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Chauvin Lost, but the Murderers Won

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Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The verdict is in. The murderers have won. On April 20, a jury of 12 people managed to swim against the tide of white supremacy, and convict Derek Chauvin of murdering a black man. That’s twelve votes for the party of human life.

But during the time of the trial, the party of murderers gained more votes than that. From the middle of March to the end of April, eight people of color, mostly African American, were killed by the police. They did this in teams, as if they were really serious about what they were doing. If there were at least two cops involved in each of these 8 killings (in some there were more), that makes at least 16 votes for murder against the 12 votes cast by the jury. Murder won, 16 – 12. If this had been an election, the party of murderers would have gained some seats. And the party of human life would remain a minority.

The murderers win even against the demonstrated voice of the people. For weeks in April, for months in 2020, for years during the 21st century, people have taken to the streets demanding that the police stop murdering people, and especially black people. Not only does it not stop, but the rate of killing goes up, as if to comfort the one taken to court.

Indeed, the court process even seems half-hearted. The city of Minneapolis couldn’t bring itself to charge premeditated murder, even though Chauvin took Floyd out of the hands of other cops in order to throw him on the street and kill him. “In order to” means with intention aforethought. That’s first degree murder. The prosecution tried to compensate for such hierarchical niceties by charging both 2nd and 3rd degree murder, figuring that half the world seeing him charged would be sufficient.

Sufficient for what? Certainly not sufficient to preserve human life in this society. Eight other people lost their lives to the same organization that was brought to trial in the person of Chauvin. In the shadow of that additional killing, the prosecution still had to play the jury odds, and go for 2nd degree murder rather than first. It won the bet, but lost the game. Second degree was sufficient to get 12 votes against a government agency that ceaselessly kills.

What kind of government ceaselessly kills its own people? Is that the government that many refer to as “our democracy”? In “this democracy,” the party of the murderers gains more seats in policy making than the party of human life. A society cannot be a democracy if its government goes around killing its own people.

The party of human life, which is the party on the street saying “stop,” lost more than an election. Here’s a list of what we lost — I know I have missed a few.

* Andrew Brown was killed in North Carolina by police serving a search warrant on 4/21. He was shot in the back of the head while sitting in his car. The cops keep changing their story – from search warrant to arrest warrant.

* Isaiah Brown was shot by a cop in Virginia, responding to a 911 call, on 4/21. He had his phone in his hand, because he was still on his 911 call talking to the police dispatcher, when the cops arrived and shot him. You can guess what they said about his phone.

* Adam Toledo was shot in Chicago on March 29. The video of his killing was released on 4/19, with three different stories. The cop yells, “show me your hands.” He shows his hands, which are empty, and dies by gunfire.

* A young girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, was shot 4 times in Columbus, Ohio, standing around and arguing with other kids on the street, on April 2. She was shot without warning. It took the cop 4 seconds to kill her. Just another black girl, killed because a cop thought he saw a knife. Bullets, not words; the cops don’t think they can talk to black people without yelling at them, or giving commands.

* Daunte Wright was traffic-stopped for an air freshener hanging on his rearview mirror on 4/11, in a Minneapolis suburb. The story went from arbitrary stop to tail light to expired registration to bench warrant to … Too many stories to count on this one, especially the one about a cop mistaking a gun for a taser after 26 years on the force.

* Peyton Alexander Ham shot and killed, in Maryland, for having a BB gun on his lap, on 4/13. Ditto on the stories.

* Mario Gonzalez, harassed by police in Alameda, CA, on 4/27, doing nothing but standing around in a little park area. Two cops talk to him, but only to set him up for handcuffing. When he resists, they throw him down and he dies (a replay of Kayla Moore, re-enacted in public). The story that keeps changing is the alleged content of the 911 calls that the cops allegedly got.

* Anthony Alvarez was shot in Chicago in March, but the video was only released on 4/28. While dying, he asks, “why are you shooting me?” Ditto.

* Caron Nazario, in army camo uniform, is threatened with guns at a gas station in Windsor, VA, on 4/10. He wasn’t shot at, maybe because he mentioned he was on active duty. But you can’t point a loaded gun at someone without having that person’s death in your mind.

The police explanations all look alike. Toledo had a gun. Bryant had a knife. Andrew Brown had a knife, and drove his car threateningly at officers. Isaiah Brown had a gun. Peyton Ham had a gun. Alvarez had a gun. Caron Nazario had an attitude, and fled a traffic stop. Is this a crisis of reportage, or what?

Along with police reportage of the weapons they confront at every turn, they now even provide audio subtitles, voiced in the background of their lapel videos: “stop resisting,” “drop your weapon,” “show me your hands,” “get on the ground,” “get out of your car,” etc. We hear it even when it isn’t relevant. You can’t resist with two cops sitting on you. Nazario said he couldn’t get out of his car because it would mean unbuckling his seatbelt, and he was afraid they would see that motion as “reaching for a weapon” and shoot him.

Talk about crisis! They say that every crisis is a result of over-production. The Great Depression of 1929 was caused by an over-production of debt. The crash of 2008 was caused by an over production of subprime mortgages and their derivatives (mortgage-backed securities). The affordable housing crisis now suffered by low income people (displacement and exile from one’s hometown) is caused by an over-production of market rate housing and landlord opportunism in raising rents.

The police crisis is caused by an over-production of death. When government kills its own people (around 1100 a year, averaging around 3 a day), you have a police state. There’s an f-word for that.

And here’s what that f-word looks like. The cop who shot Jacob Blake on August 23, 2020, has been put back on police duty. He’s back out on the street, wearing a gun, and walking around with the departmental commendation for having pumped 7 slugs into the back of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI  — for no other reason than that Blake was not paying attention to him.

One might think that Chauvin was messed up mentally, with that icy stare in his eyes, knowing that what he was doing simply meant waiting for the man under his knee to turn into a thing. But think about the cop shooting Blake. He came upon a scene in Kenosha, and without asking anyone what was going on, pulled his gun and decided Blake was his target. Blake was walking to his car. Was he chosen as a target through some form of robotics, or AI, or obsession?

As Blake gets to his car to check on the well-being of his three kids sitting in it, this cop runs up to him, grabs his tee-shirt, and shoots him in the back 7 times.

Why did he have his gun out? Was it because he was a white cop in a black neighborhood? Surrounded by black people? Is that the automatic way the cops handle something like that? Now, he’s back on the street, with honorary membership in the murderers party, which amounts to approval that he did the right thing, and looking for his next “Blake.”

Jacob Blake was in his own neighborhood. He knew the people around there. There had been an argument between two women, both of whom he knew. He got out of his car and intervened in the argument, to de-escalate, to be care-giving, as membership in the human life party advocates. A cop arrives, and decides all on his own to follow his own machinic agenda.

It doesn’t matter what that agenda might have been; it was not based on the scene he came upon. He orders Blake to do something. It doesn’t matter what. When Blake keeps walking toward his car, going about his business, that act has been made into a crime. The cop has single-handedly made that a crime by giving Blake a command. The crime is disobedience, and it is what got all the other people on the list above shot and killed.

But the cop’s assumption is weird. By giving Blake a command, he has shifted Blake from being a member of civil society to being enlisted in a military organization. It is only in military style organizations that an enlisted person must instantly obey all orders given them by an officer. When a cop can punish a person for ignoring a direct order where no law enforcement is in process (which means no observable crime is being committed), that cop has shifted the person from civil society to military society without consent.

But it is not just any kind of militarized society. When the cop chasing Adam Toledo demanded that he stop and “show your hands,” Toledo stopped, turned around with his hands in the air, plainly visible, doing what the cop demanded. And the cop shot him. In other words, the cop’s commands were simply to change a moving target into a stationary target. That is what the f-word refers to. There is no sanctuary from it.

This is not “our democracy.” There is no democracy in a military organization. You take orders, period.

Blake didn’t pay attention to this cop standing in the middle of the street. The cop follows him to his car, which amounts to stalking in any law abiding society, and shoots him. Now, the cop is back out on the street, with license to do it again. It is police logic that assumes he will do it again. That’s why the cops are so adamant about taking criminals off the street, so that they won’t commit another crime.

Well, that explains why we have so many murdering cops. They get left out on the street.

After clearing the cop to go back on duty, the police chief in Kenosha said the officer “acted within the law and was consistent with training. … [He] was found to have been acting within policy and will not be subjected to discipline.” There you have it. By shooting a man in the back, the  cop was acting according to the law and according to police policy. It is not an accident; it is not a response to crisis; it is policy. That makes it premeditated.

However, the law that says a cop can shoot a man legitimately in the back is not a law that civil society lives by. We beg to differ. It is a law only the police live by. The next time a cop says anything about law enforcement, remember that the law for them is a different law than the law for us.

However, what kind of unbalanced mind could think that shooting someone in the back would transform them from being disobedience into someone who will follow orders? When you shoot someone, obedience becomes totally irrelevant, a non-issue. To kill someone to make them obey is nuts. And Chauvin has proven that you don’t even need a gun to be that obsessed.

But who do we become that we can’t take their guns away from them? The short answer is, we don’t have the power. We are subservient to the police. And we are stuck with mayors and judges and other cops who tell the police that belonging to the murderer’s party is okay.

Mario Gonzalez was simply walking around alone in a little park, not bothering any one. No crime was being committed, except for the one he “committed” by not being a white man. When they arrive, the police engage him in conversation, as if they could assume that he would trust them, as if the police have no history of violence against people of color. And sure enough, for unstated reasons, and with no regard for the absence of any need for law enforcement, they decide they are going to handcuff him (in violation of the Constitution – a deprivation without due process). Thus, they deprive him of his humanity (aka human rights). He resists. The cops actually talk to each other about having to “take him down.” They do so, and in the process, he dies.

A solitary harmless man is swept off the face of the earth because of the arbitrary and biased assault by agents of the government. Once again, with semi-religious eugenic fervor, agents of “their democracy” decide who will live and who will not live.

Who do we become, with police like this? We have an evaluation to make. In the week following Chauvin’s conviction for murder, the cops in the US have killed more black people. Do the police, as individuals born in this society and raised by it, represent it? Or do we represent them? Under whose auspices do they become monsters bent on killing people?

Do you think that is a harsh judgment? Show me the cops who have dedicated themselves to ending all police murders in the US.

The post Chauvin Lost, but the Murderers Won appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

AT&T’s “Harvesting” Scam

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Photograph Source: Mike Mozart – CC BY 2.0

If you live in California and still use legacy Plain Old Telephone Service (“POTS”) from AT&T, you are likely getting ripped-off big time. And if you are an AT&T POTS customer anywhere in the U.S., you are also likely getting ripped-off.

In April 2019, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) undertook an exhaustive examination of the policies and practices of Pacific Bell Telephone Company (dba AT&T California [AT&T]) and Verizon California Inc. (dba Frontier California) and found they ”consistently failed to meet existing service quality metrics.”

“AT&T appears to have adopted a ‘harvesting strategy’ for its legacy POTS services,” the CPUC noted. It added, “the company has ceased active marketing of POTS, has degraded POTS service quality, and instead relies upon successive price increases and customer inertia to maintain its declining POTS revenue stream. [CPUC/17-18] Ars Technica reports that the study was “written in April 2019 but kept private because data submitted by the carriers was deemed confidential and proprietary.” When it was finally released, it was heavily redacted.

The CPUC’s assessment is a straight forward indictment:

AT&T’s overarching approach to its stewardship of the California ILEC [Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier] infrastructure has been a “harvesting strategy” that relies upon customer captivity and inertia, rather than providing good quality service.

It goes on to declare, “’Harvesting’ of this legacy service customer base allows AT&T to maintain revenue levels and to extract the maximum amount of capital from the California ILEC entity in order to support the parent company’s wireless, video distribution, video content, and other business initiatives – activities that have captured the overwhelming bulk of management’s attention.

The state oversite agency goes further, noting that “to support its ‘harvesting’ strategy and maintain revenues despite a massive drop-off in demand, AT&T California has raised its rates for legacy flat-rate residential service by [blacked out]% since the service was de-tariffed by the CPUC in 2009.”

In the telecommunications world, “harvesting” as a number of very different meanings. The most well-known is data aggregation, the collecting of user or customer information (e.g., location data) and selling it to third parties. A second takes place when a telecom company (e.g., AT&T) decided to upgrade or replace an older network (e.g., 2G) and convert users to a new frequency (e.g., 3G). A third and more pernicious form of harvesting is exemplified by how AT&T treats POTS customers.

Two examples of the overcharging that characterize AT&T’s harvesting campaign are illustrative. The fee for “Local Service” (i.e., basic service) for 2004 was $10.69 and for 2021 was $27.00 – an increase of 153 percent; the fee for “Call Waiting” in 2004 was $3.23 but by 2021 it was $11.99, a 271 percent increase. (The inflation rate for the 2004-2021 period was 40.2 percent.)

Compounding the issue of overcharging, the CPUC reports that, since 2010, AT&T failed to meet the state “requirement to clear a minimum 90% of out-of-service reports within 24 hours has never been met …. Verizon/Frontier met the OOS standard in only two of the 96 months covered by this study.”

Why, one might ask, did AT&T fail to deal with service problems? The California agency does not pull any punches: “Whether deliberate or not, AT&T’s investment policies have tended to favor higher-income communities, and have thus had a disproportionate impact upon the state’s lowest income areas.” It then notes, “Wire Centers serving areas with the lowest household incomes tend to have the highest trouble report rates, the longest out-of-service durations, the lowest percentages of outages cleared within 24 hours, and the longest times required to clear 90% of service outages. The opposite is the case for the highest income communities.”

And it adds:

AT&T’s record on service outages has deteriorated over the 2010-2017 period (the subject of this study). AT&T’s overarching approach to its stewardship of the California ILEC infrastructure has been a “harvesting strategy” that relies upon customer captivity and inertia, rather than providing good quality service.

Unfortunately, the AT&T’s harvesting scheme is likely being played out across the country. The Irregulators, a group of independent telecom experts that includes former FCC officials, estimated that AT&T’s California harvesting campaign for the five-year period ending in 2019 could range from a low estimate of $2.3 billion to as high as $10.3 billion.

There are an estimated 22 million wireline (DSL or other) telephone users in the U.S. as of 2020. One can only wonder how many are being harvested by AT&T and other providers.

The post AT&T’s “Harvesting” Scam appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Quibbling Over Cruelties: Human Rights Watch, Israel and Apartheid

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Photograph Source: eddiedangerous – CC BY 2.0

Criticism of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians has always induced a defensive rage from its defenders and advocates. A Threshold Crossed, a report by Human Rights Watch, lit several fires of rage and disapproval.  Israel, according to the authors, is responsible for apartheid policies.

The word, and the application of its meaning, is immemorially nasty. The theoreticians, and the broader Boer intellectual milieu, were fearful of Black Africans and British occupation policies which, they argue, also impoverished the “English gold hunger.” This deeply thought through policy of Afrikaans origin speaks to a hatred not merely of Black Africans, but to the logic of British imperialism and its carefree mixing of multiracial labour.  But apartheid has become an expression so singular it resists appropriation, adaptation and application.  This is all good from a historian’s point of view, but, taken in its theoretical idea and its application, the Israeli policy towards Palestinians in certain areas (the Occupied Territories, for instance) suggests that the term varies in application.

HRW, however, is a touch loose on distinguishing the policy, highlighting that Israeli “authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity.”  It remarks that the Israeli government aims “to ensure that Jewish Israelis maintain domination across Israel and the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories).”

Israeli-Jewish domination is the leitmotif, whether it be “limiting the population and political power of Palestinians”, restricting movement, “Judaization” of areas with large numbers of Palestinians “including Jerusalem as well as the Galilee and the Negev in Israel.”  Acknowledgment is made that the nature of the discrimination, part of the “goal of domination” does vary “to different rules established by the Israeli government in Israel, on the one hand, and different parts of the OPT, on the other, where the most severe forms take place.”  In this package of analysis, the report argues that such distinctions are specious.

Reference is made to the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  The definition of apartheid under both yields three elements: “the intent to maintain a system of domination by one racial group over another; systematic oppression by one racial group over another; and one or more inhumane acts, as defined, carried out on a widespread or systematic basis pursuant to those policies.”

The report makes no mention of the findings of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, a people’s assembly inspired by the formula used by Bertrand Russell and likeminded intellectuals to subject the United States to scrutiny for alleged war crimes in Vietnam in the 1960s.  This is an odd omission, given that the 2011 proceedings held in Cape Town concluded that two distinct racial groups were present; “inhumane acts” based on that distinction had been committed by Israeli authorities; and that these arose out of the “institutionalised nature of domination by one group over another.”

The HRW report does take a place alongside a burgeoning collection of critiques and assessments of Israeli policy.  Most of those, however, focus on the Occupied Territories as a distinct zone of political control and discrimination.  In 2007, a report by John Dugard, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, found that “[e]lements of the Israeli occupation constitute forms of colonialism and apartheid, which are contrary to international law”.  These “legal consequences” arising from such an occupation should be put to the International Court of Justice.  The following year, the Rapporteur remarked that Israel was “practising apartheid but in a very dishonest and concealed manner.  At least South African apartheid was open and honest.”

Over the years, much heavy artillery has been brought to bear on those accusing Israel for policies that might be caught by that dirty term.  The HRW report has endured a similar barrage of obloquy.  Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan considered HRW’s findings “a collection of lies and fabrications, bordering on anti-Semitic.”

Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum, calls the report “tantamount to an anti-Semitic ‘blood libel’ against the Jewish state”.  It was filled with “malicious lies and gross distortions of law while peddling in unhinged hate, incitement and racist stereotypes.”  Doing exactly what he accuses HRW of, Ostrovsky adopts a selective analytical lens: Israeli Arabs enjoyed “full political and civil rights” while Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza had autonomous control through the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

The authors of the Report are accused of not considering the loss of Israeli lives, be it of soldiers or civilians as a result of terrorist attacks.  Josh Feldman, himself a son of South African Jews, is keen to point out that the West Bank “separation barrier” was the result of “Palestinian terrorist attacks”.  All, in short, have suffered.

Like the Holocaust, apartheid is claimed to have a lineage of moral copyright and ethical intellectual property.  There is an almost proprietary essence to it: certain people discovered it, patented it, implemented it, and therefore, no one else could possibly do the same.  If they did, it would be slipshod, amateurish and shallow, not to mention a plain old insult. Israel might discriminate in its policies, but more would need to be shown.

Former Justice of the South African Constitutional Court Richard Goldstone signalled that point in chastising the misuse of the term. This is despite the view of the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, which found in 2009 that Israel’s control of the Occupied Palestinian Territories “with the purpose of maintaining a system of domination by Jews over Palestinians … constitutes a breach of the prohibition of apartheid.”  In opining on the activities of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Goldstone considered the apartheid accusation to be a “particularly pernicious and enduring canard”.  Accepting that the word might have a wider meaning, Goldstone was stubbornly insistent that it remain anchored in the pre-1994 soil of South Africa.  “It is an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations.”

The same sentiments have been aired in response to the HRW report.  Like Goldstone, these envisage a peace process that barely exists but can somehow be disrupted by the views of a human rights organisation.  Michal Cotler-Wunsh, formerly a lawmaker for the Blue and White Party regarded the report as “a complete hurdle to peace” and “driven by blind hate”.

Resistance against using the term “apartheid” in the context of Israeli policy has not been total.  Some crumbling has taken place in Israel proper.  Veteran Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston, writing in 2015, said it was time to stop the qualifications and defensive delusions.  “This is what has become of the rule of law.  Two sets of books.  One for Us, and one to throw at Them.  Apartheid.”  He pointed to a few examples: the actions of fundamentalist clergy encouraging segregation, inequality, supremacism and subjugation; the suggestions by lawmaker and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter to segregate the use of roads and highways in the West Bank; attacks by Jewish settlers upon Palestinian property with impunity; Palestinians jailed or shot dead without trial.

Gideon Levy, also of Haaretz and ever reliable in keeping the fires of controversy burning, suggested in his response to the HRW report that Israel had, indeed, “crossed the line.”  Israelis might continue to praise themselves and “enjoy life and lie as we please.”  But hideous as it was, his citizens could no longer claim that the spit directed at their faces was “rain”.

In January this year, the longstanding Israeli human rights group B’Tselem used an approach similar to HRW in concluding that there was “one regime governing the entire area [between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River] and the people living in it, based on a single organizing principle.”  According to the organisation’s director Hagai El-Ad, “One of the key points in our analysis is that this is a single geopolitical area ruled by one government.”  It was not a case of “democracy plus occupation” but “apartheid between the river and the sea.”  Such a fact was concealed by different regimes of control exercised by the Israeli state, highlighting the inherent inequality between Jews and Palestinians.

Ami Ayalon, former Knesset member, and former head of Shin Bet and Israel’s naval forces, is also convinced that Israel’s political system “integrates apartheid and is not commensurate with Judaism” though he is careful with territorial applications.  The West Bank, he warned, is no democracy, marked as it is by “two different legal systems, one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians”.  Such assessments can hardly be dismissed as blood libels and anti-Semitic fancies.

The post Quibbling Over Cruelties: Human Rights Watch, Israel and Apartheid appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Boris Johnson’s Lies Don’t Harm Him Because the UK’s Political System is More Corrupt Than He Is

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Photograph Source: Bradley Howard – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Britain’s corporate media are suddenly awash with stories wondering whether, or to what extent, the UK’s prime minister is dishonest. Predictably in the midst of this, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg is still doing her determined best to act as media bodyguard to Boris Johnson.

In a lengthy article on the BBC’s website over the weekend, she presents a series of soothing alternatives to avoid conceding the self-evident: that Johnson is a serial liar. According to Kuenssberg, or at least those she chooses to quote (those, let us remember, who give her unfettered “access” to the corridors of power), he is a well-intentioned, unpredictable, sometimes hapless, “untamed political animal”. A rough diamond.

In Kuenssberg’s telling, Johnson’s increasingly obvious flaws are actually his strengths:

“Yet what’s suggested time and again is that the prime minister’s attitude to the truth and facts is not based on what is real and what is not, but is driven by what he wants to achieve in that moment – what he desires, rather than what he believes. And there is no question, that approach, coupled with an intense force of personality can be enormously effective.

“In his political career, Boris Johnson has time and again overturned the odds, and that’s a huge part of the reason why.”

The way Kuenssberg tells it, Johnson sounds exactly like someone you would want in your corner in a time of crisis. Not the narcissist creator of those crises, but the Nietzschean “Superman” who can solve them for you through sheer force of will and personality.

Lies piling up

Slightly less enamoured with Johnson than the BBC has been the liberal Guardian, Britain’s supposedly chief “opposition” newspaper to the ruling Conservative government. But the Guardian has been surprisingly late to this party too. Typical of its newly aggressive approach to Johnson was a piece published on Saturday by its columnist Jonathan Freedland, titled “Scandal upon scandal: the charge sheet that should have felled Johnson years ago”.

As this article rightly documents, Johnson is an inveterate dissembler, and one whose lies have been visibly piling up since he entered 10 Downing Street. His propensity to lie is not new. It was well-know to anyone who worked with him in his earlier career in journalism or when he was an aspiring politician. It is not the “scandals” that are new, it’s the media’s interest in documenting them that is.

And when the liar-in-chef is also the prime minister, those lies invariably end up masking high-level corruption, the kind of corruption that has the capacity to destroy lives – many lives.

So why are Johnson’s well-known deceptions only becoming a “mainstream” issue now – and why, in particular, is a liberal outlet like the Guardian picking up the baton on this matter so late in the day? As Freedland rightly observes, these scandals have been around for many years, so why wasn’t the Guardian on Johnson’s case from the outset, setting the agenda?

Or put another way, why has the drive to expose Johnson been led not by liberal journalists like Freedland but chiefly by a disillusioned old-school conservative worried about the damage Johnson is doing to his political tradition? Freedland is riding on the coat-tails of former Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne, who wrote a recent book on Johnson’s fabrications, The Assault on Truth. Further, Johnson’s deceptions have gone viral not because of the efforts of the Guardian but because of a video compilation on social media of some of Johnson’s biggest whoppers by lawyer and independent journalist Peter Stefanovic.

This shocking compilation of Boris Johnson misleading Parliament is now on 6.2 million views yet UK media continues to turn a blind eye

Help me send it to 7 million@BBCNews @itvnews @Channel4News @SkyNews can’t ignore PM’s shameless conduct forever! pic.twitter.com/PlvEkEij1V

— Peter Stefanovic (@PeterStefanovi2) March 30, 2021

Politics rigged

Part of the answer, of course, is that until recently the Guardian, along with the rest of the corporate media, had a much more pressing task than holding Britain’s prime minister to account for lies – and the corruption they obscure – that have drained the Treasury of the nation’s wealth, redirecting it towards a bunch of Tory donors, and subsequently contributed to at least a proportion of Covid-19 deaths.

The Guardian was preoccupied with making sure that Johnson was not replaced by an opposition leader who spoke, for the first time in more than a generation, about the need for wealth redistribution and a fairer society.

On the political scales weighing what was most beneficial for the country, it was far more important to the Guardian to keep then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his democratic socialist agenda out of Downing Street than make sure Britain was run in accordance with the rule of law, let alone according to the principles of fairness and decency.

The Guardian's relentless attacks on Corbyn continue. We've compiled a list of over a 100 Guardian articles attacking Corbyn (a small sample). Take a look! (And if you haven't already, it really is time to #DumpTheGuardian.) https://t.co/zQDRqe1iyP

— FiveFilters.org ⏳ (@fivefilters) September 16, 2018

Now with Corbyn long gone, the political conditions to take on Johnson are more favourable. Covid-19 cases in the UK have plummeted, freeing up a little space on front pages for other matters. And Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has used the past year to prove over and over again to the media that he has been scrupulous about purging socialism from the Labour party.

We are back to the familiar and reassuring days of having two main parties that will not threaten the establishment. One, the Labour party, will leave the establishment’s power and wealth untouched, but do so in a way that makes Britain once again look like a properly run country, conferring greater legitimacy on UK Plc. The other, the Conservative party, will do even better by the establishment, further enriching it with an unapologetic crony capitalism, even if that risks over the longer term provoking a popular backlash that may prove harder to defuse than the Corbyn one did.

For the time being at least, the elite prospers either way. The bottom line, for the establishment, is that the political system is once again rigged in its favour, whoever wins the next election. The establishment can risk making Johnson vulnerable only because the establishment interests he represents are no longer vulnerable.

Blame the voters

But for liberal media like the Guardian, the campaign to hold Johnson to account is potentially treacherous. Once the prime minister’s serial lying is exposed and the people informed of what is going on, according to traditional liberal thinking, his popularity should wane. Once the people understand he is a conman, they will want to be rid of him. That should be all the more inevitable, if, as the Guardian contends, Starmer is an obviously safer and more honest pair of hands.

???? | NEW: Preferred Prime Minister poll:

Boris Johnson: 40% (+5)
Keir Starmer: 24% (-4)

Via @BMGResearch, 22-26 April
Changes w March

— Politics For All (@PoliticsForAlI) April 29, 2021

But the problem for the Guardian is that Johnson’s polling figures are remarkably buoyant, despite the growing media criticism of him. He continues to outpoll Starmer. His Midas touch needs explaining. And the Guardian is growing ever more explicit about where the fault is to be found. With us.

Or as Freedland observes:

“Maybe the real scandal lies with us, the electorate, still seduced by a tousled-hair rebel shtick and faux bonhomie that should have palled years ago… For allowing this shameless man to keep riding high, some of the shame is on us.”

Freedland is far from alone in peddling this line. Kuenssberg, in her BBC piece, offers a variant:

“An insider told me: ‘He frequently leaves people with the belief that he has told them one thing, but he has given himself room for manoeuvre,’ believing that, ‘the fewer cast iron positions you hold the better, because you can always change political direction.’

“The verbal flourishes and rhetorical tricks are part of the reason why he has prospered. ‘A lot of his magic has been those off-the-cuff comments, that’s why a lot of the public like him,’ says an ally.”

In other words, we see what we want to see. Johnson is the vessel into which we pour our hopes and dreams, while he has the tough challenge of making our melange of hopes and dreams a tangible, workable reality.

Liberal journalists have been on this “blame the voters” path for a while. When it was Corbyn and his “dangerous” socialism being pitted against the Tories’ crony capitalism, the Guardian enthusiastically joined the smear campaign against Labour. That included evidence-free claims of an “institutional antisemitism” crisis under Corbyn’s leadership.

And yet despite the media’s best endeavours, Corbyn appalled journalists like Freedland at the 2017 general election by winning Labour’s biggest rise in vote share since 1945. Corbyn denied the Conservatives a majority and was a few thousand votes from winning outright – something Starmer can only dream of at the moment, despite Johnson’s exposure as an inveterate liar and conman. And Corbyn achieved this while the Labour party machine, and the entire corporate media, were vehemently against him.

Dangerous populism

It was in the wake of Corbyn’s unexpected success at the polls in 2017 that the Guardian unleashed its “New Populism” series, seeking to warn of a supposedly dangerous new political phenomenon that lumped the then-Labour leader in with rightwing populists such as Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. They were all part of a new wave of authoritarian, cult-like leaders who barely concealed their sinister, racist agendas, gulled supporters with promises divorced from reality, and most likely had secret ties to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

In short, the Guardian’s thesis was that “the people” kept voting for these leaders because they were stupid and easily duped by a smooth-tongued charlatan.

This narrative was aggressively promoted by the Guardian, even though Corbyn had nothing in common with the rightwing authoritarians with whom he was forced to share star billing. He had spent his long political career on the backbenches, cultivating a self-effacing politics of communal solidarity and “standing up for the little guy” rather than pursuing power. And far from being a nationalist or nativist, Corbyn had dedicated decades to internationalism and fighting racism – though admittedly, in challenging the anti-Palestinian racism of Israel and its Zionist supporters he had left himself prey to disingenuous claims of antisemitism.

But after several years of emotional and ideological investment in “the people are dumb” approach, the Guardian seems in no hurry to drop it – until, or unless, the people can be persuaded to vote for an eminently safe, status-quo candidate like Starmer. The paper’s target has simply switched from Corbyn to the more plausible figure of Boris Johnson.

The Guardian dares not contemplate any alternative explanation for why voters continue to prefer the narcissist, corrupt, lying Johnson over Labour’s “Clean Up Westminster” Keir Starmer. But its reluctance to consider other explanations does not mean they cannot be found.

I would clean up Westminster.#Peston pic.twitter.com/FTpoHCsbrR

— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) April 29, 2021

A corrupt system

The problem is not that most voters have failed to understand that Johnson is corrupt, though given the corrupt nature of the British corporate media – the Guardian very much included – they are hardly well positioned to appreciate the extent of Johnson’s corruption.

It is not even that they know that he is corrupt but do not care.

Rather, the real problem is that significant sections of the electorate have rightly come to the realisation that the wider political system within which Johnson operates is corrupt too. So corrupt, in fact, that it may be impossible to fix. Johnson is simply more open, and honest, about how he exploits the corrupt system.

Over the past two decades, there have been several way-stations exposing the extent of the corruption of the UK’s political system, whichever party was in power.

Labour under Tony Blair overrode popular dissent, expressed in the largest marches ever seen in the UK, and lied his way to a war on Iraq in 2003 that led to the killing and ethnic cleansing of millions of Iraqis. UK soldiers were dragged into a war that, it quickly became clear, was really about securing western control over the Middle East’s oil. And the invasion and occupation of Iraq spawned a new nihilistic Islamic cult that rampaged across the region and whose embers have yet to be snuffed out.

Five years later, Gordon Brown oversaw the near-implosion of the British economy after Labour had spent more than a decade intensifying the financial deregulation begun under Margaret Thatcher. That process had turned the financial sector into the true power behind No 10. Both Brown and his Tory successor, David Cameron, not only refused to hold to account any of the white-collar criminals responsible for the collapse of the financial system, but instead rewarded them with massive bailouts. Ordinary people, meanwhile, were forced to tighten their belts through years of austerity to pay off the debts.

And in the background throughout this period, a global and local environmental catastrophe has been gradually unfolding that the political system has shown no capacity to address because it has been captured by corporations who benefit most from continuing the environmental degradation. The system has instead dissembled on the threats we face to justify inaction.

No price to pay

The truly astonishing thing is that those who lied us into the Iraq war, destabilising the Middle East and provoking an exodus from the region that has fuelled a surge in xenophobic politics across Europe; those who broke the financial system through their greed and incompetence and lied their way out of the consequences, forcing the rest of us to foot the bill; and those who lied about the ecological catastrophes unfolding over the past half century so that they could go on lining their own pockets; none of them paid any price at all for their mendacity, for their deceptions, for their corruption. Not only that, but they have grown richer, more powerful, more respected because of the lies.

One only needs to look at the fate of that unapologetic pair of war criminals, Tony Blair and George W Bush. The former has amassed wealth like a black hole sucks in light, and preposterously is still regularly called on by the media to pontificate on ethical issues in British politics. And the latter has been rehabilitated as a once-wayward, now beloved, irreverent uncle to the nation, one whose humanity has supposedly been underscored simply by making sure he was filmed “sneaking” a sweet to his presidential successor’s wife.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, a remedy to Britain’s self-evidently flawed political system was thrown up – in the form of Corbyn. He was a throwback, the very antithesis of the modern politicians who had brought us to the brink of ruin on multiple fronts. He was not venal, nor a narcissist. His concern was improving the lives of ordinary people, not the bank balances of corporate donors. He was against colonial-style wars to grab other countries’ resources. The things that made him a laughing stock with the political elite – his cheap clothes, his simple life, his allotment – made him appealing to large sections of the electorate.

For many, Corbyn was the last gasp for a system they had given up on. He might prove their growing cynicism about politics wrong. His success might demonstrate that the system could be fixed, and that all was not lost.

Except that is not how it played out. The entire political and media class – even the military – turned on Corbyn. They played the man, not the ball – and when it came to the man, any and all character assassination was justified. He had been a Soviet agent. He was a threat to Britain’s security. His IQ was too low to be prime minister. He was a secret antisemite.

Lying, cheating and stealing

In the United States, then-Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer warned Donald Trump back in 2017 that the US intelligence services would “have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you” should the president try to go up against them. Maybe Trump hoped that his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, would offer some protection. Pompeo, a former head of the CIA, understood the dishonest ways of the intelligence services only too well. He explained his agency’s modus operandi to a group of students in Texas in an unusually frank manner in late 2019: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. That’s, it was like, we had entire training courses!”


With the campaign to destroy Corbyn, many saw how the British system was just as skilled and experienced as the US one in its capacity to lie, cheat and steal. Corbyn’s treatment offered an undeniable confirmation of what they already suspected.

Over the past two decades, in an era when social media has emerged as an alternative information universe challenging that of the traditional corporate media, all these episodes – Iraq, the financial crash, ecological catastrophe, Corbyn’s political assassination – have had deeply damaging political ramifications. Because once people sensed that the system was corrupt, they became cynical. And once they were cynical, once they believed the system was rigged whoever won, they began voting cynically too.

This should be the main context for understanding Johnson’s continuing success and his invulnerability to criticism. In a rigged system, voters prefer an honestly dishonest politician – one who revels in the cynicism of the system and is open about exploiting it – over one who pretends he is playing fair, one who feigns a belief in the system’s ultimate decency, one who lies by claiming he can pursue the common good.

If the system is rigged, who is really more mendacious: Johnson, who plays dirty in a dirty system, or Starmer, who pretends he can clean up the Westminster cesspit when all he will really do is push the ordure out of view.

Johnson is transparently looking out for his mates and donors. Starmer is looking out for a rotten system, one that he intends to makeover so its corruption is less visible, less open to scrutiny.

Liberals are mystified by this reading of politics. They, after all, are emotionally invested in a supposedly meritocratic system from which they personally benefited for so long. They would rather believe the lie that a good political system is being corrupted by rotten politicians and a stupid electorate than the reality that a corrupt political system is being exploited by those best placed to navigate its corrupt ways.

The post Boris Johnson’s Lies Don’t Harm Him Because the UK’s Political System is More Corrupt Than He Is appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

On the Spectrum

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Photograph Source: wonderferret – CC BY 2.0

Those who pay attention to mental and emotional states, and their multitude of disquieting effects, recognize the notion of a spectrum. For instance, autism is not a one-size-fits-all condition. Some people who are diagnosed with autism function well, getting along in society, while others cannot successfully function without assistance. In other words, there is a spectrum of autistic behavior. Another example comes through in large studies looking at family histories of those diagnosed with schizophrenia. Here it has been noticed that such families often have members with eccentric behavior showing up in a sporadic fashion. These folks are not schizophrenic, and they are socially functional, but nonetheless not exactly “normal.” Again, there is a spectrum when it comes to mental states.

We can apply this same concept to what we call rationality. Just as is the case with “sanity,” the notion of rationality covers a lot of territory. It would be a mistake—actually you would have to gloss over a lot of history—to just claim humans are all “homo sapiens” or “wise people” and leave it at that.

A Spectrum For Rationality

A spectrum along which to rank alleged rational behavior and decision making must take into consideration context. Thus, within Western “liberal” societies (there are, of course, many other types of societies), the context against which rational behavior is measured may not be uniform. For instance:

Context number 1—Where civic values are primarily capitalist ones; economics will play a dominant role in shaping alleged rational choices. The United States is the home of a stereotypical Wall Street mentality, and is idealized just because the country is seen, for better or worse, as a place where personal enrichment is a national goal. In such a context, other considerations such as honesty, promoting societal issues of fairness, doing away with racial prejudice, and addressing environmental concerns may not be seen as important when compared to economic security or advancement. And this can influence choices when it comes to, say, political candidates and their policies.

Context number 2—On the other hand, in the same liberal societies, the context of civic values usually includes democratic standards and notions of right and wrong that do not consider economics as a singular, isolated, value. This context promotes, at least in theory, ethically based regulatory standards and the concept of the rule of law. In this case, rational behavior would require consideration of more than personal advantage. It will demand choices attuned to idealized “community values.” To the extent that the U.S. is such a liberal nation, it must promote such community values as equity, truthfulness, and fairness.

In most cases, Americans believe that they take into consideration both contexts when making what they consider rational choices. But this is not always the case. And, in the last decade, the two contexts have become more distinct. Thus, how an American interprets his or her place on the spectrum of rationality may depend on which context they favor. If you adhere mostly to number 1, you will be less likely to see the value of the criteria put forth by number 2. You may, in fact, understand “rational” in terms of personal cost/benefit ratios. You may come to see the values represented in context 2 as obstacles to making rational choices. Just so, it may be hard for those adhering to context 2 to see the choices promoted by number 1 as truly rational if they stand alone and disregard other aspects of ethics and the greater community’s well-being.

Are Trump’s Supporters Rational?

In the United States, the phenomenon of Donald Trump has made clear this relationship of rationality and context. You will often hear those who see as primary the values embedded in context number 2 ask the question, are Trump supporters really rational? There is more than one answer to this question. Certainly, those Trump supporters enmeshed in conspiracy theory thinking, racist white supremacy or proto-Nazi ideologies, as well as radical Christian beliefs (i.e. Trump is God appointed) can be considered so out of touch with reality that it is hard to see their thought and political choices as rational. And, indeed, there may be millions of Americans who see the world in such distorted ways—because of such beliefs, they are off the rationality spectrum altogether.

However, in the 2020 election, some 71 million American voters supported Donald Trump. And, as Nesrine Malik puts it in a 11 November 2020 essay in The Correspondent, “ignorance and immorality [or, if you will, irrationality] simply cannot account for 71 million votes.”

Malik believes that it is important for those who did not support Donald Trump to recognize that some Trump supporters are “rational.” However, it would appear to be a rationality based exclusively on context number 1—the one where decisions are made for immediate economic, self-interested reasons.

Malik goes on to give examples of “rational” Trump voters:

—Corporate leadership and other entrepreneurs both large and small. Corporate tax cuts did the trick here. “65% of business owners thought that the new [Trump] tax regime was the best thing the government did for their companies last year.” Deregulation was also popular.

It is interesting how some of these folks dismissed Trump’s shortcomings in the area of ethics and race. Malik quotes one such supporter as saying that “small-business people try not to get political. We stay in our lane. We go to the office. We work.” And, according to former representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida, “one of the reasons that the president is having success with Latino voters is because he is trusted by them on the economy. The Hispanic community, especially here in the state of Florida, is an entrepreneurial community.”

—High earners and stock market investors. Trump’s policies sustained a very bullish stock market rally which generated huge profits for this group. This is “a cross section of society that will vote to preserve and increase their wealth.”

—Low income and the unemployed. “Unemployment not only fell since Trump came to office—in 2019, but it also fell to the lowest rate in the country for 50 years. And within that fall, there was another, even more dramatic drop: for those without a high school diploma, unemployment fell to the lowest it had been since records began, and a whole 3% lower than before he became president.” As we will see, there may be a qualitative difference in the “rational” nature of this group’s choices as against the others Malik lists.

—U.S. Americans threatened by low-skilled immigrants. “Between January 2017 and July 2020, the Trump administration took over 400 executive actions on immigration. This was a benefit to Trump voters – both in real terms as well as in terms of perception. According to research in areas where there was a decline in the population of people born overseas, wages began to rise at a rate of 5% a year.”

Malik’s conclusion from all this is that the outlooks of “those 71 million voters aren’t just a fad.” Many of them are voters who are “motivated by immediate self-interest.” Immediate is the operative word here, that is a subgroup whose narrow definition of self-interest makes them prone to short-term thinking. Nonetheless, from Malik’s standpoint they are also trapped “in a political system that makes few other transformative offerings, [and so] economic prosperity is the most immediate benefit.” She sees this as a message that speaks “far louder than any other regarding Trump’s incompetence in handling the pandemic or his collusion with foreign powers, or even his racism.”

Binary Rationality?

Is Malik correct in her assertion that these Trump supporters are acting rationally? Maybe. However, one can argue that the narrow basis upon which these voters made their political choices were not as rational as Malik makes out. Their behavior, as she describes it, was exclusively economic and we have historical experience of the consequences of such confined choices—choosing to just “stay in your lane.” One modern example is given by Malik herself. She is of Egyptian heritage and references the behavior of similar classes who have chosen to support the Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Their decision is that he is “good for the country’s business and commerce sector.” She also mentions that fear of the civil war it would take to remove the Egyptian dictator causes the same entrepreneurial groups to view the struggle for democratic values as “too risky.”

Actually, what Malik is describing here are rationalizations for sacrificing the rule of law and other cornerstones of a civilized society. Rationalizations do not necessarily reflect rational decision making. In the case of Egypt, it is evident that, despite the wealth of certain classes, long-running dictatorships have ruined the country. Similar exclusively economic patterns of decision making by entrepreneurial classes, combined with the “too risky” argument, sustains other dictatorships around the world.

The American context is not quite the same. The context for rational choice should not be seen as a binary one. Properly understood, for most citizens it should be an admixture of contexts 1 and 2. To consider only capitalist advantages to the extent of potentially sacrificing the rule of law, truthfulness and other ethical values is, in fact, extreme selfishness. This is particularly true for voters who have a viable livelihood even without the enrichment Trump might offer. For these people to disregard and thereby place in danger long standing community ethical standards reflects a rabid narcissism. The overall costs of this attitude render their choices both irrational and immoral.

What allows for this extreme binary view of things is the often-self-imposed myopia of the individual within subgroups who choose not to see beyond themselves—some label this identity politics, but its seduction ranges far and wide. For instance, the quote above by the small businessman who said “small-business people try not to get political. We stay in our lane” is a good example. Then there is the “head of the Finance Board in Greenwich Ct. He is a Republican who supported Donald Trump. “Asked if he was bothered by the way Trump talks about women, the way he talks about immigrants, he replied, look, I care about the 60,000 people who live in my town. That’s what I care about.” This seemed to suggest that he is able to devalue the approximately 30,000 females as well as the immigrants residing in his community—along with those who live outside it. When it was suggested that, as a citizen, he has broader responsibilities, he shrugged and claimed that “I can’t worry about things outside of Greenwich.” Is this outlook rational when choices have important national consequences?

Conclusion: Do Not Stay In Your Lane!

America is a land of multiple contexts within which to make one’s political choices. It is only those who live in poverty who can make such choices primarily for immediate economic advantage and call them rational. For the rest, rational choices require taking into consideration multiple factors—ethics, truthfulness, racial and gender equity, the rule of law, and the earth itself—factors that underpin long-term wellbeing for everyone.

Keep in mind that voting is a community act. One might feel it is just a self-referencing choice—nobody’s business but your own—but you are wrong. Particularly in the winner-take-all system of the United States, one must act as if one’s choice is for the whole country. If you choose to support a sociopath for the sake of self-enrichment or, because you think he is selected by God, because you believe the other guy will raise your taxes or take your arsenal of automatic weapons away, or just because you have come to “hate liberals,” you fall somewhere on the lower end, the aberrant end, of the rationality spectrum.

In this sense, the threat of mass irrational behavior at the ballot box is very real. In truth, if enough Americans choose to just “stay in their lane” and refuse to think of the broader consequences of their political choices for the community, they may well, once again, elect a sociopath and his minions. Then, as Malik suggests, the USA, in its own unique way, will come to look like today’s Egypt.

The post On the Spectrum appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The True Meaning of the Afghan “Withdrawal”

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Many of us have had a recurring nightmare. You know the one. In a fog between sleeping and waking, you’re trying desperately to escape from something awful, some looming threat, but you feel paralyzed. Then, with great relief, you suddenly wake up, covered in sweat. The next night, or the next week, though, that same dream returns.

For politicians of Joe Biden’s generation that recurring nightmare was Saigon, 1975. Communist tanks ripping through the streets as friendly forces flee. Thousands of terrified Vietnamese allies pounding at the U.S. Embassy’s gates. Helicopters plucking Americans and Vietnamese from rooftops and disgorging them on Navy ships. Sailors on those ships, now filled with refugees, shoving those million-dollar helicopters into the sea. The greatest power on Earth sent into the most dismal of defeats.

Back then, everyone in official Washington tried to avoid that nightmare. The White House had already negotiated a peace treaty with the North Vietnamese in 1973 to provide a “decent interval” between Washington’s withdrawal and the fall of the South Vietnamese capital. As defeat loomed in April 1975, Congress refused to fund any more fighting. A first-term senator then, Biden himself said, “The United States has no obligation to evacuate one, or 100,001, South Vietnamese.” Yet it happened anyway. Within weeks, Saigon fell and some 135,000 Vietnamese fled, producing scenes of desperation seared into the conscience of a generation.

Now, as president, by ordering a five-month withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by this September 11th, Biden seems eager to avoid the return of an Afghan version of that very nightmare. Yet that “decent interval” between America’s retreat and the Taliban’s future triumph could well prove indecently short.

The Taliban’s fighters have already captured much of the countryside, reducing control of the American-backed Afghan government in Kabul, the capital, to less than a thirdof all rural districts. Since February, those guerrillas have threatened the country’s major provincial capitals — Kandahar, Kunduz, Helmand, and Baghlan — drawing the noose ever tighter around those key government bastions. In many provinces, as the New York Times reported recently, the police presence has already collapsed and the Afghan army seems close behind.

If such trends continue, the Taliban will soon be primed for an attack on Kabul, where U.S. airpower would prove nearly useless in street-to-street fighting. Unless the Afghan government were to surrender or somehow persuade the Taliban to share power, the fight for Kabul, whenever it finally occurs, could prove to be far bloodier than the fall of Saigon — a twenty-first-century nightmare of mass flight, devastating destruction, and horrific casualties.

With America’s nearly 20-year pacification effort there poised at the brink of defeat, isn’t it time to ask the question that everyone in official Washington seeks to avoid: How and why did Washington lose its longest war?

First, we need to get rid of the simplistic answer, left over from the Vietnam War, that the U.S. somehow didn’t try hard enough. In South Vietnam, a 10-year war, 58,000 American dead, 254,000 South Vietnamese combat deaths, millions of Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian civilian deaths, and a trillion dollars in expenditures seem sufficient in the “we tried” category. Similarly, in Afghanistan, almost 20 years of fighting, 2,442 American war dead, 69,000 Afghan troop losses, and costs of more than $2.2 trillion should spare Washington from any charges of cutting and running.

The answer to that critical question lies instead at the juncture of global strategy and gritty local realities on the ground in the opium fields of Afghanistan. During the first two decades of what would actually be a 40-year involvement with that country, a precise alignment of the global and the local gave the U.S. two great victories — first, over the Soviet Union in 1989; then, over the Taliban, which governed much of the country in 2001.

During the nearly 20 years of U.S. occupation that followed, however, Washington mismanaged global, regional, and local politics in ways that doomed its pacification effort to certain defeat. As the countryside slipped out of its control and Taliban guerrillas multiplied after 2004, Washington tried everything — a trillion-dollar aid program, a 100,000 troop “surge,” a multi-billion-dollar drug war — but none of it worked. Even now, in the midst of a retreat in defeat, official Washington has no clear idea why it ultimately lost this 40-year conflict.

Secret War (Drug War)

Just four years after the North Vietnamese army rolled into Saigon driving Soviet-made tanks and trucks, Washington decided to even the score by giving Moscow its own Vietnam in Afghanistan. When the Red Army occupied Kabul in December 1979, President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, crafted a grand strategy for a CIA covert war that would inflict a humiliating defeat on the Soviet Union.

Building upon an old U.S. alliance with Pakistan, the CIA worked through that country’s Inter Service Intelligence agency (ISI) to deliver millions, then billions of dollars in arms to Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet guerrillas, known as the mujahideen, whose Islamic faith made them formidable fighters. As a master of geopolitics, Brzezinski forged a near-perfect strategic alignment among the U.S., Pakistan, and China for a surrogate conflict against the Soviets. Locked into a bitter rivalry with its neighbor India that erupted in periodic border wars, Pakistan was desperate to please Washington, particularly since, ominously enough, India had only recently tested its first nuclear bomb.

Throughout the long years of the Cold War, Washington was Pakistan’s main ally, providing ample military aid and tilting its diplomacy to favor that country over India. To shelter beneath the U.S. nuclear umbrella, the Pakistanis were, in turn, willing to risk Moscow’s ire by serving as the springboard for the CIA’s secret war on the Red Army in Afghanistan.

Beneath that grand strategy, there was a grittier reality taking shape on the ground in that country. While the mujahideen commanders welcomed the CIA’s arms shipments, they also needed funds to sustain their fighters and soon turned to poppy growing and opium trafficking for that. As Washington’s secret war entered its sixth year, a New York Times correspondent travelling through southern Afghanistan discovered a proliferation of poppy fields that was transforming that arid terrain into the world’s main source of illicit narcotics. “We must grow and sell opium to fight our holy war against the Russian nonbelievers,” one rebel leader told the reporter.

In fact, caravans carrying CIA arms into Afghanistan often returned to Pakistan loaded with opium — sometimes, reported the New York Times, “with the assent of Pakistani or American intelligence officers who supported the resistance.” During the decade of the CIA’s secret war there, Afghanistan’s annual opium harvest soared from a modest 100 tons to a massive 2,000 tons. To process the raw opium into heroin, illicit laboratories opened in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands that, by 1984, supplied a staggering 60% of the U.S. market and 80% of the European one. Inside Pakistan, the number of heroin addicts surged from almost none at all in 1979 to nearly 1.5 million by 1985.

By 1988, there were an estimated 100 to 200 heroin refineries in the area around the Khyber Pass inside Pakistan operating under the purview of the ISI. Further south, an Islamist warlord named Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the CIA’s favored Afghan “asset,” controlled several heroin refineries that processed much of the opium harvest from the country’s southern provinces. In May 1990, as that secret war was ending, the Washington Post reported that American officials had failed to investigate drug dealing by Hekmatyar and his protectors in Pakistan’s ISI largely “because U.S. narcotics policy in Afghanistan has been subordinated to the war against Soviet influence there.”

Charles Cogan, director of the CIA’s Afghan operation, later spoke frankly about the Agency’s priorities. “We didn’t really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade,” he told an interviewer. “I don’t think that we need to apologize for this… There was fallout in term of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.”

There was also another kind of real fallout from that secret war, though Cogan didn’t mention it. While it was hosting the CIA’s covert operation, Pakistan played upon Washington’s dependence and its absorption in its Cold War battle against the Soviets to develop ample fissionable material by 1987 for its own nuclear bomb and, a decade later, to carry out a successful nuclear test that stunned India and sent strategic shockwaves across South Asia.

Simultaneously, Pakistan was also turning Afghanistan into a virtual client state. For three years following the Soviet retreat in 1989, the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI continued to collaborate in backing a bid by Hekmatyar to capture Kabul, providing him with enough firepower to shell the capital and slaughter some 50,000 of its residents. When that failed, from the millions of Afghan refugees inside their borders, the Pakistanis alone formed a new force that came to be called the Taliban — sound familiar? — and armed them to seize Kabul successfully in 1996.

The Invasion of Afghanistan

In the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, when Washington decided to invade Afghanistan, the same alignment of global strategy and gritty local realities assured it another stunning victory, this time over the Taliban who then ruled most of the country. Although its nuclear arms now lessened its dependence on Washington, Pakistan was still willing to serve as a springboard for the CIA’s mobilization of Afghan regional warlords who, in combination with massive U.S. bombing, soon swept the Taliban out of power.

Although American air power readily smashed its armed forces — seemingly, then, beyond repair — that theocratic regime’s real weakness lay in its gross mismanagement of the country’s opium harvest. After taking power in 1996, the Taliban had first doubled the country’s opium crop to an unprecedented 4,600 tons, sustaining the economy while providing 75% of the world’s heroin. Four years later, however, the regime’s ruling mullahs used their formidable coercive powers to make a bid for international recognition at the U.N. by slashing the country’s opium harvest to a mere 185 tons. That decision would plunge millions of farmers into misery and, in the process, reduce the regime to a hollow shell that shattered with the first American bombs.

While the U.S. bombing campaign raged through October 2001, the CIA shipped$70 million in bundled bills into Afghanistan to mobilize its old coalition of tribal warlords for the fight against the Taliban. President George W. Bush would later celebrate that expenditure as one of history’s biggest “bargains.”

Almost from the start of what became a 20-year American occupation, however, the once-perfect alignment of global and local factors started to break apart for Washington. Even as the Taliban retreated in chaos and consternation, those bargain-basement warlords captured the countryside and promptly presided over a revived opium harvest that climbed to 3,600 tons by 2003, or an extraordinary 62% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Four years later, the drug harvest would reach a staggering 8,200 tons — generating 53% of the country’s GDP, 93% of the world’s illicit heroin, and, above all, ample funds for a revival of… yes, you guessed it, the Taliban’s guerrilla army.

Stunned by the realization that its client regime in Kabul was losing control of the countryside to the once-again opium-funded Taliban, the Bush White House launched a $7-billion drug war that soon sank into a cesspool of corruption and complex tribal politics. By 2009, the Taliban guerrillas were expanding so rapidly that the new Obama administration opted for a “surge” of 100,000 U.S. troops there.

By attacking the guerrillas but failing to eradicate the opium harvest that funded their deployment every spring, Obama’s surge soon suffered a defeat foretold. Amid a rapid drawdown of those troops to meet the surge’s use-by date of December 2014 (as Obama had promised), the Taliban launched the first of its annual fighting-season offensives that slowly wrested control of significant parts of the countryside from the Afghan military and police.

By 2017, the opium harvest had climbed to a new record of 9,000 tons, providing about 60% of the funding for the Taliban’s relentless advance. Recognizing the centrality of the drug trade in sustaining the insurgency, the U.S. command dispatched F-22 fighters and B-52 bombers to attack the Taliban’s labs in the country’s heroin heartland. In effect, it was deploying billion-dollar aircraft to destroy what turned out to be 10 mud huts, depriving the Taliban of just $2,800 in tax revenues. To anyone paying attention, the absurd asymmetry of that operation revealed that the U.S. military was being decisively outmaneuvered and defeated by the grittiest of local Afghan realities.

At the same time, the geopolitical side of the Afghan equation was turning decisively against the American war effort. With Pakistan moving ever closer to China as a counterweight to its rival India and U.S.-China relations becoming hostile, Washington grew increasingly irritated with Islamabad. At a summit meeting in late 2017, President Trump and India’s Prime Minister Modi joined with their Australian and Japanese counterparts to form “the Quad” (known more formally as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), an incipient alliance aimed at checking China’s expansion that soon gained substance through joint naval maneuvers in the Indian Ocean.

Within weeks of that meeting, Trump would trash Washington’s 60-year alliance with Pakistan with a single New Year’s Day tweet claiming that country had repaid years of generous U.S. aid with “nothing but lies & deceit.” Almost immediately, Washington announced suspension of its military aid to Pakistan until Islamabad took “decisive action” against the Taliban and its militant allies.

With Washington’s delicate alignment of global and local forces now fatally misaligned, both Trump’s capitulation at peace talks with the Taliban in 2020 and Biden’s coming retreat in defeat were preordained. Without access to landlocked Afghanistan from Pakistan, U.S. surveillance drones and fighter-bombers now potentially face a 2,400-mile flight from the nearest bases in the Persian Gulf — too far for effective use of airpower to shape events on the ground (though America’s commanders are already searching desperately for air bases in countries far nearer to Afghanistan to use).

Lessons of Defeat

Unlike a simple victory, this defeat offers layers of meaning for those with the patience to plumb its lessons. During a government investigation of what went wrong back in 2015, Douglas Lute, an Army general who directed Afghan war policy for the Bush and Obama administrations, observed: “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing.” With American troops now shaking the dust of Afghanistan’s arid soil off their boots, future U.S. military operations in that part of the globe are likely to shift offshore as the Navy joins the rest of the Quad’s flotilla in a bid to check China’s advance in the Indian Ocean.

Beyond the closed circles of official Washington, this dismal outcome has more disturbing lessons. The many Afghans who believed in America’s democratic promises will join a growing line of abandoned allies, stretching back to the Vietnam era and including, more recently, Kurds, Iraqis, and Somalis, among others. Once the full costs of Washington’s withdrawal from Afghanistan become apparent, the debacle may, not surprisingly, discourage potential future allies from trusting Washington’s word or judgment.

Much as the fall of Saigon made the American people wary of such interventions for more than a decade, so a possible catastrophe in Kabul will likely (one might even say, hopefully) produce a long-term aversion in this country to such future interventions. Just as Saigon, 1975, became the nightmare Americans wished to avoid for at least a decade, so Kabul, 2022, could become an unsettling recurrence that only deepens an American crisis of confidence at home.

When the Red Army’s last tanks finally crossed the Friendship Bridge and left Afghanistan in February 1989, that defeat helped precipitate the complete collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its empire within a mere three years. The impact of the coming U.S. retreat in Afghanistan will undoubtedly be far less dramatic. Still, it will be deeply significant. Such a retreat after so many years, with the enemy if not at the gates, then closing in on them, is a clear sign that imperial Washington has reached the very limits of what even the most powerful military on earth can do.

Or put another way, there should be no mistake after those nearly 20 years in Afghanistan. Victory is no longer in the American bloodstream (a lesson that Vietnam somehow did not bring home), though drugs are. The loss of the ultimate drug war was a special kind of imperial disaster, giving withdrawal more than one meaning in 2021. So, it won’t be surprising if the departure from that country under such conditions is a signal to allies and enemies alike that Washington hasn’t a hope of ordering the world as it wishes anymore and that its once-formidable global hegemony is truly waning.

This column was distributed by TomDispatch.

The post The True Meaning of the Afghan “Withdrawal” appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Will Guantánamo Ever Be Shut Down?

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Photograph Source: Medill DC – CC BY 2.0

The Guantánamo conundrum never seems to end.

Twelve years ago, I had other expectations. I envisioned a writing project that I had no doubt would be part of my future: an account of Guantánamo’s last 100 days. I expected to narrate in reverse, the episodes in a book I had just published, The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days, about — well, the title makes it all too obvious — the initial days at that grim offshore prison. They began on January 11, 2002, as the first hooded prisoners of the American war on terror were ushered off a plane at that American military base on the island of Cuba.

Needless to say, I never did write that book. Sadly enough, in the intervening years, there were few signs on the horizon of an imminent closing of that U.S. military prison. Weeks before my book was published in February 2009, President Barack Obama did, in fact, promise to close Guantánamo by the end of his first year in the White House. That hope began to unravel with remarkable speed. By the end of his presidency, his administration had, in fact, managed to release 197 of the prisoners held there without charges — many, including Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the subject of the film The Mauritanian, had also been tortured — but 41 remained, including the five men accused but not yet tried for plotting the 9/11 attacks. Forty remain there to this very day.

Nearly 20 years after it began, the war in Afghanistan that launched this country’s Global War on Terror and the indefinite detention of prisoners in that facility offshore of American justice is now actually slated to end. President Biden recently insistedthat it is indeed “time to end America’s longest war” and announced that all American troops would be withdrawn from that country by September 11th, the 20th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attack on the United States.

It makes sense, of course, that the conclusion of those hostilities would indeed be tied to the closure of the now-notorious Guantánamo Bay detention facility. Unfortunately, for reasons that go back to the very origins of the war on terror, ending the Afghan part of this country’s “forever wars” may not presage the release of those “forever prisoners,” as New York Times reporter Carol Rosenberg so aptly labeled them years ago.

Biden and Guantánamo

Just as President Biden has a history, dating back to his years as Obama’s vice-president, of wanting to curtail the American presence in Afghanistan, so he called years ago for the closure of Guantánamo. As early as June 2005, then-Senator Biden expressed his desire to shut that facility, seeing it as a stain on this country’s reputation abroad.

At the time, he proposed that an independent commission take a look at Guantánamo Bay and make recommendations as to its future. “But,” he said then, “I think we should end up shutting it down, moving those prisoners. Those that we have reason to keep, keep. And those we don’t, let go.” Sixteen years later, he has indeed put in motion an interagency review to look into that detention facility’s closing. Hopefully, once he receives its report, his administration can indeed begin to shut the notorious island prison down. (And this time, it could even work.)

It’s true that, in 2021, the idea of shutting the gates on Guantánamo has garnered some unprecedented mainstream support. As part of his confirmation process, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, for instance, signaled his support for its closure. And Congress, long unwilling to lend a hand, has offered some support as well. On April 16th, 24 Democratic senators signed a letter to the president calling that facility a “symbol of lawlessness and human rights abuses” that “continues to harm U.S. national security” and demanding that it be shut.

As those senators wrote,

“For nearly two decades, the offshore prison has damaged America’s reputation, fueled anti-Muslim bigotry, and weakened the United States’ ability to counter terrorism and fight for human rights and the rule of law around the world. In addition to the $540 million in wasted taxpayer dollars each year to maintain and operate the facility, the prison also comes at the price of justice for the victims of 9/11 and their families, who are still waiting for trials to begin.”

Admittedly, the number of signatories on that letter raises many questions, including why there aren’t more (and why there isn’t a single Republican among them). Is it just a matter of refusing to give up old habits or does it reflect a lack of desire to address an issue long out of the headlines? Where, for example, was Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s name, not to mention those other 25 missing Democratic senatorial signatures?

And there’s another disappointment lurking in its text. While those senators correctly demanded a reversal of the Trump administration’s “erroneous and troubling legal positions” regarding the application of international and domestic law to Guantánamo, they failed to expand upon the larger context of that forever nightmare of imprisonment, lawlessness, and cruelty that affected the war-on-terror prisoners at Guantánamo as well as at the CIA’s “black sites” around the world.

Still, that stance by those two-dozen senators is significant, since Congress has, in the past, taken such weak positions on closing the prison. As such, it provides some hope for the future.

For the rest of Congress and the rest of us, when thinking about finally putting Guantánamo in the history books, it’s important to remember just what a vast deviation it proved to be from the law, justice, and the norms of this society. It’s also worth thinking about the American “detainees” there in the context of what normally happens when wars end.

Prisoners of War

Defying custom and law, the American war in Afghanistan broke through norms like a battering ram through a gossamer wall. Guantánamo was created in just that context, a one-of-a-kind institution for this country. Now, so many years later, it’s poised to break through yet another norm.

Usually, at the end of hostilities, battlefield detainees are let go. As Geneva Convention III, the law governing the detention and treatment of prisoners of war, asserts: “Prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities.”

That custom of releasing prisoners has, in practice, pertained not only to those held on or near the battlefield but even to those detained far from the conflict. Before the Geneva Conventions were created, the custom of releasing such prisoners was already in place in the United States. Notably, during World War II, the U.S. held 425,000 mostly German prisoners in more than 500 camps in this country. When the war ended, however, they were released and the vast majority of them were returned to their home countries.

When it comes to the closure of Guantánamo, however, we can’t count on such an ending. Two war-on-terror realities stand in the way of linking the coming end of hostilities in Afghanistan to the shutting down of that prison. First, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Congress passed right after the 9/11 attacks was not geographically defined or limited to the war in Afghanistan. It focused on but was not confined to two groups, the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as anyone else who had contributed to the attacks of 9/11. As such, it was used as well to authorize military engagements — and the capture of prisoners — outside Afghanistan. Since 2001, in fact, it has been cited to authorize the use of force in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.Of the 780 prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay at one time or another, more than a third came from Afghanistan; the remaining two-thirds were from 48 other countries.

A second potential loophole exists when it comes to the release of prisoners as that war ends. The administration of George W. Bush rejected the very notion that those held at Guantánamo were prisoners of war, no matter how or where they had been captured. As non-state actors, according to that administration, they were exempted from prisoner of war status, which is why they were deliberately labeled “detainees.”

Little wonder then that, despite Secretary of Defense Austin’s position on Guantánamo, as the New York Times recently reported, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby “argued that there was no direct link between its future and the coming end to what he called the ‘mission’ in Afghanistan.”

In fact, even if that congressional authorization for war and the opening of Guantánamo on which it was based never were solely linked to the conflict in Afghanistan, it’s time, almost two decades later, to put an end to that quagmire of a prison camp and the staggering exceptions that it’s woven into this country’s laws and norms since 2002.

A “Forever Prison”?

The closing of Guantánamo would finally signal an end to the otherwise endless proliferation of exceptions to the laws of war as well as to U.S. domestic and military legal codes. As early as June 2004, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor flagged the possibility that a system of indefinite detention at Guantánamo could create a permanent state of endless legal exceptionalism.

She wrote an opinion that month in a habeas corpus case for the release of a Guantánamo detainee, the dual U.S.-Saudi citizen Yaser Hamdi, warning that the prospect of turning that military prison into a never-ending exception to wartime detention and its laws posed dangers all its own. As she put it, “We understand Congress’ grant of authority for the use of ‘necessary and appropriate force’ to include the authority to detain for the duration of the relevant conflict, and our understanding is based on longstanding law-of-war principles.” She also acknowledged that, “If the practical circumstances of a given conflict are entirely unlike those of the conflicts that informed the development of the law of war, that [the] understanding [of release upon the end of hostilities] may unravel. But,” she concluded, “that is not the situation we face as of this date.”

Sadly enough, 17 years later, it turns out that the detention authority may be poised to outlive the use of force. Guantánamo has become an American institution at the cost of $13 million per prisoner annually. The system of offshore injustice has, by now, become part and parcel of the American system of justice — our very own “forever prison.”

The difficulty of closing Guantánamo has shown that once you move outside the laws and norms of this country in a significant way, the return to normalcy becomes ever more problematic — and the longer the exception, the harder such a restoration will be. Remember that, before his presidency was over, George W. Bush went on record acknowledging his preference for closing Guantánamo. Obama made it a goal of his presidency from the outset. Biden, with less fanfare and the lessons of their failures in mind, faces the challenge of finally closing America’s forever prison.

With all that in mind, let me offer you a positive twist on this seemingly never-ending situation. I won’t be surprised if, in fact, President Biden actually does manage to close Guantánamo. He may not do so as a result of the withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan, but because he seems to have a genuine urge to shut the books on the war on terror, or at least the chapter of it initiated on 9/11.

And if he were also to shut down that prison, in the spirit of that letter from the Democratic senators, it would be because of Guantánamo’s gross violations of American laws and norms. While the letter did not go so far as to name the larger war-on-terror sins of the past, it did at least draw attention directly to the wrongfulness of indefinite detention as a system created expressly to evade the law — and one that brought ill-repute to the United States globally.

That closure should certainly happen under President Biden. After all, any other course is not only legally unacceptable, but risks perpetuating the idea that this country continues to distrust the principles of law, human rights, and due process – indeed, the very fundamentals of a democratic system.

This article was distributed by TomDispatch.

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The Biden Administration Wants to Partner with Criminals to Spy on You

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“The Biden administration,” CNN reports, “is considering using outside firms to track extremist chatter by Americans online.”

Federal law enforcement agencies are legally and constitutionally  forbidden to monitor the private activities of citizens without first getting warrants based on probable cause to believe those citizens have committed, or are committing, crimes. The feds can browse public social media posts and so forth, but secretly trawling private groups and hacking encrypted chats is off-limits.

Private companies and nonprofit civic organizations, not being government entities, don’t need warrants or probable cause to access those private discussion areas.  The administration’s bright idea is that through partnership with these non-government entities, they can get around legal and constitutional barriers:  “WE didn’t collect the information. THEY collected the information, then gave it to us.”

There are several flies in that ointment. Here’s a big one:

It’s entirely understandable that — to use an entirely hypothetical example — someone with the Southern Poverty Law Center might impersonate a fictional white supremacist to get into a private Ku Klux Klan chat room and see what those people are up to.

But the US Department of Justice says it’s illegal  (under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) to evade terms of service with false identities.

A government partnership with an organization that gathers information in that way is no different than the government partnering with a burglar to find out what you have in your house, without the bother of convincing a judge there’s probable cause to issue a search warrant. It is, quite simply, criminal conspiracy.

As with so many political and social issues arising in the Internet age, we’re coming up against a big question that urgently needs answering:

At what point does “working with” government amount to “being part of” government?

Much of the “private” tech sector makes big money on government contracts. NBC News reports, based on  a 2020 Tech Inquiry expose,  that Microsoft enjoys thousands of subcontracts with the US Department of Defense and federal law enforcement. Amazon has more than 350 such subcontracts with agencies like ICE and the FBI. Google, more than 250.

What about the “nonprofit” sector? According to the National Council of NonProfits, 31.8% of nonprofit revenues are tied to government grants and contracts.

When  these entities do things FOR government, they should be held to the same standards and limits AS government. And those standards and limits should put our freedom and privacy first.

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As Zimbabwe’s Workers Fight for Justice, It’s Time for a Fundamental Rethink of U.S. Policy

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This is “no longer business as usual,” declares Peter Mutasa, President of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). “Unions are going to be united.”

According to Mutasa, the situation in the country is dire, with basic salaries at or near the poverty line and workers unable to meet basic expenses. The COVID-19 shutdowns and related economic dislocations have reduced incomes for more than half of all urban workers. According to labor representatives, the government’s response has been to collude with business to stifle workers’ rights.

Responding to the crisis, representatives of all Zimbabwe’s major worker organizations met last month to discuss falling working conditions and wages, vowing to use their collective voice to work towards decent work and decent lives. The organizations included the ZCTU and the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions, which is perceived as pro-government, and the Apex Council, the body that represents all government workers.

During an April 22 meeting of government, business, and labor — the Tripartite Negotiation Forum — labor leaders walked out in protest against the government’s unwillingness to prioritize critical worker issues. Forty-one years after Zimbabwe’s April 18, 1980, Independence Day, “working people and peasants are paying the price of the country’s economic crisis,” and “former liberators have turned against the people,” Mutasa says.

This week, workers in more than 66 countries celebrate International Workers Day, or May Day. However, workers in Zimbabwe have little to celebrate and instead will commemorate the day by bringing together workers to fight for political and economic justice.

Rethinking U.S. Sanctions on Zimbabwe

Here in the U.S., we have an opportunity to support those efforts by using our collective power to press the Biden administration for a fundamental rethink of U.S.-Africa policy generally and Zimbabwe policy specifically.

Biden recently nominated Mary Catherine Phee to be assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Her confirmation period presents a critical opportunity to urge the administration to fundamentally reconsider U.S. Africa policy, including prioritizing collaboration and mutual learning, avoiding counterproductive military engagements, steering clear of old strategies that subordinate Africa’s interests, and stopping the imposition of neoliberal economic models that prioritize austerity and privatization.

For Zimbabwe, this is the time to broadly consult with key stakeholders in the country and throughout the region, to reconsider ineffective strategies, and like the country’s labor movement, work towards people-centered solutions for Zimbabwe’s economic crisis.

Many activists in Zimbabwe are divided regarding the effectiveness and usefulness of the U.S. sanctions imposed in 2003. However, beyond debate is that nearly 18 years later, it is past time for a systematic evaluation of those sanctions, along with a new assessment of foreign assistance priorities and mechanisms.

The sanctions target government representatives and others that undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions. Yet the country’s democratic institutions and rights are also hampered by illegal and unethical corporate financial tactics, also known as Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) that siphon economic resources from the country.

Tax Justice Network Africa, which promotes progressive taxation systems in Africa and hosts the Stop the Bleeding Campaign, writes that Zimbabwe “lost about $11.2 billion to IFFs between 2009 and 2018 through trade mispricing.” Corruption and illegal mining, which also contributes to environmental degradation, generates significant financial losses.

Lightening Zimbabwe’s Debt Burden

Current sanctions do little to address the structures and systems that work with individuals to loot Zimbabwe.

Where are the financial repercussions for mining companies in Zimbabwe that siphon away money to tax havens, avoid tax payments, including companies that reportedly dodged paying basic payroll taxes? How does current U.S. policy help regional organizations update outdated tax structures, update licensing and monitoring systems to track better the outward flows of financial and commodity resources, and promote transparency and accountability?

Also, with nearly half the country living in extreme poverty, it is past time to audit and cancel Zimbabwe’s external debt.

An audit will help disaggregate and clarify the nature of the debt, which includes budget and trade deficits, compensation to white commercial farmers displaced by a 2000 land reform program, as well as loan repayment arrears. In addition, the country is still on the hook for inherited Rhodesian debts and an indefinite amount of debt to Chinese lenders.

Even if the government were committed to the kind of “macroeconomic policies and structural reforms” required by the International Monetary Fund, the state would spend most of its resources servicing the debts instead of addressing unemployment, poverty, and unmet social needs.

While Zimbabwe’s workers and their families continue fighting for economic and social justice, we can help level the playing field by using our voices to call for a fundamental rethink of U.S. policy on Zimbabwe.

This first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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Cancel Culture Conundrums

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Cancel culture is at a crossroads, seems to me.  And I might as well be at the center of it.  If I wasn’t before, I appear to be now.

But what is cancel culture?  Isn’t that a rightwing term used to excuse bigoted behavior and avoid accountability for said behavior?  Yes, that’s how the right uses the concept — as a weapon against the rest of society.

And that’s all I’ll say about that.  Now to the left.  Cancel culture on the left also exists.  The people claiming otherwise are part of the left’s version of cancel culture.  (Note to anarchists:  when I use the term “left,” this includes you, too.  We can argue about the semantics of that later.)

Who are these people?

Cancel culture on the left is not easily described or easily dismissed.  It takes on many forms, and of course my use of the term “cancel culture of the left” is intentionally provocative.  There are many different reasons why people gravitate towards simplistic solutions to complex problems, but I’ll keep using the term anyway, because, at the same time as it may provoke, the term is perfectly appropriate to use to describe a significant element of the left — whose significance is often wildly amplified by the algorithms and other properties of social media, and by the fear or acquiescence of the rest of us.

Left cancel culture is be a complex phenomenon with origins in all kinds of different forms of discrimination and trauma.  The basic impulse is one of self-protection and protection of one’s community.  The desire to create a safe space, a safe world, where people can grow up without being attacked for their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., and even without having to endure the sorts of microaggressions that are part of daily life for so many of us humans, whether or not we’re subject to harsher forms of aggression.  It’s a great basic impulse, and one that any of us raising children think about all the time.

However, it’s a really shit basis for a political culture.

By definition, politics and political activism of any kind is going to be a messy business.  Everyone deserves to be safe from major aggressions or microaggressions, and neither of these things should be discounted in their impact on individuals, communities, and societies.

But if, for example, you’re trying to help build a grassroots movement for housing justice, but some people think whatever you do is illegitimate and somehow wrong because they disagree with your position on the role of Jewish culture and historical discourse in the formation of the state of Israel, that’s not how you’re going to build a successful movement.

What are my opinions on Jewish culture and historical discourse in the formation of the state of Israel, you wonder?  If you’re really interested, I would recommend my friend Gilad Atzmon’s excellent book, The Wandering Who.  It’s available as an ebook on Amazon.  I won’t waste any more of this article on my opinions on Jewish culture and historical discourse in the formation or maintenance of the state of Israel.  I’ve written lots of other essays on that sort of thing, along with dozens of related songs.

Suffice it to say, regardless of whether some people have a different opinion than mine on the motivations and political philosophy of David Ben-Gurion, I am neither an anti-Semite nor a holocaust-denier, nor any of the other things of which I am repeatedly accused, mainly for transgressions of association, in the form of interviewing or doing gigs with the wrong people.

The point is not that I’m not a fascist, however.  That’s obvious to anyone with a brain.  The point is, who are these people who say that I am one, and why are there so many other people who are either scared they might be right, or, if they think they’re wrong, are scared to say so publicly?

That’s the left’s cancel culture, right there.  The people who are spreading the lies are part of it, of course, but so are the people who are afraid to call the lies out.  Not that I blame anyone for being afraid, but when you know something is bullshit and you don’t say so — when you’re close enough to it to see what’s going on and you stay silent — you’re making a decision, you’re participating by not participating, even if the reasons for your silence are perfectly easy to understand.  No one wants to deal with being publicly denounced.

The flyer that was put on car windshields all over my neighborhood on the morning of May 2nd reads:




Let him know anti semites are not wanted!

EMail the piece of shit:  drovics@gmail.com or david@davidrovics.com

Give the turd a call or two, or three!  (503) 863-1177

David Rovics is known to harass the homeless community.

A bad photocopy of a picture from the Contact page of my website appears in the middle of the flyer, which was obviously made without the use of a graphic artist.

I’m not personally too concerned with being “doxxed,” because my address and phone number are publicly available anyway, as I am what we call a Public Figure, constantly advertising my whereabouts, like any working performer must do regularly, among other reasons.  The allegations (all completely false) are concerning, however.

And it is concerning is that anyone would think it’s remotely acceptable to engage in this extremely escalatory practice with someone who is otherwise clearly in your camp politically.  It’s nothing short of extremely sectarian behavior, of the sort that can — and regularly does — lead to very dangerous places.

As soon as I posted the flyer on social media, I got a call from a friend from Belfast, who has a lot of experience with people who post fliers like these.  He was concerned about what might happen next, and wanted to give me a whole bunch of really good advice on how to try to take security precautions.

Another thing that happened soon after I posted that flyer was someone with a local Twitter account that monitors far right activity in the area retweeted my post denouncing these flyers, and chimed in with their own, confirming that I was not, in fact, any of the things being alleged.  When I saw the post and was going to respond to it with a “thank you,” I couldn’t, because it had been taken down by the Twitter account that posted it.

Why do some antifascists in Portland not feel comfortable denouncing someone who would call me any of these outrageous things?  What the hell is going on here?

What it is, when it comes to the left’s version of cancel culture, is an almost unbelievable degree of acquiescence to the “safe space” concept, to the extent where anyone who has a viewpoint that doesn’t align with what is considered to be the right line is to be canceled.  (Although of course the “right line” doesn’t exist, any more than cancel culture or political correctness exists, as these are all figments of the far right’s imagination, according to some deluded members of the left.)

The local antifascist with the Twitter account who can’t bother defending me against these accusations is not alone.  This is just the one I saw myself.  Who knows how many others are out there.  I can only guess, but it’s certainly just the tip of the iceberg.

The band that didn’t want to share a bill with me recently here in Portland, specifically because of these sorts of false allegations floating around me everywhere — it was very good of them to let me know that this was why they didn’t want to share the bill, and they’re not the ones spreading the rumors, but they’re participating in the charade, whether they want to or not, along with all the other protest organizers or festival organizers who I don’t know about, who never asked me to play at their events, because I have become too controversial a figure on the left, evidently.  (Note:  if you thought being popular enough to draw a crowd was what got you hired at festivals, think again.  There are definitely lots of other factors.)

But what is the actual source of the controversy?

Nobody knows, it seems.  Or if anyone does, they won’t come out and have a public conversation on the subject, under their real name.

And what is the goal of the person or people engaging in this campaign against me online and on the car windshields in my neighborhood?  What is the goal of left cancel culture?

This is also unclear.  Generally, the people engaging in left cancel culture have no legal case or anything (like accusing me of things they have no case for accusing me of, like hate speech), and if they did, they wouldn’t want to go to the authorities anyway.  They also generally don’t want to go to prison, so for that and perhaps other reasons, they might or might not engage in actions like bodily assault.

The goal, to the extent that there is one, seems to be to ostracize certain individuals from the left.  It has worked this way in many cases.  What is much, much more worrying to me, though, is not how many lives are ruined by this sort of campaign, but how many people don’t become involved with the left in the first place because of the widespread existence of left cancel culture.

The left, in short, is an alienating environment for a lot of people to even consider being involved with, let alone to stay involved with.  The burnout rate is tremendously high, and if you talk with people who have been involved with activism for a long time, figuring out how to deal with all the back-stabbing and cancel culture bullshit was essential to having any kind of longevity in the movement.  And many people will attest that they lost far more comrades to back-stabbing than to police batons or attacks from the far right.

Of course, it is the role of police provocateurs — of which there are undoubtedly as many now as there were when Cointelpro was exposed, when I was a child — to do all of the things these left cancel culture people do.  It is also the job of the provocateurs to smash the independent businesses, when the real members of the black bloc are focusing on the upscale corporate chains.

But the question is not whether the police and other provocateurs are involved with these campaigns — they most definitely are, whether or not they’re involved with this particular one against me.

The question is how will the rest of the left respond?  When will we start to truly call out this shit?

Here’s a suggestion on where we can start:  if it wasn’t a cop who put up these flyers, and it was, as I suspect, someone associated with local Portland anarchists, then some of you reading this right now know who did it.  Tell me who they are, and let’s have a public conversation, using our real names.

Your security isn’t working.  It’s backfiring.  Get off of Twitter, and go outside.  But not to do that.

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Key Lessons for Success in Higher Education and Beyond

Counterpunch Articles -

3. Álvaro Huerta in front of mural “Ghosts of the barrio” (1974) by Wayne Healy. Photo by Pablo Aguilar (2005.)

As I reflect on my early undergraduate years at UCLA, where I entered as a first-generation math major from the notorious Ramon Gardens public housing project (or Big Hazard projects) in East Los Angeles, I’m still surprised (more like shocked!) that I graduated. While I excelled in mathematics, I wasn’t prepared in reading and writing at the university level. It didn’t help that I prioritized my student activism (e.g., being a MEChista) over my studies.

Hence, before I voluntarily withdrew from UCLA in Winter of ’88, embarking on a hiatus to become a community organizer and idealistically transform the world, I received the following English grades:



+ ENGCOMP B = B (retake)


This doesn’t include a couple of incompletes, where I left with a 2.32 GPA!

Fourteen years later and several community organizing victories to my name (e.g., organizing Latino gardeners, defeating power plant)—after teaching myself how to read and write—I returned to UCLA to finish what I started many moons ago. Being more mature and better prepared, for my final years, I received mostly A’s (with several A+’s), graduating with a history degree and 3.56 GPA (cumulative).

This led me to my master’s degree in Urban Planning at UCLA (fully funded), where I graduated top of my class with a 3.96 GPA (being robbed of the top dept. award!). I then pursued my Ph.D. degree in City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley (fully funded, including a prestigious Ford Foundation Fellowship), as the # 1 ranked public university in the world, where I graduated with a 3.86 GPA.

Did I mention that I’m an Associate Professor at a great university—California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (or Cal Poly Pomona)?

During all my years in higher education, several professors “fondly” told me (in person and via email) that: “I wasn’t going to graduate”; “I didn’t have what it takes to succeed”; “I wasn’t going to acquire a tenure-track faculty position”; “I wasn’t going to secure tenure and promotion”; and two more pages of racial micro-aggressions.

Why is it that for students/faculty of color, we must always prove ourselves to the members of the dominant culture? It’s especially sad when the diatribes come from other students/faculty of color.

My usual response to my cowardly bullies and racists: “If I could survive the abject poverty, extreme violence and state of hopelessness of Tijuana and E.L.A. projects — something you know nothing about, like almost being killed by the police for “driving while brown”— I could survive anything!”

Based on the aforementioned, I provide the following lessons for success in higher education and beyond: Learn from your mistakes. Adapt to new or unfamiliar environments. Be bold. Be brave. Dare to take risks without fear of failure; without failure, there can be no success. If you’re a racialized minority, you must work twice as hard (or more) to succeed in this country. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; only successful people seek help. Master the rules of the institution(s) or game. Prioritize your education/degree(s); you have the rest of your life to work, socialize and play. Don’t let others validate your self-worth; always believe in yourself. Never give up!

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Impact Investing: a Ruse or a Means to Reducing Inequality?

Counterpunch Articles -

As an African-American, 30-year veteran of community development and social justice struggle, my entry a few years ago into the “space” of financial dealings — even among socially responsible-oriented folks — was quite an adjustment. Pretty white; much more corporate feeling; driven by numbers (i.e. financial “performance” and “returns,” albeit with an eye towards “doing good while also doing well”); and more elaborate conferences, offering options beyond chicken.

What do we make of “impact investing?” It is seemingly the new social change fix-it — providing smart young liberal college grads with not only an opportunity to do good but to make good salaries and hold prestigious investment titles. How does its rapid ascent — amidst the continued Wall Street boom – compare with and relate to the persistent structural inequity and ever-growing vulnerability of the majority of the American public? Is it merely a ruse — the latest means of keeping us enthralled with markets and the promise of capitalism, as we are surrounded by unprecedented inequality, overflowing morgues, an out of control police state, and looming climate catastrophe?

Cynicism is more than understandable; and yet, the world shows us examples of markets and morality not being in such disjuncture. Indeed, we can even recall a time not too long ago in this country when, but for significant racial discrimination, economic growth did bring widespread prosperity and a sound trajectory of hope and opportunity. Is this vision not worth revisiting?

In a longer piece in Nonprofit Quarterly — Building the Social Justice Architecture for Impact Investing — I strive to strike what appears to be a needed balance in this discourse. I offer a sobering reminder to market loyalists of the severity of the structural challenges we face — not obviated by a litany of exciting eco- or worker-friendly innovations or shareholder resolutions, few of which sadly are successful. On the flip side, however, I note global examples of markets that don’t run roughshod over their political economies, helping to produce a high quality of life for the majority of their citizenry.

I note how impact investing needs to speak more clearly to themes even beyond “ESG” (environment, social, and governance — the field’s yardstick) to advance a shift in values and vision in our economic system and a focus on structural change. Furthermore, I offer up for discussion some concrete steps for this community of largely well-meaning educated and resourced folks to amplify impact (and avoid “savior mentality”) by working in close partnership with social justice actors and principles to build a movement of true regenerative/restorative economics and economic democracy.

I conclude with a quick reflection on my own active engagement in the South African anti-apartheid divestment struggle of the 1980s (on this 35th anniversary of my college campus’s erection of the “Winnie Mandela” shantytown).  I recall the hope we had for the flourishing of democracy, contrasted with a look at the country today.  I pose a question regarding the relationship between the control of the vote and the control of the economy. There are lessons here for impact investors — lessons underscoring the value of clarity and conviction regarding our goals. For ultimately, in a world on the brink of destruction, what is the impact we are seeking?

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About That ‘Rules-Based International Order’

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The Biden administration has taken to frequently asserting its intention to return — versus the Trump administration’s departure therefrom — to something called a “rules-based international order.” What is this supposed “order?” What obligations does it impose, and upon whom? Which governments meet those obligations. Which don’t? Google returns about 197,000 results on the phrase … Continue reading "About That ‘Rules-Based International Order’"

The post About That ‘Rules-Based International Order’ appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

More Government Spying and Lying

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Twice last week, the federal government’s unconstitutional spying on ordinary Americans was exposed. One of these revelations was made by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., who wrote that the FBI is still using warrantless spying in criminal cases, notwithstanding the Constitution and federal laws. The other revelation was a surprise even to those of … Continue reading "More Government Spying and Lying"

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Deby’s Death, Chad’s Crisis, and the Ghosts of Libyan Fiascoes Past

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Joe Biden uttered the word "Africa" exactly once in his first address to a joint session of congress, marking the vaunted presidential cliché of his first "100 Days" in office. It was a tangential reference, but its context, implications – and what Biden didn’t say – were somewhat instructive: After 20 years of American valor … Continue reading "Deby’s Death, Chad’s Crisis, and the Ghosts of Libyan Fiascoes Past"

The post Deby’s Death, Chad’s Crisis, and the Ghosts of Libyan Fiascoes Past appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Facebook Oversight Board Is “an Elaborate Public Relations Stunt”

Mother Jones Magazine -

In January, following the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, Facebook halted Donald Trump’s ability to post to Facebook and Instagram, and asked the company’s new Oversight Board to determine whether Trump’s ban should be made permanent. The board’s ruling came Wednesday—but a final decision on Trump’s status did not. Instead, the board pushed the question back onto Facebook: The ban will remain in place while Facebook deliberates.

The platform’s ostracizing of the former president brought its Oversight Board enormous attention. Facebook created the board to take on some of its trickiest content moderation decisions, wrote the board’s rules, and funded it through a trust. But it also limited the panel’s authority: Board members only consider individual content decisions, such as whether a given post should be removed, but cannot make broader changes to how Facebook operates.

For this reason, Facebook critics see the board as a clever distraction from the true problems plaguing the world’s largest social media company. The longer the public debates the board’s merits, they say, the less we pay attention to Facebook’s structural problems, including a business model based on outrage, surveillance capitalism, and anticompetitive practices. Even Trump is part of this elaborate side show, according to the company’s foes—a distraction from Facebook’s myriad issues.

I spoke with Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor who in recent years has become one of the company’s most prominent critics and the author of Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe, about the board’s decision, and what people should be minding instead. This conservation was edited for length and clarity.

What’s your quick take on the Oversight Board’s decision today?

I’m mostly focused on the fact that at a point in time when Facebook is the subject of a Texas antitrust case related to price fixing with Google, where an insurrection was actually organized on its platform, where Facebook’s own research and internal disclosures have suggested that people were radicalized into Qanon by the platform, where disinformation about COVID amplified on Facebook has undermined the nation’s response to a pandemic. We’re sitting here talking about the Oversight Board instead of talking about those issues. That is a huge win for Facebook.

I think of the Oversight Board as an elaborate public relations stunt. The controversies are essentially created to make the distraction more effective. As much as I’m sure they would rather have had the Oversight Board take the hit for this, better to buy another six months than have to put the Trump thing behind them, and then face whatever scrutiny they were going to get on those other issues.

So Facebook doesn’t mind that we get to have this same Trump conversation over and over for another six months?

Facebook is in the business of attention. They know more about the manipulation of human attention than just about any business on Earth. And once you recognize that the Oversight Board—in fact, frankly, all of their communication strategy—is really about attention, then everything makes sense, because suddenly you realize they’re like a magician. And they know how to draw your attention to the left hand, so you don’t see what the right hand is doing. And they’ve done that here.

To me, the Oversight Board’s decision to punt back to Facebook today reinforced that critique. Because it just kept us in this sort of like loop, talking about the same thing.

Rather than asking the question of should Donald Trump be reinstated to Facebook, a more useful question would be: Is there any way that Facebook can be made safe for democracy, public health, and self determination? And what would that look like?

Do you have an answer?

If we put this in the frame of how US policy and law work, there are three areas you have to look at. You have to look at safety. You have to look at privacy, which is really code for self-determination, And then you have to look at competition, which is antitrust.

Under safety, the issue is that the software industry has no standards. There’s no equivalent to the Hippocratic oath. There’s no requirement that engineers anticipate, much less mitigate, harm before shipping a product. And there’s no accountability for when they do, in fact, ship a harmful product. And so we have to fix that.

[On privacy] the place you start is by recognizing that all humans need a sanctuary, that constant surveillance is a terrible thing. And that it would be best if we agree that there were certain classes of data that should not be shared, things that are incredibly intimate. I think you start by banning that, and I think you then maybe have an opt-in rule for everything else.

And then, lastly, you have the competition stuff. That’s the place where our system of government is further along. We have now a bipartisan consensus that this industry needs to be regulated with antitrust laws.

To bring this back to Trump a bit, you’re saying that the Trump decision is just one little patch, while these broader problems persist? 

I think of Trump as one of the black holes of internet platforms. He just absorbed all the energy. But he was also more or less enabled by them.

Say Facebook decides to let Trump back on. What do you think are the consequences of that?

Our [political] system is in a very dangerous place right now, where the forces of right-wing extremism have political power greatly in excess of their numbers. And internet platforms have been central to enabling that. It all became really obvious with Trump’s election in 2016. I think it’s better that he’s not on. But how big a difference it makes I have no idea.

You can’t really ever know the counterfactual.

Forget counterfactual for a minute. The Republican Party’s refusal to acknowledge the outcome of the election is as extreme as it could possibly be. How different would things be if Trump were still on internet platforms? I mean, obviously, the quality of the platforms is slightly less toxic without him on there. I’m not sure that our politics could be any worse than they are right now.

Rep. Liz Cheney Lashes Out at Her Critical Colleagues

Mother Jones Magazine -

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) published a scathing opinion piece in the Washington Post Wednesday afternoon arguing that the Republican Party must either accept the results of the 2020 election and fully investigate the January 6 insurrection—or crumble. 

House Republicans are working to oust Cheney from party leadership because she refuses to accept the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says he’s concerned “about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair.” The party’s proposed replacement as House Republican Conference chair is Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), an unblinking Trump ally.

“The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” Cheney wrote in the Post. “The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have.”

Cheney argued that Republicans should support the Justice Department’s investigations into the events of January 6, encourage the formation of a bipartisan panel with subpoena power to convey facts about the insurrection to the public, and hold fast to “genuinely conservative principles” while avoiding “the dangerous and anti-democratic cult of personality.”

Still, Cheney’s estrangement from the rest of the Republican Party in no way makes her a progressive hero. After she repudiated Trump’s lies, she blasted “Black Lives Matter and antifa violence,” calling destruction of property during protests against police violence “illegal and reprehensible.”

One thing is certain: The GOP won’t succeed with its agenda “if Republicans choose to abandon the rule of law and join Trump’s crusade to undermine the foundation of our democracy and reverse the legal outcome of the last election.”

Read Cheney’s entire article here.


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