Archive | January 17th, 2017

Ecuador Assumes G77 Leadership, Vows to Fight Tax Havens

  • Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa speaks at the U.N. April, 2016

    Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa speaks at the U.N. April, 2016 | Photo: AFP

Ecuador will use its chair at the head of the world’s largest organization of developing states to tackle tax havens and the corruption they breed.

President of Ecuador Rafael Correa assume the chairmanship of the Group of 77 in New York on Friday, the largest intergovernmental organization of developing countries at the U.N., for the first time in the Andean nation’s history.

RELATED: Ecuador to Propose Global End to Tax Havens

Correa said that his country’s election to chair the group, whose mission is to promote South-South cooperation and enhance joint negotiating capacity within the U.N. system, is a “global recognition” that the development that has taken place under his government’s leadership is of interest “to the region and the world.”

In remarks to the press before leaving for U.N. headquarters in New York, where Correa will formally take over G77 leadership from Thailand, he highlighted his goal to use Ecuador’s mandate to tackle the global problem of international tax havens.

“Tax havens are one of the largest manifestations of savage capitalism,” he noted, adding “We will insist that tax havens be banned to avoid corruption, money laundering, and tax evasion.”

“We are going to give it much greater impetus because (tax havens) are one of the great enemies of developing nations,” he said. “They mainly harm the poor nations that need these resources. Our oligarchies make that money in our countries, often in a bad way, and send it to those tax havens where capital has no face.”

Correa is leading the campaign against corporate and individual tax fraud by example, having launched a national referendum in Ecuador where citizens will vote in February on a proposed ban on public servants or elected officials holding money in offshore tax havens.

Correa launched both his national and international campaigns against tax avoidance after the massive Panama Papers leaks which showed hundreds of prominent politicians – including Ecuadorian presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, and Argentine President Mauricio Macri – were using Panamanian banks to avoid paying legally owed taxes.

RELATED: The Latest: New Panama Papers Embroil Latin American Elite

He told reporters on Thursday that Ecuador’s other priorities during its term would be protecting the world’s oceans, ensuring that transnational corporations respect human rights, and addressing the crushing external debts imposed on countries who have been subject to enforced under-development by international monetary organizations such as the World Bank and IMF.

Correa ended his remarks by noting that he wanted to use Ecuador’s one-year term as head of the coalition of 134 nations from the Global South to demonstrate that at the U.N., the General Assembly should “make the most important decisions, and not a group of privileged countries based on the military power they have.”

This will likely be Correa’s last official visit to the U.N. as his term as president ends in May.

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Ex-Honduran Soldier Linked to Berta Caceres Murder Arrested

  • Environmental and Indigenous rights leader Berta Caceres, who was shot dead last year in her home in Honduras, is pictured in a handout from the Goldman Environmental Prize, an award she won in 2015.

    Environmental and Indigenous rights leader Berta Caceres, who was shot dead last year in her home in Honduras, is pictured in a handout from the Goldman Environmental Prize, an award she won in 2015. | Photo: Reuters

The suspect in the Indigenous land defender’s murder was arrested in northern Mexico.

A former Honduran soldier allegedly involved in last year’s assassination of renowned Honduran Indigenous and environmental activist Berta Caceres has been arrested in Mexico, local press reported on Friday.

RELATED: Honduras Indigenous Leader Under Police Protection Arrested

La Prensa Honduras says the man, identified as Henry Javier Hernandez Rodriguez, was arrested at a barbershop in the northern Mexican city of Reynosa. Mexican authorities have not yet confirmed the report.

Caceres gained prominence for leading the indigenous Lenca people in a struggle against the Agua Zarca Dam, a controversial development project in the community of Rio Blanco that was put in motion without consent from local communities. Caceres suffered dozens of death threats and was reportedly on the top of a U.S.-backed military hit list leading up to her assassination.

So far, eight people have been arrested for Caceres’s murder, who was shot dead in the early hours of March 3, 2016, at her home in the town of La Esperanza. On the day of her murder, Caceres hosted Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro as a guest in her home, the only witness to the assassination who survived by playing dead after being shot. Castro and Caceres’s family claim that the Honduran company Desarrollos Energeticos SA, better known as DESA, and the Honduran government hired contract killers to murder activists like her.

RELATED:  Indigenous Women Led Environmental Struggle in 2016

Last year the United Nations Environment Programme posthumously awarded her its Champions of the Earth Prize for her “action and inspiration” so that “her death would not be in vain.”

A report by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders says human rights defenders in Honduras face killings, constant threats, and criminalization, making the Central American country one of the most dangerous in the world for human rights activists.

The Mexican digital outlet 24 Horas reported that Hernandez Rodriguez’s capture was possible after several months of coordinated work between the police of El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

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There is no anti-Semitism in Britain

Jerry Lewis of Hampstead Synagogue

Gilad Atzmon writes:

At the end of October 2016 we learned from the British Jewish media that the police were called to University College London (UCL)  amid claims of common assault and verbal intimidation by “pro-Palestinian protesters” at an event featuring an Israeli speaker.

We had to wait another three months for a single honest Jew, Jerry Lewis of Hampstead Synagogue, to admit in front of the notorious ultra-Zionist Board of Deputies of British Jews that the incident at UCL was actually instigated by Jewish groups that have nothing to do with the Jewish student community.

At least one of those Jewish groups is funded by Israel, according to Mr Lewis. These groups invoke “hatred” against Jews because this is how they justify their existence and sustain their funding, he added.

In the light of the recent Aljazeera exposé on how Israel uses the Zionist lobby to penetrate the British system, the Foreign Office expel the Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev.

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Qatar’s backtracking on labour rights and its cooperation with Russia reflect new world order

Person holding placard saying Qatar Play Fair

By James M. Dorsey

A Qatari decision to backtrack on minimal improvements of the terms of employment of migrant workers, who account for a majority of the Gulf state’s population, and a Qatari investment in Russian oil company Rosneft, symbolise the emergence of a new global power structure characterised by the rise of populists in the United States and Europe, and Russia projecting itself as a key player on the world stage.

The message is that Qatar – and countries like it – which has been under pressure to clean up its human rights act in the wake of winning hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup, no longer feel the need to at least pay lip service to human rights and trade union activists clamouring for an end to kafala, the labour sponsorship system that puts employees at the mercy of their employers.

Investment in Russia

Similarly, the Qatar Investment Authority’s decision to invest USD 5 billion in Rosneft as part of a USD 10.6 billion deal that also involved Glencore Plc had as much to do with geopolitics as with economics. Qatar saw the investment as a way to strengthen political links with Russia as well as develop new business opportunities.

The deal was remarkable for a country that uses investment as a tool to forge relations. Russia and Qatar have not been the closest of friends. Russia suspects Qatar of supporting militant Islamist and jihadist groups in Syria and of having done so earlier in Chechnya when Russia was battling Chechen Islamists there. Russian agents in 2004 assassinated Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in the Qatari capital of Doha.

Qatar’s hedging of its bets comes as it together with other backers of Syrian rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad suffered severe setbacks because of Russian backing for the Syrian leader and the fall of Aleppo…

A statement after a recent phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani as Russian warplanes bombarded Aleppo said the two leaders had discussed ways to “further promote political, trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation”. The statement made no mention of Syria.

All of this is not to say that Qatar is switching allegiances. By dealing with Russia, Qatar is hedging its bets in recognition of the bear’s rise and the rise of populists in the West who are willing to deal with Russia. At the same time, Qatar has said it is committed to investing more than USD 35 billion in the US over the next five years, including USD 10 billion in infrastructure. “A significant part of Qatar’s economic portfolio is its robust relationship with the United States,” said Qatari businessman Muhammad Al Misned in a Forbes magazine op-ed.

Qatar’s hedging of its bets comes as it together with other backers of Syrian rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad suffered severe setbacks because of Russian backing for the Syrian leader and the fall of Aleppo, the rebels’ last urban stronghold. The Russian-backed Syrian advances have left Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia with few good options to shape the battlefield by funding and arming the rebels.

Backtracking on reform

The rise of Russia and the populists appears to have emboldened Qatar to backtrack on pledges it made to reform, if not eliminate the kafala system in response to pressure from human rights and trade union activists using the Gulf state’s World Cup hosting rights as leverage. In a move that has undermined whatever confidence existed in Qatar’s sincerity and willingness to work with its critics, Tamim backtracked on the easing of exit visa restrictions for migrant workers two weeks after a long-heralded law was enacted making changes to the controversial system.

The law introduced an automated system operated by the Interior Ministry to streamline exit visas and remove the power of employers by taking away from them the right to decide whether a worker could leave the country or not. Tamim overruled the law in early January by stipulating that workers would have to inform their recruiter.

In response, Human Rights Watch charged that “changes to the labour law that took effect in 2016 will not protect migrant workers from the serious abuses that characterize Qatar’s construction industry and other low-paid sectors of its economy… Migrant workers will not be able to switch employers, even if the workers experience abuse, and will still need their employer’s permission to leave the country.”

Migrant workers will not be able to switch employers, even if the workers experience abuse, and will still need their employer’s permission to leave the country. (Human Rights Watch)

Qatar’s backtracking followed a victory in a Swiss court by world football body FIFA that has direct impact on the debate over the Gulf state’s labour regime. The court rejected a request by the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV) and two Bangladeshi unions that it rule against FIFA’s awarding of the World Cup to Qatar without first demanding assurances about “fundamental human and labour rights of migrant construction workers, including the abolition of the kafala system”.

The court decision, coupled with the rise of populists who have less concern for human rights, is likely to diminish FIFA’s already weak resolve to put pressure on Qatar to fundamentally reform if not abolish the kafala. FIFA President Gianni Infantino nonetheless insisted last month that “we will put pressure, we will continue to do that”.

The turning tide could prompt activists to attempt to step up pressure on Qatar with calls for boycotts. The Washington-based Alliance for Workers Against Repression Everywhere (AWARE) said last month that it was stepping up efforts to persuade travellers from Boston and other US cities to avoid flying on Qatar’s state-owned airline because of what it alleges are human rights violations by Qatar as well as Qatar Airways. AWARE has used billboard advertisements in US cities serviced by Qatar Airways, op-ed pieces and social media to urge travellers to boycott the airline.

Posted in Middle EastComments Off on Qatar’s backtracking on labour rights and its cooperation with Russia reflect new world order

Cuba and US Hold Cold War Compensation Meetings

  • A man rides a homemade bike with an advertising banner in Havana, Cuba, July 13, 2016.
    A man rides a homemade bike with an advertising banner in Havana, Cuba, July 13, 2016. | Photo: Reuters
Cuba has said that the blockade has cost the island nation US$125.9 billion.

Representatives of Cuba and the United States held a meeting Thursday to discuss mutual economic compensation over assets lost as a result of Washington’s decades-long blockade and the Cuban Revolution, an ongoing thorny issue since both nations restored diplomatic relations in July 2015.

RELATED: Why the US Immigration Policy Toward Cuba Had to Go

Washington seeks compensation for its assets seized during the Cuban revolution while Havana expects to receive something in return for the damage caused by the U.S. economic blockade on the island, which is still in force after more than a half-century.

The Cuban delegation reiterated that it is essential to consider the claims of the Cuban people for human and economic damages. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez in September 2016 said the total cost of the blockade had been of US$125.9 billion.

Meanwhile, Washington said around 6,000 U.S. citizens and companies have reparation claims on Cuba with a total value of US$1.9 billion assets lost after the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959.

However, these demands have been adjusted to current prices to reach almost US$8 billion, including an annual interest rate of 6 percent.

RELATED: Cuba-US: Obama to End ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ Policy

Two previous meetings on the same issue proved fruitless. The first was held in Havana in Dec. 2015 and the other in Washington in July 2016, diplomatic sources said.

The new meeting follows President Barack Obama’s decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, a longstanding immigration policy that extends automatic residency to Cubans arriving in the country without visas.

The moves come with only days left in Obama’s presidency and increasing uncertainty over how a Trump administration might move forward with the U.S. relationship with Cuba.

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Chicago Police Guilty of Racism and Excessive Force: DOJ Report


A Chicago police officer at a news conference announcing the department

  • A Chicago police officer at a news conference announcing the department’s plan to hire nearly 1,000 new police officers in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., Sep. 21, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

The damning report shows systematic racism, excessive force and poor accountability from Chicago’s trigger-happy cops.

Chicago’s police routinely used excessive force, tolerated racially discriminatory conduct and often maintained a “code of silence” among officers to thwart investigations into misconduct, according to a report released by the federal government on Friday.

The 161-page document from the U.S. Department of Justice details a 13-month civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department.

RELATED:  White, Black Police Officers Divided on Race Relations in US

“One of my highest priorities as attorney general has been to ensure that every American enjoys police protection that is lawful, responsive, and transparent,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a news conference. “Sadly, our thorough investigation into the Chicago Police Department found that far too many residents of this proud city have not received that kind of policing.”

The report detailed how the Chicago police officers “engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force.” This included officers shooting at fleeing suspects and using tasers, shooting at vehicles and often unarmed people.

The DOJ said that officers commonly use “unreasonable retaliatory force and unreasonable force against children,” and could have avoided using force against people with mental health problems. Accounts of situations from officers where force was used were commonly discredited once video evidence emerged.

The report cataloged dozens of shocking acts of misconduct and killings at the hands of trigger-happy officers. In one incident, three officers chased and fired a total of 45 rounds at an unarmed man after he was told to freeze but ran after allegedly fidgeting with his waistband. The man was killed after coming under fire, and the officers falsely claimed that the man fired at him. The Independent Police Review Authority found that the actions were justified.

In another extra-judicial killing, a non-threatening man was shot 16 times in the back during a foot pursuit, even firing shots into the unarmed man once he was lying on the ground.

Chicago officers also used a taser stun-gun against a woman suffering a mental health crisis after she was documented not following verbal instructions from the officers. The narrative provided by the officers involved did not mention the use of the taser, instead claiming that the woman was “a high-risk mental” who needed to be taken to hospital.

A 12-year-old Latino boy accused of being “old enough to bang” was then detained detained by an officer where “the officer’s only apparent basis for this detention was the boy’s race, which is constitutionally unreasonable.”

RELATED:  ‘Do Not Resist’ Documentary Slams US Police Militarization

Other cases detailed officers quickly deciding to resort to lethal force and cases where civilians and innocent bystanders were put at significant risk.

In the five years preceding the DOJ investigation, a staggering 30,000 complaints of police misconduct were received by the City of Chicago. Yet in 98 percent of complaints, no disciplinary action was taken. For those that were actually disciplined, “officers are often disciplined for conduct far less serious than the conduct that prompted the investigation.”

“The failure to review and investigate officer use of force has helped create a culture in which officers expect to use force and not be questioned about the need for or propriety of that use.”

Analysis of the report showed that “complaints filed by white individuals were two-and-a-half times more likely to be sustained than complaints filed by black individuals, and nearly two times as likely to be sustained than complaints filed by Latinos.”

Further problems of police accountability were also highlighted, a process commonly frustrated by a “code of silence” from officers. The report noted that transparency and data collection in particular needed to be improved.

RELATED:  Police in Brazil Killed Close to 100 People a Day: Report

The report also stated that while the investigation was being conducted, there was a large spike in violence and murders in the city, with neighborhoods in the Chicago’s South and West sides continuing to be “disproportionately ravaged by gun violence,” where the city and the police need to rebuild trust in these communities, many of which have large Black and non-white populations.

The report slammed the Chicago Police department for tolerating “racially discriminatory conduct that not only undermines police legitimacy, but also contributes to the pattern of unreasonable force.”

The department’s “pattern of unlawful conduct” was also due largely to poor training and supervision, with the DOJ advocating a number of changes – including the common refrain of “more community-focused policing.”

The probe began in Dec. 2015 after several days of protests following the release of video footage showing Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, being fatally shot by Jason Van Dyke, a white police officer.


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War and Consequences: A Mass Shooting Again

  • Esteban Santiago is taken from the Broward County main jail as he is transported to the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
    Esteban Santiago is taken from the Broward County main jail as he is transported to the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. | Photo: Reuters
The shooter’s amily says he has had mental problems since he returned from the Iraq war. So the Iraq war continues to claim victims.

Yet another mass shooting in the U.S., this time at Fort Lauderdale airport, Florida’s second largest. A certain Esteban Santiago flew from Alaska changing planes en route at Minneapolis. Arriving, he headed to the baggage collection area, claimed his suitcase, opened it in the privacy of a toilet, removed a gun, methodically loaded it, and began shooting in the baggage area. When the police reached him, he was sitting on the floor with the gun in front of him. He offered no resistance.

RELATED: Last Year the US Dropped 26,171 Bombs on 7 Muslim-Majority Countries

His family says he has had mental problems since he returned from the Iraq war. Yet he was allowed to work as a security guard and have a gun. Of course the pay is low and the firms are not choosy.  Five dead and eight injured is the tally. Questioned, he volunteered to the FBI that the government was forcing him to watch Islamic State videos. He heard voices.

So the Iraq war continues to claim victims both at home and abroad, and of Special Forces personnel in Iraq/Syria as the battle with the Islamic State group continues. U.S. Special Forces were deployed in an astonishing 138 countries in 2016. Our violent society discarding those least able to take care of themselves made the mentally ill shooter also a victim.

The neocon enterprise of destroying every country that could possibly be a threat to Israel, handily executed by Democrat and Republican administration alike, has boomeranged badly. Thus the Islamic fundamentalist actors unleashed are more of a threat, given their asymmetric warfare, than the countries with established static centers of power ever were. Israel was and is qualitatively a vastly superior military, and President Obama has just given it a $40 billion military gift including state-of-the-art goodies to retain that superiority.

This deliberate policy displacing culturally advanced secular regimes in Iraq and Libya has failed for now in Syria although the country is a wreck.  Russia charges that the U.S., instead of targeting rebels in its air campaign, is systematically destroying Syria’s infrastructure. Nothing new given the experience of Iraq and Libya.

RELATED: US Foreign Policy: Fighting or Producing Terrorism?

Meanwhile, the most culturally primitive regime proselytizing an 18th century cleric’s version of a rigid, blinkered Islam, continues to receive the West’s support unquestioned — even enhanced by the purchase of billions of dollars of arms.  So it is that Saudi Arabia has just sentenced a group of protesting foreign construction workers to 300 lashes and four months jail for burning a bus during a protest against unpaid wages.  They have not been paid for over six months.  The lashing sentence was reported on January 4th; no doubt on Jan. 6, a Friday, the Saudis, as is the custom, were lopping off a head or two in the public square.  The crimes vary from murder to adultery.

Of course the merciless killing of Yemeni civilians continues. Experts and rights groups have labeled the more horrific incidents war crimes in which the U.S. and U.K. are complicit for refueling and supplying Saudi aircraft. Both have also sold the Saudis cluster bombs prohibited under the May 2008 Dublin “Convention on Cluster Munitions.” A significant majority of the world’s states, a total of 119, have joined the Convention according to its website.

A president with great promise who offered greater promises, awarded a Nobel Peace Prize at the beginning of his tenure, instead of ending wars gave us new ones, offering change gave us more of the same, instead of diminishing enemies and developing more friends gave us the opposite, instead of lessening inequality increased it, instead of reducing poverty moved the goal posts.

A trip to downtown Chicago, the president’s adopted hometown, is revealing. Beggars line the streets in numbers now numbing; they have increased steadily during his eight years in office.  Worth noting, there were none until 1980 and the start of the Reagan revolution.

So what did the people do?  They elected a billionaire!  He offers … promises.  Go figure, as they used to say in the old days.

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The Audacity of Obama’s Farewell Address


Image result for Obama's Farewell Address CARTOON

The true legacies that will be remembered long-term will be the accelerating income inequality and the near-collapse of the Democratic Party.

President Barack Obama’s farewell address to the nation last night was a strange and disappointing attempt that failed to replicate the hope, energy, and optimism of his first 2008 address to the nation.

Instead of celebrating the unity of all those who joined to put him in office, the mood was downbeat, with Obama warning listeners that the country had become more divided than ever during his intervening years in office, that democracy was threatened on many fronts – cultural, legal, and economic – and that the people to whom he was speaking, and throughout the United States, now had the task to take up the fight to protect what’s left and restore it, for clearly, he had not been able to do so.

RELATED:  ‘Deporter-In-Chief’ Obama Targets Families, Not Felons

At times the fire of hope, dominant in his 2008 victory speech, briefly returned. Obama declared, referring to 2008 and 2012, that “maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off.” But what exactly was pulled off? What was accomplished that was so great is hard to know. But he apparently thinks something was.

During the speech he listed a series of accomplishments that represent, in his view, the high marks of his presidency: As he put it, he “reversed the Great Recession, rebooted the auto industry, generated the longest job creation period in U.S. economic history, got 20 million people health insurance coverage, halved U.S. dependency on foreign oil, negotiated the Iran nuclear proliferation deal, killed Osama Bin Laden, prevented foreign terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland, ended torture, passed laws to protect citizens from surveillance, and worked to close GITMO.”

Sounds good, unless one considers the facts behind the “hurrah for me” claims.

The auto industry was rescued, true, but auto workers wages and benefits are less today than in 2008 and jobs in the industry are still below 2008 levels. So, too, are higher paid construction jobs. Half of the jobs created since 2008 include those lost in 2008-2010, and the rest of the net gains in new jobs since 2010 have been low-paid, no benefits, part-time, temp/”gig” service jobs that leave no fewer than 40 percent of young workers under 30 today forced to live at home with parents. More people are working two and three part-time jobs than ever before. Five million have left the workforce altogether, which doesn’t get counted in the official employment and unemployment rate figures. If one counts part-time workers, temps and those who’ve left the labor force or not entered altogether, the jobless rate is not today’s official 4.9 percent but 10 percent of the workforce. That’s 15 million or more still, and after eight years. Meanwhile, those who do have jobs are victims of the great “job churn,” from high to lower wage, from a few, if any, benefits to none at all.

As for ending the Great Recession, the question raised is for whom it ended and what constitutes an end- The U.S. economy grew after 2009, but at the slowest rate of growth historically, post-recession, since the 1930s.

OPINION:  On ‘Epic Recession’: From Prelude to Transition

But he did end the great recession for the wealthy and their corporations. Corporations have distributed more than US$5 trillion in stock buybacks and dividends to their shareholders since 2010, as corporate profits more than doubled, as stock and bond markets tripled in value, and as more than US$6 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and investors (beyond the US$3.5 trillion George W. Bush provided) were passed on Obama’s watch. Not to be outdone by Obama and the Democrats, Trump and the Republican Congress are now about to pass another US$6.2 trillion for investors and businesses, to be paid for in large part by tax hikes for the rest of us and the slashing of education spending, Medicare, Medicaid, health care, housing, and what’s left of the U.S. social safety net.

In his farewell address, Obama also cited how the country “halved its dependency on foreign oil.” True enough, at the cost of environmental disasters from Texas to the Dakotas to Pennsylvania, as oil fracking replaced Saudi sources, in the process generating irreversible water and air contamination in the U.S. In foreign policy, he noted he signed the Iran deal, but left out mentioning that during his administration the U.S. set the entire Middle East aflame with failed policy responses to the Arab Spring, with Hillary’s coup in Libya, to support of various terrorist groups (including al-Qaida) in Syria and to the arming of the Saudis to attack Yemen.

OPINION:  John Pilger: Silencing the United States as It Prepares for War

Looking farther east, Obama’s foreign policy outcomes are no better. The U.S. is still fighting in Afghanistan 16 years later – the longest war in U.S. history – as the Afghan government now collapses again in a cesspool of corruption and graft. And the U.S. is still engaged in Iraq. A related consequence of the failed U.S. Middle East policy has been the destabilization of Europe with mass refugee migrations that have been only temporarily suspended by equally massive payoffs to Turkey’s proto-fascist Erdogan government (which also blames the U.S. for the recent failed coup there, by the way).

Other failures on the Obama foreign policy front must include the U.S. militarization of the Baltic states and Eastern Europe following Obama’s inability to rein in Hillary’s U.S. State Department neocons in 2013-14, who made a mess out of their U.S.-financed coup in the Ukraine in 2014. That debacle has driven the U.S. and Russia further toward confrontation, which perhaps Hillary and the neocons may have wanted in the first place (along with a U.S. land invasion of Syria at the time which, in this case, Obama to his credit resisted).

And what about Obama’s much-heralded “pivot to China?” On his watch, China’s currency achieved global reserve status, that country launched a major trade expansion, and a government-established pan-Asian investment bank. The collapse of the U.S.-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership will also mean a China-Southeast Asia TPP-style trade agreement, which was already well underway.

On the domestic front, Obama’s legacies must include the most massive deportation of Latinos in U.S. history on his watch, nothing but words spoken from the comfort of the White House about police and gun violence and Black lives murdered on the streets of the U.S. and the rollback of voting rights across the country. And let’s not forget about Barack the great promoter of free trade, signing bilateral deals from the very beginning of his administration, and then the TPP – all of which gave Trump one of his biggest weapons during the recent election.

The media and press incessantly refer to the 2010 Obamacare Act and the 2010 bank regulating Dodd-Frank Act as two of his prime achievements. But Obamacare is about to implode because it failed to control health care costs, which now amount to more than US$3 trillion of the U.S. total GDP of US$19 trillion – the highest in the developed world at nearly 18 percent of GDP (compared to Europe and elsewhere, which spend on average 10 percent of their GDP on health care). The 8 percent difference, more than a trillion per year, goes to the pockets of middle-men and paper pushers like insurance companies, who provide not one iota of health care services.

In his address, Obama touted the fact that on his watch, 20 of the 50 million uninsured got health insurance coverage, half of them covered by Medicaid which provides well less than even “bare bones,” provided one can even find a doctor willing to provide medical services. The rest covered by Obamacare mostly got high deductible insurance, often at an out-of-pocket cost of US$2,000-$4,000 per year. Thus, ten million got minimal coverage while the health insurance industry got US$900 billion a year, which is what the program costs. No wonder the health insurance companies did not oppose such a windfall. Obamacare is best described therefore as a “health insurance industry subsidy act,” not a health care reform act.

OPINION:  What This New Cold War Is Really About

Obama will be remembered for scuttling his own program in 2010 by unilaterally caving in to the insurance companies and withdrawing the “public option” while his party refused to even allow a discussion about expanding Medicare to all – the only solution to the continuing U.S. health care crisis. In the wake of Obamacare’s passage, big pharmaceutical companies have also been allowed to price gouge at will, driving up not only private health insurance premiums but Medicare costs as well, and softening up the latter program for coming Republican-Trump attacks.

As for Dodd-Frank, that’s been known as a joke for some time, providing no real controls on greedy bankers and investors who were given five years after its passage in 2010 to lobby and pick it apart, which they’ve done. The one provision in Dodd-Frank worth anything – the Consumer Protection Agency – is about to disappear under Trump. And for the first time in U.S. economic history, no banker or investor responsible for the 2008 crash went to jail on Obama’s watch.

So much for Obamacare and banking reform as his most notable “legacies.”

The true legacies that will be remembered long term will be the accelerating rate of income inequality, the real basis for the growing divisions in America, and the near collapse of the Democratic Party itself.

Under Obama, the wealthiest 1 percent accrued no less than 97 percent of all the net national income gains since 2008, as stock markets tripled, bond markets and corporate profits doubled, and US$5 trillion was passed through to investors as US$6 trillion more in their taxes were cut. Under George Bush, the wealthiest 1 percent of households accrued 65 percent of net national gains. Under Clinton 48 percent. So the rate accelerated rapidly during Obama’s term. Apart from talking about it, Obama did nothing during the last 8 years to abate, let alone reverse, the trend.

The other true legacy will be the virtual implosion of the Democratic Party itself during his administration. As the leader of a party, one would think ensuring its success in the future would be a priority. But it wasn’t. On his watch, nearly two-thirds of all state legislatures and governorships – and countless court positions – have been captured by the Republicans. To be fair, the Democratic Party has been in decline for decades. It has won at the presidential level only when the Republicans split their vote, as in 1992 when Ross Perot challenged George H.W. Bush, and when George W. crashed the entire U.S., and much of the global, economy in 2008.

Obama and the Democrats had a historic opportunity to turn the country in a progressive direction for a decade or more, as Roosevelt did in 1932 and then 1934 by bailing out Main St. with another New Deal. But Obama chose to double down in 2010 on bailing out Wall Street and the big corporations with another US$800 billion tax cut, leaving Main Street behind. Unlike FDR in 1934, who swept the midterm elections that year, gaining a Congress that would pass the New Deal in 1935, Obama doubled down on more for investors, corporations and the 1 percent. He paid dearly for that in 2010, losing control of Congress. U.S. voters gave him one more chance in 2012, but he again failed to deliver. The result is a Democratic Party “debacle 2.0” in 2016, leaving a Democratic Party in shambles. That, too, will be remembered as his longer-term legacy.

Returning to his farewell address, the affair was a poorly rehearsed caricature of his 2008 inaugural, during which so many had so much hope for change, but ended up with so little in the end. Like a touring theater troupe putting on its last performance blandly, eager to change into street clothes and get out of town. True, the Republicans played hardball and blocked many of his initiatives, but Obama did little to fight back in kind. If he was a community organizer, he was from the most timid in that genre. He kept extending a hand to the Republican dog that kept biting it at every overture. He wanted everyone to unite and pull together. But in politics, winning is not achieved by reasoning with the better nature of one’s opponents. That’s considered weakness, and the biting thereafter is ever more vicious.

But perhaps Obama’s greater political error was he never went to the American people to mobilize support, instead sitting comfortably within the Oval Office of the White House and enjoying the elite circus that is “inside the beltway” Washington. He never put anything personal or physical on the line. And that does not an organizer make. He repeatedly talked the talk, but never walked it. The results were predictable, as the Republican hardballers – McConnell, Ryan and crew – threw him beanballs every time he came up to bat. He struck out, time and again, calmly walking back to his White House dugout every time.

So farewell, Barack. Your speech was a nostalgic call to your hometown fans in Chicago to go out and organize for U.S. democracy because it’s now in deep “doo-doo.” Take up where I left off, your message? Fair enough. Do what I failed to accomplish, you say? OK. See you at the country club, buddy, after your lunch with Penny Pritzker, the Chicago Hilton Hotels billionairess, who put you in office back in 2008.

And now the United States changes one real estate wheeler-dealer for another, this time one who takes the direct reins of government. And he’s Obama’s legacy as well.

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Zionist puppet Obama’s speech is out of touch with reality


Obama’s speech is out of touch with reality

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When does HOPE become false hope? This is the riddle of the Obama presidency, and Barack Obama’s answer, from the very first speech he gave as president-elect, has been clear and consistent. The night Obama won the 2008 election he told us that his victory is not the change his voters seek, “It is only the chance for us to make that change.” Last night, during his farewell address, he warned that the Constitution has no power, only the citizenry, the “anxious, jealous” guardians of democracy, can bring America’s founding document to life. HOPE will not die unless we, the people, kill it with self-pity, indifference, and cowardice.

Defining citizenship as a call to action rather than a status is essential for survival. If we live this truth as one of Obama’s great legacies, we owe him a debt. He has promised to do his part, as he tweeted last week that he “look[s] forward to standing with you as a citizen” once his term is through. If he is true to his word, Obama will use his platform and influence to live citizenship out loud, and fight alongside all who believe in civil rights and dignity for all. Obama’s farewell address contained clues as to what he sees as the key arenas in the years ahead, as he specifically cited battles over voting rights and protecting politics from big money and ethical decay. These are worthy causes in dire need of attention.

Despite Obama’s affirmation of citizenship and passionate call to action on Tuesday night, the speech felt slightly out of touch with reality. The elephant in the room was the explosive CNN report about President-elect Trump’s ties to Russia, released just hours before Obama took the stage. Intelligence chiefs gave both Trump and Obama unverified reports that Russia had compromising information about Trump’s personal life and business dealings, and that Trump’s team communicated with Russian intermediaries throughout the election process.

Obama would never mention such a thing during his farewell speech — it’s not his style. Many would argue that it would be irresponsible for the president to do so, given the intelligence agencies’ inability to independently confirm the information they received. However, Obama had to at least acknowledge the peculiar circumstances of Trump’s electoral victory, and the dangerous “post-truth” world we have been living in for months now.

Ours is a world where fake news spreads like wildfire over social media, government officials contradict themselves on a daily basis, and journalists weigh the costs and benefits of printing words like “Nazi.” Obama warned that democracies cannot function without science, reason, and a basic agreement about what constitutes factual knowledge. But he framed recent developments largely as outgrowths of partisan rancor and media polarization, and as threats still yet to arrive in full. In reality, there is evidence that the attack on truth has been deliberate, largely one-sided, and painfully effective.

Another piece of Obama’s speech that missed the mark was his treatment of racial inequality. As a president subject to abhorrent and life-threatening racism from the day he took office, Obama has carried himself with astonishing poise and dignity, and shown courage in talking about race at times other officials would not. He has always rejected the notion that his election meant America was “postracial,” and last night he acknowledged that in many respects, race relations are no better than they were decades ago. He also called attention to the fact that discrimination did not die with Jim Crow, and remains a significant barrier to economic security, safety, and dignity for people of color.

There were at least two troublesome pieces of Obama’s discussion of race, however. First, he continued to call for empathy and plead with us to see similarities between white resentment and black suffering that simply do not exist. And second, all too often, Obama uses terms like “race” and “race relations” when he should be talking about racism. Racist and xenophobic appeals were central to the Trump campaign, hate crimes spiked immediately after the 2016 election, and Tuesday, Dylann Roof was sentenced to death for the mass murder he committed in South Carolina. Yet Obama did not name white supremacy.

Further, Obama did not note that the recent economic boom he touted has not closed the racial wealth gap. Economists Sandy Darity and Darrick Hamilton find that black high school graduates with some college education have a higher unemployment rate than whites who never finished high school at all, and black Americans’ economic standing relative to white Americans has not improved since the 1960s. Darity and Hamilton suggest that even if Obama were able to realize his policy agenda, the universalist policies the president champions would not affect the root causes of racial inequality, which are intergenerational wealth transfer, segregation, and discrimination.

The speech was far from perfect, but Obama did manage to avoid disaster by resisting the temptation to brazenly defend his record during his final address. Doing so would have been a betrayal of his public persona and overall message. Obama is supremely confident and he thrives in the spotlight, but his insistence that it’s about us, not him, as well as the emotion he shows when discussing his family, made him uniquely relatable. A different sort of president would have taken more credit and spent more time talking about the Affordable Care Act, which resulted in the enrollment of over 20 million Americans who previously lacked health insurance. A different sort of president might have walked us through his decision to implement the stimulus package and bail out the automobile industry when there was considerable debate about whether either move would stem the recession. A different sort of president would have called more attention to his decision to eviscerate the Defense of Marriage Act, and essentially legalize gay marriage throughout the United States. A different sort of president might have at least mentioned that he appointed a far greater proportion of women and people of color to the federal judiciary than any of his predecessors.

In a few days, a different sort of president is exactly what we will have. Obama’s farewell speech lasted less than an hour, but it feels like a very long goodbye.

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Critics Slam Trump for Attacking Civil Rights Leader Lewis

  • Lewis testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during confirmation hearing on Senator SessionsDemocratic members of Congress and other supporters have rallied behind Lewis to say Trump was out of line in attacking the activist and politician.

President-elect Donald Trump began a weekend that honors slain black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. by attacking another rights activist and politician who had said he does not see Trump as a “legitimate president.”

U.S. Democratic Representative John Lewis said on a segment of “Meet the Press” released by NBC Friday he thought hacking by Russians had helped Trump get elected. Lewis said he does not plan to attend Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, the first time he would miss such an event since being elected to the House in 1986.

Trump tweeted Saturday that Lewis had falsely complained about the election results and instead “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district.”

The 76-year-old Lewis, who has been a civil rights leader for more than half a century, was beaten by police during a march he helped lead in 1965 in Selma, Alabama, drawing attention to hurdles for Blacks to vote. He protested alongside King that day and on other occasions.

But many have fired back at Trump over the comments.

On twitter, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks called on Trump to apologize for “disrespecting Lewis” and the “sacrifice” he made fighting for rights.

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