Archive | January 16th, 2017

President Obama Belatedly Says No to I$raHell


President Obama Belatedly Says No to Israel

By Marjorie Cohn

Image result for Barack Obama CARTOON

For the first time in his eight-year presidency, Barack Obama said no to Israel. When the Security Council voted to condemn Israel for building illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, the Obama administration abstained, allowing the resolution to pass.

Resolution 2334 says the settlements have “no legal validity,” calls them “a flagrant violation under international law,” and demands Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities.”

Although 2334 is consistent with prior resolutions of the council, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threw a tantrum, calling the US abstention a “declaration of war.” In light of Obama’s unwavering enabling of Israel’s illegal policies, Netanyahu was likely shocked that Obama finally said no.

The United States, a permanent member of the council, vetoed a resolution in 2011 that would have condemned the building of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. And in 2014, the US opposed a draft resolution demanding Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank within three years.

Since 1967, Israel has transferred more than a half million of its own citizens into Palestinian territories, continuing to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice affirmed that the Palestinian territories are under Israeli occupation and Israel’s settlement building violates the Fourth Geneva Convention.

A state occupying territory not its own cannot build settlements on that territory and transfer its own citizens into them. Article 8.2(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC) defines “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” as a war crime.

Israel took over the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem by military force in 1967 and has held it under military occupation ever since.

Like Security Council Resolution 242, passed in 1967, Resolution 2334 reiterates “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” Although Resolution 242 called for “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict,” Israel continues to occupy the Palestinian territories it acquired in the “Six-Day War.”

“Over 4.5 million Palestinians live in these occupied territories, but are not citizens of Israel,” Jimmy Carter wrote in the New York Times. “Most live largely under Israeli military rule, and do not vote in Israel’s national elections.”

Complete Control

Israel exercises complete control over every aspect of Palestinian life in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. That includes borders, airspace, ingress and egress of people and goods, and the seashore and waters off the coast of Gaza. The occupation violates fundamental human rights of the Palestinians.

Flavia Pansieri, former UN deputy high commissioner for human rights, said last year that human rights violations “fuel and shape the conflict” in the occupied Palestinian territories, adding, “[h]uman rights violations in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are both cause and consequence of the military occupation and ongoing violence, in a bitter cyclical process with wider implications for peace and security in the region.”

Building illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories is not the only war crime Israeli leaders have committed. In 2014, Israel invaded Gaza and killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians. Nearly 10,000 Palestinians were wounded, more than 2,000 of them children. Tens of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes and infrastructure was severely damaged. Numerous schools, UN places of refuge, hospitals, ambulances and mosques were intentionally targeted.

Israel used the “Dahiya doctrine” to apply “disproportionate force” and cause “great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilians populations,” as defined in the 2009 UN Human Rights Council (Goldstone) report. Those acts constitute evidence of war crimes under Article 8 (2)(a) of the Rome Statute.

The ICC can investigate and prosecute these crimes. Yet, in order to prevent such investigation and prosecution, the United States consistently opposed Palestine becoming a party to the Rome Statute. Palestine, which was recognized as a non-member observer State by the UN General Assembly, acceded to the Rome Statute in January 2015 and asked the ICC to investigate Israel for building illegal settlements and committing war crimes in Gaza.

In January 2015, Fatou Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, opened a preliminary investigation into the illegal settlements and Israel’s 2014 bombing of Gaza. Netanyahu is upset because the new Security Council resolution bolsters the case for ICC war crimes prosecution of Israeli leaders.

Violating US Law

The United States’ unwavering support for Israel violates US law. Under the Leahy Law, military units that commit human rights abuses cannot receive US training or weapons, and individuals who commit human rights abuses are denied US visas. The State Department’s annual report has documented Israeli violations. And the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 prohibits assistance to any country “which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

Yet, throughout his presidency, Obama has unconditionally supported Israel and shielded it from accountability for the war crimes of building settlements and targeting civilians in Gaza.

In September, Obama promised Israel a record $38 billion in military assistance over the next 10 years, becoming the strongest financial supporter of Israel ever to occupy the White House. Obama, whom Israeli journalist Gideon Levy dubbed “the patron of the occupation,” increased the amount of money the US provides Israel each year from $3.1 to $3.8 billion.

Netanyahu called the increase in US aid “unprecedented” and “historic,” characterizing it as “the greatest accomplishment since sliced bread,” according to Aaron David Miller, vice president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable,” Obama declared, as he and Netanyahu shook hands.

The annual $3.8 billion, more money than the US gives to any other country, will fund the continuing Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands, now in its fifth decade. Obama, however, is to be commended for finally standing up to Israel, albeit at the 11th hour. We cannot expect President-elect Donald Trump to follow suit.

Trump intervened unsuccessfully to prevent Resolution 2334 from coming to the council floor. He stated he will move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, even though, as Resolution 2334 states, East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory. David Friedman, Trump’s incoming ambassador to Israel, is notorious for funding the rightwing orthodox Beit El settlement near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

A Voice of Reason

We can hope Trump will listen to Gen. James Mattis, his nominee for Secretary of Defense. “I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel,” Mattis said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado in 2013.

Mattis criticized Israel for building settlements in the occupied West Bank, saying they “are going to make it impossible to maintain the two-state option.” He added that the settlements might weaken Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state and could lead to Israel becoming an “apartheid” state.

“If I’m in Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there’s 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid,” Mattis said.

Meanwhile, Resolution 2334 has propelled the illegality of Israel’s settlements into the public discourse. While Israel has pledged to defy the council and continue building illegal settlements, Jewish Voice for Peace and other human rights organizations have called for “increasing grassroots pressure on Israel, through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] campaigns, until full human rights of Palestinians are realized.”

Indeed, the text of Resolution 2334 implicitly invites countries to engage in BDS by saying they should “distinguish . . . between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”

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Why the Senate’s Attack on Backpage Will Backfire


By Mike Ludwig

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) speaks during a news conference on the opioid crisis, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on May 19, 2016. Portman joined Sen. Claire McCaskill in leading a senate committee to shut down, a listings site often used by sex workers. (Photo: Zach Gibson / The New York Times)

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) speaks during a news conference on the opioid crisis, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on May 19, 2016. Portman joined Sen. Claire McCaskill in leading a senate committee to shut down, a listings site often used by sex workers. (Photo: Zach Gibson / The New York Times)

The businessmen who run the classifieds website received a serious verbal lashing from a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday. They were accused of committing a crime that every member of the committee eagerly denounced — profiting from the sexual exploitation of children. Backpage had already shut down its popular adult services section the day before, citing ongoing acts of “government censorship.”

It may be easy for lawmakers of both parties to agree that child sex trafficking should be condemned, but the hearing and the 20-month probe behind it drew plenty of controversy outside the Senate chamber. For a company accused of facilitating the exploitation of kids, Backpage saw a good number of organizations rush to its defense, including internet freedom groups, free speech advocates and libertarian think tanks.

After Backpage shut down its adult services section, anti-trafficking advocates lamented the loss of an avenue for locating missing children. Dr. Lois Lee, president of Children of the Night, a group that works to bring minors out of the sex trade and receives financial support from Backpage, said the company’s efforts to assist her organization were “totally unique.”

“Ads for Children of the Night and our 24/7 rescue hotline were featured prominently on Backpage, and became the highest source of our calls and increased the numbers of children coming to us for rescue,” Lee said. “This resource for children in need to easily find us has been extinguished.”

Backpage also provided adult sex workers with an affordable way to advertise their services. Now, sex work activists are scrambling to provide support for the most vulnerable among them, particularly low-income women and women of color, who just lost a low-cost option for finding work in the privacy and safety provided by a smartphone or computer screen.

Activist Monica Jones told Truthout that some former Backpage users may now look for clients on the streets, where they are much more likely to encounter violence and arrest. Jones said sex workers lose venues like Backpage “all the time” and will adjust, but in the meantime, people could be harmed, especially trans women and women of color.

“It’s going to take a while to adjust, but during that time a lot of people are going to be arrested,” said Jones, whose own high-profile story of arrest and harassment brought national attention to widespread police profiling of trans women of color.

In the face of lawsuits from trafficking victims as well as criminal probes, Backpage attorney Elizabeth McDougall has argued time and again that the company behind the website works with law enforcement and children’s advocates to catch and prosecute sex traffickers, and shutting down the website is not a solution to the problem.

Courts have sided with Backpage in every case, agreeing with McDougall that the First Amendment and a section of the Communications Decency Act protect the site from being legally responsible for the third parties who use it. On Monday, the day before the hearing, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by three sex-trafficking victims who sued Backpage for allegedly making child sex trafficking easier, a charge Backpage denies.

The Senate committee, lead by Sen. Rob Portman and Sen. Claire McCaskill, attempted to shred Backpage’s defense. Sourcing from more than one million internal company documents, some of them more than a decade old and extracted by subpoenas that Backpage fought in court, the committee produced a staff report accusing Backpage of knowingly facilitating illegal acts of prostitution and child sex trafficking in order to profit off the sales of sex ads.

Despite the damning tone of the Senate report, it’s no secret that sex workers post ads on Backpage for erotic services that could be considered illegal in most states. The site’s founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, are the former owners of large alternative newspapers, such as the Village Voice. Ads for escorts, strip clubs and sex hotlines have appeared in the back of such papers for years.

The question hanging over Backpage is not whether some of its users are breaking the law; it’s whether the company is doing enough to ensure that the people in the ads are consenting adults and not victims of human trafficking, which involves coercion and is often incorrectly conflated with sex work.

McDougall has maintained that it is law enforcement’s job to stop sex trafficking, not Backpage’s, but the company has helped cops track down traffickers anyway, leading to glowing reviews from police departments across the country.

The Senate committee tells a different story. The report describes a system by which website moderators identified words that suggested minors could be involved in adult ads, such as “teen” or “Lolita,” and then scrubbed the words from the ads without removing the ads from the site. In 2012, this system apparently evolved, and users began receiving an error message when trying to post ads containing banned words.

The committee accused Backpage officials of “coaching” potential child sex traffickers in ad writing by alerting them to which words should be taken out. Sen. Portman said this proves that Backpage did not simply facilitate posts by third parties, but “took a hand in creating” ads for illegal activities posted on its site, attempting to poke a hole in the company’s defense against liability under the Communications Decency Act.

Portman and McCaskill grilled Lacey, Larkin and Backpage’s current head officers about this system of editing ads, but we won’t know their side of the story, at least not right away, because they invoked their right under First and Fifth Amendments and did not answer questions. In a press statement, the company said the committee’s probe “undermines efforts by to cooperate with law enforcement and provide information to identify, arrest and prosecute those who engage in human trafficking.”

Free speech advocates argue that ads for adult services are not presumptively illegal; even if they contain words like “innocent” and “school girl” that Backpage made efforts to keep off its site. The First Amendment may protect Backpage, but did the company do enough to ensure trafficking did not occur on its site?

The evidence in the report is at times contradictory. For instance, Backpage regularly reports suspicious ads to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to assist the group’s efforts in tracking down missing kids, but the committee cited this as evidence that Backpage “knows” about the problem.

The report also cites this excerpt from an email written by Backpage Chief Operations Officer Andrew Padilla in a discussion on age verification with other company officials:

And even if an age verification was a deterrent to someone hoping to post an ad on Backpage to traffic a minor, it doesn’t mean they’re going to stop trying to traffic a minor. It only means they won’t be doing it on our site, where Backpage and NCMEC and law enforcement are in the best position to put an actual stop to the crime.

Rather than incriminating Backpage, this excerpt seems to lay out a basic argument for leaving the website alone. Even if the company’s anti-trafficking efforts were less than sincere — the company has wrangled with NCMEC over its policies for years — pressuring the company to shut down the website does not help, nor does it address the underlying problem. Traffickers will use other means, including websites that have no interest in editing ads or working with anti-trafficking groups, such as Children of the Night and NCMEC.

It’s unlikely that bringing Backpage before a Senate committee prevented sex traffickers from doing business, but it could have real impacts on consenting adults. Now that Backpage is shut down, sex workers have one less option for finding work. This may not matter for highly paid workers who can afford websites that charge heavy fees, but for those on the margins, it could mean returning to the streets.

Some anti-sex-work advocates seem to think that Backpage’s shutdown will mean fewer people working in the sex trade. Yet Jones dismissed the idea that sex workers should just find work in a different field, because sometimes sex work is their best option. She spoke of a hypothetical single mother struggling to pay bills. She may decide that sex work is her best option for making money she needs right away because it’s a job with flexible hours and a high per-hour pay rate.

“Someone might engage in sex work because it gives them the income they need to survive,” Jones said.

Congress could be working to alleviate conditions like poverty that leave single mothers in a pinch and motivate young teenagers to run away from home, where they could fall into the hands of sex traffickers or simply decide to sell sex of their own volition in order to survive. Unfortunately, initiatives, such as raising the minimum wage and providing more funding for mental health care and public schools in poor neighborhoods, are not top items on the current agenda.

If the Senate’s Backpage probe proves anything, it’s that lawmakers continue to understand sex work as a simple crime and not a job that people do for a variety of reasons. Sex work advocates argue that criminalization is what drives segments of the industry into the shadows and makes it difficult to enforce standards that can prevent trafficking and other labor abuses in the first place.

Kristen DiAngelo, an organizer with the Sex Workers Outreach Project, said that if politicians are serious about stopping sex trafficking, they should decriminalize sex work, as human rights groups and even United Nations officials now recommend. When police hunt down prostitutes, sex trafficking victims are bound to be harmed and end up in handcuffs as well.

“It is easier for them to grandstand than actually do the work,” DiAngelo said of politicians in Washington. “All of this simply speaks to the need for a revamping of our government and law enforcement agencies. They are no longer listening to the people or concerned that their actions are harming us.”

Instead, Portman and McCaskill are patting each other on their bipartisan backs for supporting a cause that almost no one can disagree with, apparently unaware of how their actions may impact the lives of those living in the shadows of poverty and criminalization.

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Capitalism Rations What We Most Need — Let’s Demand Medicare for All: A Conversation With Mariame Kaba


By Sarah Jaffe, Truthout

Mariame Kaba speaks at an event she organized calling for the closure of youth prisons as part of the Chicago Teachers' Union's #ShutDownCHI one-day strike in April 2016. (Photo: Courtesy of Love & Struggle Photos)

Mariame Kaba speaks at an event she organized calling for the closure of youth prisons as part of the Chicago Teachers’ Union’s #ShutDownCHI one-day strike in April 2016. (Photo: Courtesy of Love & Struggle Photos)

It can be easy to despair, to feel like trends toward inequality are impossible to stop, to give in to fear over increased racist, sexist and xenophobic violence. But around the country, people are doing the hard work of fighting back and coming together to plan for what comes next. In this ongoing “Interviews for Resistance” series, we introduce you to some of them. Today’s interview is the second in the series. Click here to read the debut interview.

In this next installment of the “Interviews for Resistance” series, we speak with Mariame Kaba, the founder and director of Project NIA, whose work over the last few years has focused around issues of criminalization.

Sarah Jaffe: The project that you have launched in the wake of Donald Trump’s election is around health care. Why are you focusing on this right now?

Mariame Kaba: I am organizing, along with other volunteers, a Medicare For All virtual day of action that is slated for Inauguration Day, January 20. I have been listening to a lot of the conversations that have been happening around the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a mix of dread and frustration. Dread, mainly because I get my health care through the exchange. So it is directly impacting me. And frustration, because I always thought that it was really important for the message to be not about just “Don’t repeal the ACA,” which is filled with a lot of problems and is based on a model, in my opinion, that is flawed to begin with, a market-based health care system. I wanted to insert in the conversation more loudly the idea that we need to be pushing for a Medicare For All system, a single-payer system that takes profit out of health and health care. That is the intervention that I am making in the moment as a way to give people a sense of what might be possible in terms of organizing along the horizon. That we might be able to draw people across difference to build something together around an issue that has such an impact and crosses so many different kinds of spaces and impacts so many different kinds of people all across the country.

Can you talk a little bit more about that?

First and foremost, on a fundamental level, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have your life. It is a life-and-death issue for many people. I have chronic illnesses. I absolutely depend on being able to have insurance in order to be able to access care. If I couldn’t have insurance, then it is very, very possible that I would end up dead much sooner than if I had it. That visceral kind of issue for people is really important.

The other thing is that it is an economic issue. If you cannot access proper health care, it impacts your ability to work, but also if you get sick, God forbid, you end up in a position where you might just be bankrupt in the end. It is also an economic issue because, in our country, the forces of capitalism rule supreme, and health care is basically a great way to talk to people about the forces of capitalism and capital and the way it rations things that we need, the way that it makes things incredibly expensive that should actually be cheap, the way that it alienates us from ourselves.

Everybody in this country wants to be able to access care. Health care should be a right. It is a human right. Even if the ACA wasn’t under attack, this is an issue that we should be raising. Also, strategically, if we fight along the lines of a single-payer system, Medicare For All, we are going to push the Democratic Party left, too, in the process. It really does need to be pushed left, for those people who want to continue to struggle within the arena of the electoral organizing. This is a great opportunity to rally a lot of people together to fight together to win.

Can you talk about how this could work as a state-by-state strategy?

Absolutely, and also a local strategy. We are going to have to figure out ways to create community-based free clinics, things that are going to be on the defend-and-protect side of this equation, while we are fighting on the expansion side. That is really important. That is where a lot of the most important organizing has already been taking place, and will continue to take place, on the state level. People in Washington State are pushing for a ballot initiative for single-payer. People have tried to do it in Vermont. People have tried to push a Colorado ballot initiative for single-payer, which lost huge. That gives us an opportunity to think about, “What was it in the messaging, what was it in the lack of political education, what was it in the organizing strategy that made people reject it in an 80/20 split?” Learning from those individual state ballot initiatives will help us to build a stronger set of campaigns in individual states around the country. I think that is a great opportunity for us, as the federal government space is going to be foreclosed to many different kinds of demands at the moment. We are going to have to be more strategic about how we operate at the local and state levels. That connects, eventually, to talking about the carceral state and prisons. Anti-prison organizing, as well, is mostly a state issue.

The Black Panthers created a free ambulance service in Winston-Salem, North Carolina — they connected the work of mutual aid around health care and the fight against criminalization.

I was listening to a talk that Dean Spade gave a couple of weeks back in New York. He was really emphasizing the importance of mutual aid and mutual support, something that I have always thought is critical and important in organizing work, but will be even more so as we move forward. I think we have an opportunity to be creative in ways that we haven’t actually explored in the past, because we rely so much on the same way of doing things over time, that sometimes we have gotten stuck in a rut. This is going to force us to be more creative than ever, to be in some ways hyper-local. Sometimes people see that as a negative. For me, it is not. This is a huge country. There are so many different kinds of communities and those communities have very specific needs. We have to be open to people innovating and trying to figure out how to best meet the needs of their individual communities. I think that we are in a moment where we have to unleash, as Jeff Chang says, mass creativity all over the place. This is going to be in all aspects of the work that we do, but especially, in our organizing. I think that we are in a moment where we can do a lot and we have a good foundation for the work that we need to do going forward.

Part of the wave that elected Donald Trump, to whatever extent it was a wave, involved this “Blue Lives Matter” framing and backlash from the police and their supporters. Talk about the way the Movement for Black Lives and against prisons and policing changes and the way it continues to be central to resisting Trump.

I jumped pretty quickly into doing Medicare For All and the day of action, so I haven’t thought as deeply about what the role of the Movement for Black Lives is now. I know that stoking fear around murder rising to exponential degrees was critical to the sales pitch that Trump was doing — his “I am going to be this law-and-order tough guy and protect you from these thugs” [message] was a huge part of the narrative that he was knitting together. That resonated for a lot of people.

This is going to be a gut check moment for a lot of people who call themselves anti-prison organizers and have been very focused on reforms and have fought, inexplicably, mainly at the federal level, when criminal punishment is really hugely a state and a county issue. It is a city and township and a municipality issue when you are talking about policing, but when you are talking about incarceration and detention and all of that, that is at the county and at the state level. We already are seeing this uneven set of decreases in numbers of people who are incarcerated across the country. In some states there have been precipitous drops of numbers of people and in other states, there have been increases. You are very much seeing a whole bunch of different kinds of things happening in different kinds of places.

I think this is a moment where people are going to be forced to actually do the work that needs to be done at our state and local levels in order for it to be successful. It is also really an important moment for reframing what the new narrative has become. A lot of the push has been on what we need to do to get what Marie Gottschalk calls the “non-non-nons” which are the nonserious, nonviolent, non-sex offenders. That has been the focus of who we need to decarcerate. The low-hanging fruit. The drug war unfair convictions. You had a joint and you ended up with a 20-year sentence. That is an exaggeration and that is not the norm at all, but the conversation that we have is that we really need to focus on making sure that we decarcerate nonviolent offenders and nonviolent offenses. I think we need to reframe that conversation. We are not going end mass incarceration that way. We have to address how people are being sentenced for violent crimes.

It feels counterintuitive to talk about the fact that in the Trump era, we are going to have to address the issue of violent crimes, but I always think one of the most important things you can do in any moment, particularly in moments where it appears that you don’t have that much leverage, is to actually do a lot of narrative building and to fight on the ground that you actually want to fight on, rather than be fighting on the ground that you think is most amenable to your audiences at various levels.

It seems like the questions around violence are going to be core to the next four years, whether we are talking about an increase in racist violence or questions of strategies for fighting back — the narratives that are going around about how you respond to racist violence, to hate attacks, and how to think about solutions that aren’t calling police.

The kind of liberal embrace of the concept of hate crimes — Kay Whitlock and others have been writing about [that] for a very long time. A lot of queer theorists have written about the fact that, in fact, we shouldn’t be trying to up-crime various kinds of behaviors and various kinds of harms. It actually gets turned back against the most marginalized when we use those kinds of frames. After all, what is a hate crime? What does that mean? You are trying to look at people’s motivation and then you are tacking on extra sentencing time? It just doesn’t make any sense. We really are going to have to figure out, even more now, ways to solve problems within our communities without relying on the state because it is the case that the police are unleashed on our communities, already. Can you imagine now with Jeff Sessions, for example, as the attorney general, who is at his hearing basically saying, “The cops have nothing to be reproached about? They are absolutely blameless. In fact, I don’t believe in consent decrees?” Even the minimal kinds of mechanisms and tools that the federal government has at its disposal to try in some way to intervene with rogue departments are gone.

If you thought before that the police were your friends, you are definitely not going to think that now, when they are going to basically be given carte blanche to act with impunity. We are just going to have to figure out “What are the community accountability models that we can build at the local level to solve our problems, to address harm, to figure out how we are going to be able to have better interactions with each other, have stronger relationships with each other?” We need that more than ever in this moment. I think everything, basically, is up for transformation. Everything is up for being reconsidered in this moment. That is both daunting, but also incredibly freeing in a way — people haven’t gotten to that point yet to see that aspect of it, but I hope we get there soon.

You are not in Chicago anymore, but you spent quite a long time in Chicago, which has an incredibly well-organized left, and has the distinct honor of being the one city where Donald Trump actually cancelled a rally because there were so many protestors. What can people in other cities learn from the way movements in Chicago have worked together?

I think there is something about Chicago being ground zero for neoliberal Democratic rule that has built up the muscles that people need, in that particular city, to resist. The mass closure of public schools helped to radicalize the teacher’s union in Chicago and created a different kind of social justice teacher’s union. The closure, in large part, of most of the public mental health clinics over just the last six to seven/eight years [provoked resistance too].

This is the timeframe within which this stuff is going on, accelerating. It is ground zero for re-thinking, and also then, fighting in a different way around the austerity agenda. You have people like the Grassroots Collaborative giving us the intellectual scaffolding of Chicago being broke on purpose. That there is money available. That the financial sector is actually benefitting disproportionately and grossly in a way that is actually seizing and taking resources away from various people.

It is the city of Jon Burge and torture, of real police torture. People have had to fight on the policing front for decades. So, when there are opportunities and windows and moments, people are already organized and poised to actually fly through the openings to be able to win some stuff around that. It is the place where Alinsky organizing was born, and so people have this experience of neighborhood-based, community-based organizing that is in the lifeblood of the city. It is the place where the Nation of Islam is centered and built, so the concept of self-determination and Black liberation of a certain type has its roots there. It is a city that was fighting around issues of Garveyism [which] has a big amount of its roots in the Chicago area and the Midwest. It is the soup of all of those things, that make it so the people who are there, who are veteran organizers always, in some ways, have been multi-issue people, have not just been in individual silos. The city is small enough — it isn’t New York-sized — that you get to know people in different ways. A lot of the anti-eviction organizing, the direct action around literally putting your body on the line, that has been going on for decades in Chicago. I think there are lots of reasons, but those are some.

To wrap up, obviously, racism was central to Donald Trump’s appeals and attacks. I would love to have you talk about what antiracist organizing looks like when you have this explicitly racist force that just won a big victory.

I am not interested in organizing with racists. I am not explicitly going out trying to do that. But, here is what I think is important, at least for me: this is a racist country. We are organizing with racists, so to speak. That is just part of the soup. That is the air that we breathe. What I think is important in this moment is that we find issues around which broad scopes of people could unite enough, strategically, to be able to win a few things that we want. That doesn’t mean that everybody has to work with everybody. It doesn’t mean that we have to have some false sense of unity.

I think that some of that organizing is going to be done by intermediaries. I am thinking, particularly, white people who left rural areas, now is a good time to go and find out who else is doing interesting organizing in your old town and connect with those people and see whether or not there are issues that folks in your particular place want to organize around and link up.

What we should be doing is operationalizing specific kinds of opportunities, campaigns, concrete things that we could do with other people. Again, make sure that there are intermediaries who can be dispatched to do work with the people they should do work with. I am not going to be organizing white working-class people. There is no reason for me to be the person who is organizing that particular group, but it would be good if other white working-class people would organize with each other and find a way to be able to connect more broadly.

We should be less concerned about these thinkpiece ideas of the generic white working class … the people who supported Trump are not overwhelmingly white working class, since most white working class people, most poor people of any race, don’t actually engage in elections. They don’t vote in big numbers in terms of percentage of their population. Everybody — including, frankly, other white people — is blaming the white working class, when in fact, it is middle-class and rich folks who went big for Trump. They are getting off scot free, while the scapegoats are being made of white working-class people. That is a problem in and of itself.

We have to shake things up and focus less on a lot of pontification, analysis, right now. Focus less on that and focus more on instrumental ways for us to act. Find ways to act and find ways to act with numbers and together. What actions can we take?

On that note, where can people find more information about your Medicare For All day of action, broader Medicare for All organizing, and other work that you are doing?

People can go to People can also go to our Facebook and Twitter pages to find out about the day of action. We will be keeping up that site and putting more information for where people can actually connect with state-based coalitions that are doing single-payer work. Healthcare-NOW is doing excellent rapid response and ongoing single-payer organizing. On this Sunday, Our First Stand, Bernie Sanders and some of the Democrats are encouraging people to have rallies around the country to tell the Republicans not to repeal ACA, not to cut Medicare, not to cut Medicaid. Those are all places where people can connect with that work. If people are interested in my work around criminalization, they can go to my blog,

Posted in USA, HealthComments Off on Capitalism Rations What We Most Need — Let’s Demand Medicare for All: A Conversation With Mariame Kaba

Why This Nuclear Engineer Says Every Nuke Plant in the US Should Be Shut Down Yesterday


“I’d like to see every nuclear plant shut down­ yesterday.”

In announcing the agreement on the closing of Indian Point in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo described it as a “ticking time bomb.” But the real problem, writes Grossman, is this: There are more of them. (Photo: Matt Champlin—Getty Image)

The good—the very good—energy news is that the Indian Point nuclear power plants 26 miles north of New York City will be closed in the next few years under an agreement reached between New York State and the plants’ owner, Entergy.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has long been calling for the plants to be shut down because, as the New York Times related in its story on the pact, they pose “too great a risk to New York City.” Environmental and safe-energy organizations have been highly active for decades in working for the shutdown of the plants. Under the agreement, one Indian Point plant will shut down by April 2020, the second by April 2021.

“If the general public would see these secret ‘red’ reports, its view on nuclear power would turn strongly negative.”They would be among the many nuclear power plants in the U.S. which their owners have in recent years decided to close or have announced will be shut down in a few years.

This comes in the face of nuclear power plant accidents­—most recently and prominently the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan—­and competitive power being less expensive including renewable and safe solar and wind energy.

Last year, the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska closed following the shutdowns of Kewanee in Wisconsin, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, Crystal River 3 in Florida and both San Onofre 2 and 3 in California. Nuclear plant operators say they will close Palisades in Michigan next year; Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Pilgrim in Massachusetts in 2019; and the closure of California’s Diablo Canyon 1 in 2024 will be followed by Diablo Canyon 3 in 2025.

This will bring the number of nuclear plants down to a few more than 90­ — far cry from President Richard Nixon’s scheme to have 1,000 nuclear plants in the U.S. by the year 2000.

But the bad—the very bad—energy news is that there are still many promoters in industry and government still pushing nuclear power. Most importantly, the transition team of incoming President Donald Trump has been “asking for ways to keep nuclear power alive,” as Bloomberg reported last month.

As I was reading last week the first reports on the Indian Point agreement, I received a phone call from an engineer who has been in the nuclear industry for more than 30 years­ with his view of the situation.

The engineer, employed at nuclear plants and for a major nuclear plant manufacturer, wanted to relate that even with the Indian Point news—“and I’d keep my fingers crossed that there is no disaster involving those aged Indian Point plants in those next three or four years”­—nuclear power remains a “ticking time bomb.” Concerned about retaliation, he asked his name not be published.

Here is some of the information he relayed – a story of experiences of an engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than three decades and his warnings and expectations.

The Secretive INPO Report System

Several months after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in March 1979, the nuclear industry set up the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) based in Atlanta, Georgia. The idea was to have a nuclear industry group that “would share information” on problems and incidents at nuclear power plants, he said.

If there is a problem at one nuclear power plant, an INPO report will communicate the incident other nuclear plant operators. Thus the various plant operators could “cross-reference” happenings at other plants and determine if they might apply to them.

The reports are “coded by color,” explained the engineer. Those which are “green” involve an incident or condition that might or might not indicate a wider problem. A “yellow” report is on an occurrence “that could cause significant problems down the road.” A “red” report is the most serious and represents “a problem that could have led to a core meltdown”­ and could be present widely among nuclear plants and for which action needs to be taken immediately.

The engineer said he has read more than 100 “Code Red” reports. What they reflect, he said, is that “we’ve been very, very lucky so far.”

If the general public would see these secret “red” reports, its view on nuclear power would turn strongly negative, said the engineer.

But this is prevented by INPO, “created and solely funded by the nuclear industry,” thus its reports “are not covered by the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and are regarded as highly secretive.” The reports should be required to be made public, said the engineer. “It’s high time the country wakes up to the dangers we undergo with nuclear power plants.”

The NRC Inspection Farce

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is supposed to be the federal agency that is the watchdog over nuclear power plants and it frequently boasts of how it has “two resident inspectors” at each nuclear power plant in the nation, he noted.

However, explained the engineer, “the NRC inspectors are not allowed to go into the plant on their own. They have to be escorted. There can be no surprise inspections. Indeed, the only inspections that can be made are those that come after the NRC inspectors “get permission from upper management at the plant.”

The inspectors “have to contact upper management and say they want to inspect an area. The word is then passed down from management that inspectors are coming­ so ‘clean up’ whatever is the situation is.”

“The inspectors hands are tied,” said the engineer.

The 60- and Now 80-Year Operating Delusion

When nuclear power plants were first designed decades ago, explained the engineer, the extent of their mechanical life was established at 40 years. The engineer is highly familiar with these calculations having worked for a leading manufacturer of nuclear plants, General Electric.

The components in nuclear plants, particularly their steel parts, “have an inherent working shelf life,” said the engineer.

In determining the 40-year total operating time, the engineer said that calculated were elements that included the wear and tear of refueling cycles, emergency shutdowns and the “nuclear embrittlement from radioactivity that impacts on the nuclear reactor vessel itself including the head bolts and other related piping, and what the entire system can handle. Further, the reactor vessel is the one component in a nuclear plant that can never be replaced because it becomes so hot with radioactivity. If a reactor vessel cracks, there is no way of repairing it and any certainty of containment of radioactivity is not guaranteed.”

Thus the U.S. government limited the operating licenses it issued for all nuclear power plants to 40 years. However, in recent times the NRC has “rubber-stamped license extensions” of an additional 20 years now to more than 85 of the nuclear plants in the country­ permitting them to run for 60 years. Moreover, a push is now on, led by nuclear plant owners Exelon and Dominion, to have the NRC grant license extensions of 20 additional years ­to let nuclear plants run for 80 years.

Exelon, the owner of the largest number of nuclear plants in the U.S., last year announced it would ask the NRC to extend the operating licenses of its two Peach Bottom plants in Pennsylvania to 80 years. Dominion declared earlier that it would seek NRC approval to run its two Surry nuclear power plants in Virginia for 80 years.

“That a nuclear plant can run for 60 years or 80 years is wishful thinking,” said the engineer. “The industry has thrown out the window all the data developed about the lifetime of a nuclear plant. It would ignore the standards to benefit their wallets, for greed, with total disregard for the country’s safety.”

The engineer went on that since “Day One” of nuclear power, because of the danger of the technology, “they’ve been playing Russian roulette­, putting one bullet in the chamber and hoping that it would not fire. By going to 60 years and now possibly to 80 years,  “they’re putting all the bullets in every chamber­ and taking out only one and pulling the trigger.”

Further, what the NRC has also been doing is not only letting nuclear plants operate longer but “uprating” them­ allowing them to run “hotter and harder” to generate more electricity and ostensibly more profit. “Catastrophe is being invited,” said the engineer.

The Carbon-Free Myth   

A big argument of nuclear promoters in a period of global warming and climate change is that “reactors aren’t putting greenhouse gases out into the atmosphere,” noted the engineer.

But this “completely ignores” the “nuclear chain”­ the cycle of the nuclear power process that begins with the mining of uranium and continues with milling, enrichment and fabrication of nuclear fuel “and all of this is carbon intensive.” There are the greenhouse gasses discharged during the construction of the steel and formation of the concrete used in nuclear plants, transportation that is required, and in the construction of the plants themselves.

“It comes back to a net gain of zero,” said the engineer.

Meanwhile, “we have so many ways of generating electric power that are far more truly carbon-free.”

The Bottom Line

“The bottom line,” said the engineer, “is that radioactivity is the deadliest material which exists on the face of this planet ­and we have no way of controlling it once it is out. With radioactivity, you can’t see it, smell it, touch it or hear it­ and you can’t clean it up. There is nothing with which we can suck up radiation.”

Once in the atmosphere­ having been emitted from a nuclear plant through routine operation or in an accident ­“that radiation is out there killing living tissue whether it be plant, animal or human life and causing illness and death.”

What about the claim by the nuclear industry and promoters of nuclear power within the federal government of a “new generation” of nuclear power plants that would be safer? The only difference, said the engineer, is that it might be a “different kind of gun­but it will have the same bullets: radioactivity that kills.”

The engineer said “I’d like to see every nuclear plant shut down­ yesterday.”

In announcing the agreement on the closing of Indian Point, Governor Cuomo described it as a “ticking time bomb.” There are more of them. Nuclear power overall remains, as the experienced engineer from the nuclear industry said, a “ticking time bomb.”

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Obamacare Repeal = $7 Million Tax Cut for Nation’s Richest 400 People


New report from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows getting rid of healthcare law would deliver windfall tax cut for top earners

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, rally outide the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014. (Photo: LaDawna Howard/flickr/cc)

Repealing Obamacare, which Republicans on Friday appear closer to doing, would deliver a sizeable tax cut for the rich, a new report shows.

Released Thursday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the publication shows that the repeal would give to each of the top 400 highest-income taxpayers—who averaged incomes of roughly $318 million in 2014—a tax cut of about $7 million a year.

That’s because getting rid of the healthcare law would mean getting rid of its two Medicare taxes, which are paid for by individuals with incomes above $200,000 and couples with incomes above $250,000. One is a 3.8 percent Medicare tax that hits their unearned income (like capital gains) above those thresholds, while the other is additional 0.9 percent tax on earned income above those thresholds.

As such, a repeal “delivers tax cuts that are extremely tilted to the top,” the report states.

At the same time, low-and middle-income households would see a rise in taxes since they would lose premium tax credits to buy health coverage through the marketplaces, CBPP notes. For the rich, the benefits of a repeal wouldn’t end with the elimination of the Medicare taxes, the report continues:

Republicans also plan to move a broader tax package this year, and the tax proposals from both the House GOP (in its “Better Way” plan issued last June) and President-elect Trump include large, additional net tax cuts heavily focused on the most well-off. These include such proposals as sharply reducing the top business and individual income tax rates and repealing the estate tax.

Apart from taking healthcare coverage away from some 30 million people, another study released last week showed that the repeal could cost states trillions in lost revenue and output.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic leaders in Congress have called for Jan. 15 to be a day of action nationwide to “[m]ake sure [President-elect] Donald Trump and his Republican colleagues know that we won’t let them take our healthcare away, end Medicare as we know it, cut Medicaid, and defund Planned Parenthood.”

Posted in SyriaComments Off on Obamacare Repeal = $7 Million Tax Cut for Nation’s Richest 400 People

Pak-India Water Dispute Accelerates


Image result for Pak-India Water PHOTO

Sajjad Shaukat

Pakistan is a grave victim of water scarcity, because of being on lower riparian in relation to the

rivers emanating from the Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK). India has never missed an opportunity to

harm Pakistan since its inception; it is creating deliberate water shortages for Pakistan with the

aim to impair Pakistan agriculturally. Historically, India has been trying to establish her

hegemony in the region by controlling water sources and damaging agricultural economies of her

neighbouring states. India has water disputes with Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Indian

extremist Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has given the concerned departments to continue

construction of dams has ordered diverting water of Chenab River to Beas, which is a serious

violation of the Indus Water Treaty of 1960. Therefore Pak-India water dispute has accelerated.

In this regard, an article By: Zofeen T. Ebrahim, Joydeep Gupta (Co-Authors) under the caption,

“India resists World Bank move to resolve Indus Water Treaty dispute”, published in The Third

Pole and reproduced-updated by a Pakistan’s renowned daily on January 6, 2017 is notable.

Zofeen T. Ebrahim and Joydeep Gupta wrote, “India has asked the World Bank not to rush in to

resolve a dispute with Pakistan over the Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects. Indian

officials told a World Bank representative in New Delhi on January 5 that any differences over

the projects can be resolved bilaterally or through a neutral expert. Pakistan has objected to the

projects–being built by India in Jammu and Kashmir–on the grounds that they violate the 1960

Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) between the two countries. After India rejected the charge, Pakistan

has gone to the World Bank–the designated IWT mediator.”

They indicated, “Islamabad has also asked the United States (US) government to intervene, and

has added the component of water security to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

agreement. Of the rivers in the Indus basin, the Indus and the Sutlej start in China and flow

through India before reaching Pakistan. The other four rivers–Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Beas –

start in India and flow to Pakistan”.

The writers pointed out, “The Kishanganga project is on a tributary of the Jhelum, while the

Ratle project is on the Chenab. The State Department in Washington has already said it wants

India and Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues bilaterally, a route favoured by India.”

Zofeen T. Ebrahim and Joydeep Gupta elaborated, “As the dispute flared up, the World Bank

had recently suspended all proceedings–the setting up of a court of arbitration or the appointment

of a neutral expert. On January 5, World Bank representative Ian H Solomon met officials of

India’s External Affairs and Water Resources ministries in New Delhi in an effort to break the

deadlock.The Indian delegation, led by Gopal Baglay, Joint secretary in the Ministry of External

Affairs, made a detailed a presentation on the two projects to support their argument that neither

project violated the IWT. After the meeting, a government official told journalists that the Indian

side had described the objections raised by Pakistan as “technical”, and therefore they would be

best resolved by a neutral expert.”

They wrote, “Pakistan has dismissed this suggestion earlier, and is seeking a full court of

arbitration. The World Bank had agreed to a court of arbitration and then to the appointment of a

neutral expert, leading to objections by both countries. That was when both processes were

suspended. Explore: World Bank pauses dam arbitration to ‘protect Indus Waters Treaty.’ At the

January 5 meeting, Solomon did not raise any question on the designs of the two projects,

according to the Press Trust of India news agency. Instead, he explored ways to resolve the

dispute. With nothing decided, the World Bank official is going from New Delhi to Islamabad to

continue this effort. The official added that India is fully conscious of its international

obligations and is ready to engage in further consultations to resolve the differences regarding

the two projects. Under the IWT, India is allowed only non-consumptive use of water from the

three western rivers in the Indus basin–Indus, Jhelum and Chenab.”

The co-authors mentioned, “The Kishanganga and Ratle projects are on the western rivers. They

are run-of- the-river hydropower projects that do not hold back any water, though Pakistan’s

objection is about the height of the gates in the dams from which water is allowed to flow

downstream. The three eastern rivers–Ravi, Beas and Sutlej–are reserved for the use of India.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan. The Pakistani government approached the World Bank last September,

saying the design of the Kishanganga project was not in line with the criteria laid down under

IWT, and sought the appointment of a court of arbitration. Since the Kishanganga project has

been going on for years, the “inordinate” delay by Islamabad to approach the World Bank would

give India more time to complete its projects, Jamait Ali Shah, former Indus Water

Commissioner on behalf of the Pakistani government, told”.

Their article pointed out, “However, Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar wrote to the World

Bank on December 23, stressing that it was not withdrawing its request to set up a court of

arbitration. This was followed by a call from the outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry to

Dar, saying that the US would like to see an amicable solution to the transboundary water row.

Karachi-based newspaper…quoted diplomatic observers in Washington to say, “seriousness of

this dispute, particularly the fear that it may harm the treaty, forced Mr. Kerry to make this call.”

The writers explained, “For a while now Pakistan has also wanted to bring China into the picture.

At the sixth meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) of the CPEC which was held in

Beijing on December 29, a special group on water storage was formed to pre-empt any “severe

water crisis” impacting economic and food security of Pakistan, an official statement said. After

a Chinese delegation visits Pakistan later this month, the JCC – the highest policy-making forum

of the CPEC – may consider including the Diamer-Bhasha dam into the CPEC agreement.

Planned at an estimated cost of around USD 15 billion, if Pakistan succeeds in getting the dam

financed under CPEC, planning and development minister Ahsan Iqbal would consider it a

“landmark achievement”. Both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have refused

to lend money to Pakistan for this hydropower project. Pakistani experts react leading lawyer and

former federal law minister, Ahmer Bilal Soofi termed the inclusion of water security into CPEC

essentially a |political choice for Pakistan and China” though the issue does not “squarely fall

within the otherwise commercial mandate of CPEC”.

Zofeen T. Ebrahim and Joydeep Gupta wrote, “Speaking to, Soofi said Pakistan

and China need to exchange notes on a “contradicting state practice of India as an upper riparian

to Pakistan and a lower riparian to China, that will help both the states to confront India.” He

further added that Pakistan should raise its voice at an international level that “India’s building of

reservoir and fully utilising the water storage capacity under the treaty poses a serious threat to

Pakistan in particular backdrop of India’s present posturing as it improves India’s capability to

manipulate water flows into Pakistan.” This was echoed by former commissioner Shah who said

the international community should be duly briefed about the “dilution of the violation of the

provisions of the treaty” by India. At the same time, he said both countries should continue to

work closely and quietly to resolve the grievances and find a middle ground”.

They added, “The recent stance by India where it “lobbied aggressively and influenced” the

World Bank, he feared, had further undermined the already “fragile” treaty. “The WB needs to

take the right action–which is to act as arbitrator in this matter, as it has done before,” pointed

out water expert Simi Kamal.The reason why the IWT, 74 pages long with 12 articles and 8

annexures and has no expiry date, has worked so far, she said was partly because the Bank acted

as a third party. “The Bank needs to maintain this role and not back off now, when its arbitration

role is most required in the face of a belligerent Indian government.”

According to the writers, “Kamal further said the solution lay not in the pause by the Bank “or

for hawks to call for dismantling the treaty”, but for both governments to act responsibly and for

the Bank to play its role in "containing adventurism by either government–in this matter the

Indian government”. Shah also felt when Pakistan plans to proceed with such cases, it never does

its homework thoroughly and therefore always appears the weaker party. The same was endorsed

by noted economist Kaiser Bengali when he told that he found “the intellectually

deficient and politically inane manner in which Pakistan has been pursuing the matter”, criminal.

Bengali had little confidence in the Pakistan IWT team. He said, “It has no strategy on dealing

with water issues with India. Pakistan’s chief negotiator for more than a decade and a half had

limited intellectual capacity to lead on such a strategically life and death issue,” he said”.

They indicated, “He said Pakistan keeps harping on the "spirit" of the agreement. “Four decades

after a treaty is signed, what matters is the letter of the print, not the spirit of the time when the

document was signed.” Bengali believed India was not violating the letter of the agreement.

“India has been building power plants on western rivers, but not diverting any water”. Nor, he

said, were Pakistan’s contentions on the design "substantive enough to warrant a full scale

confrontation”. He also observed, like Shah, that differences can and should be resolved in a

more “low key” manner. He feared that since India was not violating the treaty per se, if Pakistan

does take the latter to court, it will meet the same fate as the Baglihar Dam case of 2007”.

Zofeen T. Ebrahim and Joydeep Gupta maintained, “While Indian officials maintain that they are

sticking to the IWT, the government has hardened its stand in recent months after attacks on

Indian Army camps in Kashmir by suspected militants. (Read: South Kashmir's role in anti-India

struggle) New Delhi had earlier said it was setting up a task force to examine what projects it

could undertake in the three western rivers of the Indus basin under the ambit of the IWT. In the

last week of 2016, the government announced that the task force would be headed by Nripendra

Mishra, principal secretary to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

Nevertheless in light of the above article, it is mentionable that since the 9/11 tragedy,

international community has been taking war against terrorism seriously, while there are also

other forms of bloodless wars, being waged in the world and the same are like terrorism. Political

experts opine that modern terrorism has many meanings like violent acts, economic terrorism

etc., but its main aim is to achieve political, economic and social ends. Judging in these terms,

Pak-India water dispute which has become serious needs special attention of the US and other

major powers, as India remains stern on her illegitimate stand in this respect.

Posted in India, Pakistan & KashmirComments Off on Pak-India Water Dispute Accelerates

The Four Horsemen of the Anti-Establishment Apocalypse

Adelina Marini

At the start of the year I forecasted quite bravely that the year 2017 will mark the beginning of the decline of anti-establishment parties and players and there we are – I did not need to wait too long for the new portion of proof on this thesis, which is based on several harbingers of such a process at the end of 2016 – the implosion that the Brexit caused to Great Britain, the loss of the far-rightwing presidential candidate in Austria, the Five Stars movement of Genovese comedian Beppe Grillo entering local government, which brought about unexpectedly swift besmearing of the party’s image as a bearer of a new value system and cleanliness in politics.

An identity problem

The new year started off with a surprising piece of news – the decision of the Five Stars Movement to leave Nigel Farage’s group in the European Parliament – Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy – and start negotiations for membership with the group of Liberals (ALDE). This happened last Sunday, when, in an online vote, 79% of Grillo’s movement’s supporters backed the decision. Grillo explained in a letter to Mr Farage that the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has achieved its goal to lead Great Britain out of the EU, so its group in the European Parliament has lost its political purpose. “The 5 Star Movement’s battle has yet to come, and to win it we evaluated to go to another political group in the European Parliament because, in this way, we think we can deal with more concentration both, you and us, the next challenges,” he wrote in the letter.

This move has totally focused attention on the Liberals’ group, causing sharp reactions of regret from all sides (not just within the group). It remained unfathomable to many how the always passionate defender of more Europe and former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberals’ group, could negotiate for the membership of one of the largest eurosceptic parties in Europe. Several hours later the application of the 5 Stars movement was discarded with the argument that points of intersection are way too few and later, on Facebook, Mr Verhofstadt explained that his intention was to encourage the transition of Five Stars from Euroscepticism towards a pro-European line.

Guy Verhofstadt said another very important thing in his attempt at an excuse: “The Brexit Euroscepticism in action has opened the eyes of many. More than ever, it is my ambition to grow the pro-European block in the Parliament.” There is no doubt that Guy Verhofstadt, a convinced Eurofederalist had other motives as well, having in mind the ongoing elections for European Parliament president, him being one of the candidates. The Liberals’ group is the fourth in size, but with Beppe Grillo’s 17 MEPs it would have turned into the third political power, like it was in previous Parliaments, and this would have given a serious boost to Verhofstadt’s application for the post of president after two consecutive terms of the German Social-Democrat Martin Schulz.

Liberals suffered heavy losses with the fiasco, but it looks like in the long run problems are considerably larger for Beppe Grillo himself. The group was left by two distinguished members. One transferred into the group of the Greens, which is on the pro-European side, and the other one went to the even farther Eurosceptic corner of the political spectrum by joining Marine Le Pen’s group – Europe of Nations and Freedom. At the same time, Five Stars decided to run back, but Nigel Farage set five conditions, the most indicative of them being that the movement must press for holding a referendum in Italy to leave the euro area.

Swinging between ultra-pro-European Liberals and British Eurosceptics, as well as splicing off in different directions (which will conceivably continue) is clearly showing the problem with the identity of the Five Stars movement and the lack of a clearly stated goal – leaving the euro area, the EU in general, or a reform of sorts. Debates in the European Parliament on different subjects have uncovered the heterogeneity of the movement. There are MEPs who are not Eurosceptic but reformists, expecting changes in rules (especially fiscal and migration ones) of the EU, but there are outright eurosceptics, to whom the euro is the source of all of Italy’s economic troubles.

Following the failure of Matteo Renzi’s referendum in December and his resignation from the prime minister’s post, Five Stars have faced the real opportunity of winning the power in Italy. At the moment, they are the most popular party in the country. The lack of identity, however, as well as the perspective of having parliamentary elections held all the way into 2018 are a minefield for the movement. As Maltese PM Joseph Muscat stated on the occasion of the start of the Maltese presidency of the Council of the EU, populists’ biggest nightmare is governing.

Nigel Farage is freelancing

The main moving force of euroscepticism in the EU by the middle of 2016 was Nigel Farage – MEP of long standing, but with an empty legislative portfolio. His role in the European Parliament throughout his career was to turn the EU into enemy number 1 of European citizens. His initiative succeeded to a great extent after his party, which is marginal in British national overview, UKIP, managed to force the Conservatives into being Faragians. As high ranking European politicians have noted, the difference between Conservatives and UKIP has watered down considerably. The big victory of Faragian Euroscepticism was the referendum of June 2016, when the will for Great Britain leaving the EU prevailed.

This did not bring the shock to the EU that Nigel Farage expected, but it did throw the Kingdom into a gruelling implosion. Following his confession of having lied about fundamental things during the campaign, Nigel Farage has stepped down from the leadership post in his party and his successor Paul Nutall has announced a radically different course for the party, which had lost its purpose following the referendum. Nutall stated that he intended to bring “reason” back to the party and set up a course towards stealing voters from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. This, again, is a sign of searching for an identity in order to survive politically and give meaning to political existence. The party continues to be Eurosceptic, but this has no effect at the background of the entire Eurosceptic atmosphere in Great Britain, where pro-European parties stand no chance.

The change of course of UKIP has turned Nigel Farage into a freelancer. First he offered his services to Donald Trump, but suffered a failure. So, for now, he remains a member of the European Parliament, where he will remain a horseman of the Eurosceptic apocalypse. One thing is for sure – with the advancement of negotiations about Great Britain’s leaving the EU, his image will continue to get more and more compromised.

The burst of the Trump bubble

Donald Trump’s behaviour following his election as US President shows undoubtedly that he will not grow up and change radically following his inauguration. There are more and more analyses on the Constitutional possibilities for taking him out of power, but it will be better for the sake of society’s health  if this is not done immediately, so that Mr Trump can unleash the full destructive potential of his personality-centred populism. The more gaffes he is allowed to make, the surer it will be that even his die-hardest fans will see the harm of his trumpidiocy and that it is not advisable to try it at home without adult supervision.

This will act as a laxative to society which, in an attempt at finding the best way to making its life better bet on false prophets. The catharsis might have a high price, but it is desperately needed. Mr Trump’s governance inspires and gives wings to his European followers, amongst whom the most risk for the EU is carried by Marine Le Pen, for should she win the presidential election in France at the end of the year, it would mean serious quakes for the EU. Such lending of wings, besides the risks, also carries the chance that these followers will crash. The advancement of Trump’s presidency and the intensity of his political extremism will work in inverse proportion with Eurosceptics. He will no longer be their fuel, but their poison.

Donald Trump, at this stage, offers no concrete solutions. He lowered the debate to the most primitive of levels. No economic principles are discussed, no political ideologies are discussed, international rules don’t matter, and diplomatic language is a terra incognita to the president-elect of the United States of America. He sets the tone at a personal level, through insults. It is a matter of time before some of his supporters get insulted if, at some point ,they get disappointed with him.

Marine Le Pen – the French Nigel Farage

Ms Le Pen’s showings so far in the European Parliament uncover significant resemblances to Mr Farage. A large portion of her anti-European statements are either not based on fact at all, or slide along the edge of truth. A discerning spot of anti-establishment political players is the fact that they never speak right to the point. They speak in slogans and find it difficult to answer specific questions, artfully covering-up these deficiencies with attacks against media. In this sense, the interview of Marine Le Pen for the influential American foreign policy magazine Foreign Affairs from October of last year is a case in point. What further worsens Ms Le Pen’s situation is that her party received a loan from a Russian bank, connected to the Kremlin. This is a weak spot for her and will only get weaker with the unfolding of the scandal in the USA around the Russian influence on the electoral process there and Russia’s connections to Trump.

Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Beppe Grillo, and Marine Le Pen are the four horsemen of the anti-establishment apocalypse. Their failure has been planted in their very nature of anti-systemic players. Their behaviour model is a sure recipe for disaster which does, however, lend opportunities for establishment parties to mobilise and position themselves as islands of security and stability. The question is how long will their downfall take and what is the price we will pay for the luxury of understanding that stepping outside of the common norms we have reached after a long and bloody evolution costs dearly and is painful.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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President Obama’s Legacy: Broken Promises, Sanctimonious Pronouncements, Endless U.S War Crimes Against Humanity

Barack-Obama discours

On the night of February 26–27, 1991, one of the most calculated and brutal massacres in war history occurred in Iraq on Highway 80, some 32 kilometres west of Kuwait city. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians were retreating towards Baghdad after a ceasefire had been agreed and announced, when the still unpunished war criminal President George H. W. Bush (1989 – 1993) — a former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency — ordered U.S. forces to slaughter the retreating Iraqis.

Consequently U.S.-led fighter aircraft of the coalition forces descended on the unarmed convoy and destroyed vehicles at the front and rear of the convoy so as to prevent any escape. Successive waves of aircraft then mercilessly bombed the trapped vehicles and their occupants into oblivion. After the carnage was over, some 2,000 mangled Iraqi vehicles along with the charred and dismembered remains of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers stretched for miles along what came to be known as the “Highway of Death.”


“America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”—U.S. President George H. W. Bush

George H. W. Bush’s high-minded hypocrisy — which in the best of American presidential traditions always fails to square with reality — was by no means different from that of either his predecessors or successors in the White House who, including his son the semi-illiterate President George W. Bush (2001 -2009), were also unabashed hypocrites and war criminals. The latest such example of American presidential betrayal was Barack Obama who during his campaign for the presidency and at the start of his first term, made numerous promises — thereby raising the hopes of the American people along with the rest of humanity — that were delivered with enticing but hollow slogans and soundbites such as “A New Beginning,” “Our Time for Change,” and “Yes We Can”: none of which had a hope in hell of being realised so long as the White House and bicameral Congress remained under the tight control of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading pro-Israel Jewish lobby group. \


Apart from a campaign promise to waste not a minute in brokering a Middle East peace, Obama in a 2010 address to the UN declared that

“when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that can lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel.”

Obama’s naivety in not knowing it was not U.S. President but AIPAC which dictated foreign policy was accompanied by more than 100 further periodic pledges including one to close the Guantánamo Bay prison facility at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba within one year; to hold accountable countless George Bush presidency civilian/military/intelligence officials who planned, authorised, or presided over the murder, rape, torture, unlawful execution, massacre and wrongful imprisonment of tens of thousands of mostly innocent individuals as part of the bogus “War on Terror”; to withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2011; and to prevent human rights violators from entering United States.

Needless to say the prospect of peace in the Middle East is about as likely as a kosher pig flying; the  decades-long mirage of a two-state solution has all but disappeared with the continual chutzpah theft of Palestinian land for the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements; the Guantanamo Bay facility — where the majority of detainees have not been charged with any crime — remains conspicuously open; Bush-era war criminals were not prosecuted but instead protected and finally given immunity; American troops are still on the ground in Afghanistan where the killing of thousands of innocent Afghan men, women and children is casually written off as “collateral damage”; and as for human rights violators, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — amongst other sundry criminals — is a regular visitor to the country whose government Israel controls.

Furthermore —  as a parting gift to the American people’s constitutional rights — and in the final hours before the Christmas holiday weekend, Obama quietly signed the 2017 National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) into law. Buried within the $619 billion military budget was a controversial provision establishing a national anti-propaganda centre which critics warned could threaten the “freedom of the press,” such as it is.

The Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, introduced by Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, establishes a Global Engagement Centre under the State Department which will coordinate efforts to “recognise, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United Sates national security interests.” This law will authorise grants to non-governmental agencies to help “collect and store examples in print, online, and social media, disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda” directed at the U.S. and its allies, as well as “counter efforts by foreign entities to use disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda to influence the policies and social and political stability” of the U.S. and allied nations.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”—The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 


Obama’s most serious failure, however, must be his administration’s unconditional support — apart from the recent last gasp abstention from UN Security Council Resolution 2334 regarding illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem — for a state which more than any other has tirelessly endeavoured to subvert Western democracy


Such undying American support for the “only democracy in the Middle East,” has been profusely provided despite the U.S. Department of State’s claims that “democracy and respect for human rights have long been central components of U.S. foreign policy,” and that “the protection of fundamental human rights was a foundation stone in the establishment of the United States over 200 years ago. Since then, a central goal of U.S. foreign policy has been the promotion of respect for human rights, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

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While Israel’s historic subversion of Western democracy has been clearly evident to anyone with a modicum of intelligence, those in the mainstream media who supposedly champion the five core principles of ethical journalism — Truth and Accuracy, Independence, Fairness and Impartiality, Humanity, and Accountability — have left it to Al-Jazeera in a four-part series to reveal how the Israeli government was in the midst of a flagrant campaign to covertly influence Britain’s perception of Israel including discussions between an Israeli diplomat and a UK civil servant to “take down” anti-settlement British politicians such as UK deputy foreign secretary Sir Alan Duncan.


Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit also revealed that Israel was influencing student, activist, and parliamentary groups in the UK by offering financial and strategic assistance in order to gather support among young organisers with a view to moulding British politics in favour of Israel. Such efforts also included targeting students to boost support for Israel as a counter to the BDS movement; having pro-Israel groups — such as the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) comprising 64 Jewish societies at British universities which received money from the Israeli embassy — attempting not only to influence the National Union of Students (NUS) presidency election, but also of trying to oust Malia Bouattia following her victory as the first Muslim president of the NUS to identify as a Black British; and sending “pluralist” Fabian Society think-tank analysts on paid trips to Israel.


Israel’s Machiavellian subversion of democratic principles is by no means restricted to the UK and is rampant not only throughout the Americas and Europe, but also to varying degrees in other continents. So while hypocritical Western legislators with yellow streaks down their backs continue to subserviently prostrate themselves before pro-Israel Jewish lobbies and sanctimoniously condemn the “hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance” of those seeking justice for the Palestinian people, they — along with mainstream media whores — religiously avoid discussion of any negative aspects relating to Israel’s Apartheid crimes against humanity.


Such Israeli instigated censorship also works in concert with the hypocrisy of those who while wearing the mantle of pretentious moral superiority will nonetheless turn their backs on the reality of Israel’s Nazification as a Jewish state and its barbaric ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

 “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” —Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel (1928 – 2016), writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor.

While Obama may have recently ended his final State of the Union address on a note of optimism when he said “and that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong,” the reality and actual extent of the nation’s malaise had already been confirmed by the election of a dangerous “grab them by the pussy” vulgarian whose clownish “you’re fired” credentials are more suited for lowbrow reality television shows, than for responsible democratic governance of the world’s only “Superpower.”

Nonetheless, the Donald “make America great again” Trump will continue being popular with all those Americans who are either partly or totally illiterate; cannot locate North America on a map of the world; and still believe that simply being American makes them exceptional.

Finally, though Obama did notch up some successes that would suggest he was a dove with an olive branch — the Iran nuclear deal and the opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba — he was actually a hawk who despite having pledged to end the wars of his predecessor George W. Bush, instead presided over U.S. military involvement in seven Muslim-majority countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen.

Moreover, he dramatically increased the air wars and the use of special operations forces around the globe with 2016 being “the Year of the Commando” during which U.S. special operators were active in 138 countries, or 70% of the world’s nations. GOD BLESS AMERICA!


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“Deep State” Ultimatum to Trump: Play Ball or Else

trump 2

Since announcing his presidential bid in mid-June 2015, Trump prevailed over long odds, overcoming huge obstacles to reach the brink of becoming America’s 45th president on January 20 – an astonishing story, where it goes from here yet to be determined.

With no public record on which to judge him, his agenda is as much guesswork as likely expectations – with one thing known for certain.

US presidents are fronts for powerful interests running America, intolerant of anyone changing longstanding policy.

Trump is under enormous pressure and threats to continue dirty business as usual or else. Defiance could get him undermined, impeached or assassinated – hardline globalist Mike Pence in the wings to replace him, an easy to control establishment figure.

We’ll know more about Trump’s intentions during his first hundred days in office, much more months later. Campaign rhetoric is one thing, presidential decision-making another.

Lofty promises are meaningless without supportive actions. Trump’s domestic policy largely looks easy to predict, socially and economically conservative, including:

• business-friendly regulatory reform;

• tax cuts for the rich, including repealing estate taxes for high-net worth households;

• rebuilding America’s infrastructure;

• repealing and replacing Obamacare;

• unlimited energy exploration, development and production; and

• rejecting one-sided trade deals like TPP, responsible for offshoring millions of America’s best jobs.

With Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, he’ll likely get domestic agenda support – though given budget constraints, perhaps less infrastructure spending than he’d like.

His geopolitical agenda is largely uncertain until his policies become apparent. It’s clear he wants already bloated military spending increased, including expanding America’s nuclear arsenal – unless he and Putin agree to nuclear reduction.

While saying he wants a new role for NATO focused on combating terrorism, he’s unlikely to change how the alliance operated from inception.

Important questions await answers. Will he cooperate with Putin responsibly or maintain longstanding adversarial relations?

Will he combat “radical Islamic terrorism” as promised, or support it like the Clintons, Bush/Cheney and Obama?

He’ll continue drone wars, he said, mostly killing noncombatant men, women, children, the elderly and infirm threatening on one.

He’ll maintain Guantanamo (and likely America’s global torture prison network) instead of shutting it down. He’ll introduce ideological screening tests to suspend immigration from certain countries.

He claims wars on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were mistakes he opposed after supporting them earlier. He called failure to seize Iraq’s oil fields poor judgment. “In the old days when we won a war, to the victor go the spoils,” he blustered.

He failed to explain all wars violate core international, constitutional and US statute laws without Security Council authorization. US presidents and Congress have no right to wage them without it – especially against nations posing no threat to America or any other countries.

All ongoing US direct and proxy wars are illegal acts of aggression. Will Trump continue or end them? Will he be a warrior or peace president?

Will he favor diplomacy over endless conflicts? He complained about wasting trillions of dollars, turning the Middle East into a mess, instead of using the funding to rebuild America.

“(W)e don’t have the money because it’s been squandered on so many (wrong) ideas,” he said. Will he change things enough to matter or largely continue current policies?

It’s unknown until he begins serving. He’ll need congressional support to approve his agenda.

Neocon dark forces in Washington will challenge anything diverging from longstanding policy.

Perhaps no matter what he does, he’ll face endless obstacles along the way, his administration seen in hindsight as the most turbulent in US history for as long as it lasts – not a very encouraging assessment for what may lie ahead.

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Making Russia ‘The Enemy’


Despite conflicting accounts about who leaked the Democratic emails, the frenzy over an alleged Russian role is driving the U.S. deeper into a costly and dangerous New Cold War, writes Robert Parry.

The rising hysteria about Russia is best understood as fulfilling two needs for Official Washington: the Military Industrial Complex’s transitioning from the “war on terror” to a more lucrative “new cold war” – and blunting the threat that a President Trump poses to the neoconservative/liberal-interventionist foreign-policy establishment.

By hyping the Russian “threat,” the neocons and their liberal-hawk sidekicks, who include much of the mainstream U.S. news media, can guarantee bigger military budgets from Congress. The hype also sets in motion a blocking maneuver to impinge on any significant change in direction for U.S. foreign policy under Trump.

Wintery scene at Red Square in Moscow, Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Robert Parry)

Wintery scene at Red Square in Moscow, Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Robert Parry)

Some Democrats even hope to stop Trump from ascending to the White House by having the Central Intelligence Agency, in effect, lobby the electors in the Electoral College with scary tales about Russia trying to fix the election for Trump.

The electors meet on Dec. 19 when they will formally cast their votes, supposedly reflecting the judgments of each state’s voters, but conceivably individual electors could switch their ballots from Trump to Hillary Clinton or someone else.

On Thursday, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. joined the call for electors to flip, writing: “The question is whether Trump, Vladimir Putin and, perhaps, Clinton’s popular-vote advantage give you sufficient reason to blow up the system.”

That Democrats would want the CIA, which is forbidden to operate domestically in part because of its historic role in influencing elections in other countries, to play a similar role in the United States shows how desperate the Democratic Party has become.

And, even though The New York Times and other big news outlets are reporting as flat fact that Russia hacked the Democratic email accounts and gave the information to WikiLeaks, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, a close associate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, told the London Daily Mail that he personally received the email data from a “disgusted” Democrat.

Murray said he flew from London to Washington for a clandestine handoff from one of the email sources in September, receiving the package in a wooded area near American University.

Former British Ambassador Craig Murray

Former British Ambassador Craig Murray

“Neither of [the leaks, from the Democratic National Committee or Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta] came from the Russians,” Murray said, adding: “the source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.”

Murray said the insider felt “disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders.” Murray added that his meeting was with an intermediary for the Democratic leaker, not the leaker directly.

[Update: Murray subsequently said his contact with the intermediary at American University was not for the purpose of obtaining a batch of the purloined emails, as the Daily Mail reported, since WikiLeaks already had them. He said the Mail simply added that detail to the story, but Murray declined to explain why he had the meeting at A.U. with the whistleblower or an associate.]

If Murray’s story is true, it raises several alternative scenarios: that the U.S. intelligence community’s claims about a Russian hack are false; that Russians hacked the Democrats’ emails for their own intelligence gathering without giving the material to WikiLeaks; or that Murray was deceived about the identity of the original leaker.

But the uncertainty creates the possibility that the Democrats are using a dubious CIA assessment to reverse the outcome of an American presidential election, in effect, making the CIA party to a preemptive domestic “regime change.”

Delayed Autopsy

All of this maneuvering also is delaying the Democratic Party’s self-examination into why it lost so many white working-class voters in normally Democratic strongholds, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Rather than national party leaders taking the blame for pre-selecting a very flawed candidate and ignoring all the warning signs about the public’s resistance to this establishment choice, Democrats have pointed fingers at almost everyone else – from FBI Director James Comey for briefly reviving Clinton’s email investigation, to third-party candidates who siphoned off votes, to the archaic Electoral College which negates the fact that Clinton did win the national popular vote – and now to the Russians.

FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey

While there may be some validity to these various complaints, the excessive frenzy that has surrounded the still-unproven claims that the Russian government surreptitiously tilted the election in Trump’s favor creates an especially dangerous dynamic.

On one level, it has led Democrats to support Orwellian/ McCarthyistic concepts, such as establishing “black lists” for Internet sites that question Official Washington’s “conventional wisdom” and thus are deemed purveyors of “Russian propaganda” or “fake news.”

On another level, it cements the Democratic Party as America’s preeminent “war party,” favoring an escalating New Cold War with Russia by ratcheting up economic sanctions against Moscow, and even seeking military challenges to Russia in conflict zones such as Syria and Ukraine.

One of the most dangerous aspects of a prospective Hillary Clinton presidency was that she would have appointed neocons, such as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and her husband, Project for the New American Century co-founder Robert Kagan, to high-level foreign policy positions.

Though that risk may have passed assuming Clinton’s Electoral College defeat on Monday, Democrats now are excitedly joining the bash-Russia movement, making it harder to envision how the party can transition back into its more recent role as the “peace party” (at least relative to the extremely hawkish Republicans).

Trading Places

The potential trading places of the two parties in that regard – with Trump favoring geopolitical détente and the Democrats beating the drums for more military confrontations – augurs poorly for the Democrats regaining their political footing anytime soon.

Red Square in Moscow with a winter festival to the left and the Kremlin to the right. (Photo by Robert Parry)

Red Square in Moscow with a winter festival to the left and the Kremlin to the right, on Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Robert Parry)

If Democratic leaders press ahead, in alliance with neoconservative Republicans, on demands for escalating the New Cold War with Russia, they could precipitate a party split between Democratic hawks and doves, a schism that likely would have occurred if Clinton had been elected but now may happen anyway, albeit without the benefit of the party holding the White House.

The first test of this emerging Democratic-neocon alliance may come over Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, Exxon-Mobil’s chief executive Rex Tillerson, who doesn’t exhibit the visceral hatred of Russian President Vladimir Putin that Democrats are encouraging.

As an international business executive, Tillerson appears to share Trump’s real-politik take on the world, the idea that doing business with rivals makes more sense than conspiring to force “regime change” after “regime change.”

Over the past several decades, the “regime change” approach has been embraced by both neocons and liberal interventionists and has been implemented by both Republican and Democratic administrations. Sometimes, it’s done through war and other times through “color revolutions” – always under the idealistic guise of “democracy promotion” or “protecting human rights.”

But the problem with this neo-imperialist strategy has been that it has failed miserably to improve the lives of the people living in the “regime-changed” countries. Instead, it has spread chaos across wide swaths of the globe and has now even destabilized Europe.

Yet, the solution, as envisioned by the neocons and their liberal-hawk understudies, is simply to force more “regime change” medicine down the throats of the world’s population. The new “great” idea is to destabilize nuclear-armed Russia by making its economy scream and by funding as many anti-Putin elements as possible to create the nucleus for a “color revolution” in Moscow.

To justify that risky scheme, there has been a broad expansion of anti-Russian propaganda now being funded with tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money as well as being pushed by government officials giving off-the-record briefings to mainstream media outlets.

However, as with earlier “regime change” plans, the neocons and liberal hawks never think through the scenario to the end. They always assume that everything is going to work out fine and some well-dressed “opposition leader” who has been to their think-tank conferences will simply ascend to the top job.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, on Feb. 7, 2014. (U.S. State Department photo)

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, on Feb. 7, 2014. (U.S. State Department photo

Remember, in Iraq, it was going to be Ahmed Chalabi who was beloved in Official Washington but broadly rejected by the Iraqi people. In Libya, there has been a parade of U.S.-approved “unity” leaders who have failed to pull that country together.

In Ukraine, Nuland’s choice – Arseniy “Yats is the guy” Yatsenyuk – resigned amid broad public disapproval  earlier this year after pushing through harsh cuts in social programs, even as the U.S.-backed regime officials in Kiev continued to plunder Ukraine’s treasury and misappropriate Western economic aid.

Nuclear-Armed Destabilization

But the notion of destabilizing nuclear-armed Russia is even more hare-brained than those other fiascos. The neocon/liberal-hawk assumption is that Russians – pushed to the brink of starvation by crippling Western sanctions – will overthrow Putin and install a new version of Boris Yeltsin who would then let U.S. financial advisers return with their neoliberal “shock therapy” of the 1990s and again exploit Russia’s vast resources.

Indeed, it was the Yeltsin era and its Western-beloved “shock therapy” that created the desperate conditions before the rise of Putin with his autocratic nationalism, which, for all its faults, has dramatically improved the lives of most Russians.

Bright lights on Red Square, Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Robert Parry)

Bright lights on Red Square, Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Robert Parry)

So, the more likely result from the neocon/liberal-hawk “regime change” plans for Moscow would be the emergence of someone even more nationalistic – and likely far less stable – than Putin, who is regarded even by his critics as cold and calculating.

The prospect of an extreme Russian nationalist getting his or her hands on the Kremlin’s nuclear codes should send chills up and down the spines of every American, indeed every human being on the planet. But it is the course that key national Democrats appear to be on with their increasingly hysterical comments about Russia.

The Democratic National Committee issued a statement on Wednesday accusing Trump of giving Russia “an early holiday gift that smells like a payoff. … It’s rather easy to connect the dots. Russia meddled in the U.S. election in order to benefit Trump and now he’s repaying Vladimir Putin by nominating Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.”

Besides delaying a desperately needed autopsy on why Democrats did so badly in an election against the also-widely-disliked Donald Trump, the new blame-Russia gambit threatens to hurt the Democrats and their preferred policies in another way.

If Democrats vote in bloc against Tillerson or other Trump foreign-policy nominees – demanding that he appoint people acceptable to the neocons and the liberal hawks – Trump might well be pushed deeper into the arms of right-wing Republicans, giving them more on domestic issues to solidify their support on his foreign-policy goals.

That could end up redounding against the Democrats as they watch important social programs gutted in exchange for their own dubious Democratic alliance with the neocons.

Since the presidency of Bill Clinton, the Democrats have courted factions of the neocons, apparently thinking they are influential because they dominate many mainstream op-ed pages and Washington think tanks. In 1993, as a thank-you gift to the neocon editors of The New Republic for endorsing him, Clinton appointed neocon ideologue James Woolsey as head of the CIA, one of Clinton’s more disastrous personnel decisions.

But the truth appears to be that the neocons have much less influence across the U.S. electoral map than the Clintons think. Arguably, their pandering to a clique of Washington insiders who are viewed as warmongers by many peace-oriented Democrats may even represent a net negative when it comes to winning votes.

I’ve communicated with a number of traditional Democrats who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton because they feared she would pursue a dangerous neocon foreign policy. Obviously, that’s not a scientific survey, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that Clinton’s neocon connections could have been another drag on her campaign.

Assessing Russia

I also undertook a limited personal test regarding whether Russia is the police state that U.S. propaganda depicts, a country yearning to break free from the harsh grip of Vladimir Putin (although he registers 80 or so percent approval in polls).

Couple walking along the Kremlin, Dec. 7, 2016. (Photo by Robert Parry)

Couple walking along the Kremlin wall, Dec. 7, 2016. (Photo by Robert Parry)

During my trip last week to Europe, which included stops in Brussels and Copenhagen, I decided to take a side trip to Moscow, which I had never visited before. What I encountered was an impressive, surprisingly (to me at least) Westernized city with plenty of American and European franchises, including the ubiquitous McDonald’s and Starbucks. (Russians serve the Starbucks gingerbread latte with a small ginger cookie.)

Though senior Russian officials proved unwilling to meet with me, an American reporter, at this time of tensions, Russia had little appearance of a harshly repressive society. In my years covering U.S. policies in El Salvador in the 1980s and Haiti in the 1990s, I have experienced what police states look and feel like, where death squads dump bodies in the streets. That was not what I sensed in Moscow, just a modern city with people bustling about their business under early December snowfalls.

The police presence in Red Square near the Kremlin was not even as heavy-handed as it is near the government buildings of Washington. Instead, there was a pre-Christmas festive air to the brightly lit Red Square, featuring a large skating rink surrounded by small stands selling hot chocolate, toys, warm clothing and other goods.

Granted, my time and contact with Russians were limited – since I don’t speak Russian and most of them don’t speak English – but I was struck by the contrast between the grim images created by Western media and the Russia that I saw.

It reminded me of how President Ronald Reagan depicted Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua as a “totalitarian dungeon” with a militarized state ready to march on Texas, but what I found when I traveled to Managua was a third-world country still recovering from an earthquake and with a weak security structure despite the Contra war that Reagan had unleashed against Nicaragua.

In other words, perception management remains the guiding principle of how the U.S. government deals with the American people, scaring us with exaggerated tales of foreign threats and then manipulating our fears and our misperceptions.

As dangerous as that can be when we’re talking about Nicaragua or Iraq or Libya, the risks are exponentially higher regarding Russia. If the American people are stampeded into a New Cold War based more on myths than reality, the minimal cost could be the trillions of dollars diverted from domestic needs into the Military Industrial Complex. The far-greater cost could be some miscalculation by either side that could end life on the planet.

So, as the Democrats chart their future, they need to decide if they want to leapfrog the Republicans as America’s “war party” or whether they want to pull back from the escalation of tensions with Russia and start addressing the pressing needs of the American people.

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