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A “Perfect Storm” of Factors Has Made the Coronavirus Especially Severe in the Latinx Community

Mother Jones Magazine -

As the world grapples with the devastation of the coronavirus, one thing is clear: The United States simply wasn’t prepared. Despite repeated warnings from infectious disease experts over the years, we lacked essential beds, equipment, and medication; public health advice was confusing, and our leadership offered no clear direction while sidelining credible health professionals and institutions. Infectious disease experts agree that it’s only a matter of time before the next pandemic hits, and that could be even more deadly. So how do we fix what COVID has shown was broken? In this Mother Jones series, we’re asking experts from a wide range of disciplines one question: What are the most important steps we can take to make sure we’re better prepared next time around?

Dr. Joseph Betancourt—a primary care physician and the first chief equity and inclusion officer at Massachusetts General Hospital— still thinks about the early days of the pandemic. Originally from Puerto Rico, he grew up in a bilingual, bicultural home and reached out to the employees in the service lines at at Massachusetts General Hospital to talk about COVID-19, knowing they’d be vulnerable. Many of those Latinx workers spoke Spanish and worked in food services and building maintenance. “What sticks with me is that when I explained the way the virus spread, they had the common sense to say: ‘Boy, I take the train and I’m shoulder to shoulder with people and when I’m in the cafeteria preparing food we’re shoulder to shoulder, so shouldn’t I be wearing a mask?’ But at that time the CDC guidelines were saying don’t use a mask.” (Betancourt still recommended that they try to cover their nose and mouth whenever possible.) The guidelines coming from the top, he says, may have been well-intentioned back in early March because there was a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), but those decisions put Latinx workers at a higher risk of infection. 

“I think of all the Latinos who wanted to do the right thing, who would’ve done the right thing, who would’ve worn a mask early on,” Betancourt told me. “They were being advised that they didn’t need to do the types of things that could’ve given them extra protection, and I know we lost lives as a result of that.”

As the first chief of equity and inclusion—a position that was created in 2019—Betancourt spends a lot of time thinking about how to address disparities and achieve equity in healthcare. He describes the many factors that played a role in the severity of virus in Latinx communities as a “perfect storm,” and that public data is underestimating the impact COVID-19 has had on Latinx in the United States. 

On why Latinx have such a high rate of infection and deaths: This isn’t about Latinos or African Americans being more susceptible to the virus genetically. So if we start with that, then we start at the beginning. African Americans and Latinos, for a lot of different reasons, suffer from very significant health disparities. We know that Latinos certainly are more likely to have difficulty accessing the healthcare system and are more likely to be uninsured—not because they’re not in the workforce but because they tend to work in jobs that don’t provide health insurance.  Then you certainly have immigration concerns; so now you have decreased access to the system with another barrier. And then clearly, we understand that the social conditions, that are in large part based on structural racism over centuries and decades, puts certain populations at higher risk. The conditions that make the virus easily transmitted are ripe for spread in a community that is densely populated, in which you have an abuela, a tio, two nephews, living in your home, because they’re helping you to take care of your kids. Or you’re taking care of extended family in a small space. We’re talking individuals who don’t have the luxury of social distancing, working from home, or getting groceries delivered.

We’re talking individuals who don’t have the luxury of social distancing, working from home, or getting groceries delivered.

On the right messenger and the right messaging: On top of language barriers, many are not getting messages on time, or getting messages from trusted messengers. Clearly in the absence of a trusted messenger, what you get is misinformation filling that void. I was seeing that my patients, 70% of whom are Latino, would ask me if the stuff they saw on WhatsApp about the “hold your breath for 10 seconds” test or about drinking hot fluids was true. All these things and other remdedios caseros (home remedies) fills the gap. So add that in as an access barrier too.  

We’ve seen informally a lot of Latino leaders in health and science stand up to participate in media activities in the local news in places like Miami and California. There’s a group of us out there who, because of our understanding of the culture, our capacity to speak the language, and our lived experience, are better able to communicate to our community. If you look at the federal and state levels, there hasn’t been a trusted Latino voice communicating to the Latino population. We’re trying to do as best as we can regionally, but only about 4 or 5 percent of physicians are Latino, so ultimately we are underrepresented in medicine. If we could do it in a more deliberate way at the federal and state levels, we’d be more effective. 

On whether the federal government has learned lessons from early hotspots and will better protect Latinx populations in new ones: No. I’m absolutely terrified. I don’t even think we need to talk about the fall, I think we need to talk about today. If we look at Texas, Florida, or Arizona, right now they’re seeing exactly what happened to us in Massachusetts, exactly what we saw in New York, what we saw in Detroit, in Chicago, and New Orleans. There’s no doubt in my mind that communities of color are being disproportionately impacted right now, as we speak. Forget the fall; this is going to get worse. And ultimately, some of those states aren’t doing a good job or are not as invested in collecting good race and ethnicity data. I think it’s really tragic because in many of these states, given their policies, I don’t know that we will ever know the truth of which communities were impacted the most. But I know, clearly, given everything we’ve experienced around the country, and given the demographics of those states, it’s going to take a big toll on Latino communities. No doubt.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why Capitalism is in Constant Conflict With Democracy

Counterpunch Articles -

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The capitalist economic system has always had a big problem with politics in societies with universal suffrage. Anticipating that, most capitalists opposed and long resisted extending suffrage beyond the rich who possessed capital. Only mass pressures from below forced repeated extensions of voting rights until universal suffrage was achieved—at least legally. To this day, capitalists develop and apply all sorts of legal and illegal mechanisms to limit and constrain suffrage. Among those committed to conserving capitalism, fear of universal suffrage runs deep. Trump and his Republicans exemplify and act on that fear as the 2020 election looms.

The problem arises from capitalism’s basic nature. The capitalists who own and operate business enterprises—employers as a group—comprise a small social minority. In contrast, employees and their families are the social majority. The employer minority clearly dominates the micro-economy inside each enterprise. In capitalist corporations, the major shareholders and the board of directors they select make all the key decisions including distribution of the enterprise’s net revenues.

Their decisions allocate large portions of those net revenues to themselves as shareholders’ dividends and top managers’ executive pay packages. Their incomes and wealth thus accumulate faster than the social averages. In privately held capitalist enterprises their owners and top managers behave similarly and enjoy a similar set of privileges. Unequally distributed income and wealth in modern societies flow chiefly from the internal organization of capitalist enterprises. The owners and their top managers then use their disproportionate wealth to shape and control the macro-economy and the politics interwoven with it.

However, universal suffrage makes it possible for employees to undo capitalism’s underlying economic inequalities by political means when, for example, majorities win elections. Employees can elect politicians whose legislative, executive, and judicial decisions effectively reverse capitalism’s economic results. Tax, minimum wage, and government spending laws can redistribute income and wealth in many different ways. If redistribution is not how majorities choose to end unacceptable levels of inequality, they can take other steps. Majorities might, for example, vote to transition enterprises’ internal organizations from capitalist hierarchies to democratic cooperatives. Enterprises’ net revenues would then be distributed not by the minorities atop capitalist hierarchies but instead by democratic decisions of all employees, each with one vote. The multiple levels of inequality typical of capitalism would disappear.

Capitalism’s ongoing political problem has been how best to prevent employees from forming just such political majorities. During its recurring times of special difficulty (periodic crashes, wars, conflicts between monopolized and competitive industries, pandemics), capitalism’s political problem intensifies and broadens. It becomes how best to prevent employees’ political majorities from ending capitalism altogether and moving society to an alternative economic system.

To solve capitalism’s political problem, capitalists as a small social minority must craft alliances with other social groups. Those alliances must be strong enough to defuse, deter, or destroy any and all emerging employee majorities that might threaten capitalists’ interests or their systems’ survival. The smaller or weaker the capitalist minorities are, the more the key alliance they form and rely upon is with the military. In many parts of the world, capitalism is secured by a military dictatorship that targets and destroys emerging movements for anti-capitalist change among employees or among non-capitalist sectors. Even where capitalists are a relatively large, well-established minority, if their social dominance is threatened, say by a large anti-capitalist movement from below, alliance with a military dictatorship may be a last resort survival mechanism. When such alliances culminate in mergers of capitalists and the state apparatus, fascism has arrived.

During capitalism’s non-extreme moments, when not threatened by imminent social explosions, its basic political problem remains. Capitalists must block employee majorities from undoing the workings and results of the capitalist economic system and especially its characteristic distributions of income, wealth, power, and culture. To that end capitalists seek portions of the employee class to ally with, to disconnect from other, fellow employees. They usually work with and use political parties to form and sustain such alliances.

In the words of the great Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, the capitalists use their allied political party to form a “political bloc” with portions of the employee class and possible others outside the capitalist economy. That bloc must be strong enough to thwart the anti-capitalist goals of movements among the employee class. Ideally, for capitalists, their bloc should rule the society—be the hegemonic power—by controlling mass media, winning elections, producing parliamentary majorities, and disseminating an ideology in schools and beyond that justifies capitalism. Capitalist hegemony would then keep anti-capitalist impulses disorganized or unable to build a social movement into a counter-hegemonic bloc strong enough to challenge capitalism’s hegemony.

Trump illustrates the current conditions for capitalist hegemony. First and foremost, his government lavishly funds and celebrates the military. Secondly, he delivered to corporations and the rich a huge 2017 tax cut despite their having enjoyed several prior decades of wealth redistribution upward to them. Thirdly, he keeps deregulating capitalist enterprises and markets. To sustain his government’s largesse to its capitalist patrons, he notoriously cultivates traditional alliances with portions of the employee class. The Republican Party that Trump inherited and took over had let those lapse. They had weakened and led to dangerous political losses. They had to be rebuilt and strengthened or else the Republican Party could no longer be the means for capitalists to craft and organizationally sustain a hegemonic bloc. The GOP would then likely fade away, leaving the Democratic Party for the capitalists to ally with and use for such a hegemonic bloc.

Capitalists have switched hegemonic allies and agents between the two major parties repeatedly in U.S. history. Just as the Republican Party let its alliances with sections of the employee class lapse, opening the space for Trump, so too did the Democratic Party with its traditional allies. That opened space for Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the progressives. To revive and rebuild the Republican Party as a hegemonic ally with U.S. capitalists, Trump had to give a good bit more to Christian fundamentalists, white supremacists, anti-immigration forces, chauvinists (and anti-foreigners), law-and-order enthusiasts, and gun lovers than the old GOP establishment did. That is why and how he defeated that establishment. For historical reasons, Clinton, Obama, and the old Democratic Party establishment survived yet again despite giving little to their employee class allies (workers, unions, African Americans, Latinx, women, students, academics, and the unemployed). They kept control of the party, blocked Sanders and the growing progressive challenge, and won the popular vote in 2016. They lost the election.

Capitalists prefer to use the Republicans as their hegemonic partner because the Republicans more reliably and regularly deliver what capitalists want than the Democrats do. But if and when the Republican bloc of alliances weakens or otherwise functions inadequately as a hegemonic partner, U.S. capitalists will shift to the Democrats. They will accept less favorable policies, at least for a while, if they gain a solid hegemonic partner in return. Were Trump’s alliances with portions of the employee class to weaken or dissolve, U.S. capitalists will go with the Biden-Clinton-Obama Democrats instead. If needed, they would also go with the progressives, as they did in the 1930s with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Trump repeatedly aims to strengthen his alliances with the more than a third of American employees who seem to approve of his regime, no matter the offense given to others. He counts on that being enough for most capitalists to stay with the Republicans. After all, most capitalists prefer Republicans; his regime strongly supported the military and corporate profiteering. Only Trump’s and the Republicans’ colossal failures to prepare for or contain both the pandemic and the capitalism-caused economic crash could shift voter sentiment to elect Democrats. So Trump and the Republicans concentrate on denying those failures and distracting public attention from them. The Democratic Party establishment aims to persuade capitalists that a Biden regime will better manage the pandemic and crash, deliver a larger mass base to support capitalism, and only marginally reform its inequalities.

For the progressives inside and outside the Democratic Party, a major choice looms. Many have felt it. On the one hand, progressives may access power as the most attractive hegemonic allies for capitalists. By sharpening rather than soft-pedaling social criticisms, progressives may give capitalist employers stronger hegemonic alliances with employees than the traditional Democratic establishment can or dares to offer. That is roughly what Trump did in displacing the traditional establishment of the Republican Party. On the other hand, progressives will be tempted by their own growth to break from the two-party alternation that keeps capitalism hegemonic. Instead, progressives could then open up U.S. politics so that the public would have greater free choice: an anti-capitalist and pro-socialist party competing against the two traditional pro-capitalist parties.

Capitalism’s political problem arose from its intrinsically undemocratic juxtaposition of an employer minority and an employee majority. The contradictions of that structure clashed with universal suffrage. Endless political maneuvers around hegemonic blocs with alternative sections of the employees allowed capitalism to survive. However, eventually those contradictions would exceed the capacity of hegemonic maneuvers to contain and control them. A pandemic combined with a major economic crash may provoke and enable progressives to make the break, change U.S. politics, and realize the long-overdue social changes.

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

The post Why Capitalism is in Constant Conflict With Democracy appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Defund Fascism, Blue and Orange

Counterpunch Articles -

The American ruling class says it is opposed to “big government.” It isn’t. The wealthy Few are only against what the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called “the left hand of the state” – those parts of government that reflect the victories of past and ongoing social movements by serving the common good, regulating Big Business, and offering support, protection, inclusion and empowerment to the lower and working classes. That is the “big government” the rich and powerful don’t like. That is the big bad State they want to “starve” and “drown.”

Things are different when it comes to “the right hand of the state”– the parts of government that advance and preserve the upward concentration of wealth and power and discipline the non-privileged Many and popular movements for justice and democracy. The bourgeoisie and their many servants, allies, and agents love that kind of big State. Big government corporate subsidies, tax breaks, financial bailouts, military contracts, de-regulation, and privatization deals are peachy keen with the rich and powerful.

Ask a Wall Street CEO if his fear of “big government” prevents him from receiving a giant, profit-preserving bailout check from the U.S. Treasury while millions of Americans line up at food pantries. Ask a major investor in a cost-plus “defense” firm if he worries over “big government” encroachment lead him call for the slashing of the giant Pentagon budget, which eats up more than half of U.S. federal discretionary spending.

Ask a Chicago real estate developer granted millions of dollars robbed from city social services by local “tax increment financing” if he minds big city government feeding his coffers.

And ask One-Percenters how much sleep they lose over America’s giant, globally unmatched racist mass incarceration system (cruel “home” to nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners even as the U.S. contains roughly 5% of humanity), which ruins millions of lives while capitalist parasites go free for epic crimes including the deliberate destruction of livable ecology.

A Vicious Circle

The urban social justice movement to “defund the police” advances the overdue demand for a shift of metropolitan resources from the right to the left hand of the state. America’s Black metropolitan population has been plagued by a vicious combination: savage deindustrialization, de facto housing and educational apartheid, relentless government-subsidized gentrification, and the rise of a pervasive racist police and prison state. The nation’s disproportionately poor urban and inner-ring suburban Black residents have been dealing with metropolitan blue fascism (“blue” referring here to police uniforms and to the party-in-power in nearly every U.S. city) since long before the American political system elevated the orange fascist Trump into the White House.

For at least half a century now, the main response of American capitalist-imperialist-white-supremacist government to the Black urban crisis (which predates both neoliberalism and deindustrialization) has been a “racially disparate” mass arrest and imprisonment regime so oppressive that one in three Black boys can now expect to be locked up in their adult lives. Prison histories and the crippling lifelong stigma of a felony record (what Michelle Alexander powerfully if somewhat inaccurately called “the new Jim Crow”) have become practically normative facts of life for young Black men in “the land of liberty.” Negative and all too-commonly fatal encounters with abusive police officers are routine parts of Black experience.

This toxic mix concentrates poverty, joblessness, stress, ill-health, and crime in demonized communities whose tragic violence is chronically paraded on the nightly “urban nightmare” news. The real institutional, social, and historical offenders –class rule and racial oppression – are never part of the story, though the news teams are racially diverse (which helps make the underlying causes more invisible).

Racist mass arrest and incarceration has a viciously circular way of reinforcing itself. The more public revenues are directed into right-handed government repression, the fewer resources are left for left-handed social protection and uplift. The less social protection and uplift, the more drugs, violence, guns, gang activity, and crime in Black communities. The more Black Americans are saddled with criminal records, the less able they are to obtain remunerative jobs, garner financial assistance, access education, obtain health care, stay out of illegal activities, and participate in stable families. The more that Black communities are destabilized by mass incarceration, the more that inner-city and inner-ring suburban chaos is available for the media to exploit to advance more racist “law and order” repression.

Call it a Caucasian class-rule Catch-22. The racist right hand of the state feeds on itself, providing its own self-fulfilling pretexts in the name of the very “public safety” it ironically works to undermine.

The more the left hand of the state shrinks, the more government bat(on)s from the right side of home(land) plate.

Meanwhile the neofascist National Rifle Association helps arm the bloodshed of the ghettoes by making sure that the “armed madhouse” that is America is flooded by guns, including military-style assault weapons

What the People Need vs. What They Get

All of this was terrible enough before COVID-19. Then came “the Trump Virus” (give the imperialist Nancy Pelosi her due for coming up with that one). The pandemic has put racial oppression on super-steroids. It has wreaked special havoc in Black communities thanks to a number of factors built into America’s insidiously racialized and savagely unequal capitalist state: widespread pre-existing health “co-morbidities” (diabetes, hypertension high blood pressure, grocery deserts, heart disease, malnutrition and more) resulting from ongoing race-class oppression; Black workers’ disproportionate concentration in jobs eliminated and/or made lethal by COVID-19; overcrowded living conditions (a challenge to social distancing); the non- and under-insured status of many Black Americans; the weak presence of health care services in poor and nonwhite communities; Blacks’ wildly disproportionate presence in jails and prisons that function as petri dishes for the virus; the race-class digital divide, which makes if difficult and often impossible for millions of Black Americans to work or study from home.

To the surprise of nobody who is familiar with the many-sided desolation of inner-city and suburban ghettoes, the virus and the recession or depression it triggered has escalated so-called Black-on-Black violence in the nation’s most “truly disadvantaged” communities.

The nation’s race-class ghettoes need a “Marshall Plan” influx of teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists, counselors, day care workers, affordable housing, sanitation services, mental health services, addiction treatment centers, computers, Internet resources, full-service grocery stores, and much more. What they get instead is cold, right-handed repression from a corporate and imperial state that pretends to have conceded to the demand for racial justice by letting “Black Lives Matter” be painted on to the National Basketball Association’s Disneyland court and permitting the NBA’s mostly Black players to wear one of 29 “officially approved social justice messages” – an oxymoronic phrase! – on their jerseys this summer:

The NBA-permitted list includes the following phrases: “Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.” Not on the list: Black Power, Power to the People, No Justice No Peace, Our Streets, Revolution, Defund the Police, Nothing to Lose But Our Chains, Fight the Rich Not Their Wars, Rent Strike, General Strike. )

As COVID-19 ravages Black, Latinx, and Indigenous America, what poor Black Americans get instead of “justice,” “equality,” “respect,” “love,” “freedom,” “liberation,” and “equality” is Glock-brandishing cops, rotting schools occupied by menacing gendarmes; giant racist holding pens and coronavirus-spreading centers like Cook County Jail, and regular trips to and from rural prisons (“downstate” in Illinois, “upstate” in New York and Michigan). What they get is a racial justice and policing crisis that is intimately interrelated with a racist public health crisis epitomized by the glaring and despicable refusal of urban America’s mostly white police officers to wear face masks as they crack down on Black Lives Matter protesters. Along the way, metropolitan budgets and policies continue to be tilted towards the mostly white wealthy and affluent in ways other than but intimately related to racist policing and incarceration.

If not for the savage murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, something else would have set off the demand to “defund the police,” which is really a call to shift public resources from right-handed racist repression to left handed and anti- or at least non-racist social protection and uplift.

Orange, Red, Black, and Blue: American Fascism is Bipartisan

Darkly enough, the virus-heightened violence in the ghettoes has combined with the social justice protests that arose after the Floyd lynching to provide the Klansman’s son Trump with supposed pretexts for trying to double down on the triumph of the right over the left hand of the state. Trump claims that he is sending federal paramilitary agents to Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and other cities to end the violence in the ghettoes. That is nonsense. The virulent racist Trump has no problem with people killing each other in the ghettoes created and sustained by the systemic racism whose existence he and his administration ritually deny. What Orange King Covid really wants is to please his Amerikaner base by looking like a “strong leader” who is smacking demonized urban and nonwhite Others and humiliating commonly nonwhite (and often female) big city “liberal” and “radical Left” (fascists like to call corporate centrists leftists) Democratic mayors.

With his fellow Richard Nixon fan Roger Stone (out of prison thanks to a recent presidential commutation) whispering in his ear, the big Orange Archie Bunker is trying to make white-terrorizing campaign hay out of the phrase “de-fund the police.” Let police budgets atrophy, Trump says, and a howling mob of inner-city Black and brown rapists and murderers will overrun and even “abolish” white Americans’ “beautiful” suburbs. The ads are not subtle. They sell racist white fear of You Know Who in no uncertain terms.

Racialized appeals to “law and order” are a critical part of the fascist political playbook. So is rural and suburban fear of supposedly dangerous multicultural and cosmopolitan, crime-ridden cities.

Never mind that Black people are being gentrified out of cities and into increasingly nonwhite and impoverished suburbs by big city governments that heap giant tax breaks and other subsidies on real estate developers who make urban communities unaffordable to working- and lower-class people.

Is Donald Trump, who calls Black Lives Matter protesters “terrorists” and threatens them with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons,” a fascist, as numerous liberal commentators are now claiming to have discovered? You betchya. But let’s not pretend that fascism is new in the American experience. Enforced by Democrats who became ardent Franklin Roosevelt New Dealers and anti-Hitler World War II supporters in the 1930s and 1940s, the Jim Crow South was a vast region-wide fascist terror regime that ran from the last third of the 19th Century up to the last third of the last century. And let’s not pretend we are dealing only with a Republican, rural, exurban, and Red State malady when we talk about American fascism. The bright blue (Democratic) cities have long had their own version of the disease. The neoliberal victory of the right over the left hand of the state is a richly bipartisan affair. It proceeded apace under the militantly state-capitalist, imperialist, and objectively white-supremacist presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Metropolitan budgets that prioritize developer tax breaks, corporate subsidies, privatization deals, and racist police state mass arrest and incarceration over social uplift and justice are overseen by pro-Big Business Democratic Party mayors like Lori Lightfoot (Chicago), Bill DeBlasio (New York City), Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles), Jim Kenney (Philadelphia), London Breed (San Francisco), Keisha Lance Bottoms (Atlanta) and others from coast to coast.

The so-called left wing of the American two-party system is right-handed as Hell. On this and so many other matters, the two reigning U.S. political organizations function very much as Upton Sinclair said they did 116 years ago: “two wings of the same bird of prey.”

Racist Joe

That’s something to keep in mind as we approach an election in which the Democrats’ answer to the demented orange president is the ridiculous right-wing clown Joe Biden. Yes, faux-populist corporate Joe “Pool Chain” Biden, who says he would veto Medicare for All (supported by seven in ten Americans) if it came to his desk as president. Joe Biden, a man who says he has “no empathy, give me a break” for the economic and environmental plight of Millennials in the savagely unequal and eco-cidal world he helped create over decades of abjectly corporatist, imperialist, and racist “public service.” Joe Biden, who helped craft and lead the charge for the racist Three Strikes “crime” (mass incarceration) bill and who says that Black parents don’t know how to raise their children (but “record players” do). Joe “Defender of the Status Quo” Biden, who justifies his past alliance with Jim Crow terrorists in the U.S. Senate by saying they “never called me boy,” who praised candidate Obama for being “clean and articulate,” and who brags that he once prepared to take a rusty pool chain upside the head of a Black tough named “Corn Pop.” Joe Biden, who says that the Latinx community, unlike Black America, is “diverse.” Joe, Biden who worried that desegregation efforts would make his children “grow up in a racial jungle” and once bragged as a presidential candidate that his home state of Delaware sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Yes, that Joe Biden. Thanks, Obama.

Orange Loves Blue

Federal orange fascism recently had a poignant little lovefest with metropolitan Blue fascism. The white nationalist U.S. Attorney General William Barr saw some white “Back the Blue” rally holders outside a suburban Virginia police precinct and told his limo driver to stop and let him out last week. Barr went into the rally and shook hands. The “Back the Blue” people told them they loved him. He said he loved them back. Justice Department press secretary Kerri Kupec posted video of the drop-by, and the Fairfax County Republican Party tweeted out an image from the touching get-together. Cops love Trump, Trump loves cops. Barr loves Blue Lives Matter activists and they love Barr. Orange loves blue, blue loves orange.

Speaking of which, just what are the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, DEA, and ATF agents that Barr sent to work under the name of “Operation Legend” to Kansas City, Chicago, Albuquerque, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Cleveland up to with their friends in blue in those cities? “Operation Legend,” Trump’s Justice Department says, “is a sustained, systematic and coordinated law enforcement initiative in which federal law enforcement agencies work in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials to fight violent crime.” Please notice that four out of those six cities are in contested (“swing” or “purple”) states where Trump and the Republican Party have a strong interest in suppressing the Black and minority vote. The only exceptions are Kansas City (in bright red Missouri) and Chicago (in bright blue Illinois). The latter city that has been in Trump’s racist and fascist crosshairs for years, which makes it an irresistible target for him even if he little to no chance of stealing Illinois in the 2020 election. It is highly unlike that the federal homeland deployment is unrelated to Trump’s clear ambition of becoming America’s fascist strongman for life.

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Americans Scorned

Counterpunch Articles -

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Trump administration orders shortening census taking by a month and slowing the activities of the United States Postal Service that may impact mail-in balloting have a common denominator: both scorn the American people.

In both cases, Donald Trump, a rogue president, doesn’t want voters counted, either their ballots or their persons, especially if they’re Blacks, Latinos or undocumented immigrants. Democrats and civil rights leaders are fighting both changes, which have been implemented.

He’s stiffing us, just as he did the World Health Organization when he refused to pay dues owed in the middle of a pandemic? Who does that?

The typical outrageous Trumpian objective against both of these stalwart institutions is to try to enhance Republican electoral victories by short-circuiting mail-in votes for Democrats and, through the census, undercounting the number of people by cutting a month off census-taking. That, in turn, would affect the amount of federal dollars apportioned to each state.

The census also affects the drawing of statewide legislative districts. Undercounting in heavily Democratic urban areas, where most minorities live, could mean a power shift to rural spaces, home to more Republicans. If a political party has difficulty winning at the polls, there are other ways to secure victory.

An opinion piece in Friday’s Atlantic said Trump plans a three-pronged attack on the election: “Slowing mail delivery, then urging Republican state legislators to deem Election Day ‘failed’ because of the many uncounted votes, and finally denouncing as illegitimate all vote-counting that continues after Election Day – even as slowly delivered mail-in ballots keep arriving.”

Remedy: “State legislatures should act now to show just how futile this strategy would be for Trump,” wrote Lawrence H. Tribe, professor of constitutional law emeritus, Harvard Law School; Joshua A. Geltzer, executive director, Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection; and Jennifer Taub, law professor, Western New England University School of Law.

But monkeying with the census, which is taken every 10 years, may be unconstitutional because it was mandated under Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. The first census was taken in August, 1790, 16 months after George Washington’s inauguration.

The order stipulates the census taking should stop Sept. 30, a month earlier than planned. It originally was to end July 31, but was extended to Oct. 31 because of complications caused by the pandemic. About 63 percent of an estimated 121 million households have responded to the census, Huffpost said.

Eric Holder, the attorney general during the Obama administration who now heads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, told Politico last week the directed change to the census taking violates the Constitution.

“This latest scheme is nothing more than a partisan attempt at manipulating the census to benefit the president’s allies, but it plainly violates the U.S. Constitution and federal laws and cannot stand,” he said.

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, wrote:

“The Trump administration is doing everything it can to sabotage the 2020 census so that it reflects an inaccurate and less diverse portrait of America. Its latest effort involves quietly compressing the census timeline to all but guarantee a massive undercount.”

Trump, judged a racist, tried in 2019 to add a citizenship question to the census form but the Supreme Court blocked the move. The bid was an attempt to find and deport illegal immigrants, of course.

Another Trump game, but played in the same insidious league that aims to undermine the election, is the ordered reorganization of the Postal Service and the slowdown in mail deliveries as a result of eliminating overtime for carriers. Overtime is required to ensure that all mail on any given day winds up at its address. There’s already a backlog.

In addition, instead of fighting in Congress to give the USPS enough money to do its job properly, the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a Trump ally, proved his worth to the president after only eight weeks in the position by overhauling the service, reassigning or displacing 23 executives. The move gives DeJoy more power.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, (D-Va), who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the USPS, termed the reorganization “a deliberate sabotage” of the mail system and a “Trojan Horse,” the Post said.

That traitorous horse, a Pony Express of a darker objective, would be certain to stampede in the direction of obstructing postal delivery to eventually affect the mailing of election ballots, slowing their arrival at the counting tables.

DeJoy has said the reorganization of the money losing USPS is intended to make it more efficient. The service said it lost $2.2 billion from April through June.

Trump has been bashing mail-in voting for months, totally ignoring the potential spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 if people line up to vote. States are planning to use the mail as an alternative to people handing in their ballots at polling booths. Another complication is those booths likely will be short-staffed because the elderly poll workers who usually man those places likely will stay away for fear of contracting the disease.

The deadly virus has killed more than 158,000 Americans and infected more than 5 million.

“The 2020 Election will be totally rigged if Mail-In voting is allowed to take place, & everyone knows it,” Trump tweeted July 26. He has made more than 70 attacks against mail balloting since March, the Post said.

“There is no evidence that voting by mail results in significant fraud,” the Brennan Center for Justice has said. “As with in-person voting the threat is infinitesimally small.”

The post Americans Scorned appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump and Biden, Two Ignoble Minds Here O’erthrown

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At the presidential level and perhaps down-ticket too, this year’s electoral circus will be a spectacle well calculated to cause disgust and despair – thanks mainly to Donald Trump’s unprecedented machinations, but also because, at least in the presidential contest, the main contenders, both of them, are embarrassingly unfit to serve.

For kindness sake, one of them, Joe Biden, should be put back out to pasture; for the sake of justice, the other, Trump, should be put behind bars.

Biden at least means well; meaning well is beyond Trump’s ken. The man has no moral compass and no capacity for empathy; he is a vile, narcissistic ignoramus. Exxon Mobil’s Rex Tillerson, his first Secretary of State, got it right: Trump is a “fucking moron.”

Worse, he is a dangerous sociopath (in the colloquial sense certainly, in the technical sense, very likely).

He is a loser who, thanks to his father’s money and political juice, feckless bankruptcy laws, clever lawyers, venal bankers, and assorted miscreants, failed his way to the top.

Biden, by far the lesser evil, has been a fixture of mainstream Democratic politics from what seems like time immemorial. Through all that time, however, he has seldom gotten anything right. I challenge anyone who disagrees to produce a counter-example.

The Republican and Democratic Parties are of one mind on the usual foci of political contestation. However, they draw on different constituencies, and they disagree on apolitical cultural matters. This has sufficed to make the enmity that divides them ferocious. Nevertheless, this time around, they are in total accord on at least one point — putting their worst foot forward.

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, they both find themselves fielding candidates for president who are on the verge of senescence or are perhaps already there.


There is no need to argue that point in Trump’s case; it is clear as can be to all but the willfully blind. Willful blindness, however, is alarmingly widespread.

In part, this is because, as H.L. Mencken put it, “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

Blatantly undemocratic electoral institutions and practices — the Electoral College and gerrymandering head the list – along with mind-numbing rightwing propaganda outlets like Fox News, and a deeply entrenched duopoly party system in which, for both historical and systemic reasons, each party can count on support from roughly forty percent of the population are also partly to blame.

Forty percent, plus or minus a tad, is where support for Trump has been hovering since Day One.

But now, thanks to his glaringly inept handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and its immediate economic consequences, it could well be that, come November, Trump will secure an even smaller share of the popular vote than even the most unpopular major party candidates have garnered in the past.

As he puts his supporters, along with their families and friends, in mortal jeopardy, some light seems finally to be shining through. Many of his supporters are sublimely stubborn in their stupidity but, even so, over the next three months, as conditions worsen, or even just if they don’t improve, there could be substantial defections from their ranks.

This is a reason to be hopeful about the future; it is also a reason to be more than usually afraid. With his back against the wall, who knows what crimes against the peace, against humanity, and against the letter and spirit of Constitutional government, Trump will go on to commit.

Therefore, Trump’s malevolence could and probably will worsen between now and November in ways that could have consequences monumentally dire.

Assuming, though, that nothing irreversibly awful transpires, or that any trouble that Trump and his minions cause is easily and rapidly overcome, I would suggest that the justice systems at both the national and state – New York state – levels start preparing now for a move on Trump’s part that, as far as I know, no one is yet talking about, but that is nevertheless unfolding, not very subtly, in plain sight.

Trump is and always has been a dunderhead; and his mind, such as it is, is plainly in decline. But there still is a “very big and stable” brain lodged somewhere inside his skull that is capable, at the very least, of cunning.

William Blake long ago declared that “the weak in courage are strong in cunning.” Perhaps we should add that, as the minds of the weak in courage deteriorate, their cunning is the last to go.

To be sure, Trump blabbers on about “Yo-semites” and “Thighland,” and his tweets, never more than semi-literate, have lately become more infantile and incoherent than usual.

Were he not also still skillfully dominating the news cycle, undermining confidence that mail ballots will be counted, and stoking up racist and nativist animosities – directed nowadays as much against “the yellow peril” as “Mexican rapists” and “gang-bangers” and Muslim “terrorists” – in ways calculated to keep his electoral prospects alive, it would be painfully obvious that the man is just not all there upstairs. Period; end of story.

But because he still is doing all that and more, that answer doesn’t entirely cut it.

This is why prosecutors should at least consider the possibility that he is following the lead of the “Oddfather,” Vincent Gigante, for many years the boss of the Genovese crime family. Towards the end, Gigante, “the Chin,” would appear in public in his pajamas and bathrobe, and otherwise do all he could to maintain the fiction that he was insane and therefore not competent to stand trial for anything.

Trump is not a good enough actor for that and, unlike real mob bosses, banksters, corporate honchos, and politicians flirting with trouble, when he does something he would like to hide, he lacks the skills to make a case for “plausible deniability.”

Instead, he commits “high crimes and misdemeanors” in full public view, along with plainly actionable, criminal offenses. He leaves any covering up that needs to be done to his accountants, lawyers and assorted flunkies.

Even so, there is a cell at Club Fed and another in New York, with his name on it. He knows it too and will do anything he can to avoid going to either one.

Barack Obama and Eric Holder, no doubt with Biden’s input and help, gave Bush-Cheney era war criminals, and Bush and Cheney themselves, get-out-of-jail-free cards, ostensibly so that the country could “move forward,” but also so that the Obama administration could more easily continue and even intensify what Bush and Cheney started.

I have no doubt that Biden would like to repeat that mistake, this time with Trump and his underlings. But, with the public so far out ahead of mainstream politicians this time around, that won’t be easy for him to do. And, in any case, New York state is still there, whether or not Biden somehow manages to weasel out of doing the right thing.

And so, at the same time that Trump is working hard to delegitimize the electoral defeat that is staring him in the face, he is following in the Chin’s footsteps, not so much by pretending to be batshit crazy, but, even better, profoundly senescent.

Is he not then contradicting himself? Of course, he is. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” A strategic inconsistency sometimes can be as well.


As for Biden, how much better the world would be had Nancy Pelosi and the other Democratic Party House leaders, the gang of four – Steny Hoyer, James Clyburn, Ben Ray Luján, and Hakeem Jeffries – just let him remain ensconced in a comfortable retirement.

Life was good for him. A former poor boy, he has a house in the swanky part of northern Delaware and another, recently acquired, by the sea in the southern part of the state. After leaving office, he kept busy raking in money from speaking engagements and who knows what else.

Better still, all over the state, he had a lot named after him already, including the Amtrak station in Wilmington, one of the seediest and most decrepit in the northeast corridor.

He even had a legend associated with it – about how, when his two sons were young, he would commute daily from there to his day job in the Senate. Perhaps he really did, though anyone who rode those rails, especially back then, would have a hard time believing it, inasmuch as the commute would have left him barely enough time in Washington to grab a bite and utilize the facility.

Did he really need to trade all that for what is bound to be a difficult and protracted process of de-Trumpification? And did Pelosi and the others really need him for them to serve their donors and keep their power?

Granted, the pillars of their party had no time for Bernie Sanders or even Elizabeth Warren. But they had other, more capable, less goofy “moderates,” still in their prime, that they could have turned to. Why him?

It is practically axiomatic, in the liberal corporate media view, that Nancy knows best. But if Biden is the best that she and her colleagues could come up with, then that is one axiom that has gone seriously wrong.

It doesn’t matter for defeating Trump; Trump is doing a fine job of that on his own. It does matter, though, for what will come after the Trumpian nightmare has subsided. On that score, Pelosi et. al. have much to answer for.

To be sure, what goes on outside official Washington, in the larger society, matters as much or more than who is holding court at the White House. But at some point, it comes to nothing if victories won in the larger society do not register in laws and in their implementation.

Biden nowadays is beginning to talk the talk, at least to some extent. More important, he does seem susceptible to being moved leftward in practice as well, should circumstances compel him. At least, he is not, like Trump, in thrall to his own delusions and to the wishes of plutocrats who have figured out how to use money and flattery to bend his will to theirs.

It is worth noting that, at first, FDR was considered a flyweight too. And yet, through his good offices, we got the New Deal.

If Biden makes it through the next four years with his mental and physical capacities more or less intact, it is not inconceivable that he would end up following a similar trajectory, but only if an insurgent citizenry and a Democratic Party beginning at last to reconstruct itself from the bottom up gives him no choice.

In any case, no matter what happens, no one should expect a Second Coming of FDR. Even if Roosevelt was the flyweight some thought him to be, his leftward trajectory started out from a far higher plateau.

But Biden may not be quite as hopeless as he seems, or as one would expect, given his past; and should alternative centers of executive power assert themselves even with him still in office, the chances of some good, not just less bad, coming out of Washington over the next few years would be much improved.

This is why the choice of a running mate matters a lot more this election cycle than it usually does or than it has at any time since 1944, when the nod went to Harry Truman instead of the incumbent, Henry Wallace.

Partly thanks to that unfortunate choice, we got the Cold War, the core institutions of the national security state, and the demise of the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union, the country that had done more than any other, including our own, to defeat the fascist menace. Who can say how much better off we would have been, and would still be, had Wallace, not Truman, been calling the shots.

In a saner world than our own, a candidate’s politics would matter a lot more than her ascribed or chosen “identities.” By that metric, of all the candidates said to be in contention, Elizabeth Warren is by far the best.

If we could be sure that Biden wouldn’t last more than a year or two in office, it would therefore make sense to urge that she be his choice. He wouldn’t listen, of course, but it couldn’t hurt to try.

But, we cannot be sure that he won’t make it through the next four years; and if events go the way that now seems most likely, Warren could probably do more good outside the immediate Biden fold – in the Senate or perhaps as Secretary of Commerce – than waiting in the wings, helping the doddering doofus out, the way Vice Presidents must.

Moreover, as matters now stand, it actually would make sense to give up on some measure of political rectitude in order to put an African American woman on the ticket.

Were Biden to weasel out of doing that, he could indeed face an “enthusiasm” problem that, added on to GOP voter suppression efforts and other Trumpian machinations, actually could bring him to the brink of defeat.

As of now, that prospect is little more than a nightmare scenario conjured up by Democratic Party operatives and worrywarts on the cable news channels — in order to solicit contributions and fill airtime.

There is always the possibility, though, that Biden might just be inept enough to render it plausible. Clinton managed to lose, after all, and Biden is even worse than she.

By my lights, while each and every one of the African American women Biden is said to be considering would be an improvement on him, there are only two who, at this point, actually seem cut out for the job. They are the two supposedly at the top of Biden’s list: Susan Rice and Kamala Harris.

Rice is a liberal imperialist of the Clinton-Obama, foreign policy establishment type. If Biden chooses her, it would signal his determination to “make America a no longer risible global hegemon again.” No surprise there, but it would still be bad news.

Were Biden more insightful and more inclined to think outside the box, it might even occur to him that Susan’s namesake and Bush era counterpart, Condoleezza, would be a better choice.

She surely would be insofar as she is still interested, as she was in the past, in winding down, not stirring up, potentially catastrophic anti-Russian animosities, and in fostering cooperation, not conflict, with China.

In marked contrast, the Rice that Biden seems interested in empowering would, more likely than not, exacerbate a glaringly debilitating problem with the actually existing Democratic Party — the extent to which so many of its leading figures and rank-and-file members suffer from Clyburn’s Complaint.

The Rice who was practically George W’s nanny would likely have a more salutary effect.

And, at a time when “bipartisanship” is said to be a virtue – an odd claim inasmuch as the worst of our duopoly parties merits nothing better than total and complete contempt – and in which, to their everlasting shame, liberal commentators and politicians seem more inclined to venerate than to derogate the Bush-Cheney regime, Condoleezza might actually look better than her namesake to the liberal commentariat.

Needless to say, however, if there is a Rice in our future, it will be Susan, not Condee, and if we have any luck at all, the Rice Question will soon be forgotten, out of sight and out of mind.

If our luck holds, Kamala Harris will be Biden’s choice.

It could be a lot worse. It could be a lot better too, however; and it would be, but for Pelosi and the others.

However, there is some consolation in the fact that, if Harris is chosen, we will be able to see her reduce Mike Pence, Trump’s godly sycophant, to tears when the vice presidential candidates debate. Better yet, she is just the one to get Trump’s goat, as she surely will repeatedly in the weeks and months ahead, if she is the nominee.

She is a good choice for just the reason that Democratic Party honchos and donors are said to have doubts: because she is ambitious and defiant. She wiped the floor with Biden when she debated him last winter. Hooray to her for that.

In straits as dire as ours now are, and in a political universe as impoverished, a lively anti-Biden figure on the ticket, and then in the vice presidential role, is precisely what is needed most – first, to vanquish Trump and the Trumpians, and then, in due course, to move beyond the Trumpian nightmare, the better to smash the Democratic Party as we know it, replacing it with a radically reconstructed political formation that really can move us closer to a better – more just, more peaceful, more prosperous, and, most important of all, healthier and less ecologically deleterious — possible world.

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The Rise of Nationalism Has Led to the Increased Repression of Minorities

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Photograph Source: Isac Nóbrega/PR – CC BY 2.0

We live in an era of resurgent nationalism. From Scotland to Sri Lanka, from China to Brazil, governments rely on nationalism as a source of communal identity and a vehicle for common action.

In countries where religious identity appears to dominate, as with Islam in Turkey and Hinduism in India, religion has bonded with nationalism. In nominally communist countries like China and Vietnam, it is likewise nationalism that adds to governments’ legitimacy and political muscle.

This nationalist upsurge the world over is bad news for ethnic and sectarian minorities. Everywhere they are facing greater oppression and less autonomy from national governments maximising their power. At best they face marginalisation and at worst elimination. This is true for the Uighur in Xinjiang province in China, the Muslim population of India-controlled Kashmir, the Shia majority in Sunni-ruled Bahrain and the long-persecuted Kurdish minority in Turkey, to name but four.

All these communities are coming under crushing pressure to surrender to the political and cultural control of the national state. The same brutal methods are used everywhere: mass incarceration; disappearances; torture; the elimination of political parties and independent media representing the persecuted community. Any opposition, however peaceful, is conflated with “terrorism” and suppressed with draconian punishments.

The degree of mistreatment of these embattled communities varies with the balance of power between them and the central government. There is little the Bahrain Shia, though a majority of the population, can do to defend themselves, but the 182 million Muslims in India cannot be dealt with so summarily.

Even so, they are in danger of progressively losing their civil rights and residency through the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens. The Turkish Kurds are well organised but their political leaders are in jail and Turkey leads the world in the number of journalists, many of them Kurds, it has imprisoned.

What makes these countries different is partly the political strength of the persecuted communites, but above all the degrees of international support they can attract. This in turn depends less on the cruelties they endure than on their ability to plug into the self-interested rivalries of the great powers. Related to this is the ability to attract the sustained attention and sympathy of the (usually western) international media.

The Uighur deserve all the sympathy and attention they can get, but it would be naive to imagine that the sudden interest of the west in their fate over the last year has much to do with the undoubted justice of their cause. President Xi Jinping has been chosen as the new demon king in the eyes of the US and its allies, his every action fresh evidence of the fiendish evil of the Chinese state.

There is no reason to suppose that any of the films of Uighur prisoners manacled hand and foot are untrue or that a million Uighurs are not the targets of brainwashing in giant concentration camps. But the manipulation of public opinion has always relied less on mendacity, the manufacturing of false facts, and more on selectivity; on broadcasting the crimes of one’s opponents and keeping very quiet about similar acts of oppression by oneself and one’s allies.

What is striking over the last year is the disparity between the international attention given to the fate of the 11 million Uighurs in the Autonomous Uighur Region in Xingjian and the 13 million people in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The situations in Kashmir and Xinjiang are comparable in some ways. On 5 August last year, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped Kashmir – India’s only Muslim-majority state – of its special rights and split it into two federally administered territories. He claimed that the aim was the economic regeneration of Kashmir, but the prolonged curfews enforced by a heavily reinforced Indian military presence has ruined local economic life.

These lockdowns and the almost complete shutdown of the internet are far more severe than anything resulting from the coronavirus epidemic, and have reduced Kashmiris to colonial servitude. “This has been compounded,” says Amnesty International, “by a censored media, continuing detention of political leaders, arbitrary restrictions due to the pandemic with little to no redress.”

The anniversary of the end to Kashmir’s autonomy was marked this month by even tighter restrictions. Local political leaders were jailed or were forbidden to leave their houses. “One year later the authorities are still too afraid to allow us to meet, much less carry out any normal political activity,” said the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, on Twitter. But worse things than jail and house arrest happen at the hands of the Indian authorities. Since 1990 between 8,000 and 10,000 Kashmiris have disappeared according to the Association of the Parents of the Disappeared, a movement modelled on that of the Argentinian mothers whose children had vanished, mostly tortured to death or executed by the military dictatorship.

Kashmir is only the apogee of the mounting persecution of almost 200 million Indian Muslims under Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The willingness of the government to double-down on humiliating the Muslims was exemplified this week when Modi laid the foundation stone for a Hindu temple to replace the sixteenth century mosque that was destroyed by right-wing Hindu mobs in 1992. Some 2,000 people were killed in the rioting that followed the mosque’s destruction.

Powerful governments tend to underestimate the amount of trouble that small minorities can cause them, despite an immense disparity in the balance of power between the central state and the minority in question. Look at the trouble a small ethnicity like the Uighurs have caused Beijing. Foreign powers may be exploiting their grievances for their own purposes, but those grievances are real. Look at the trouble a century ago that the Irish and the Boers caused the British Empire at the height of its power. Then as now, the very puniness of the opposition of small communities tempted seemingly all-powerful regimes to reject conciliation in the belief that they have no need to compromise. They do not understand why their overwhelming political and military power does not make them the easy winner.

Kashmir is a classic example of this syndrome. By ending the state’s autonomy, Modi said he would bring an end to the “Kashmir problem”. In fact, he predictably made it worse and it is not going away.

The west has been prepared to back Modi unconditionally because it hopes India will be a counterbalance to China. They are the only states in the world with populations over a billion. But the states backing the BJP Hindu nationalist government have not taken on board what an extraordinarily dangerous game they and Modi are playing: seeking total victory over Kashmir though it is backed by neighbouring nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Attempting to marginalise Indian Muslims so numerous that, if they formed a separate country, it would be the eighth largest in the world is not possible without extreme violence.

The riots in Delhi in February were a taste of this. Ignoring this potential for disaster is like officials in Beirut who were blind to the danger of storing thousands of tons of explosives in the heart of the city.

The post The Rise of Nationalism Has Led to the Increased Repression of Minorities appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump’s Presidency is a Death Cult

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Photograph Source: Zachary McGee – CC BY 2.0

When President Donald Trump was challenged by Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan to respond to the fact that, “a thousand Americans are dying a day” due to COVID-19, the president responded as though the grim tally was perfectly acceptable, saying, “They are dying, that’s true. And it is what it is.” While observers were aghast at the callousness of his statement, it should not have surprised us. Trump had warned that the death toll would be high, and he had asked us months ago to get used to the idea. In late March, the White House Coronavirus Task Force had projected that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans would die from the virus. Rather than unveil an aggressive plan to tackle the spread and prevent the projected mortality figures, the president had said, “I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead.”

The New York Times saw this warning as a contradiction to Trump’s stance in February and early March when he had said that “we have it totally under control” and “it’s going to be just fine.” The paper seemed to heave a sigh of relief that a few weeks later, “the president appeared to understand the severity of the potentially grave threat to the country.” But the report’s authors failed to grasp that Trump is willing to accept anything—including mass deaths—in service of his political career.

In fact, mass death appears to be part of Trump’s reelection strategy as per a July 30 Vanity Fair report on the administration’s strategy to contain the pandemic. The investigative piece explained that Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was part of a group of White House staffers that corresponded frequently to discuss the rapidly spreading virus. According to a public health expert who was described as being “in frequent contact with the White House’s official coronavirus task force,” one of the members of Kushner’s team had concluded that, “because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically.” The unnamed expert told Vanity Fair, “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.”

If it is true that Kushner embraced the idea of COVID-19 deaths as part of a political strategy for Trump’s reelection, there can be no clearer evidence that the Trump presidency fits the definition of a “death cult.”

But Trump’s team is also deeply inept, and its macabre tactics appear to have backfired. If Kushner expected a highly contagious virus to follow his political rules and relegate itself to Democratic-run states, he was proven very wrong, very quickly with Republican-run states like Florida, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Arizona being among the hardest hit.

For years, the Republican Party has cast itself as a self-righteous force for morality, embraced the “pro-life” movement, and claimed to align with “Christian values.” But just as Trump—arguably the most criminal of all U.S. presidents—has adopted a mantle of “law and order” with no hint of irony, the GOP as a whole has also shown time and again that its embrace of morality and law is a purely political tool. Now, as the nation grapples with mass deaths from a disease that a Republican president spectacularly and willfully failed to contain, conservative politicians appear willing to simply accept it. Their silence is deafening compared to the angry denunciations many Republican lawmakers hurled at President Barack Obama over his response to the Ebola epidemic—a crisis that resulted in a nationwide total of 11 infections and two deaths.

Ultimately it may be Trump’s own base that suffers as it internalizes the president’s mixed and confused messaging on ignoring social distancing guidelines, eschewing protective masks, swallowing hydroxychloroquine preventatively, and even accepting the inevitability of their own death (because “it is what it is” according to Trump). Even after more than 150,000 Americans have died from the virus, a majority of Republicans trust Trump’s coronavirus comments.

When Trump loyalist and former presidential candidate Herman Cain died of COVID-19, testing positive 11 days after attending Trump’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally without a mask on, his death did not change minds. The 74-year-old was reportedly on a ventilator during his last days, but conservatives are vehemently opposed to “politicizing” Cain’s death. Right-wing commentator and talk show host Ben Shapiroslammed those who made a connection between Cain’s refusal to take the virus seriously and his own infection and death. Shapiro said, “The kind of dunking on people after they die of COVID is pretty gross.” Certainly, Cain did not deserve to be vilified for his own sad fate. But his death offers a cautionary tale about the dangers of the Trump death cult—a point Shapiro of course refused to acknowledge.

We should hardly be surprised at this acceptance of death as inevitable. For years, conservatives have responded to gun violence with angry renunciations of any links to gun proliferation or lax gun control laws, offering instead “thoughts and prayers.” The one exception where Republicans express outrage is over the “death” of fetal cells inside women’s bodies—indicating that the fight is less about “murder,” as the anti-abortionists like to call it, than it is about controlling women’s bodies. By and large, the nation’s right-wing factions have for years wanted us to accept mass deaths and preventable mortality as a price for our “freedom.” They expect the same during a pandemic.

But we do not have to all be members of the death cult. According to a new study, states where people live the longest also have the strictest environmental laws, stronger gun control and stronger protections for minorities. These are also states that tend to be run by Democrats. California, for example, which has among the most stringent protections for minorities and the environment, also has one of the highest average life expectancy rates in the United States.

COVID-19 infections and deaths are hardly inevitable, and Americans are starting to see it. A Texas woman named Stacey Nagy penned an obituary for her late husband David that has garnered widespread attention. She wrote in her local paper that, “Family members believe David’s death was needless. They blame his death and the deaths of all the other innocent people, on Trump, [Gov. Greg] Abbott and all the politicians who did not take this pandemic seriously and were more concerned with their popularity and votes than lives.” Nagy also blamed “the many ignorant, self centered and selfish people who refused to follow the advice of the medical professionals, believing their ‘right’ not to wear a mask was more important than killing innocent people.”

Perhaps the only way out of Trump’s death cult is to speak out as Nagy has done.

The Washington Post, which interviewed Nagy, explained, “Feeling helpless, Stacey approached her husband’s obituary as a chance to speak out about how she felt her country had failed her family.” While Trump’s most loyal supporters might choose death in his service, the rest of us need not be bound by their blind, cultish and suicidal ideology.

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

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Pushing GMO Crops into India: Experts Debunk High-Level Claims of Bt Cotton Success

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On 6 July 2020, an article extolling the benefits of genetically modified (GM) crops appeared on the BloombergQuint website based on an interview with Dr Ramesh Chand, a member of the key Indian Government think tank Niti Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India) . On 17 July, another piece that placed a positive spin on GM crops and gene editing technology (Feeding 10 Billion People will Require Genetically Modified Food) appeared on the same site.

According to Prof Andrew Paul Gutierrez, Dr Hans R Herren and Dr Peter E Kenmore, internationally renowned agricultural researchers, the pieces reported “sweeping unsupported claims” about the benefits of and need for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and related technologies in agriculture in India.

The three academics felt that “a responsible and factual response” was required and have written a letter – containing what could be described as the definitive analysis of Bt cotton in India – to Dr Ramesh Chand, Dr Rajiv Kumar (Niti Aayog Vice Chancellor) and Dr Amitabh Kant (Niti Aayog CEO).

Chand is reported as saying that there is no credible study to show any adverse impact of growing Bt cotton in the last 18 years in the country (India’s only officially approved GM crop). This is simply not the case. Moreover, Gutierrez et al argue that all of the credible evidence shows any meagre increases in cotton yield after the introduction of Bt cotton in 2002 were largely due to increases in fertiliser use.

Before proceeding, it is pertinent to address the claim that ‘feeding 10 billion people will require genetically modified food’. If we take the case of India and its 1.3 billion-plus population, it has achieved self-sufficiency in food grains and has ensured that, in theory at least, there is enough food available to feed its entire population. It is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and millets and the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnuts, vegetables and fruit.

However, food security for many Indians remains a distant dream. Hunger and malnutrition remain prevalent. But that is not because farmers don’t produce enough food. These problems result from other factors, including inadequate food distribution, social and economic policies, inequality and poverty. It is a case of ‘scarcity’ amid abundance (reflecting the situation globally). India even continues to export food while millions remain hungry. Productivity is not the issue.

And while proponents say GM will boost productivity and help secure cultivators a better income, this too ignores crucial political and economic contexts; with bumper harvests, Indian farmers still find themselves in financial distress. India’s farmers are not experiencing hardship due to low productivity. They are reeling from the effects of neoliberal policies and years of neglect. It’s for good reason that the calorie and essential nutrient intake of the rural poor has drastically fallen.

Yet the pro-GMO lobby has wasted no time in wrenching these issues from their political contexts to use the notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynchpins of its promotional strategy.

Valid concerns

The Chand interview occurred at a book release event for a new volume titled ‘Socio Economic Impact Assessment of GM crops: Global Implications Based on Case Studies from India’ edited by Sachin Chaturvedi and Krishna Ravi Srinivas of the Delhi-based Research and Information System (RIS) for developing countries – a policy research think tank in the Ministry of External Affairs.

Gutierrez et al state that what Niti Aayog and RIS representatives say and write are existentially important because of their deep links to Indian policy makers: their views can have a large impact on the future development of policy in the area of genetic engineering and related technologies such as genomic editing, which will affect the long-term health, livelihood and welfare of Indian farmers and the nation.

Chand posits that opposition and uncertainty to GM technology lingers because it has created fear in the minds of people. He appears to imply this is one reason why the Indian government did not embrace the technology and that media reporting has relied more on activists than on scientists.

GMO biotech lobbyists have often stated that science has been sidelined by activists who have swayed the policy agenda.

In the journal Current Science (September 2019), Dr Deepak Pental responded to a previous paper in the same journal by eminent scientists P C Kesavan and M S Swaminathan, whose piece cited good evidence that questioned the efficacy of and the need for GMO agriculture in India. Pental argued that the two authors had aligned themselves with environmentalists and ideologues who have “mindlessly” attacked the use of GM technology and that aspects of their analysis are a reflection of their “ideological proclivities”.

However, in India it was a unique four-month scientific enquiry, not activism, that led to the rejection of the commercialisation of Bt Brinjal in 2010. And if we look at Europe, robust regulatory mechanisms are in place for GMOs as it is agreed they are not substantially equivalent to their non-GM counterparts. Numerous studies have highlighted the flawed premise of ‘substantial equivalence’. Furthermore, from the outset of the GMO project, the sidelining of serious concerns about the technology has occurred and, despite industry claims to the contrary, there is no scientific consensus on the health impacts of GM crops.

Both the Cartagena Protocol and Codex share a precautionary approach to GM crops and foods in that they agree that GM differs from conventional breeding and that safety assessments should be required before GMOs are used in food or released into the environment.

These concerns cannot be brushed aside as being non-science based. Such accusations are political posturing, part of a strategy to slant the policy agenda and divert attention away from evidence that leads to the questioning of the safety, environmental impacts and record of GM crops.

False narrative of Bt cotton

Gutierrez et al also comment on the Chaturvedi–Srinivas book in their letter and note that, in contrast to pro-GMO statements about the book reported in the press, most of the chapters contain some points that temper or criticise this over-simplified enthusiasm.

In reviewing the book, the three researchers note the general policy position, that Bt cotton benefits smaller and poorly connected farmers, is not always supported by the case study data presented. Moreover, Bt cotton yields were not necessarily higher (than non-Bt cotton) for all farmers and even when economic gains occurred, it was not demonstrated that those gains came from Bt traits: higher fertiliser levels usually increased yields.

Bt cotton is also not scale neutral: it has mainly benefited larger farmers and high Bt cotton seed prices are a big concern for many farmers as are monopolistic pricing practices.

Gutierrez and his colleagues conclude that the RIS volume cited gains in yield and reductions in insecticide use in Bt cotton that are inaccurate.

They add:

“… a failed picture emerges of an unsustainable eco-social Bt cotton system based on a dystopic relationship between those who control and sell the inputs, and the vast majority of farmers… Nowhere in the volume is there mention of potential viable non-GMO alternatives.”

The three researchers note that at least 25-30 peer reviewed papers have been published recently in India from almost all the agricultural universities dealing with cotton, validating the short-season high-density (SS-HD) concepts using non-Bt varieties. In all the studies, SS-HD plantings invariably got the highest yields, clearly pointing to the inappropriateness of the current long-season low-density hybrid system. Yet, none of these studies were cited in the Chaturvedi–Srinivas RIS volume.

Gutierrez et al note that hybrid cottons unique to India were introduced in the mid-1970s purportedly to increase yield and quality, but the hybrid seed is considerably more expensive, the plants require more fertiliser and stable water and the hybrid technology serves as a value capture mechanism requiring annual purchases of seed.

They argue that Indian farmers are planting inappropriate long-season hybrid cotton varieties at inappropriate low planting densities due to high seed costs, which contributes to low yield stagnation.

They also provide an overview of how, in long-season hybrid cotton, insecticide use caused ecological disruption, inducing outbreaks of secondary insect pests:

“Farmers were spending money on insecticides to lose money from (insecticide) induced pests… While the Bt technology initially solved the bollworm problems, outbreaks of secondary pests not controlled by the Bt toxins began to occur, again increasing insecticide use in Bt cotton that by 2013 surpassed pre-2002 levels. This caused ecological disruption and induced outbreaks of still newer secondary pests… and increased levels of resistance to insecticides. By 2013, Indian farmers were solidly on both the insecticide and biotechnology treadmills.”

The three researchers conclude that Bt cotton did not increase yields but did contribute to increased cost of production in the face of stagnant yields, leading to economic distress.

They argue that hybrid Bt cotton in India is a failure or at best very suboptimal for farmer welfare and say that HD-SS non-GMO pure line rainfed cotton varieties have been developed in India that could double yield and triple net income. The potential exists for development of even higher yielding HD-SS non-hybrid non-GMO varieties in India, which would allow seed saving by Indian farmers.

However, they assert that this approach has been sidelined: we now see hybrid Bt cotton falsely being used as an example of success and as a template for rolling out GMOs, gene editing and other technologies across Indian agriculture.

On 12 August 2013, an article in The Hindu (‘Nip this in the bud’) noted that the Ministry of Agriculture, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research and the Ministry of Science and Technology were deeply compromised due to their strong and active ties with the GMO biotech industry. Indeed, Monsanto had been granted access to agri-research public institutions, which had placed that company in a position to seriously influence policy. By 2014, 95 per cent of cotton grown in India was GM and non-GM seeds had almost disappeared from the market.

The push is now on to see a similar value-capture scenario take root with genetically engineered food crops based on a myth of Bt cotton success, which has in recent years been promoted by a number of government officials in India. Science and reason (and farmers and the public) are in danger of being sacrificed for the “ideological proclivities” of key figures and bodies directly linked to national policy making.

The letter mentioned in this article can be read in full on the GMWatch.org website. It contains a more in-depth analysis of Bt cotton in India than presented here, including numerous graphics and references to key studies.

The post Pushing GMO Crops into India: Experts Debunk High-Level Claims of Bt Cotton Success appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

How Indigenous Peoples are Using Ancestral Organizing Practices to Fight Mining Corporations and Covid-19

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As the effects of Covid-19 continue to be felt unequally around the globe, Indigenous peoples, such as the Xinka in Guatemala, are finding ways to organize and care for each other, while firmly rooting their response in ancestral practices that have sustained them throughout time.

The Xinka people mostly live in southeastern Guatemala, in the municipalities of Santa Rosa, Jalapa, Jutiapa, and Escuintla. Since the time of Spanish colonization, the Xinka have fought to protect their land and culture. Today, they continue asserting their rights to self-determination, to fight for recognition from the Guatemalan government, and to resist transnational mining companies set on extracting large amounts of silver from their territory, which hosts one of the largest-known deposits in the world.

The list of challenges they face — along with millions of other Guatemalans — is long. Already-high rates of malnutrition are climbing as food insecurity worsens. Public hospitals are collapsing under the weight of Covid-19. The national government is using the military to enforce a daily 4 pm country-wide curfew and criminalizing the many Guatemalans forced to break it in order to feed their families. And while all public transportation is still prohibited and food markets restricted, resource extraction has been deemed an essential service, putting at further risk the health of communities who have long fought to protect their lands from mining. Their tenacious organizing in their communities and in the courts is the only thing keeping resource extraction at bay, whose operations would otherwise go unhindered during this global health pandemic.

An uncertain future for the Xinka consultation on the Escobal mine

When the Guatemalan government closed the country’s borders in March 2020, the Xinka were almost two years into one of the most important processes for the reclamation of Indigenous rights in the country: a court-ordered consultation with the Xinka to determine the future of the Canadian-owned Escobal mine. This underground mine was first imposed on them by Tahoe Resources and later Pan American Silver, despite broad and vocal opposition.

A 2018 Constitutional Court decision confirmed that Xinka Indigenous rights were violated when the state failed to consult with them  prior to the start of exploration activities. The Court suspended mining  operations while the consultation takes place.

The government’s implementation of the consultation was stalled even before the pandemic hit over irregularities in the process and discrimination that limited Xinka participation. But pandemic restrictions on movement and assembly have people worried those challenges could intensify. Already, representatives from the Xinka Parliament and the Peaceful Resistance of Santa Rosa, Jalapa, and Jutiapa have denounced Pan American Silver’s subsidiary, Minera San Rafael, for entering communities to hand out foodstuffs in violation of the court ordered suspension and the ‘free’ nature of the consultation.

The Xinka’s fight for recognition and right to self-determination has not stopped due to the Covid-19 crisis. Rather, the pandemic presents another threat to community health in the region. But Xinka communities are responding like they know how: through strong community organizing rooted in their culture to ensure no one gets left behind.

A grassroots approach to information sharing

“Our ancestral practices are reflected in how we organize and share information among ourselves. We create a plan to ensure important information is shared directly with each member of the community,” says Luis Fernando Garcia Monroy, who works with the Xinka Parliament and who survived a 2013 shooting carried out by the Escobal mine’s private security. “These ancestral organizing practices are helping prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Xinka territory.”

The Xinka Parliament is the elected representative body of the Xinka People. It is made up of 25 communities who elect delegates to participate in the frequent public assemblies where community issues are addressed. The Parliament holds elections every two years and plays a vital role in keeping Xinka communities informed and organized in the fight to reclaim and exercise their rights as Indigenous people.

Now, due to limitations on in-person assemblies, the plan for information sharing is being carried out through visits respecting physical distance, phone calls, Whatsapp messages, and an extensive presence on social media. This level of organizing is helping the Xinka Parliament ensure everyone has easy access to the best health information that can help protect their communities and stay connected with one another as they deal with heavy restrictions. It also allows the Xinka Parliament to get food and other necessities to those most in need during this crisis.

Exchanging food and traditional medicines

The Guatemalan government has implemented strict measures, ordering immediate quarantine for anyone showing symptoms or who is suspected of having contracted Covid-19. But for the many Guatemalans who rely on an informal economy to feed their families, coping with these measures has been difficult.

“The response from the Guatemalan government has been for us to stay at home. While that may be a good measure, it doesn’t account for the fact that many Guatemalans live day-to-day, sustaining their families on 25 or 50 quetzales a day ($3 — $7 USD),” says García Monroy. “The communities who sell their fruits and vegetables have been significantly affected and have lost their produce, being prevented from reaching markets due to travel restrictions between regional departments and extended curfews that have been enacted without any prior notice.”

In response, the Xinka Parliament is working to distribute food to families who have presented symptoms of Covid-19 and are in quarantine, while supporting inter-community exchange of food and traditional medicines.

“The threat of Covid-19 is real. But going hungry is difficult as well,” says Emy Gomez, who works as a project coordinator with the Xinka Parliament. “We share what we have. For example, if someone has beans and another person has corn, they’ll swap. We also exchange ancestral medicines. At the moment, with Covid-19, we’re using a lot of lemongrass, ginger and honey. Sharing keeps us united and keeps our health strong in the context of a collapsed health system. We don’t have the luxury of going to the hospital right now, which is why we’re caring for our health. It’s a preventative measure — measures we’ve always known as Xinka People.”

The power of communal lands and food sovereignty

Communal lands play an important role in Xinka culture, with some Xinka communities holding titles that date back to the 1600s. Article 67 of Guatemala’s Constitution also grants special protection to communal lands, recognizing the particularities of Indigenous land stewardship and the importance of traditional governance structures for land management. The Xinka Parliament continues to fight this battle, bringing — and winning — multiple cases before the Constitutional Court to uphold the rights of the Xinka to determine what transpires on their communal lands.

And for Xinka Parliament President Aleisar Morales, that struggle has direct implications for long-term community health and the fight against pandemics like Covid-19.

“As Xinka People, we hold collective title to our lands. We each have a plot of land to work, but we only own what the land produces — not the land itself. We care for our lands and this communal title protects us,” says Morales. “As farmers, we’ve been able to keep working on our own parcels of land, and I think that’s why we haven’t been as affected [by Covid-19].”

During this crisis, the Xinka Parliament is attempting to improve food security and food sovereignty in the region by helping boost production on small family plots. “We are planting our crops for the months to come,” continues Morales. “We don’t know how long this is going to last, but we’re taking advantage of this crisis to become even more self-sufficient.”

The Peaceful Resistance encampment in Casillas

When the exploration license was granted for the Escobal mine in 2010, it was granted without the consent of affected Xinka communities who live in the area. And when Pan American Silver acquired Tahoe Resources and the Escobal mine in 2019, it did so knowing that Xinka rights had been violated.

As part of a regional movement to protect land and community health from the threats of the Escobal mine, communities erected two peaceful encampments and have prevented truck traffic from reaching the project for nearly three years. This direct action, alongside the Constitutional Court ruling on the consultation, have effectively suspended operations.

But to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the Peaceful Resistance decided to temporarily dismantle the Casillas encampment in late March, just shy of the three-year anniversary. The encampment in Mataquescuintla remains in place with fewer people at any given time.

“One of the biggest challenges at the moment for the Xinka Parliament is ensuring the Constitutional Court ruling is upheld,” says Luis Fernando García Monroy. “We have seen instances when Pan American Silver has taken advantage of this pandemic to enter communities, which has caused more conflict in this region because the population is so opposed to mining activities.”

Pan American Silver has said they are responding to community needs during Covid-19 by distributing foodstuffs, but at the company’s Annual General Meeting, refused to answer questions about how this action violates the court order.

“We continue to demand that the Constitutional Court ruling be fulfilled and that Indigenous Peoples who have been marginalized for many years be respected,” says García Monroy. “We continue in this struggle and continue to say ‘NO’ to any type of project that directly attacks the physical integrity of our people here in Xinka territory.”

First published on ResistEscobal.com, a site supported by Earthworks, the Institute for Policy Studies, and MiningWatch Canada. 

The post How Indigenous Peoples are Using Ancestral Organizing Practices to Fight Mining Corporations and Covid-19 appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Tear Gas Ted Has a Tantrum in Portland

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The liberal landed gentry dripping with multi-generational wealth and entitlement, as represented by Tear Gas Ted Wheeler, has made a pronouncement: the good folks trying to burn down the police station there in outer east Portland the other night were guilty of “attempted murder,” as twenty defenseless, though heavily-armed, police officers inside cowered and shivered and called their mothers to say their last words before meeting their terrible fates. I made the last part up, but he did say the attempted murder part, and there were twenty heavily-armed cops inside the building at the time of this latest attempt to take the building. He also referred to the police inside the building as “trapped,” although they could easily have rolled up their garage door and exited, guns blazing, at any moment. Maybe their riot gear would have gotten a little burnt, but they would have made it out OK from the looks of it. Unlike Tear Gas Ted, last month was not the first time in my life I’ve ever been to a protest that got messy, so I have some familiarity with these things.

I’ve long been a very cowardly anarchist, preferring to play music at protests and write articles about them, rather than throwing projectiles and setting fires. I have too many friends who have been killed, badly wounded, or sentenced to years or decades in prison because of carrying out actions like these, to want to participate in them myself. I make no illusions about it – I stay back from those situations because I don’t want to face the consequences myself.

But, having said that, some of the folks in Portland throwing those projectiles and setting those fires listen to my music and follow me on Twitter, and they already know how much I appreciate their efforts and admire them in general. As the shrill noises coming from foolish people like our mayor grow louder here and across the country, distinguishing between so-called “violent” and so-called “nonviolent” protesters, with the latest line of alleged reasoning being that any white people participating in efforts to destroy or take over a police station must be provocateurs, and if they’re not provocateurs then they must be trying to usurp center stage away from a Black-led movement, let me be one more voice to point out the following, whether or not the media takes notice: none of this discourse is new, and no one needs anyone’s permission to burn down a police station.

A little recapitulation of recent and less recent history seems very much in order here, for context. Much has been said in alternative and corporate media in recent months about the racist history of policing in the United States, about the history of slave patrols, and about white mobs who committed massive and terrible massacres, killing hundreds of Black people and burning down thousands of buildings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and so many other similar horrors. Much has been said about many other such atrocities committed by racist white mobs, as well as the even more tremendous atrocity of institutional racism, in all the many forms this has taken since and before the Civil War. It would be impossible to overstate how important it is that these things are being talked about, particularly if all this talk might actually lead to fundamental changes.

But the history of policing in the United States is not just about racism. This fact is being innocently ignored by people who don’t know much about history, or have just learned about slavery, but have never heard of the labor movement – or it’s being deliberately obfuscated by people who do know about history, and are intentionally using that knowledge to do exactly what the social construct of race was designed to do in the first place: to divide us from one another, and to set up a caste system through which we can then see ourselves as superior or inferior to other members of our society, to pit us against each other through impossibly unfair contests, with one side forced through unspeakable, daily brutality to work for free, with everyone else forced to compete with them or starve trying.

The standing armies of police forces in Boston, Lowell, Lawrence, New York, Paterson, Chicago, Milwaukee, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and so many other cities across the United States were not primarily there to police the Black population specifically. They were there primarily to serve the interests of landlords and industrialists – to serve the capitalist class. To keep the enfranchised enfranchised, and to keep the disenfranchised disenfranchised. This process involved committing acts of violence against a vast array of members of the working class on a daily basis, for centuries. Certain types of people have always been especially targeted for beatings, torture, exile, death, trumped-up criminal charges, trials with kangaroo courts, and filling the ranks of these people have been anyone who has dared to speak up for the interests of the suffering working class of this country, of this state, and of this city.

Oregon was founded as a white homeland, with exclusion laws both on the books and actively enforced. The state did not have a significant Black population until the labor shortage during World War 2. But Oregon most definitely was a class society, with the Timber Barons and real estate speculators on one end, and those hapless people living short and brutal lives in the timber camps or working in the mills on the toxic Willamette River on the other. And were there police? You bet. What were they doing? They were attacking anyone trying to organize any kind of serious resistance against the savagely unequal and exploitative status quo.

The police beat people with truncheons in Portland for speaking on the sidewalk. They savagely assaulted people for marching on the streets. They did their best, on a city level and ultimately, with the formation of the national police force known as the FBI in the early twentieth century, on a national level, to destroy the radical labor movement. This was their first and primary enemy. They lynched union organizers, hanging them under bridges. They fired into crowds of protesters, killing many, in repeated cases across the country. The paramilitary, anti-union and virulently racist American Legion burned down union halls in Portland and across this country.

And did everyone among the working class in Portland and other cities in the US take all this lying down? No, some did not. They fought back. The Industrial Workers of the World organized campaigns of resistance. Not just organizing workplaces, publishing newspapers and carrying out free speech campaigns, but they organized riot squads. These brave fighters for this proudly, self-consciously intersectional union movement physically attacked boat loads of scab workers on the Willamette, and drove them out of the city. They physically attacked the railroad bulls who had been constantly beating and intimidating organizers who traveled by hopping freight trains, in order to get the bulls to back off.

A lot has changed over the intervening century since those times, of course. The country now is more unequal than it has been since that period, but the labor movement is anemic, and doesn’t have any riot squads anymore. After destroying the radical labor movement with a concerted campaign of terror, arson, mass arrests and deportations a hundred years ago, the FBI moved on to destroy other radical social movements, and they’re still at it today. They love it when members of current social movements or remnants of past social movements, in some cases, argue with each other, and the argument over violence vs. nonviolence, and which forms of oppression social movements should focus on most, and how to have a truly ecumenical social movement, how to make real change – all this is very important, and none of it is new.

In the past few months an uprising began, in Trump’s extremely failed state, in the midst of an out-of-control pandemic, sparked by a classically horrible, racist police murder in Minneapolis.

There have been other horrible, racist police murders captured on film in recent years. ICE has been kidnapping children and never returning them to their parents. A year ago there was a racist massacre committed by a white supremacist in El Paso, with 23 dead. There are, unfortunately, any number of horrendous events that could have set off this uprising, including several other vicious, racist police murders that were committed in the days preceding George Floyd’s murder. It may be that the murder was particularly spectacular in its brutality, but leaving Michael Brown, Jr’s body in the hot sun for hours after he was killed in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 is offensively gruesome to a possibly similar extent, and then there are those cages they’re putting the children into in Texas.

As supremely horrible as the constant killing of Black people by police is, this reality was not the only relevant context in which to put the uprising that began at the end of May. It also began with mass unemployment and mass uncertainty about the future, where 1 in 4 children in the country are going to bed hungry, with tens of millions of people dependent on unemployment checks that often never arrive or have just been cut off, with tens of millions of renters facing the specter of their own eviction and the evictions of many of their neighbors. The society was in multiple states of crisis before the pandemic hit – crises which, as always, have class and race intimately intertwined. If most of those people in Portland facing eviction might be white, it’s only because most of the Black population was already forced to leave the city because of the forces of gentrification represented by people like the mayor, and represented by the last mayor of Portland, not to mention the governor, and the liberal gentrifier-in-chief in the White House prior to the billionaire, during whose tenure our rents in Portland doubled.

The Portland police are, statistically, with the statistics sliced in many ways, one of the most racist, murderous police forces in the United States. But it is also the police force that is presiding over the rapid gentrification of the city, that sweeps the encampments of the evicted, the armed representatives of the corporations and banks increasingly taking over the city, who are always protecting the opposing side in any demonstration anyone has ever been to. They are a violent gang bent on repression in the name of plutocracy. And many people know this – it’s kind of obvious.

So when people accused of being “outside agitators,” but who were somehow simultaneously present in every city in the country at the same time, spent several days smashing up downtown Portland, they were not committing acts of violence. They were destroying corporate property, and property of the forces of state violence. Property of the very corporations, and their armed defenders, who are actively causing such misery, imprisoning us on ridiculous charges, killing us, or “just” making us move back in with our parents or go get a second or a third job, and ruining any hopes that so many of us in this society might have once had for a decent future.

Oh, but you say there was an independent store damaged, too? Advice to the capitalists: if you want people to know you’re an independent business, don’t buy a fancy building in the most expensive part of downtown and call it One World Trade Center. People might mistake you for an evil capitalist, who knows why. In any case, this destruction of corporate property and police stations is what got people’s attention in the first place, along with taking over highways and bridges – not the people standing in parks with signs, making speeches.

And now, with the voices of the wealthy, liberal elite and some of their allies denouncing what they call “violence” and “attempted murder” on the part of the young people intent on liberating this city of its occupying army that they call the Portland Police Bureau: while I don’t speak for the folks who were at the police station in question the other night, the murderers are your police force. This is well documented. The attempted murderers include the yahoo who drove a truck into protesters just, what, two nights ago? The attempted murders are every eviction your thugs carry out and every tent encampment they destroy in the interests of your real estate speculator friends. Any system that does those things is a violent, brutal, murderous system that is desperately crying out to be destroyed. If you don’t want your police stations to be burned down, one thing you can do is heed the will of so many of your constituents and abandon them. Hand in your badges and your guns to the Youth Liberation Front or Black Lives Matter, whichever you want. I’m sure no one will need your help figuring out what to do with the building, either — whether it becomes a squat, a garden, or just an artistic pile of burnt-out rubble – which would, in any case, like the broken windows, plywood and spray paint adorning most of downtown, be very good for the property values around here, which are way, way, way too high.


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There is No Evidence That Generous Unemployment Benefits are Making It Difficult to Find Workers

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The July employment report showed the economy adding another 1,761,000 jobs in July. This follows gains of 2,725,000 in May, and 4,791,000 in June, leaving the economy down 12,881,000 jobs from its February level.

The unemployment rate fell from 11.1 percent to 10.2 percent, while the employment to population ratio (EPOP) rose from 54.6 percent to 55.1 percent. These gains likely overstate the true improvement from June, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics has largely fixed a misclassification problem that had caused unemployed workers to be counted as employed. The EPOP is still down by 6.0 percentage points from February, which translates into 15.6 million fewer people being employed.

While most sectors added jobs, the leisure and hospitality sector accounted for a hugely disproportionate share of the gains. The 592,000 new jobs in the sector were 41.6 percent of the private sector job growth in the month. This corresponds to hotels and restaurants reopening as state and local governments rolled back restrictions. (It is important to remember that the pay period including July 12th is the reference point for this report, so it would not pick up the effect of new restrictions imposed in the last three weeks.) Even with this job gain, employment in the sector is still down by 4,340,000, or 25.7 percent, from the February level.

It is worth noting that the loss of jobs in this low-paying sector does not appear to be due to being discouraged from working by generous unemployment benefits. The average hourly wage for production workers in the sector fell by 0.2 percent in July. It fell by 3.4 percent for production workers in retail, and 0.4 percent for production workers overall.

Other sectors with large gains include retail (258,300), health care (191,400), and temporary employment (143,700). The government sector added 301,000 jobs with 215,100 of these being in local education. This is primarily a seasonal adjustment issue, as teachers normally are laid off in July, but this year they were laid off with the shutdowns in March and April. State and local employment is still down 1,170,000 from its February level. Manufacturing added 26,000 jobs, and construction added 20,000. Employment in both sectors is now 5.8 percent below the February level.

Several sectors continue to lose jobs. The publishing industry lost another 6,900 jobs, leaving employment 4.2 percent below year-ago levels. The motion picture industry lost 4,200 jobs. Employment is now 52.4 percent below year-ago levels. Mining lost 7,000 jobs, and employment in the sector is now at its lowest level since August of 2005.

One item worth noting is that the job losses in this downturn have been disproportionately among production and nonsupervisory workers. While 11.4 percent of production jobs have been lost since February, just 3.6 percent of supervisory positions have disappeared.

The picture on the household side is consistent with those in the lowest paying jobs being hit hardest. The EPOP for those without a high school degree is down 7.1 percentage points since February, while the employment rate for those with just a high school is down 6.8 percentage points. By contrast, the EPOP for people with college degrees is down by 4.4 percentage points.

The EPOP for Black people is down 7.9 percentage points since February, compared to 5.6 percentage points for white people. It’s down 8.8 percentage points for Hispanic people.

One encouraging item in the household survey is that most of the unemployed still expect to get their jobs back. Of those counted as unemployed, 56.4 percent report that they are on temporary layoff. That is down only slightly from 59.5 percent in June. Many of these layoffs will not prove temporary, but there is more hope for those classified this way than for those who have simply lost their jobs.

On the whole, this is a very mixed report. The economy was adding jobs in July, but this is not the sharp rebound we were seeing in June. It would take us more than seven months at this pace of job growth to get back to the number of jobs we had in February, and it is almost certain that we will not be seeing comparable growth in the near future as the pandemic has forced rollbacks in openings.

It is also striking how the job loss is concentrated in the lowest paying sectors. Another figure showing this concentration is that of the 15,227,000 drop in employment since February, 4,383,000 of these were people who had been working part-time voluntarily.

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

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War on Truth: How Kashmir Struggles for Freedom of Press

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On the first anniversary of the Indian crackdown on Kashmir, the repercussions for the Kashmiri people are dire. It is said that in time of war, the first casualty is truth. And while India has not declared war on Kashmir, it’s brutal repression of that country and its people has caused that ‘first casualty’ to occur.

A free press and free speech are two hallmarks of any democracy and are the major way for people to peacefully initiate governmental change. Thanks to the Indian government, both are in short supply for Kashmiris. Journalists within Kashmir have a very difficult time reporting. They are often summoned by the police and asked about their work. This tactic of intimidation can’t help but dampen news reported both within and outside of Kashmir. David Walmsley, editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail, commented in 2019 that “Press freedom is often taken for granted in countries where it exists, and is often not considered a priority in countries where it has never existed.” While it did exist in Kashmir, it clearly no longer does, due to the Indian oppression. Ironically, at the 2019 World News Day, an annual event convened by Canada to celebrate “… the positive impact of professional journalism on their communities”, eight of the forty outlets participating were from India. And World News Day occurred nearly two months after India revoked the ‘special status’ of Kashmir and began its brutal suppression of the people of that country.

India continues to proclaim the falsehood that it serves as a ruler or administrator of Kashmir, when it is, in fact, a brutal occupier. It has become so difficult and dangerous for journalists that often they publish articles under an assumed name.

That is the situation for journalists already in the country. For those seeking to enter, they must obtain permission and, if granted, will be continuously monitored while there. And they are not exempt from the frequent police summonsing that those already based their experience.

This, of course, does not include Indian journalists who can freely enter and leave as long as they agree to publish the party line, overlooking atrocities committed against the Kashmiri people, and presenting life in Kashmir as very positive, thanks to Indian benevolence. Truth continues to be a main casualty of the brutal occupation.

For any journalist covering what is happening on the ground in any location, a main source of information is the people who are living through the situation. Kashmiris are hesitant to speak to journalists unless they know exactly what organization they write for; the possibility of saying the ‘wrong’ thing to a pro-India journalist is very real, and the consequences can be swift and deadly. This represses the ability of journalists to write the kind of news stories that relate the extent of the dire situation in the country. Added to that is the feeling among much of the population, certainly justified, that whatever they do or say will not bring them justice. The Indian government is brutally occupying the nation, and the international community is ignoring the situation.

Censorship has become a way of life, preventing the outside world from knowing the horrors that the Kashmiri people are experiencing. Kashmiris themselves, suffering under this brutal occupation, may not know the extent of the suffering throughout their own country due to censorship. For the Indian government, this censorship is required to oppress the people; prevent, or at least minimize, global condemnation, and proceed with its imperial goals.

Like the rest of the world, Kashmir has been impacted by coronavirus, and a lockdown of the nation may occur at any time. How that will look different from life in Kashmir under Indian occupation can only be imagined. An Indian government-support program did not include Kashmir, leaving the people there to deal with the pandemic by themselves while suffering from brutal oppression.  By providing no aid, the Indian government seems to want to make things so difficult for the Kashmiris that their focus is on survival, diverting attention from the theft of their nation and their rights. The economic situation, and the survival of Kashmiris, are both at risk, because employment that had previously been restricted only to Kashmiris is now open to Indians entering the country. Additionally, the harsh and brutal repression by the Indian soldiers occupying Kashmir produces great fear among the people. All this is causing a feeling of betrayal and despair among the people of Kashmir.

Coronavirus itself is getting a lot of media exposure in Kashmir, along with local issues such as water shortages and the conditions of roads. This prevents exposure and discussion of the main issues facing Kashmir, which are many, all of which are caused by the current brutal occupation and India’s colonial plans for the country. One Indian official proclaimed that India would follow the Israeli model in stealing Palestine from the Palestinians to steal Kashmir from the Kashmiris.

So many issues need to be addressed, but are being ignored, including the following:

+ More and more educated youths are arming themselves as protection from, and aggression toward, the occupation.  This is seen as necessary, since the world community seems content to allow India to destroy Kashmir and its people.

+ The drug problem, rampant in many parts of the world, seems to be taking a strong hold within Kashmir. With conditions as difficult as they are, substance abuse may be seen by some to provide them with a least short-term relief from the emotional pain they are experiencing. Yet the consequences of this drug use will be far-reaching and detrimental.

+ The tensions between India and China that could have far-reaching, devastating impacts on Kashmir, are not being discussed. Should those tension erupt into armed conflict, Kashmir, bordering both nations, will experience even greater suffering.

+ And why the world is ignoring the unspeakable suffering of the Kashmiri people at the hands of their Indian overlords remains a mystery. Many governments pay lip service to criticizing Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine, but even that is lacking for Kashmir.

It is no secret that India plans to change the demography of Kashmir; that is part of the brutal, racist ‘Israeli model’ that India is emulating. Kashmiris worry that, as more Hindus are allowed in Kashmir, any future referendum about the future of the country will not be left to the Kashmiris alone.

So, while the internal media focus may be on coronavirus and local issues, discussion of key issues facing the nation are minimized. However, while the discussion may be minimized, the suffering isn’t.

On the August 5 anniversary of the Indian crackdown of Kashmir, people around the world must act. International law, which grants Kashmir independence, must be respected. The people of Kashmir have waited far too long, and India must not be allowed to establish ‘facts on the ground’ as Israel has tried to do in Palestine. The Kashmiri people, like everyone else on the planet, are entitled to the basic right of self-determination; the global community must demand that they be granted that right.

This column first appeared on PeaceData.

The post War on Truth: How Kashmir Struggles for Freedom of Press appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump Launches Attack on Social Security and Medicare

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Watch out! Uncle Donald is coming for your and all your relatives’ Social Security and your Medicare!

The all-out attack on Social Security and Medicare, those two remaining standing edifices of the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s New Society, has begun in earnest with President Trump’s latest executive order calling for the postponement, until year’s end, of the payroll taxes by employees and employers that finance those critically important social programs.

Trump, in a public signing of his executive order, vowed, “If I’m re-elected,” to not just waive repayment of the deferred 6.2% FICA tax paid by both employers and employees to support Social Security benefits, and the 1.45% patrol tax paid by both employers and employees to support Medicaid, but to forgive it, meaning a loss of potentially billions of dollars for those programs. He went on to vow that if re-elected he would totally end the payroll tax — a totally unconstitutional move which, if allowed to occur, would destroy both programs.

Unfortunately, many Americans have no idea what the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) tax taken out of each paycheck actually is. They just look at their pay stub and see that the total earned for two weeks’ or a month’s work was reduced by 6.2 percent. They may understand that the second, smaller deduction of 1.45% goes to pay for Medicare, but since if they are not yet 65, and aren’t receiving Medicare health care benefits, they may not realize how important that deduction is.

Also unfortunate is that nowhere on their pay stub is it explained that one’s employer also paid an equal 6.2% FICA tax and 1.45% Medicare tax for each employee into those two federal trust funds.

In other words, like an old fashioned “defined benefit” pension or like most employer-sponsored 401K plans, every time an American worker has the FICA and Medicare tax deducted from a paycheck, the employer is required by law to match that amount as a “contribution” to those critically important funds that will pay for the worker’s retirement benefits and post-65 health care costs.  Those two programs, of course, are also available to support workers who, for whatever reason, become disabled and cannot work, even before they reach age 62 (for Social Security) or 65 (for Medicare).

Since 63 million, or one-in-six of all Americans, receive benefits from Social Security (for one-in-five of those recipients who are married, and nearly half of those who live alone, that benefit covers at least 90% of their living expenses), and since 18% or close to one-in-five of all Americans, have their health care covered by Medicare, ending funding for these two programs would be catastrophic — especially for the nation’s elderly. It would also be catastrophic for those families with children who lost a working spouse, or for those non-working spouses, typically older women, who lose a working spouse and survive on the spouse’s Social Security benefit.

Social Security and Medicare are not just threads but are two central supporting cables orf the tattered “social safety net” in this dysfunctional American social system. Without them we will be living entirely in a Dickensian world of survival of the fittest, the elderly and disabled deprived of access to health care, as well as of funds for basic needs like food, rent, heat, electricity, a phone and transportation.

The irony here, which the mainstream corporate media are wholly missing or blotting out of their coverage of Trump’s latest executive order power-grab atrocity, is that in postponing or cancelling employee and employer FICA and Medicare payroll taxes, in the name of “stimulating” the economy, the only ones getting more money to spend will be those workers who are still employed and receiving a paycheck (people, in other words, who don’t need a bonus, because they’re still working)  and their employers (who, if they’re still employing their workers, don’t need the extra money either).  The people who need the stimulus money are the 30 million or more workers who have lost their jobs, and the 30 million more who didn’t have one even before the pandemic hit because of the uneven “recovery” of the economy from the last recession.

It’s the unemployed who need financial support and access to health care in this pandemic-induced depression, not the still employed! Talk about a “Doh!” moment!

Democrats, if they had even the flexible cartilaginous spines of a shark or ray, should decry this unconstitutional attack on Social Security and Medicare, calling what it is — an impeachable usurpation of Constitutional taxing authority — and should begin investigating it in the House immediately. (So far, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s most angry response was a quote from a Republican Senator, Ben Sasse of Nebraska!)

Presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden should be declaring his absolute support for the preservation and indeed improvement and expansion of both programs: Social Security and Medicare. The former, since its founding, was never intended to serve as the sole support of retired workers, who were expected to also be receiving pensions from their employers, while the latter, Medicare, was established in 1965 at a time when health care was considerable cheaper in real dollars and has been chipped away at and increasingly privatized by its enemies in both parties to where people today on Medicare spend more on their health care as a percentage of income that their forebears were paying before the program was founded. Both need to be reworked and better funded to meet today’s needs, but in the meantime that support that is provided cannot be cut!

Unfortunately Biden,  throughout his entire political career as a politician from the corporate state of Delaware, has been part of a bi-partisan cabal of politicians who have sought to undermine Social Security and Medicare, labeling them derisively “entitlements” and trying to either privatize the programs or make them need-based — in effect turning them from a universal benefit into a massive welfare programs. That, or course, is the surest way to ensure both program’s rapid demise.

Perhaps in his senescence Biden will channel the better angels of both FDR and LBJ and will, during whatever campaigning he does from his basement in the last 12 weeks before the Nov. 3 election, and going forward should he defeat Trump and become the next president, and will make shoring up and expanding Social Security, and making expanded and improved Medicare-for-All a reality.

But that assumes that those who will be Biden’s handlers — largely a coterie of holdovers from the neo-liberal administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — will allow that to happen.

Since that seems unlikely, though, it becomes critical that all Americans who care about the survival of Social Security and Medicare begin to rally to the defense of those programs.

It’s not just the survival of those two programs that is at issue;  it’s all of our own survival that’s at stake.

Kill off Social Security and Medicare and we will see millions of our elderly living in cardboard boxes and pushing their worldly belongings around in banged-up shopping carts. America could quickly start resembling India, Bangladesh, Brazil and other places where poverty is ubiquitous, brutal and inescapable.

It doesn’t have to be that way, but first all Americans need to recognize the importance of these programs to our neighbors, our relatives, to our children and to ourselves. That means that younger workers, who today are being deluged with scare stories from the right warning that Social Security is “going bust” and “won’t be there” for them when they reach retirement age, Younger workers also need to remember that even if they can somehow save enough to fund their retirement years (good luck with that!), their parents and grandparents, who paid into Social Security and Medicare over their entire working lives, will need those programs to survive. If the programs are killed off as President Trump has announced his intention of doing, keeping those older relatives alive and healthy will fall entirely about children and grandchildren, as it did before the establishment of those programs nearly a century ago.

Older people already receiving or close to receiving these programs’ benefits, cannot just think about preserving their benefits, but about keeping these programs healthy and available to their progeny for generations to come.

The battle to save Social Security and Medicare cannot be left to the complicit Democrats in Congress who have allowed the attacks on those programs to go on — even participating in them in many cases — for decades. Nor can it be left to the demonstrably untrustworthy Joe Biden. No, it will take all of us bringing our demand for a rejection of Trump’s treacherous executive defunding order, and for a firm commitment to bolster and expand both programs by all those seeking our votes. It will also require our taking to the streets after the election, whoever wins, to insure that the programs are protected and made more generous and expansive in their coverage.

Remember, Roosevelt launched Social Security in the depths of what at that time was the worst economic collapse in the nation’s history. If that could be done then, we should be able to make it work better now in another period of economic and political crisis.

According to the Gallup Organization, 75 percent of Americans say that they don’t want Social Security benefits to be touched for any reason.

As for Medicare, not only is it one of the most popular public programs in the country, but according to a recent Harris poll, 69 percent of Americans, a number that inevitably includes not just Democrats and independents, but Republicans as well, support expanding the easy to use program to include all Americans, and not just as now, the elderly and the disabled.

That’s an astonishingly powerful base upon which to build a political movement! And those numbers would be much higher if less well educated and less well informed Americans (the ones who back in the Tea Party movement days were carrying signs saying, “Keep your government hands off of my Medicare!”) were educated about the nature, operation and funding of both programs.

So let’s get this movement rolling! The attack has been launched. The militant movement of opposition to that attack now needs to be launched too.  This is not a time for signing internet petitions. It’s time for organizing mass marches on Washington and all our major cities.

Sure it’s a pandemic, but by maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, and taking basic precautions involving transportation to the nearest rallies, we can do this!


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COVID-19 Poses a Huge Threat to Stability in Africa

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In March 2020, as the COVID-19 virus traversed the planet, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a global ceasefire to fight the common enemy.

The virus, compounded by the effects of armed conflict, he noted, hit the most vulnerable the hardest. Women, children, the marginalized, and the displaced were among the most defenseless. Hostilities must cease to permit the delivery of aid, the conditions for diplomacy, and ultimately, a resolution to the conflicts.

The response to Guterres’s appeal was discouraging.

Africa, a key battleground on both the pandemic and conflict fronts, had much to gain from a universal ceasefire. However, in the months that followed, little common ground emerged at negotiating tables, where weaker actors made contingent demands that the powerful refused to honor, or on the battlefields, where more powerful parties declined to lay down arms, hoping to achieve a military win.

The Security Council, divided internally, failed to endorse the proposal for more than three months. The United States posed a major obstacle when it insisted that its “counterterrorism” operations be exempted from the ban — a demand that was substantially honored in the final resolution.

Absent political will, the UN resolution will not promote the domestic and international cooperationnecessary to defeat the virus. Evidence from Africa — notably, Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia — suggests that in countries already weakened by poverty, political repression, and violent extremism, the pandemic is intensifying societal tensions and exacerbating rather than quelling civil unrest.

The impact of the virus has highlighted regional inequalities. The collapse of health and economic systems, already under duress, has spurred ethnic scapegoating and xenophobia. Virus containment measures have offered authoritarian states new opportunities to strengthen their powers and repress their opponents. Internal conflicts, which before the pandemic had spilled over borders and attracted foreign military intervention, risk further intensification.

Increasing Poverty — and Risks of Extremism

African economies, already devastated by the impact of climate change, violent conflicts, and global downturns, have been further battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has pushed millions of people into extreme poverty.

In Mali, where 3.5 million residents face food insecurity as a result of violent extremism and civil unrest, virus-related economic shutdowns and reduced remittances may threaten 1.3 million people with hunger and impoverish 800,000 more. In Nigeria, the World Bank predicts that COVID-19 will drive oil revenues down by 70 percent this year — fallout from worldwide industrial shutdowns, work-from-home orders, and the grounding of airplanes. The ripple effects may force 5 million more residents into poverty — in a country that already tops global charts for extreme impoverishment.

Economically vulnerable populations, abandoned by their governments, are targets of opportunity for violent extremists — including many that are affiliated with al-Qaeda or the Islamic State. In Somalia, al-Shabaab has established a COVID-19 treatment center and offered protection and basic services where the state has not.

Although courted by extremists, these populations are also the extremists’ greatest victims. In northeastern Nigeria and elsewhere in the Lake Chad region, Boko Haram has refused to close its mosques and schools, rendering local populations more vulnerable to the disease. With state attention and resources diverted to the pandemic, al-Shabaab and Boko Haram have stepped up their attacks, increasing the number of internally displaced persons and refugees and provoking multinational counter-offensives that have killed countless civilians.

Scapegoating and Repression

Fear and hardship provoked by the disease have fueled a rise in ethno-nationalism, xenophobia, hate speech, and the targeting of refugees, migrants, and other marginalized populations.

Pandemic-induced border closures and movement restrictions render these populations even more vulnerable. In Yemen, where war and the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated the health system, Houthi militias have blamed migrants from Ethiopia and other parts of the Greater Horn for the virus’s spread and forced thousands into the desert without water or food. Other African migrants, pushed into Saudi Arabia, have been beaten and imprisoned.

If fear and hardship have stoked the flames, measures taken to impede the virus’s spread may generate further instability. Some governments have declared states of emergency that have broadened executive powers and opened the door to greater human rights abuses by authoritarian regimes.

Across the continent, police have violently attacked civilians who ignored lockdown rules or protestedvirus-induced price gouging. Informal sector workers have been disproportionately targeted, and migrants from other countries have been denied services and assistance. Elections postponed due to health concerns have allowed some leaders to extend their terms; others have used the crisis to expand their powers. In Somalia, where elections have been delayed indefinitely, opposition forces have cried foul and warned that consequences will follow.

A Recipe for Instability

The realization that we are all in this together has prompted a call for increased international cooperation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The UN’s call for a global ceasefire is one step in the right direction. However, the world’s response has been weak.

In Africa, warring parties and international mediators have made little progress on the diplomatic front. In Mali, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate, is willing to negotiate with the government — and may even collaborate against the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS). However, it will begin talks only if foreign troops depart. The powers that be have little interest in this option, and the UN resolution bolsters their position, having excluded from its ban counterterrorism operations focused on al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their affiliates.

The entrenchment of ethno-nationalism, xenophobia, and narrow self-interest in some of the world’s wealthiest nations makes it unlikely that the global north will commit the resources and know-how necessary to combat the virus successfully — which would eliminate one of the factors contributing to civil conflict.

While African actors on the ground are working to develop effective solutions, they are up against formidable odds. If those with power fail to act, poverty, repression, divisions within and between countries, and the long history of detrimental foreign intervention make further instability, rather than international cooperation, the most likely outcome of Africa’s COVID-19 crisis.

This essay first appeared on FPIF.

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Coping With a Deadly Virus, a Social One, Too

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Illustration: Antara Raman.

It didn’t matter that all but one of them had tested negative for coronavirus. The sarpanch, in agreement with the villagers, had issued a diktat. The family couldn’t leave their home for a month – though the mandatory quarantine period was 14 days. One of them had been infected with the virus.

To make things worse, his was the first reported case in the district of Osmanabad. And he had returned from Panipat, Haryana, after attending a Tablighi Jamaat congregation.

While he recovered in the government hospital at Osmanabad’s Umarga taluka in Maharashtra, his family was placed under virtual house arrest. “It meant we couldn’t even harvest our crops,” says 31-year-old Mohammad Salman (name changed). “The crops ready to be harvested kept rotting as my family remained inside the house. Animals destroyed some of those crops and the rest dried up. We couldn’t salvage anything. The losses came up to Rs. 50,000.”

Salman had returned from Panipat on March 24 – the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide shutdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 in India. That same week, authorities in Delhi found 2,000 people were staying at Markaz Nizamuddin, the city headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat, one of the older Islamic organisations in the capital, founded in 1926. They had gathered for a congregation that took place in Delhi from March 13 to 15, which turned out to be a hotspot of the virus. After that event, a dark campaign began, seeking to defame the whole community.

It didn’t matter that Salman and his wife were not part of the same congregation. “People in the village started talking behind my back,” he says. “I didn’t have any symptoms. But the gram panchayat told us to get tested. They didn’t want to take any risk. Muslims were being demonised and blamed for spreading the coronavirus across India. People in my village looked at me suspiciously.”

It would soon get worse. Salman tested positive for coronavirus on April 2. “Luckily, everyone else in my family tested negative,” he says. “I was taken to the hospital the next day.”

The damage, though, had been done. “People in the village started taunting my family for bringing the coronavirus to Osmanabad,” he says. “The sarpanch said my family couldn’t leave the house for a month. On the bright side, some decent people, including a few neighbours, ensured my family got food in the house. But we had to forget the rabi crops we had cultivated with our sweat and blood over the past six months.”

Salman has 4.5 acres of farmland located three kilometres from his village. The eight-member family – Salman, his wife, two kids, brother, sister-in-law, and his parents – cultivates soybean and moong in the kharif season and jowar and chickpeas in the rabi. “We tried hiring labourers to harvest our crops, but nobody was willing to work for us,” he says. “We have two borewells and a dug well on our farm. Still, the farmland dried up because nobody would have anything to do with us.”

Maharashtra has now recorded over 4.8 lakh cases of coronavirus. But the paranoia during the initial period of the lockdown was acute. The future seemed scary. Information was in short supply, panic in abundance.

“Everyone was hurting because of the lockdown,” says Salman. “Farmers struggled to take their harvest to the mandi. There was anxiety because of the losses we suffered, and on top of that, there was fear of contracting the virus. It seemed like our society was looking for a villain to blame for their misery. And Muslims became the target.”

Television channels played a critical role in furthering the harassment of Muslims, says Salman. “People were idle during the lockdown,” he adds. “They would keep watching news clips on their mobile phones throughout the day. And the news clips only demonised Muslims.”

A Marathi channel even splashed Salman’s photo after he tested positive. “That clip went ‘viral’ on WhatsApp,” he says. “Everyone in the taluka saw it. People started looking at me differently. My family was made to feel ashamed. It was humiliating.”

At the hospital, things were better. Salmam was one of the early admissions, and found the doctors were more attentive – and the hospital wasn’t overflowing with patients. “I received regular check-ups,” he says. “My ward was neat and clean. When the hospital released me after 20 days, they held a small celebratory ceremony as I was the first one to have recovered.”

Shilpa and Tanuj Baheti were less fortunate in that regard. By the time the couple in Jalna district tested positive for Covid-19 in the last week of June, Maharashtra had crossed 1.5 lakh cases. The virus wasn’t just limited to the urban centres. And the dilapidated health infrastructure in the hinterland had been overwhelmed.

Residents of Jalna town – 220 kilometres from Osmanabad – Shilpa and Tanuj spent the first two days in the district’s civil hospital, and a week after that in a makeshift quarantine centre. The way they reached both places was in itself unusual.

Not wanting to alarm others in his housing society, Tanuj, burning with fever, rode his two-wheeler to the hospital to admit himself there – instead of calling for an ambulance. “The doctors at the civil hospital know me well,” he says. “They knew I wouldn’t be irresponsible and would directly come to them. My wife took a rickshaw.”

When the couple tested positive, they sent their 13-year-old daughter to her grandmother’s house, also in Jalna town. She had tested negative.

“We both had 102 degrees temperature,” says Shilpa, 40, a college professor in the government-aided Jalna Educational Society College. “After two days at the hospital, we were shifted to a nearby building because they needed space for patients in a more serious condition.” That building was made into a quarantine centre when the number of cases began to rise in Jalna district.

When the patients were moved to the two-storied quarantine centre, says Tanuj, 42, they had to walk with their luggage. “We were sick. We had high fever. We were feeling weak. Upon reaching the quarantine centre, I requested for a room that would accommodate the two of us,” he says. “There was a common ward on the ground level, but we got a room for ourselves on the second floor. When we reached, it was dusty and dirty. The common toilet for the floor was disgusting, there was no light and the water was overflowing.”

Another patient on the same floor told Tanuj – who is a distributor of Dettol products in Jalna – that the condition of the room he had been given had been the same for days. “I complained to the collector, made repeated calls – and it was cleaned up after 2 or 3 days,” he says. “I even made a video of it that went viral on social media.”

Unhygienic toilets, Shilpa points out, are particularly bad for women. “Men can still manage somehow,” she says.

A week in that quarantine centre could worsen a patient’s state of mind, adds Tanuj. “Even the food you get at such places is of really low quality. A friend of mine found worms in the dry fruits he was given. The least you can do is make patients feel comfortable when they are emotionally struggling and tense. There are a lot of taboos around the coronavirus. People look at you as if you have committed a crime.”

Both endured the uncomfortable period at the quarantine centre and got back home in the second week of July. “We did not leave the house for a week after that, just as our doctors had instructed,” says Tanuj.

He, ironically, has benefited from the lockdown – being a distributor of Dettol. With the emphasis on repeated hand-washing, he says, the demand for Dettol has never been higher in Jalna district. “If I made Rs. 30,000 a month before the coronavirus, that rose to Rs. 50,000. Except for the month I couldn’t work, I have done well.” They family also had the cushion of Shilpa’s job at a government college.

“It has been two weeks now and our life is slowly getting back to normal. People around us have also warmed up to us on our return,” says Tanuj.

Salman, however, doesn’t have that privilege. Even after three months of being virus-free, he continues to draw dubious glances while walking on the road. “They [others in his village] roam around without masks all over the place – but pull them on while crossing my house,” he says. “They still look at me differently. After me, there were several workers from Mumbai and Pune who brought the virus to Osmanabad. They weren’t humiliated the way I was and still am.”

Salman had started a shop selling mobile phones in November last year. “It was Diwali,” he says. “It was a good time to begin something new.” He even made a decent profit of Rs. 20,000 a month, until the lockdown struck. In June, when he reopened the shop, people were reluctant to buy from him, he says. Several who did business with him pre-corona have stopped taking his calls.

It did not matter, he says, that he had donated his plasma to help the recovery of other coronavirus patients. “I sat at my shop for two weeks,” he adds. “But nobody would come near it. I sat idle, looked at the traffic, and got back home in the evening. After two weeks, I gave up. I have had to shut my shop.”

Illustration: Antara Raman, a recent graduate of Visual Communication from Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru. Conceptual art and storytelling in all its forms are the biggest influences on her illustration and design practice. 

This report first appeared on the People’s Archive of Rural India.

The post Coping With a Deadly Virus, a Social One, Too appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The “Election Interference” Fearmongers Think You’re Stupid

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Xi Jinping and Ali Khamenei prefer Joe Biden to Donald Trump. Vladimir Putin prefers Donald Trump to Joe Biden. That’s according to William Evanina, Director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center.

“Many foreign actors,” he says, “have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer.”

I don’t have the words to express how un-surprised I am to learn that foreign governments take an interest in, and have opinions on, who gets to run the most powerful regime in the planet’s history.

The idea that that’s ever been FILM AT 11! material is dumb. And the fact that the two “major” political parties think they can use it to make political hay and scare you into voting against whichever candidate their Bogeyman of the Day likes best is evidence that the leaders of those parties think American voters are stupid.

On the evidence, I guess they’ve got a point: We’re obviously not the sharpest knives in the drawer, else Gary Johnson would be putting the finishing touches on his second term in the Oval Office. But I’m hopeful we’re at least intelligent enough to find the “foreign election interference” demagoguery insulting.

Yes, the Chinese, Iranian, and Russian governments (and probably at least some regular Chinese, Iranian, and Russian people) have opinions on American politics.

Just like American politicians (and probably at least some regular American people) have opinions on Chinese, Iranian, and Russian politics.

In point of fact, the US government has directly intervened in Chinese, Iranian, and Russian politics numerous times over the last century.

The US invaded Siberia to oppose the Soviet regime (American Expeditionary Force, Siberia, 1918-20). It supported Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces versus Mao Zedong’s Communist forces in China’s 1945-49 civil war. It overthrew Iran’s elected government in 1953.

Even as we speak, the US government engages in various forms of saber-rattling and sanctions, attempting to influence the internal and international affairs of those countries and many others. Nothing the Russians, Chinese, or Iranians have done or could plausibly do to influence our politics comes close to what the US government does every day, day in and day out, 24/7/365, to influence theirs.

When I say “the US government,” I mean the same people who think you’re dumb enough to panic (and let yourself be herded in a particular direction) if a Russian troll farm runs some Facebook ads about Jesus hating Joe Biden, or  Xi Jinping looks for ways to punish Donald Trump at the polls for his trade wars on the Chinese and American economies.

When it comes to international political interference, turnabout seems like fair play, not like something to panic over.

The post The “Election Interference” Fearmongers Think You’re Stupid appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Mealy-Mouthed Universities: Academic Freedom and the Pavlou Problem Down Under

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A sorry state of affairs has descended upon Australian academic institutions like a suffocating cloak. Vice-Chancellors and their overly remunerated toadies are getting human relations departments to scribble their apologias for sins against thought. Overt political opinions, notably when expressed in a manner that might threaten brands and compromised lines of funding, are being hunted down by cadres of paranoid officials. This process is being undertaken against both staff and students. Terrible that it should happen to the staff, but when university officialdom turns against the students, it is perhaps time to go into ignominious retirement or advertising.

The move of suspending fourth-year humanities student Drew Pavlou from the University of Queensland had more than a rippling effect. The May decision made a splash in the New York Times, which started with the sort of description no university would surely wish to be associated with. “A student activist has been suspended from one of Australia’s leading universities after calling for democracy in Hong Kong and repeatedly criticizing Chinese influence on campus.”

Pavlou was in little doubt why he had received the two year suspension. “It’s a calculated move to silence me. It’s because the University of Queensland wants to do everything possible to avoid offending its Chinese allies.” In Foreign Policy, he explained that he was facing suspension “on the grounds that I ‘prejudiced’ the university’s reputation by using my position as an elected student representative to express support for Hong Kong’s democratic protesters.”

Pavlou was duly served with a dossier of 11 allegations stretching 186 pages. It would have been interesting, particularly for students, to see what bill was drawn up for that effort, especially given the tight budgets institutions face with diminishing student numbers and the losses caused by the coronavirus. Typical of the law and order approach that captivates university pen pushers, Pavlou was supposedly not targeted for reasons of free speech but those of safety and reputation. It was alleged, for instance, that Pavlou had harassed, bullied and threatened a student in a Facebook exchange.

As it transpired, the student in question poured cold water on the whole thing. Pavlou’s lawyer, Tony Morris QC, received a tart email to the effect that “two of the people involved in the exchange did not make formal complaints to UQ – and I certainly have not.” Pavlou might well have been “characteristically crass”, but the complaint seemed “largely manufactured.” This led Morris to the obvious suspicion: what else had been confected in this whole charade of accusations?

Among the hollow allegations was the apparent prejudice caused to the reputation of UQ from a February 14 posting on Facebook advertising a “fictional UQ event” on campus: “US Confucius Institute Panel – Why Uyghur’s [sic] Must be Exterminated”. The measure of such a university’s vengefulness in terms of guarding its corporate brand knows few bounds.

Pavlou’s suspension at the time was flimsy, poorly executed, a mockery of natural justice. The disciplinary panel, constituting two academic staff and a student, was always questionable. Staff members tend to be tenaciously compliant to the sirens of orthodoxy, unless they are not seeking promotion. And anyone willing to be associated with such show trial efforts is bound to have a “sold” sign on their easily purchased conscience.

On appeal, the sentence was not quashed but merely reduced. Pavlou was notified in July by the university’s Senate Discipline Appeals Committee that he would be suspended for the rest of the year and required to complete 25 hours of “campus service”, which had the stench of Iron Curtain re-education about it. Of the 11 charges, only two “serious misconduct” allegations were said to hold water, one involving the fatuous ground of online abuse towards a fellow student, the other involving Pavlou sporting a Hazmat suit outside the office of the UQ vice-chancellor. The skin of authoritarianism is truly thin.

The Appeals Committee was “of the view that the University’s reputation should not be regarded as a fragile or easily bruised thing” but nonetheless took a dim view of Pavlou’s behaviour which showed no signs of “remorse or insight’.

With jaw dropping disingenuousness, UQ chancellor Peter Varghese thought the episode closed. A reduced sentence, modifying the initial finding he himself had considered stiff, “should finally put to rest the false allegations that this process has been an attack on freedom of expression.” In another statement explaining Pavlou’s automatic disqualification as a member of the UQ Senate, the chancellor reiterated that the relevant findings of serious misconduct had nothing to do with Pavlou’s “personal or political views about China or Hong Kong.” Lipstick on a pig comes to mind.

In a July 17, 2020 email to UQ alumni, Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj showed a mealy-mouthed disposition to be jeered as any politburo missive. There was no mention of Pavlou; no mention of critics; no mention of a crisis in how universities deal with criticism from the student body. But the reader was left in no doubt. “At UQ, we live and breathe an ongoing commitment to the protection and promotion of free speech every day.” Such freedom had “been fiercely protected by staff and students for decades – exemplified by demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and the 1971 anti-apartheid protests.”

Høj, in an effort to court some understanding, recalled his time as a student when he was “actively involved in demonstrations on and off the campus including arguing for a switch to renewable energy solutions following the 1973 oil crisis.” Having to constantly remind people about a legacy worn and decidedly irrelevant in a corporatized university is a sure sign that a disease has taken hold and is killing the patient.

Significant in the note is how far Pavlou’s activism, the roaring elephant in the room, rattled the functionaries, much of it to do with the China connection. Høj promised that the university had changed its approach to the Confucius Institute, making sure its staff were “subject to Australian laws and UQ policies.” Serving foreign government officials would “no longer be offered honorary or adjunct positions”. Sources of international income would also be diversified “to ensure a sustainable financial position.”

Pavlou was crestfallen but keen to take the matter to the Queensland Human Rights Commission. “UQ still achieves its main goal of removing me as an elected student representative, their supposed lenience is just a face-saving PR move.” As Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch wondered, “Free speech? Academic freedom? What’s that?” What, indeed.

The post Mealy-Mouthed Universities: Academic Freedom and the Pavlou Problem Down Under appeared first on CounterPunch.org.


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