools. That you are stealing jobs. That you are unwanted. That by the virtue of your existence here in this country, you are a criminal.

How infuriating it must be to see the politicians fuel the anti-immigrant rhetoric which denies your humanity and puts you at risk of hate crimes.

It’s difficult enough being a teenager, searching for yourself, coming to terms with your identity, clashing with the world around you. And you come of age to find your rite of passage interrupted, rights denied, life turned upside down.

You might see some of the young immigrants drop out of school, join gangs, abuse drugs. In their faces, you might recognize the feelings of inferiority, worthlessness, hopelessness. You may even resonate with their depression, anxiety, and anger. Yet you also know that these are not personal mental and behavioral health challenges alone. They are symptoms of systematic oppression and humiliation.

To protect yourself and your family you have been advised to remain small, submissive, resigned. To become invisible. When the system requires your self-negation in this manner, fatalism is only appropriate.

But no. You, dear Dreamer, have proved something else. Together with your fellow Dreamers—who are from all different regions of the world, all religions and races—you have risen to announce that you are “undocumented and unafraid.” Evoking the best of the Civil Rights Movement, you have boarded buses, gathered at sit-ins, marched to Washington, DC to speak to legislators. You have protested. You have resisted. You made it clear that you will not be shoved into the shadows, you will not be silenced.

You have risked deportation, you have risked everything, so that your presence could expose the invisible violence of intolerance, discrimination, oppression, exploitation—the deeply embedded systems and structures of xenophobia—in America.

And since you were told that the American Dream does not apply to you, you spelled out your own DREAM: Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. Introducing the DREAM Act to the Congress you asked for a chance to earn legal status by pursuing a college education or serving in the US military. You celebrated the progress the legislation made and grieved its setbacks. You must have been weary after all the appeals and denials over the years, but you carried on.

Though you knew that it was not a long-term solution with a path to citizenship, in 2012 you welcomed increased opportunities for social and economic incorporation with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). You trusted the government with your personal information and applied to be one of the 800,000 Dreamers to benefit from the program’s protection. Then you spent the past two years with the threat of its termination. And now you await its fate at the Supreme Court.

In the face of these challenges, you have proved to be a role model for all Americans with your demands for social justice and dignity.

The United States of America needs citizens like you, Dreamer. Citizens who are conscious of this country’s history of racial, ethnic, and economic struggles. Citizens who are committed to the democratic principles of freedom and equality. Citizens who are socially and politically responsible. Who are revolutionary. Resilient. Who believe in the power of community. Who invest in civic imagination. Citizens who stand in their power to keep this nation of immigrants honest and accountable.

The post The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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