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The US Media War Machine Kicks In Against Iran

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Photograph Source: Creator-bz – CC BY-SA 3.0

Yes, Iran is increasing the number of centrifuges it is using to refine nuclear fuel, and yes, it is refining that fuel to a higher percentage of U-235, the isotope that allows the uranium to begin a chain reaction necessary for both fueling a nuclear reactor and for creating an atomic bomb.

But in taking these steps, Iran is not, and indeed cannot be “in violation” of the agreement on its nuclear program that was negotiated by the Obama administration and the Iranian government in 2015, with the backing of 5 other nations (France, the UK, China, Russia and Germany).

That’s because the Trump administration, acting on its own, foolishly pulled out unilaterally from that agreement, and has been imposing sanctions on Iran, all of which has been in  violation of the agreement, and which, by violating its terms, effectively terminates the agreement.

One can debate the merits of such an agreement, and whether the Trump administration was right or wrong in pulling out of it (I think it was either a deliberately provocative act intended to steer the country into what would be a disastrous war with Iran, or a stupid decision designed to pressure Iran into reaching a much more restrictive deal with the US), but  that doesn’t mean that the mainstream media should be falsely reporting that Iran is “violating” the terms of the agreement, as for example, NPR did in its Saturday “Morning Edition” program.

The New York Times, in its latest report on Iran’s decision to expand its refining of Uranium fuel, did marginally better. In a Saturday article headlined “Iran Breaks With More Limits in Nuclear Deal as It Pushes for European Aid,” the paper makes the point that while Iran, four months ago, had been “continuing to comply” with the limits on nuclear fuel refining imposed under the deal that the US had violated by reimposing sanctions lifted under that agreement, but that the Tehran was now saying it would “no longer abide by” an agreement that the US was violating.

But Politico, that same day, ran an AP article using a headline saying “Iran now using advanced centrifuges, violating nuclear deal.”   The article, no doubt picked up by dozens or more US news organizations, states in its lead paragraph, ” Iran has begun using arrays of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium in violation of its 2015 nuclear deal, a spokesman said Saturday, warning that Europe has little time left to offer new terms to save the accord.”

The Washington Post wasn’t any better, screaming that Iran had “breached” the agreement and was pursuing more intensive refining of uranium fuel. How can one breach an agreement that the other key party, the US, had already pronounced dead, pulling out and reimposing sanctions whose lifting had been part of the deal, despite outside inspectors and other nations party to the agreement insisting that Iran has been adhering to the agreement?

A poorly informed US reader of or listener to such slanted coverage could be forgiven for assuming that Iran was aggressively in breach of an agreement between the itself and the US and the group of other UN Security Council permanent members as well as Germany, when in fact it is the US that has crashed out of the accord and reimposed stiff economic sanctions on Iran.

This kind of slanted coverage of a critical international story is worse than just poor journalism. It is rank propaganda in support of increased tension between Washington and Tehran — tension that could easily erupt into a military conflict.

Speaking in terms of the people of the world, it is clearly in nobody’s interest for the US and Iran, a sovereign nation of 70 million, to be at war.  We know how poorly US wars have gone against much smaller and less developed nations like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have gone. And Iran is a country with a powerful historical sense of national pride and identity, not a stitched-together collection of feuding tribes and religions that is twice as big as any of those other countries — one that, as well, is one of the largest oil producers in the world.

What US journalists should be doing, instead of mindlessly backing an administration that appears to be stoking hostility and war against Iran and its people, is to be analyzing and questioning why the US is so unwilling to continue with a diplomatic agreement that, by all accounts, was working to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. They should also be asking why the US, which reportedly is today producing more oil and gas than it uses domestically, even cares about what nations in the Middle East are doing with their oil and gas.

And Americans should be asking why their country’s news media organizations are being so conspicuously pro-war in their reporting on the US-Iran dispute.  It is clearly the Trump administration that has been sabotaging the Obama administration’s successfully reached nuclear agreement with Iran.

 

The post The US Media War Machine Kicks In Against Iran appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Spikes of Violence: Protest in West Papua

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Photograph Source: Government of Sarmi Regency – Public Domain

Like Timor-Leste, West Papua, commonly subsuming both Papua and West Papua, remains a separate ethnic entity, acknowledged as such by previous colonial powers. Its Dutch colonial masters, in preparing to leave the region in the 1950s, left the ground fertile for a declaration of independence in 1961. Such a move did not sit well with the Indonesian desire to claim control over all Dutch Asia Pacific colonies on departure. There were resources to be had, economic gains to be made. The military duly moved in.

The New York Agreement between Indonesia and the Netherlands, brokered in 1962 with the assistance of the United States, saw West Papua fall under United Nations control for the duration of one year. Once passing into Indonesian control, Jakarta would govern the territory “consistent with the rights and freedoms guaranteed to the inhabitants under the terms of the present agreement.” Education would be a priority; illiteracy would be targeted, and efforts made “to accelerate participation of the people in local government through periodic elections.”

One article stood out: “Indonesia will make arrangements, with the assistance and participation of the United Nation Representative and his staff, to give the people of the territory the opportunity to exercise freedom of choice.” In 1969, a ballot was conducted in line with the provision, though hardly in any true, representative sense. In the rich traditions of doctored representation and selective enfranchisement, 1,026 individuals were selected by Indonesian authorities to participate. Indonesia’s military kept an intimidating watch: the vote could not be left to chance. The result for Indonesian control was unanimous; the UN signed off.

Unlike Timor-Leste, the historically Melanesian territories of Papua and West Papua remains under thumb and screw, an entity that continues to exist under periodic acts of violence and habitual repression from the Indonesian central authorities. A policy of transmigration has been practiced, a point argued by scholars to be tantamount to genocide. This has entailed moving residents from Java and Sulawesi to West Papua, assisted by Jakarta’s hearty sponsorship.

The Indonesian argument here has been ethnic and political: to confect a national identity through assimilation. Under President Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”)), one keen to push the idea of “Indonesia Maju” (“Advanced Indonesia”), renewed stress is being placed on infrastructure investment, economic growth and natural resources, of which Papua features heavily.

The indigenous populace has had to, in turn, surrender land to those transmigrants and appropriating authorities. “The rights of traditional law communities,” notes Clause 17 of Indonesia’s Basic Forestry Act of 1967, “may not be allowed to stand in the way of transmigration sites.”

Appropriations of land, the relocation of residents, and the odd massacre by Indonesian security forces, tend to fly low on the international radar of human rights abuses. West Papua lacks the cinematic appeal or political heft that would encourage around the clock coverage from media networks. Bureaucratic plodders in the various foreign ministries of the world prefer to render such matters benign and of little interest. Geopolitics and natural resources tend to do most of the talking.

In late 2015, for instance, Scott Busby, US deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and James Carouso, acting deputy assistant secretary for Maritime and Mainland Southeast Asian affairs, ducked and evaded anything too compromising in their testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy. The consequences of demographic policies directed by Jakarta were assiduously ignored. Massacres and institutional accountability in the territory were bypassed, as were Indonesian efforts to prevent scrutiny on the part of human rights monitors, the UN Special rapporteur and journalists.

This year, more instances of violence have managed to leach out and gurgle in media circles. It took a few ugly incidents in the Javanese city of Surabaya to engender a new wave of protests which have had a rattling effect on the security forces. Last month, pro-Indonesian nationalist groups, with reported encouragement from security forces, taunted Papuan students with an array of crude insults in East Java. (“Dogs”, “monkeys” and “pigs” were part of the bitter mix.) The fuse was lit, notably as arrests were made of the Papuans themselves. “Papuans are not monkeys”, proclaimed banners being held at a rally in Central Jakarta on August 22.

Government buildings have been torched in Jayapura. Additional forces have been deployed, and internet access cut. There are claims that white phosphorous has been used on civilians; prisons are being filled. There have even been protests in Indonesia’s capital, with the banned Morning Star flag being flown defiantly in front of the state palace. (Doing so is no mild matter: activist Filep Karma spent over a decade of his life in prison for doing so.)

The struggle for independence, at least in the international eye, has been left to such figures as Benny Wenda, who lobbies governments and groups to back the “Free Papua” campaign. He is particularly keen to take the matter of the Free Choice vote of 1969, that nasty instrument that formalised Indonesian control, to the United Nations General Assembly. Last month, he had to settle for taking the matter to the Pacific Islands Forum as a representative of Vanuatu’s delegation. In January, he gifted the UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet a petition with 1.8 million signatures seeking a new referendum for the territory.

The response from an Indonesian government spokesman was emphatic, curt, and conventional. “Developments in Papua and West Papua province are purely Indonesia’s internal affairs. No other country, organisation or individual has the right to interfere in them. We firmly oppose the intervention of Indonesia’s internal affairs in whatever form.”

The hope for Jokowi and the Indonesian authorities will be simple: ride out the storm, conduct a low-level suppression of protests, and place any talks of secession on the backburner. In this, they can count on regional, if hypocritical support. In the words of a spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Australia recognises Indonesia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the Papua provinces. Our position is clearly defined by the Lombok Treaty between Indonesia and Australia.”

The post Spikes of Violence: Protest in West Papua appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Confuse, Then Blame the Public: Facebook Dodges Regulation With Wall Street’s Tactics

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Facebook fulfilled an old promise last month in the most Facebook way possible: by sounding nice on paper and glossing over the details. Their new privacy tools are a laughably inefficient and insufficient set of measures, because fundamentally, they’re not trying to actually solve the stated problem: Facebook’s surveillance-based business model. It’s more proof that forcing individuals to protect themselves from the abuses of giant corporations is a cruel fantasy. This collective problem will require a collective solution. It’s about time regulators stepped in to do something about it.

This week the social media titan began rolling out a new slate of features to let users manage their “Off-Facebook Activity,” an awkward euphemism for all of the ways the company tracks its users’ browsing habits when they’re not actually on Facebook. Despite CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s promise that the new feature would let you “flush your history whenever you want,” “Off-Facebook Activity” offers no tools for deleting the data Facebook has gathered about you. Nor will it let users fully opt out of having their browsing activity tracked. No matter what, if you have a Facebook account, the company is watching what you do online.

So what does “Off-Facebook Activity” do? It lets users see much more of what Facebook knows about them. Even if users cannot take meaningful action to stop it collecting the information. Instead users can “anonymize” their data — but the anonymous data will still be reported to advertisers and, as a former Federal Trade Commission official noted, it’s pretty easy to re-identify an individual.

Oh, and lest we forget merely because it is laughably impractical, Facebook now allows users to sift laboriously through every website which sends data back to Facebook (nearly a third of the web) and request one by one that these websites not use any of their obvious or subtle tools to send information to Menlo Park.

What few protections the system offers are very complicated and ultimately unrewarding for privacy-minded Facebook users. Essentially, anyone who wants to keep prying eyes off of their sensitive information needs to first spend hours figuring out the technicalities of how online advertising programs even work. If users can parse out the information they need, the tools at their disposal only (slightly) protect them. Meanwhile, everyone with less patience or sophistication is left open to corporate espionage.

If, as a society, we want to prevent Facebook users from feeling spied on, there is a much simpler and more efficient way to do that: force Facebook to stop spying on them. Of course, doing so challenges the company’s business model. Thus, the mere suggestion that regulators might move in that direction has inspired Facebook to begin a counterattack, one that deploys a tactic first pioneered by Wall Street and predatory lenders: shift responsibility to consumers while furiously resisting the structural changes that could actually help them.

Rachel Cohen documented this tactic’s history for The American Prospect in June: as bankruptcy rates skyrocketed in the 1990s, Ford Motor Credit CEO Robert Odom fretted about young people failing to learn “financial literacy,” or the ability to recognize exploitative terms in auto loans. Never mind that Odom’s fellow auto-lenders were the ones offering these exploitative terms in the first place. Over the next two decades, states and the federal government rolled out a slew of educational counter-measures, in hopes of teaching students how to navigate the financial marketplace. Teach young people how to be smarter customers, the thinking went, and this whole predatory lending problem will sort itself out.

Except, as anyone who’s tried to read their mortgage or credit card paperwork knows, it’s not that simple. Financial contracts have mountains of legal jargon, and bury crucial details in  subsections of subsections. All of the information one needs for an informed decision is technically there, but in practice, it’s almost impossible for the average person to parse out what matters — and often, they’re under heavy emotional pressure to sign immediately. In other words, unless financial literacy workshops are training almost everyone as a consumer protection attorney, they are woefully insufficient for the problem at hand.

Luckily, financial literacy or universal law degrees are not the only two options available to lawmakers who wanted to fight predatory lending. Indeed they could choose the far more straightforward path of simply banning predatory loans. As Lauren Willis, an academic and leading critic of financial literacy, told Cohen, “People aren’t dumb, they’re just busy, and we should regulate around those things, with the assumption that there are certain things a consumer can do and other things they can’t, and that it would be silly to ask them to do.”

Congress did eventually move toward ending the “financial literacy” regime by establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a powerful watchdog designed to spot and stop bad behavior in consumer finance markets. Here was a bureau of actual consumer protection attorneys working in the public interest who had the rule-making power to box out any new, exploitative weapons which predatory lenders might develop.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration reversed many of these gains. Since taking power, Trump officials have systematically defanged the agency. In a twist of tragic irony, its new director announced in April that one of her major focuses would be promoting financial literacy.

Substituting consumer choice for active regulation is tremendously profitable. That is why predatory lenders and technology companies alike want to rig the rules of their respective markets such that consumers must try to avoid getting ripped off, instead of the companies accepting rules that would stop them from ripping people off in the first place.

Indeed, fellow tech titan Google seems to be signalling that it’s taking a similar approach to quelling its own privacy concerns among users. Last Thursday, the company said it would create a “Privacy Sandbox” for its Chrome browser, which would set new standards in order to “build a more private web.” It’s unclear right now what that means in concrete terms, but it definitely doesn’t mean that Google will change any part of its core website — and Facebook’s shift from promising to “flush your history whenever you want” to the meager Off-Facebook Activity options should leave onlookers skeptical about other tech giants taking the high road.

Plus, avoiding exploitation is getting much harder thanks to market consolidation. “Consumer choice” regimes presume that markets are competitive, which simply isn’t true for much of the modern American economy. Take Facebook. Even if a consumer does all of the leg-work, and isn’t satisfied with their privacy options, they’re still almost forced to use a product owned by this social media titan. As Rep. Joe Neguse pointed out at a Congressional hearing last month, the company owns four of the top six social networks. Flee to Twitter or the Google-owned YouTube, and one finds the same, gross business model. There’s no escape from the surveillance.

Critics might respond that social media is a non-essential product, and if one doesn’t like corporate surveillance, they should just delete their accounts. Try telling that to a journalist, musician, entrepreneur, or activist — anyone who needs others’ attention. These forums are just too powerful, and the companies holding the keys are just too big and unaccountable, for market-based fairy dust to work.

Given these big, structural obstacles, the solution cannot rest on individual action. We don’t prevent pandemics just by teaching people to avoid rats. The government convenes the forces necessary for creating vaccines and medicines to eradicate diseases in the first place. Preventative treatments work. Likewise, if an industry is preying on the public, it’s insufficient to simply inform and educate its would-be targets.

In this case, our “vaccines” must come from specialized regulators like the CFPB, Federal Communications Commission, and Food and Drug Administration. Society recognizes that it’s unfair and dangerous to expect every individual to be their own, and only, advocate in every transaction with complex and powerful industries. The staff at these agencies are (or could and should be) trained experts who follow these fields for a living, and they can set rules in order to stop new forms of exploitation that profit-hungry bad actors invent.

The agencies need to rediscover the powers they already have. They need to push back against the failed market-driven policies of the last four decades. But as the CFPB example demonstrates, that can only happen with strong leadership from the top. Unless agency heads actually understand and believe in the missions of their agencies, nothing is going to change. Properly staffing and leading the executive branch agencies will be one of the most important ways any new president can actually improve Americans’ lives.

Yet Democratic leadership has continued to neglect these appointments, and the opportunities to wield power that they represent. Until that changes, we can all expect a lot more scoldings from billionaires over their own deceptions and theft. In a world of “Buyer Beware,” it’s always the little guy who suffers.

Max Moran writes for Center for Economic and Political Research, where this article first appeared.

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NFL’s Depression-Era Ban on Black Players Lingers On in the Owners Box

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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. (NFL Network.)

The National Football League season opened last week with a full slate of games.

On the field, extraordinary athletes of all races and backgrounds competed with the same set of rules.

Yet, it is worth noting that this has not always been the case — and that the legacy of discrimination has yet to be redressed.

In June, when the Chicago Bears announced that their “throwback jersey” for their 100th anniversary this year would come from 1936, they were honoring a jersey that was worn in the third season of the NFL’s 12-year ban on black players.

In an extraordinary article for Windy City Gridiron, Chicago Sports historian Jack Silverstein detailed the story and background of the ban.

Unlike baseball, the NFL allowed black players to play in its early years. Black players like All Pro halfback Fritz Pollard and tackle Duke Slater were among the most honored players of the day.

“What makes the NFL so unique is that it’s a full-fledged league and it starts off integrated,” says professor, author and historian Louis Moore, whose work includes the podcast The Black Athlete.

Yet, when the Great Depression deepened, black players were suddenly banned from the league. The owners — led by George Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington Redskins and, Silverstein postulates, likely George Halas, famed owner of the Chicago Bears — clearly enforced a ban on black players that lasted from 1933 to 1945.

The argument apparently was that with the Depression, black players would be resented — the football version of last hired, first fired.

The Washington owner, Marshall, writes Silverstein, was an “avowed, gleeful racist,” who generally bears the onus of pushing the ban. He hoped to market the Washington team as the team of the South.

But other owners, including legends in the sport, were complicit or worse, including Chicago’s Halas, Curly Lambeau of the Packers, Tim Mara of the Giants and Art Rooney of the Steelers.

Mara’s Giants didn’t have a black player until 1948, Halas’ Bears not until 1952, Lambeau’s Packers not until 1950. Marshall’s Redskins were the last to integrate, doing so only in 1962 when the federal government threatened to revoke the lease on the team’s stadium.

Today, NFL rosters are integrated.

But there’s still a dearth of blacks in the elite club of owners. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, only two principal owners are people of color — Shahid Khan of the Jaguars and Kim Pegula of the Buffalo Bills. (Of the 92 teams in baseball, basketball and football combined, there are only six majority owners that are people of color.)

Ownership is a small club, and the club owners still tend to admit only people that look like them. The exclusion is also a legacy of the discrimination.

When black players — and black owners — were banned, teams were affordable. As the league built up, many teams were inherited, gaining in value along the way. By being excluded at the start, black owners have a far harder time getting in now.

Today’s integrated teams on the field serve as positive examples.

Fans cheer for favorites by the color of their jerseys, not the color of their skin. That players of all races and backgrounds play by the same set of rules exemplifies the equal justice under the law that we strive for.

But equality on the field should parallel equality in management and ownership.

The NFL should start by acknowledging the racial ban it enforced, recognizing black players and moving more of them into the Hall of Fame and taking concrete steps to ensure that the ownership, management and coaching of NFL teams reflect the diversity of the players on the field and the fans in the stands.

 

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Tax Dodging 101: the Aircastle Model

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Aircastle Ltd. is not a household name, but if you’ve flown on South African Airways, KLM, or any of more than 80 other airlines, you’ve probably traveled on an airplane the Connecticut-based company owns and manages.

The company´s business model is based on buying, selling, and leasing aircraft worldwide. Its corporate structure minimizes the payment of taxes by using a complex arrangement of subsidiaries, all managed from Connecticut, Ireland, or Singapore.

These arrangements, recently highlighted in the #MauritiusLeaks investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), are legal. But they have allowed the company to pay minimal taxes, including no corporate taxes in the United States on income from their aircraft leases.

Aircastle, of course, isn’t alone among large American companies in lowering their taxes through creative accounting. Well-known giants such as Amazon and Apple do so as well.

But the recent revelations on Aircastle’s use of Mauritius as a tax haven provide a helpful window into how such tax dodges can use offshore companies set up primarily for that purpose. Getting to zero with tax avoidance became even easier with the new Republican tax cuts in 2017, but Aircastle was already well on the way to that objective.

For example, when Aircastle decided to do business in South Africa in 2010, as the ICIJ and Quartz Africa revealed in July 2019, it turned to a Bermuda-based law firm to help it set up six subsidiaries in Mauritius: Thunderbird 1 Leasing Ltd. along with five other companies named Thunderbird 2 through 6. As was Aircastle´s common practice, each company was to own a specific aircraft. South African Airways made their lease payments to the subsidiaries in Mauritius, each of which was owned in turn by an Aircastle subsidiary in Bermuda or Delaware.

Since South Africa and Mauritius have a tax treaty allowing this, Aircastle paid Mauritius at the low Mauritius rates on the income from the leases ($772,735 a month for the first A300-200 leased by South African Airways from Thunderbird 1 beginning in 2011). From 2011 through 2014, according to documents leaked to ICIJ, Thunderbird 1 paid  a total of $382,600 in Mauritius taxes, a 1.59 percent tax rate on $24 million in operating profits.

Aircastle paid no taxes on these profits either in South Africa or in the United States.

According to ICIJ, “Had Aircastle’s Thunderbird 1 company alone reported the profits it made in Mauritius over four years in the U.S., it could have paid more than $5 million. Those taxes would just about cover the state of Connecticut’s current budget for domestic violence shelters.”

Including other Thunderbird companies as well, Quartz calculated, Aircastle paid $1.5 million in Mauritius taxes on profits of $53 million, at an effective rate of 2.87 percent — thus avoiding $14.8 million in taxes it would have owed if taxes had been paid to South Africa. This is equivalent to more than half the annual social housing budget of Johannesburg.

Aircastle did not respond to queries from ICIJ or Quartz, and data for a more comprehensive analysis of its tax strategy are therefore not available. However, since the company is registered on the New York Stock Exchange and also traded on NASDAQ, its reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are public. Its annual report to investors for 2018, for example, incorporates the 10-K report to the SEC.

There we learn that Aircastle Ltd is actually incorporated in Bermuda and thus pays no U.S. corporate income tax, except on the management services supplied by its U.S. subsidiary to the aircraft-owning companies. Bermuda has no corporate income tax. Thus the company notes in its 10-K report, under the heading “risks related to taxation”:

“If Aircastle were treated as engaged in a trade or business in the United States, it would be subject to U.S. federal income taxation on a net income basis, which would adversely affect our business and result in decreased cash available for distribution to our shareholders.”

Given the lack of transparency in corporate reporting, it is hard to tell how Aircastle’s strategies compare to those used by other companies. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) reported in April, based on 10-Ks submitted to the SEC, that 60 of the Fortune 500 had zero or negative federal income tax payments in 2018. But more detailed analysis or estimates of tax revenue lost, in the United States and other countries, require much more data than almost all such reports provide.

The fundamental step needed to make accountability feasible is public country-by-country reporting, whereby corporations would be required to provide for investors and the public a breakdown by country of revenues, profits, employees, and taxes paid for  every country in which they do business. Governments, investors, and even some businesses are increasingly accepting the need for such reports.

According to an April 2019 report from the U.S.-based Financial Accountability and Corporate  Transparency (FACT) Coalition, however, the trend is in the right direction. “The evidence suggests we are quickly reaching a turning point,” said Christian Freymeyer, researcher and author of the report. “Investors see the value, policymakers see the benefits, and businesses see the inevitability of greater transparency. It’s only a matter of time before tax transparency is accepted and expected of financial disclosure.”

Freymeyer´s analysis may well err on the side of optimism, given the continued opposition from those with vested interests in tax avoidance. But it is certainly true that the argument is now finding new supporters far beyond the circle of tax justice activists who have been the leaders in demanding these reforms.

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Treadmill of Magic Seeds and Broken Promises: Dismantling the Myth of Bt Cotton Success in India

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Political posturing aligned with commercial interests means that truth is becoming a casualty in the debate about genetically modified (GM) crops in India. The industry narrative surrounding Bt cotton is that it has been a great success. The current Modi-led administration is parroting this claim and argues its success must be replicated by adopting a range of GM food crops, amounting to what would be a full-scale entry of GM technology into Indian agriculture. Currently, Bt cotton is India’s only officially approved commercially cultivated GM crop.

With the aim of putting the record straight, a media event took place on Friday, 6 September in New Delhi at the Constitution Club of India during which it was declared that Bt cotton has been a costly and damaging failure. Speakers included prominent environmentalists Aruna Rodrigues and Vandana Shiva who presented a good deal of information based on official reports, research papers and documents submitted as evidence to the Supreme Court on Bt cotton.

It was argued that even the government’s own data contradicts its tale of Bt cotton success and that the consequences of irresponsibly rolling out various GM crops based on a false narrative would be disastrous for the country.

PR and broken promises

In the early 2000s, Bt cotton was being heavily promoted in India on the basis it would cut pesticide use dramatically, boost yields and contribute to the financial well-being of farmers. However, pesticide use is back to pre-Bt levels and yields have stagnated or are falling. Moreover, some 31 countries rank above India in terms of cotton yield and of these only 10 grow GM cotton.

As will be shown, farmers now find themselves on a chemical-biotech treadmill and have to deal with an increasing number of Bt/insecticide resistant pests and rising costs of production. For many small-scale cotton farmers, this has resulted in greater levels of indebtedness and financial distress.

Failure to yield

Over 90% of cotton sown in India is now Bt. Although initially introduced to the country in 2002, its adoption was only about 12 and 38% respectively in 2005 and 2006. A good deal of data was contained in the media briefing that accompanied the event in Delhi. In it, Aruna Rodrigues and Vandana Shiva show that, even then (2005-2006), average yields had already reached the current plateau of about 450-500 kg/ha. Average all-India Bt cotton yields hovered around or below 500 kg/ha during the period 2005-2018.

What is particularly revealing is that cotton production for 2018-2019 will be the lowest in a decade, down to an estimated 420.72 kg/ha, according to a press release issued in July by the Cotton Association of India.

Furthermore, the argument is that increases in yields that may have occurred were in any case due to various factors, such as increased fertiliser use and high-yielding hybrid seeds, and not Bt technology.

The data presented by Rodrigues and Shiva shows that cotton yield in the pre-Bt era increased significantly from its 191 kg/ha low in 2002 to 318 kg/ha in 2004-2005, registering an increase of 66% in just three years (the baseline for Bt cotton is 2005-2006 as prior to this adoption rates were not significant). The two environmentalists say this was a result of increased acreage under hybrids and a new class of insecticides.

They note that the momentum of this upward swing carried into the Bt era and had nothing to do with that technology. Their argument is that Bt cotton has failed but is being trumpeted as a success under the cover of increased fertiliser use, hybrid seed trait yield (not attributable to Bt technology), better irrigation and insecticide seed coating.

Biotech treadmill and ecological disruption

Bt technology was used in conjunction with high-yielding hybrids (as opposed to pure line varieties) and has no trait for intrinsic yield. This, Rodrigues and Shiva argue, conveniently allowed a smudging of the yield data (isolating the precise impact of hybrid yield would prove to be difficult) and also provided a ‘value-capture’ mechanism for Monsanto: the introduction of these hybrids disallows seed saving, forcing farmers to buy new expensive hybrid Bt cotton seed each year (hybridisation gives one-time vigour).

Prior to Bt cotton, the extensive use of insecticides to cope with the Pink Bollworm (PBW), which is native to India, had become a problem. Spraying for PBW caused outbreaks of the American Bollworm (ABW). The ABW is a secondary pest that was induced by extensive insecticide use and became the target for Bt cotton.

Although Bt cotton was supposed to control both species of bollworm, PBW resistance to Bt toxin has now occurred and the ABW is also developing resistance. Moreover, post 2002, new pests have appeared, such as whitefly, jassids and mealybugs.

However, Rodrigues and Shiva note that resistance in PBW now occurs to both Monsanto’s Bollgard I and Bollgard II Bt cotton (BGI and BG II). BGI was replaced by BG II as early as 2007-8, just six years after its introduction because the PBW had developed resistance. The ABW is also now developing resistance to stacked Bt toxins in BG II.

Irresponsible roll out

Hybrids are input intensive and are sown at suboptimal wide spacing. Unlike in other countries that grow Bt cotton, they are long season cottons and are thus more susceptible to pest build-up. With this in mind, Rodrigues and Shiva refer to Dr K R Kranthi, former director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, who says:

“Insecticide usage is increasing each year because of resistance development in sucking pests to imidacloprid and other neonicotinoid insecticides—by 2012 insecticide usage was at 2002 levels and will continue to increase inducing further outbreaks of insecticide and Bt resistant pests.”

Bt cotton hybrids also require more human labour and perform better under irrigation. However, 66% of cotton in India is cultivated in rain fed areas, where yields depend on the timing and quantity of highly variable monsoon rains. Unreliable rains, the high costs of Bt hybrid seed, continued insecticide use and debt have placed many poor (marginal) smallholder farmers in a situation of severe financial hardship.

In fact, Professor A P Gutierrez argues that Bt cotton has effectively put these farmers in a corporate noose: his research has noted a link between Bt cotton, weather, yields, financial distress and farmer suicides.

Monsanto’s profiteering

Rodrigues and Shiva note that Monsanto was allowed a ‘royalty’ on Bollgard I seed without having a patent on it. Drawing on conservative estimates (by K R Kranthi), on average, the additional expenditure on seeds (compared to non-Bt seeds) was at least Rs 1,179 per hectare and the Indian farmer may have spent a total extra amount of Rs 14,000 crores (140 billion) on Bt cotton seeds during the period 2002-2018. The trait value charged (2002-2018) is around Rs 7,000 crores. This excludes royalties accruing to Mahyco-Monsanto, which were illegal on Bollgard I (first generation Bt cotton) and yet allowed by the regulators.

Overall net profit for cotton farmers was Rs 5,971/ha in 2003 (pre-Bt) but plummeted to average net losses of Rs 6,286 in 2015, while fertiliser use kg/ha exhibited a 2.2-fold increase. As Bt technology was being rolled out, costs of production were thus increasing. And these costs were increasing in the face of stagnant yields.

Why GM anyway?

At this point, it is worth broadening the scope of this article by noting that in 2010, an indefinite moratorium was placed on Bt brinjal, which would have been India’s first GM food crop. Despite the current push for a full-scale entry of GM into Indian agriculture, the moratorium is still in place: the conflicts of interest, secrecy, negligence and lack of competence inherent in the GM regulatory process that were acknowledged at that time remain unaddressed.

It would therefore be grossly irresponsible to roll out GM. If the experience of Bt cotton tells us anything, it would also be extremely unwise to proceed without carrying out independent health, environmental and socio-economic risk assessments.

Of course, establishing the need for GM – crops that outperform current non-GM options currently available – is paramount but totally absent. With this in mind, Rodrigues and Shiva cite evidence that traditional plant breeding and newer methods outperform GM agriculture at much less cost, release fewer carbon emissions and earn much greater profits for farmers.

Given this situation (the fraud of GM and its dubious track record aside), anyone could be forgiven for thinking that the plan to get GM into Indian agriculture is solely driven by ideology and commercial interest. Instead of drawing on proven traditional knowledge and practices to ensure food security, the strategy seems to be to place farmers on biotech-chemical treadmills for the benefit of corporate interests.

Green Revolution to ‘gene revolution’

If we look at the Green Revolution, it too was also sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’. But in India, according to Professor Glenn Stone, it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased. Nevertheless, there have been dire consequences for the Indian diet, the environment, farmers, rural communities and public health.

More generally, the Green Revolution dovetailed with an international system of chemical-dependent, agro-export mono-cropping and big infrastructure projects (dams) linked to loans, sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF directives, the outcomes of which included a displacement of the peasantry, the consolidation of global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit regions.

Often regarded as Green Revolution 2.0, the ‘gene revolution’ is integral to the plan to ‘modernise’ Indian agriculture. This means the displacement of peasant farmers, further corporate consolidation and commercialisation based on industrial-scale monocrop farms incorporated into global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness and retail giants. It would also mean the undermining of national food security.

GM-based agriculture is key to what would amount to a wholesale corporate capture of the agri-food sector: a sure-fire money spinner that would dwarf the amount drained from India courtesy of Monsanto’s ‘royalties’ on Bt cotton.

Agroecological solutions

This wholesale shift to industrial agriculture would have devastating impacts on the environment, rural communities, public health, local and regional food security, seed sovereignty, nutritional yield per acre, water tables and soil quality, etc. Industrial agriculture has massive health, social and environmental costs which are borne by the public and taxpayers, certainly not by the (subsidised) corporations that rake in the massive profits.

It is no surprise, therefore, that an increasing international consensus is emerging on the role of agroecology. In this respect, smallholder farmers are not to be regarded as residues from the past but as being crucial to the future.

And this is not lost on Rodrigues and Shiva who note the vital importance and productivity of small farms (which outperform industrial-scale enterprises and feed most of the global population) and the advantages of agroecological farming. They refer to the recent UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts which concludes that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.

Furthermore, according to Rodrigues and Shiva, regenerative organic farming can draw down excess carbon from the atmosphere and put it in the soil, thereby reversing climate change and making agriculture climate resilient. They argue that organic systems are competitive with conventional yields and leach no toxic chemicals. As for cotton, they state that ‘desi’ species of cotton varieties are highly amenable to low-cost organic farming, providing an excellent opportunity for India to emerge as a global leader in organic cotton.

The take-home message is that if GM food crops are to be rolled out – based on a narrative about Bt cotton that relies more on industry spin than actual facts – it would be disastrous for India. Given the evidence, it’s a warning that should not be taken lightly.

An eight-page briefing was issued to coincide with the media event and contains relevant references, additional data and numerous informative charts. It can be accessed here 

The post Treadmill of Magic Seeds and Broken Promises: Dismantling the Myth of Bt Cotton Success in India appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

BDS in Canada

Counterpunch Articles -

A recent ruling by the Federal Court of Canada declaring ‘Product of Israel’ labels on West Bank settlement wines to be “false, misleading and deceptive” has thrown Canada’s pro-Israel community into a tizzy. In full court press-mode, Canadian Zionist groups are arguing that the ruling bolsters the “anti-Semitic” Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and are demanding that Canada’s Attorney General file an appeal. He has until the end of September to do so.

“Refusing to buy goods made by Jews is patent discrimination,” fumed David Matas (“undoubtedly one of the leading human rights scholars and advocates in the world”),in a letter to government lawyers. Matas represented B’Nai Brith Canada as intervenor in the wine labeling case, that I initiated [link to one of my previous CounterPunch pieces]. “Refusing to buy goods by Israeli Jews is also discrimination,” Matas continued. “Refusing to buy goods by Israeli Jews working out of a particular location is yet another form of discrimination against Jews.”

In a letter to Ottawa’s Hill Times, Honest Reporting Canada researcher Noah Lewis wrote: “The Federal Court’s decision on the labeling of “West Bank” wines was discriminatory, and it was marred by lending support to the anti-Semitic BDS movement.”

Truly over the top, in a full-page New York Times ad citing Madam Justice Anne Mactavish by name, Zionist zealot Shmuley Boteach lambasted the “Canadian judiciary” for “prejudice” in “singling out the Jewish State,” and – in extra large font and caps – for its “Jew-shaming double-standards.”

These cries of outrage are disingenuous.

The only reason why someone would avoid a wine product labeled as being produced in a West Bank settlement, as opposed to a truly Israeli wine, is because Israel’s settlements are flagrantly illegal. To be precise, they violate Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention (a ‘grave breach’ under article 85(4) of the Convention’s 1977 Additional Protocol), and are also a presumptive war crime under Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Nuanced BDSers – those inclined to cut Israel some slack, including Jewish people of conscience – would avoid settlement wines, but buy truly Israeli products.

Strict adherents of BDS (a fundamentally anti-racist, pro-human rights movement) would avoid both. So would real racists, including people who hate Jews, Jewish people and Judaism.

Christian Zionists, among the most rabid Jew-haters, would likely be overjoyed to buy settlement wines, knowing that ‘Judea’ and ‘Samaria’ are being reclaimed by the Jewish people, true to prophesy, prior to their incineration.

Let’s get real. What infuriates Israel and its Canadian agents the most about Justice Mactavish’s July 29 ruling is her proposition that the West Bank does not belong to Israel. All parties to the case (including David Matas) agree on this point, Justice Mactavish pointed out. Ergo, West Bank settlement wines cannot truthfully be labeled ‘Product of Israel’. Plain and simple.

Trouble is, Canadian Zionists believe that all lands from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean were gifted to the Jewish people by God. Palestinians don’t exist, they argue. ‘Arabs’ who happen to find themselves in the Land of Israel may reside in whatever enclave the State of Israel provides them, at Israel’s pleasure. Like Benjamin Netanyahu, his Likud followers and a broad swath of Israeli society, Canadian Zionists who oppose the Federal Court of Canada’s wine labeling decision – folks like B’Nai Brith, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (Canada’s AIPAC), the Jewish Defense League (of course) and neocons like Linda Frum – oppose the creation of a truly sovereign Palestinian state. They may say they support a ‘Two-State Solution’, but they really don’t. The Land of Israel belongs to the Jews, and only the Jews, they firmly believe.

So, denying settlement wine producers the right to label their vino ‘Product of Israel’ is an affront of the deepest sort. Not because it’s discriminatory (it isn’t; all food and beverage products sold in Canada must be truthfully labeled, Canadian ones included), or because it deprives them of a lucrative market, at preferential tariff rates (truthfully labeled settlement wines can still be sold in Canada), or because settlement labels would expose Canadian Jews to attack (an absurd notion), but because this would deny Israel the right to stake sovereign claim over settlements, over all of “Judea” and “Samaria,” on Canadian store shelves.

How sharply this affront sticks in Zionist craws is most honestly articulated by settlement wine producers themselves – the ones named in my wine labeling case. “Canada, a country founded and expanded as it conquered and destroyed the homeland of another people, a country with no roots or historical validity of its existence there, questions the right of Jews to live and grow vineyards in the land of our forefathers,” Psagot Winery owner Yaakov Berg told the CBC in the summer of 2017, following the launch of my court case.

“I will not take out the words ‘Made in Israel’, under no circumstances,” said Amichai Lourie, owner of Shilo Winery, located in the heart of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “Even if I lose the market, I’ll lose the market. No big deal … Making wine in Israel, it’s not just about money. You’re connecting to the land. There are things that we won’t compromise.”

If only Canadian Zionists were as honest in their condemnation of the Federal Court of Canada’s July 29 ruling. What counts for them, more than anything else, is Israel’s right to do as it pleases, free of censure. They believe, as do Benjamin Netanyahu and a wide swath of Israeli society, that all the ‘Land of Israel’ belongs to the Jews, and that Canadian consumers should have no say in the matter.

If the Canadian government opts to appeal the Federal Court’s July 29 ruling, it will be endorsing these notions, in breach of its obligation to uphold international law and Canadian consumer rights. Not something the Trudeau government – outspoken defender of the “rule of law” – wants to fess up to. Certainly not before this coming October’s federal elections.

The post BDS in Canada appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Meet the Palestinian Teen Who Beat U.S. Deportation

TruthDig.com News -

Ismail Ajjawi, a 17-year-old Palestinian student who grew up in a refugee camp in Lebanon, had achieved something remarkable: admission to Harvard University with a full scholarship. One can only imagine his feelings as he landed in the United States on Aug. 23, at Boston Logan International Airport. But he didn’t get far. He was pulled aside by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, and later described being questioned about his religious beliefs and practices. He was forced to surrender his phone and computer for examination, after which a CBP officer yelled at him, saying they had found social media posts that were critical of the U.S. — not from him, but from some of his friends. With that, Ismail’s visa was rescinded, and he was deported back to Lebanon.

“I scored the highest marks in biology in the south region in the official Lebanese Baccalaureate and the eighth overall in Lebanon. … I aim to double major and to study medicine in the future,” Ismail said in a video produced by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. UNRWA runs over 700 schools for more than 500,000 students in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. UNRWA provides health care at scores of clinics, and additional social services for the Palestinian refugee population.

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Ismail Ajjawi continued: “The environment in school and in the camp is very challenging. Overpopulation is a big issue … the houses are too close to each other … there’s no privacy for Palestinian students to study. Every year, these limited opportunities decrease.”

His treatment at Logan Airport and his summary deportation provoked outrage, from fellow and sister students at Harvard, to Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, to international organizations. Summer Lopez of the free speech organization PEN America wrote, “That Ajjawi should be prevented from taking his place at Harvard because of his own political speech would be alarming; that he should be denied this opportunity based on the speech of others is downright lawless.”

A diverse coalition of student and community groups organized a petition demanding that Ismail be admitted to the U.S., which thousands of people signed. One of Ismail’s new classmates is David Hogg, who survived last year’s Parkland, Florida, school massacre and went on to become a prominent gun control advocate. Hogg tweeted: “I cried reading this. The joy and excitement of moving into Harvard today was stolen from my classmate Ismail B. Ajjawi.”

Ismail was supported in his studies by the U.S.-based nonprofit organization AMIDEAST. “Ismail … went in Beirut to a competitive college club that helped coach him on how you apply to an American university,” Theodore Kattouf, president and CEO of AMIDEAST and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Syria, said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. Ironically, Ismail benefited from a U.S. government “opportunity grant” that funded some of his college prep activities.

Just over a year ago, the Trump administration announced that it was going to cancel U.S. payments to UNRWA, which amount to $360 million of the aid agency’s $1.2 billion annual budget. While a consortium of 42 nations and organizations worked to fill the gap, “We continue feeling this hit of losing our biggest donor,” Matthias Schmale, director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, said on “Democracy Now!”

“This is a situation in which most Palestine refugee children find themselves in,” Schmale added, speaking from Gaza City. “They have the benefit of getting an education through the United Nations, through the UNRWA schools, but sadly, the opportunities are few and far between in terms of getting out.”

AMIDEAST’s Kattouf credits both the work of Harvard and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut for quickly restoring Ismail’s visa, allowing him to return to Massachusetts to begin college, just in time for classes.

While Ismail Ajjawi finally made it to school, the situation for Palestinians continues to deteriorate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised, if reelected next week, to annex at least one-third of the West Bank, further crushing any hopes of a viable Palestinian state. In the Gaza Strip, during the Great March of Return that has been ongoing since March 2018, over 7,400 peaceful protesters have been injured with live ammunition fired by the Israeli military, and at least 210 Palestinians have been killed, including children and medical personnel.

The siege of Gaza must be lifted, and students from there, the West Bank and from refugee camps in the surrounding area must be free to study, at home or abroad. The injustice Ismail Ajjawi suffered at the hands of Logan Airport’s federal agents must be fully investigated, and prevented from happening again.

The post Meet the Palestinian Teen Who Beat U.S. Deportation appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Didn’t Start the War in Afghanistan, But He Owns It

AntiWar.com News -

National Security Advisor John Bolton became the latest American casualty of Washington’s 18-year war in Afghanistan on September 10, fired by US president Donald Trump shortly after Trump announced that he had planned, but was canceling, a meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David to ink a “peace deal.” Firing Bolton is a good start. … Continue reading "Trump Didn’t Start the War in Afghanistan, But He Owns It"

The post Trump Didn’t Start the War in Afghanistan, But He Owns It appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Trump, the New York Times, and John Bolton

AntiWar.com News -

The New York Times on September 10 ran six articles with the word Trump in the headlines. Two of the stories were clearly warranted – one on Trump’s continuing resolve to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, and one on the way the commerce department played along with Trump’s false message about the Alabama destination of … Continue reading "Trump, the New York Times, and John Bolton"

The post Trump, the <I>New York Times</I>, and John Bolton appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Netanyahu Risks Triggering an Unwinnable War To Avoid Losing Election

AntiWar.com News -

Every Israeli prime minister – not least Benjamin Netanyahu – understands that a military entanglement with Hezbollah, Lebanon’s armed Shia movement on Israel’s northern border, is a dangerous wager, especially during an election campaign. It was Shimon Peres who lost to Netanyahu in 1996, weeks after the former prime minister had incensed Israel’s Palestinian minority … Continue reading "Netanyahu Risks Triggering an Unwinnable War To Avoid Losing Election"

The post Netanyahu Risks Triggering an Unwinnable War To Avoid Losing Election appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Tentative Opioids Settlement Falls Short of a Nationwide Deal

TruthDig.com News -

HARTFORD, Conn.—A tentative settlement announced Wednesday over the role Purdue Pharma played in the nation’s opioid addiction crisis falls short of the far-reaching national settlement the OxyContin maker had been seeking for months, with litigation sure to continue against the company and the family that owns it.

The agreement with about half the states and attorneys representing roughly 2,000 local governments would have Purdue file for a structured bankruptcy and pay as much as $12 billion over time, with about $3 billion coming from the Sackler family. That number involves future profits and the value of drugs currently in development.

In addition, the family would have to give up its ownership of the company and contribute another $1.5 billion by selling another of its pharmaceutical companies, Mundipharma.

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Several attorneys general said the agreement was a better way to ensure compensation from Purdue and the Sacklers than taking their chances if Purdue files for bankruptcy on its own.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the deal “was the quickest and surest way to get immediate relief for Arizona and for the communities that have been harmed by the opioid crisis and the actions of the Sackler family.”

But even advocates of the deal cautioned that it’s not yet complete.

“I don’t think there’s a settlement,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost whose state was among those supporting it. “There is a proposal that’s been accepted by a majority of attorneys general, but there are quite a few significant states that have not joined at this point.”

“There’s still a lot of telephone calls going on. I think we see the outlines of a thing that might be, but it’s not yet,” Yost said in an interview.

Opioid addiction has contributed to the deaths of some 400,000 Americans over the past two decades, hitting many rural communities particularly hard.

The lawsuits against Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue paint it as a particular villain in the crisis. They say the company’s aggressive marketing of OxyContin downplayed addiction risks and led to more widespread opioid prescribing, even though only a sliver of the opioid painkillers sold in the U.S. were its products.

The tentative agreement and expected bankruptcy filing would remove Purdue from the first federal trial over the opioids epidemic, scheduled to begin next month in Ohio.

In a statement after Wednesday’s announcement, the company said that it “continues to work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution to its opioid litigation that will deliver billions of dollars and vital opioid overdose rescue medicines to communities across the country impacted by the opioid crisis.”

Even with Wednesday’s development, many states have not signed on. Several state attorneys general vowed to continue their legal battles against the Sacklers and the company in bankruptcy court. Roughly 20 states have sued members of the Sackler family in state courts.

Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin were among the states saying they were not part of the agreement.

“Our position remains firm and unchanged and nothing for us has changed today,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement.

“The scope and scale of the pain, death and destruction that Purdue and the Sacklers have caused far exceeds anything that has been offered thus far,” Tong said. “Connecticut’s focus is on the victims and their families, and holding Purdue and the Sacklers accountable for the crisis they have caused.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called the tentative deal “a slap in the face to everyone who has had to bury a loved one due to this family’s destruction and greed.”

He said he intends to continue fighting the Sacklers, who he said did not have to acknowledge any wrongdoing in their agreement.

“This is far from over,” he said.

Ryan Hampton, a Los Angeles-based advocate for people in recovery from opioid addiction, said he was launching “a massive effort” among victims’ families and others impacted by the crisis to urge state attorneys general not to accept the deal.

“The amount of money that’s being offered in this settlement doesn’t even scratch the surface for what’s needed,” Hampton said. “We want to see Purdue have their day in court. We know more money will come if this case goes to trial.”

Wednesday’s announcement came just days after a group of attorneys general negotiating directly with Purdue and the Sacklers said they had reached an impasse in talks. At the time, several attorneys general said they were not confident Purdue would pay the amount promised and wanted more assurance that the money would come through.

In the latest settlement agreement, New York Attorney General Letitia James accused the Sacklers of “attempting to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis.”

On Wednesday, the Sackler family said in a statement that it “supports working toward a global resolution that directs resources to the patients, families and communities across the country who are suffering and need assistance.”

“This is the most effective way to address the urgency of the current public health crisis, and to fund real solutions, not endless litigation,” it said.

Some 2,000 lawsuits brought by local governments, Native American tribes, unions and hospitals have been consolidated under a federal judge in Cleveland, who has been encouraging the parties to settle. U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster invited state attorneys general, who had filed their own lawsuits, to lead the negotiations.

How any money from the settlement would be divided among all the entities is not entirely clear. Nevertheless, attorneys representing the local governments issued a statement saying they recommended the governments agree to the deal as a way to bring relief to their communities.

In March, Purdue and members of the Sackler family reached a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma to avoid a trial on the toll of opioids there.

A court filing made public in Massachusetts this year asserts that members of the Sackler family were paid more than $4 billion by Purdue from 2007 to 2018. Much of the family’s fortune is believed to be held outside the U.S., which could complicate lawsuits against the family over opioids.

The Sacklers have given money to cultural institutions around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s Tate Modern.

___

Mulvihill reported from New Jersey. Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix, Carla K. Johnson in Seattle and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.

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The Supreme Court Just Made It Virtually Impossible for Anyone to Seek Asylum at the Border

Mother Jones Magazine -

The US Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Trump administration can begin denying asylum to the vast majority of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border, overturning a lower court’s ruling that had stopped the White House from enforcing its controversial asylum ban.

The ruling would apply to the tens of thousands of migrants from Central America, South America, Africa, and other parts of the world who have been waiting to apply for months in Mexican border towns—even though the White House has said that if people want to apply for asylum, they must do it “the right way,” by waiting for their turn at official ports of entry. It also would apply to those who arrive at the US-Mexico border in the future. 

The brief, unsigned decision will allow the administration’s asylum policy to be in effect until at least December 2, when the next legal challenge will be heard in Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

As my colleague Noah Lanard explained earlier this week, the case has seen its share of twists and turns:

On Monday, California district court judge Jon Tigar reinstated a nationwide order blocking the ban. It was first enacted by the administration in July and made people who travel through a third country on their way to the United States ineligible for asylum, forcing them to apply instead in Mexico or elsewhere on their route. The US government makes it impossible for many asylum seekers to get visas to fly directly to the United States, so the ban ends asylum for people whose only option is to travel overland through Mexico and other Latin American countries.

One week after the ban went into effect, Tigar blocked it with a nationwide injunction after finding that the Trump administration was effectively “shortcutting the law,” since federal law gives people the right to seek asylum in the United States regardless of whether they’ve set foot in another country. In August, the progressive Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Tigar’s injunction, but only in the states represented by the Ninth Circuit. As a result, border crossers were eligible for asylum in California and Arizona, but ineligible in Texas and New Mexico.

The Ninth Circuit signaled in its August decision that Tigar could reinstate a nationwide ban if there was additional evidence for why it was necessary. The American Civil Liberties Union made the case for a new nationwide ban before Tigar in court on Thursday…

The government asked the Supreme Court last month to rule quickly on whether the new asylum ban can go into effect across the country.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that it could. 

The Bolton Affair Exposes Trump’s Warring Instincts on War

Mother Jones Magazine -

If Donald Trump disagreed with John Bolton about everything, why did he hire him in the first place?  The most common answer to this question revolves around Trump’s basic incompetence and foreign policy ignorance, and that’s fair enough. But there’s something more interesting also going on here.

Trump has two warring traits when it comes to foreign policy. First, he likes to think of himself—and he likes others to think of him—as a tough guy. It’s central to his self-image. Second, he likes to think of himself as a dealmaker. He wants a deal in the Middle East. He wants a deal with North Korea. He wants a deal with China. He wants a deal with Iran.

This is a surprisingly unusual combination. In particular, most conservatives don’t want deals at all. Most of them won’t quite say this outright, but they don’t. We see this over and over, from START to the Law of the Sea to Iraq to Israel. They want to squash their enemies, not compromise with them.

This leaves Trump with no good people to hire. He could hire a dealmaker, but most dealmakers are too dovish for his taste. He can hire tough guys, but he’ll soon learn that they have no interest in deals. There’s hardly anyone around who truly shares Trump’s values.

Which is too bad. One of Trump’s few redeeming qualities is that he genuinely isn’t very keen on military intervention. I suspect this stems more from a fear of losing than anything else, but who cares? At least it’s the right instinct. If he could find a competent NSA who shared his nationalistic impulses but was also eager to make deals with adversaries, he might actually get somewhere.

Mar-a-Lago Intruder Convicted of Trespassing at Trump’s Private Club

Mother Jones Magazine -

A jury in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday convicted a Chinese woman for trespassing and lying to a Secret Service agent at Mar-a-Lago on March 30. The verdict did not clarify whether the intruder, Yujing Zhang, a 33-year old financial consultant from Shanghai, was spying for the Chinese government.

Zhang’s conviction, does, however, highlight lingering security and ethical concerns raised by President Donald Trump’s insistence on owning and regularly visiting his private club. This is the latest development in an ongoing saga of potential Chinese influence on the Trump administration. Zhang is connected to Li Weitian, a Chinese businessman who had a business relationship with Cindy Yang, a Chinese-American entrepreneur who peddled access to Trump and Mar-a-Lago, according to a Mother Jones investigation published earlier this year.

Zhang was in possession of an array of electronic equipment when she was arrested, including a laptop, an external hard drive, four cellphones, and device that could help detect security cameras, which prompted suspicions she was engaged in espionage. Prosecutors in the case filed information under seal, citing national security concerns, and the Miami Herald reported that the FBI has investigated both Zhang and Yang as part of a broad counterintelligence probe into Chinese intelligence operations targeting Trump and Mar-a-Lago. Still, prosecutors did not charge Zhang with espionage or related crimes, and neither her conviction nor her sentencing, scheduled for November 22, are likely to clarify her motives.

Zhang reportedly was at Mar-a-Lago because she says she thought she had purchased access to an event there through an organization run by Yang, who has helped fundraise for Trump and other prominent Republicans. A Mother Jones investigation revealed that Yang, who became a frequent guest at Mar-a-Lago in 2017, had set up a company that offered potential Chinese clients access to Trump and Mar-a-Lago. At the same time, she maintained positions as an officer in two groups with ties to China’s government. One of those groups was the Florida branch of the Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China has been described by experts as a vehicle for projecting Chinese influence in the West under the direction of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department.

In 2017, Yang began selling tickets to Mar-a-Lago galas as part of travel packages pitched to Chinese clients eager to visit the Trump property in 2017. She sometimes offered clients the chance to meet members of the Trump family, such as his sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau. Yang’s efforts helped fill a void created after many organizations canceled plans at Mar-a-Lago due to Trump’s controversial comments that “there were many fine people on both sides” at a violent alt-right protest in Charlottesville, according to multiple reports. Li Weitian, also known as Charles Lee, resold some of Yang’s tickets via the Chinese social media site WeChat. Lee, the Herald wrote, recruited “clients for…events advertised by Yang as opportunities to pay for face time with Donald Trump.” Lee has founded multiple organizations with names that falsely imply a connection to the United Nations. Zhang paid Lee $20,000 for a travel package that supposedly included tickets to a “United Nations friendship event” at Mar-a-Lago.

Prosecutors said this week that prior to the supposed event, Lee told Zhang that it had been canceled. Zhang, in a text message, asked Lee for her money back. She traveled from Shanghai to Florida anyway and was caught trespassing at Mar-a-Lago, though she claimed to be there for an unscheduled event. Her motives remain unclear.

What is clear, though, is that Trump’s decision to keep operating Mar-a-Lago as president and to profit from guests eager to access and influence him has created a major conflict of interest, a market for access peddlers, and a target for foreign intelligence agencies. Spy or not, Zhang was a small fish in a big swamp.

The Untold History of Charles Manson

TruthDig.com News -

The 50th anniversary of the Manson family slayings have inspired a rash of new essays and retrospectives, and almost ubiquitous among them is the same basic premise: that the seven murders committed by Charles Manson’s cultists in August 1969 marked not just the “death of the ’60s” but the indefinite deferral of the dream they contained. From the very titles of the works exploring the family’s crimes to a new summer blockbuster starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, this notion continues to dominate the public imagination.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion writes in her seminal essay, “The White Album,” imposing “a narrative line upon disparate images” so as to adduce some clear moral or lesson from our experiences. In Didion’s recollection of the ’60s, memory may be kaleidoscopic, and events cannot be put in a linear order.

What is clear for Didion is that the gruesome violence of the Tate-LaBianca tragedy denoted the end point of the decade, the wages of a strange, unhinged time. Her recounting of the era centers upon the Manson slayings as the grim culmination of all that messy campus activism, dissolute rock musicians, black nationalism and strange new communes popping up like dandelions. In Didion’s telling, “no one was surprised” that five people had been slaughtered in Roman Polanski’s Benedict Canyon mansion—a curious note to strike about a crime that continues to shock to this day.

In the decades since its publication, the basic thesis of “The White Album” has become consensus. Manson, who died in prison in 2017, lives on as an Antichrist come to Los Angeles—the ultimate boogeyman to warn against the freak lifestyle of his time and place.

But this narrative doesn’t merely do a grave disservice to the Manson family’s victims by minimizing their suffering as the mere collateral of history. Conflating the likes of Tex Watson and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme with the wider cultural revolutions of the era is itself a highly pernicious and dubious proposition, serving a largely reactionary interpretation of the crimes. Such a view not only does little to advance a meaningful understanding of the murders but validates a widespread hostility, then and now, toward the counterculture, as though it was the exclusive domain of a single, nightmarish guru.

This transformation of Manson, a barely literate career criminal, into the malevolent force responsible for ending an epoch, rests on a curious contradiction. In this version of events, Manson is a uniquely evil, ultraviolent force whose exploitation of the counterculture’s naivete ultimately destroyed a time of peaceful idealism and brotherly love. This is the case made in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which revels in the innocence those murders allegedly destroyed.

Tarantino’s film prompts the question: Just how innocent was the age that preceded the Tate-LaBianca murders? Even the most cursory examination of the decade indicates that it was incredibly, unceasingly violent. For an essay purportedly about the ’60s, Didion’s “The White Album” ignores the most murderous Californian of the time, Richard Nixon. There is no mention of the Vietnam War and the wider savagery visited upon Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, she portrays the campus activists of the era as faintly ridiculous dead-enders engaged in  “industrious self-delusion,” their ultimate motives seemingly unworthy of exploration.

Race riots, horrific carpet-bombing, the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King  and the Kennedys—these are just the period’s most recognizable acts of carnage. Brutality was the status quo, and most of it originated not from the panoply of militant activists associated with the ’60s but from a mainstream acting in the name of law and order. Police and security service action against the counterculture was endemic; from spying to dirty tricks to assaults on such activists as Abbie Hoffman, such efforts involved prominent, powerful reactionaries, including those in the White House.

Dark conspiracies were afoot. As journalist Tom O’Neill reveals in his new book, “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,” FBI COINTELPRO agents had successfully engineered the murders of two Black Panthers on the UCLA campus in 1969, using informants to prod a rival black nationalist group into the crimes. In May of that year, the California Highway Patrol, operating under then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, fired shotguns at dozens of students at the University of California at Berkeley, killing one and blinding another. That December, Black Panther leaders Mark Clark and Fred Hampton were killed in a Chicago police raid, with a wealth of evidence pointing to their extrajudicial murder.

By making the Manson family murders the fulcrum of her essay, Didion didn’t merely depoliticize the era; she recast history, however eloquently, to conform with her cultural beliefs as a stalwart Barry Goldwater voter. So if the popular understanding of the California cult has often been a cynical one, deployed selectively to sully the ’60s counterculture as inherently sinister, what can we learn from the tragedy? And what is the best way of understanding the seemingly incomprehensible events of August 1969?

The answers likely hold crucial lessons for 2019. Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s description of Manson as a “right-wing hippie” in his best-selling account of the case, “Helter Skelter,” is largely accurate. Manson, a grifting former pimp, had no political ethos beyond perhaps his white supremacism, which only grew more pronounced after he was incarcerated. Indeed, the entire hippie phenomenon of 1969 was hardly as political as popular memory leads us to believe. As Hunter S. Thompson reported in his 1967 essay on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, hippies were not the student activists who had roiled campuses around the country in the years before; they were apolitical waifs who retreated from the kind of confrontation the activism of the day entailed.

Manson once called himself “The Gardener” because he collected flower children. The nickname was unfortunately apt, as he largely preyed on teenage girls, some as much as 15 years younger than himself. More than the savage violence for which it’s remembered, this was perhaps the defining feature of the Manson family. Its cult leader systematically exploited the psychological vulnerabilities of extremely young women, already alienated from their middle-class families of origin, and “love-bombed” them to make them feel special, valued and unique.

Reading the accounts of his manipulation, Manson emerges not as a mysterious Svengali with a unique gift for mind control but as a more conventional domestic abuser, alternating between threats and inducements. On Spahn Ranch, his disciples were completely isolated from all external influences. They weren’t even allowed to own wristwatches.

Tragically for Manson’s first victims, the desires he exploited to such disastrous effect were pervasive to women of the era. “I seemed to want more out of life than what was expected of young girls at that time,” recounted convicted killer Leslie Van Houten during an interview from prison with Diane Sawyer in 1993. “Drugs, sex. Y’know, breaking away from the norm.”

Van Houten was hardly alone. By 1969, countless women were peacefully raising their children on communal estates like the Hog Farm, away from mainstream society. Yet it was Van Houten who helped stab Rosemary LaBianca to death.

The crimes of the Manson family were singularly horrific, but it is equal parts dangerous and irresponsible to paint them as the inevitable result of an alternative lifestyle. Indeed, the greed, racism and fame-seeking, which defined and animated Manson, remain as common to American life today as they were then. It is the misogyny of his crimes—embodied most awfully with the death of an eight-and-a-half-months-pregnant Sharon Tate—that seems most striking now.

Perhaps the least-explored horror of the Manson family murders was the way they reflected, through the broken glass of one struggling songwriter, mainstream American desires. We have a duty to remember this, no matter how comforting it would be to consign such beasts to the shadows. The killer, to echo the famous short story, was calling from inside the house.

The post The Untold History of Charles Manson appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Supreme Court OKs Enforcement of Trump Asylum Limits

TruthDig.com News -

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court is allowing nationwide enforcement of a new Trump administration rule that prevents most Central American immigrants from seeking asylum in the United States.

The justices’ order late Wednesday temporarily undoes a lower-court ruling that had blocked the new asylum policy in some states along the southern border. The policy is meant to deny asylum to anyone who passes through another country on the way to the U.S. without seeking protection there.

Most people crossing the southern border are Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty. They are largely ineligible under the new rule, as are asylum seekers from Africa, Asia and South America who arrive regularly at the southern border.

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The shift reverses decades of U.S. policy. The administration has said that it wants to close the gap between an initial asylum screening that most people pass and a final decision on asylum that most people do not win.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the high-court’s order. “Once again, the Executive Branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution,” Sotomayor wrote.

The legal challenge to the new policy has a brief but somewhat convoluted history. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco blocked the new policy from taking effect in late July. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed Tigar’s order so that it applied only in Arizona and California, states that are within the 9th Circuit.

That left the administration free to enforce the policy on asylum seekers arriving in New Mexico and Texas. Tigar issued a new order on Monday that reimposed a nationwide hold on asylum policy. The 9th Circuit again narrowed his order on Tuesday.

The high-court action leaves the administration free to impose the new policy everywhere while the court case against it continues.

The post Supreme Court OKs Enforcement of Trump Asylum Limits appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Leaves Afghanistan and Pakistan at His Mercy

TruthDig.com News -

The Doha talks between the United States and the Taliban to work out a peace deal to end Afghanistan’s 18-year conflict began with a whimper a year ago. They ended Saturday with a presidential tweet from the White House that was no less than a bang that resounded around a startled world.

Having come so close to a peace deal, it was difficult to understand why President Donald Trump and thus the U.S. backed off. True, an American soldier was killed in an attack by the Taliban last week along with a Romanian soldier and 10 Afghan civilians. But 15 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the Doha talks began, and the Taliban had yet to formally renounce violence.

Most shaken by the turn of events in the peace process were the Taliban leaders themselves and their patrons in Pakistan.  It had been a Herculean task to bring the killers of 2,300 American and 45,000 Afghan soldiers and 32,000 Afghan civilians to the negotiating table. Then they had to be persuaded to agree in principle to a peace process for power sharing. Some loose ends still had to be tied up, but there was hope. Credit for this goes to the tireless shuttle diplomacy spread over nine months by the Afghan-born American diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad. He has been strangely silent in the last two days.

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The abrupt tweet had two shocks wrapped in it. First, Trump said he was set to meet with the Taliban leadership at Camp David. He was also to meet the Afghan president separately. The summit had been kept a secret and the world came to know about it only when it was called off, along with the negotiations that were expected to lead to the formal signing of a peace deal.

So it was back to square one, leaving the Taliban and Islamabad in a state of shock. The Taliban called the Trump announcement “an antipeace move” that would hurt the American interests. Because it never suspended hostilities, there is nothing to stop it from unleashing more violence. After all it was the Taliban attack in Kabul that had provoked Trump’s abrupt response.

Pakistan is the one facing a dilemma. It has to weigh the pros and cons of a situation over which it has no control. On Monday, the Pakistan Foreign Office urged the two sides to “re-engage to find a negotiated peace from the ongoing political settlement process.”

It is now an open secret that religious groups of all varieties have been used by the Pakistan spy agency and the establishment to promote their strategic and political interests. Many of them were actually the creation of the power brokers. The Taliban were organized in 1994 by Pakistani Gen. Hameed Gul, the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, to gain control of Afghanistan when the country was in a state of chaos after Russia’s withdrawal. The Taliban continued to be used as strategic assets by the Pakistan army that never looked with favour at an independent Afghanistan.

Many retired security officers in Pakistan have recently admitted there has been a change of heart in Pakistan vis-à-vis the militant and religious extremists. Small wonder Pakistan American pull-out from the peace process leaves Pakistan in a quandary.

Of late, Pakistan has also clamped down on the religious militants who have created trouble for the government in its relations with India, especially in the Kashmir context. Pakistani religious militants have been rather silent about the tragedy unfolding in Kashmir at the hands of the Indian army and Prime Minister Narendra  Modi’s oppressive police.

If the Taliban go totally on the warpath, one cannot be sure how that will affect Pakistan’s Kashmir front.

Pakistan also is struggling with the Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental body set up by governments in Southeast Asia and Pacific region to keep an eye on the implementation of laws against money laundering and terror financing. It is working to determine whether it has done enough to implement the laws. If a country is placed on the black list, sanctions are imposed on it. Pakistan has been placed in the Gray List and is struggling to keep itself out of the black list.  .

These difficult times come just as Pakistan’s regional prospects had been looking up. But all it can do now is wonder whether the 18-year war in Afghanistan will ever end.

The post Trump Leaves Afghanistan and Pakistan at His Mercy appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

I Really Hate Juul

Mother Jones Magazine -

There are objectively worse companies in the world than Juul, but few that flatly infuriate me as much. Here’s the sick-making ad they’ve been running around the country lately:

The crocodile tears on display here are enough to drown all of Silicon Valley. Practically everything about Juul from the ground up was designed to appeal to teens. The flavors. The design. The packaging. The “adults only” schtick. Everything. As a result, half the high schools in America are buried under an avalanche of Juulers, and Juul is so profitable that even tobacco companies are envious.

Juul’s goal of creating a new addiction for a new generation is obvious to everyone. They don’t have to literally create their own version of Joe Camel to make that clear. But the ghouls behind Juul continue to throw up their hands and declare themselves mystified. Why, they just wanted to do the world a service by helping adults kick the habit. They’re as aghast as any of us that teens have taken to it.

I’d love to see everyone associated with Juul bankrupted, but in the meantime I’ll settle for banning the worst of their products if the Trump administration actually follows through on its promise today:

Trump administration officials said on Wednesday that they would ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes, at a time when hundreds of people have been sickened by mysterious lung illnesses and teenage vaping continues to rise.

Sitting in the Oval Office with Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Ned Sharpless, the acting Food and Drug Administration commissioner, President Trump acknowledged that there was a vaping problem, and said, “We’re going to have to do something about it.”

Mr. Azar said that the F.D.A. would outline a plan within the coming weeks for removing most flavored e-cigarettes from the market.

It’s a start.

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