Archive | March 24th, 2018

In Venezuela, It’s “Democracy” if US-Backed Candidates Are Empowered, “Tyranny” if They Are Not


By Steven Chovanec

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offers a press conference after the signing of the electoral guarantee agreement between the government and opposition presidential candidates, at the National Electoral Council (CNE) headquarters in Caracas on March 2, 2018. (Photo: Federico Parra / AFP / Getty Images)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offers a press conference after the signing of the electoral guarantee agreement between the government and opposition presidential candidates, at the National Electoral Council headquarters in Caracas on March 2, 2018. (Photo: Federico Parra / AFP / Getty Images).

The Venezuelan government recently announced its decision to hold presidential elections, which are currently scheduled for May. The Trump administration denounced the move, saying they “would not be free and fair.”

Last year, the administration announced an unprecedented escalation of sanctions against the country. This, too, was justified under humanitarian pretexts. The US says its actions are a response to the government’s “serious abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

US Sen. Marco Rubio has even advocated that “the military of Venezuela must remove [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro” under the justification that “Maduro and his inner circle have destroyed democracy and replaced it with dictatorship.”

Within this context, the former CIA director, Mike Pompeo — who has recently moved into the position of Secretary of State — admitted in his capacity as head of the CIA that the agency would like to see Maduro overthrown, and suggested last summer that it is working with others in the region to do so. “We are very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we, the CIA, is doing its best to understand the dynamic there,” Pompeo said, adding, “I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota [Colombia] a week before last talking about this very issue, trying to help them understand the things they might do, so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world.”

Such actions and statements would not be possible without the humanitarian pretext. But the labelling of the Maduro government’s actions as “dictatorial” also serves another purpose.

Within Venezuela, the US has systematically branded any political action it deems unfavorable as an illegitimate and dictatorial move of the government, while labelling actions which help to empower the parties the US looks favorably on as synonymous with the will of the “Venezuelan people.” In this way, the US can use its influence over public opinion to pressure Venezuela into taking actions that help to put the US-backed opposition in power.

The Wrong Kind of Democracy

Earlier in 2017, when the Maduro government called for the convening of a National Constituent Assembly, US officials responded by calling it a “sham” and “another step toward dictatorship.” The State Department vowed “strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism” and “those who participate in the Assembly.” The consensus in the Western mainstream media followed along similar lines.

Yet, these accounts hardly ever mention what the Assembly actually is.

A body of 545 representatives, elected regionally, as well as by societal groups — a number of positions are reserved to represent the interests of working people, another for the business community, for the Indigenous population, and so on — the body is endowed with the power to amend the country’s Constitution without interference from the normal legislative branch. Anyone is free to run or put forward candidates, and all members are elected by popular vote.

While there was some question about the number of people who voted in the election (which should be investigated), it must also be noted that the legitimacy of the voting system in Venezuela has consistently been reaffirmed throughout the years. After monitoring numerous elections, former president Jimmy Carter concluded in 2012 that “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” Throughout the last few decades, various international authorities have confirmed this statement, including Organization of American States (OAS) and European Union (EU) observers.

The reason such a process was described as a “step toward dictatorship” was really not because of any inherent authoritarianism, but because it helped to sideline the influence of the US-supported opposition parties that form a majority in the normal congressional body, the National Assembly. These parties would have to sit idly by as the newly elected Constituent Assembly made changes to the Constitution, and possibly even assumed legislative powers that they would be powerless to stop. In light of this, the opposition boycotted the elections and rejected them as fraudulent — even though their own legislative majority was a product of the same voting system that the elections were employing. The boycott helped to strengthen the opposition’s charge that the Assembly was an “authoritarian” power grab, as it resulted in the body being largely “packed with Maduro-supporters” — something the media routinely points toward as evidence for the Assembly’s illegitimacy.

Whatever one’s opinion is, the constitutionality and legitimacy of the Assembly are matters for Venezuelans to decide.

Additionally, while Washington focuses its vitriol almost exclusively on Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly, it has supported other actions in the region that are objectively much worse.

Downplayed or Even Ignored

In 2009, the US supported a military coup in Honduras that deposed the country’s elected president. The interests underlying this decision were to maintain access to the military base the US operates in the country and to preserve a hospitable environment for Western business interests. The decisions coming from Washington reflected a cynical and instrumentalizing orientation toward democracy, rather than a genuine valuation of it.

The coup provoked a large public outcry, and a political crisis ensued. Eager to get back to business-as-usual, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton devised a strategy to proactively prevent the return of the deposed former president José Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya had overseen mild economic and social reforms that conflicted with the interests of business owners, such as the introduction of a minimum wage and a push to settle land disputes between peasants and agribusiness. Therefore, the Clinton strategy centered around normalizing the coup by calling for new elections which Zelaya would not take part in. The elections would, in Clinton’s words, “render the question of Zelaya moot,” and put the awkward issue to rest. Democracy was not seen as a way to guarantee the population’s influence over policy — Zelaya having enjoyed substantial support — but as a means to legitimize the ouster of an elected leader. Nevertheless, the pro-business government that won the elections aggressively pursued the privatization of the country’s natural resources, and the US eventually recognized the election as “generally free and fair.”

After being elected in 2013, the incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernandez continued to allow transnational investors open access to the country’s economy, and further pursued the consolidation of his own political power. After building up his influence over the Supreme Court, Hernandez succeeded in getting the Court to lift the Constitutional ban on re-election, allowing him to run for a second term. Presidential re-election is widely opposed in Honduras. It is therefore not surprising that during the next round of elections in 2017, the electorate gave an early lead to a left-wing opposition candidate promising to reverse course.

Suddenly, the electoral commission mysteriously stopped publishing the remainder of the vote count. More than a day passed without explanation. When resumed, the opposition’s lead was soon reversed and the incumbent had won. An investigation by The Economist found “the chance of such a shift” occurring naturally was “close to zero.” It was a statistical near-impossibility.

Despite both the OAS and the European Union calling for new elections, the US recognized the results. Emboldened by this mandate from the global superpower, the Honduran authorities began large-scale operations of repression and violence to silence the protesting public, all of which elicited no outcry from the State Department, and continues today. Instead, the US certified that the government has been supporting human rights, opening the door for Honduras to receive millions of dollars of US aid.

What did elicit an outcry from the US were the regional elections in Venezuela held shortly after those of the Constituent Assembly.

With the coalition of opposition parties, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (abbreviated in Spanish as MUD) now competing, polls predicted them to win by a wide margin. Instead, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela won 18 out of 23 races. Thus, the US “condemned the lack of free and fair elections,” vowing harsh reprisals “as long as the Maduro regime conducts itself as an authoritarian dictatorship.”

In reality, apart from one governor’s race (where the results were not credible) the legitimacy of the results are not in question, and have been accepted by most opposition parties. One opposition candidate candidly admitted, “We lost. We have to accept it.”

By Any Means Necessary

One ubiquitous charge levelled against the Constituent Assembly is that it has dissolved the opposition-controlled congressional branch, thus representing Maduro’s further consolidation of power.

The problem is that the branch has not been dissolved, but instead has been in a protracted standoff with the country’s judiciary. This resulted in the judiciary temporarily rendering the duties of the congressional branch null-and-void. The body still exists but cannot perform its function until it responds to the charges of wrongdoing the Supreme Court has accused it of. The Court claims the opposition parties disobeyed a direct order that barred them from swearing in representatives accused of electoral fraud. The opposition, not surprisingly, denies these charges and accuses the Court of simply trying to prevent them from gaining a supermajority with which they would be able to unseat Maduro. Amidst all this, the Constituent Assembly has assumed certain legislative powers while the deadlock continues, which the opposition has denounced as a power grab.

Whatever one’s position is, the Western mainstream media have only reported the opposition’s version of events, painting the picture as a simple case of one-sided authoritarianism. The black-and-white portrayal is strengthened further when media ignore the opposition’s record of attempting to seize power through anti-democratic means.

In 2002, the US aided a short-lived military coup against the Hugo Chavez government. The coup-regime decreed the dissolution of the parliament, the Supreme Court and the Constitution. Security forces hunted down Chavez supporters and anyone who disagreed with these actions. During the few days that it lasted, the US supported the coup. So did prominent opposition leaders. Many signed the now infamous decree that annulled the country’s democratic institutions.

Furthermore, the opposition has taken millions of dollars in funding from the US government. Those funds are also not coming from some friendly government, but one that has openly threatened Venezuela with military invasion, and whose president said that its aggressive posture would only be softened “as soon as democracy is restored” — meaning after the government is overthrown.

Some in the opposition have been more overt, and have supported US sanctions. The sanctions are depicted as being targeted only against the “Maduro regime,” yet they are designed specifically to exacerbate the economic crisis by starving the government of access to international finance.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explains that the sanctions “will deepen the severe depression that Venezuela’s economy has been in for more than three and a half years.” They will “exacerbate the country’s balance of payments crisis, and therefore feed the spiral of inflation (600 percent over the past year) and depreciation of the currency (on the black market) that has been accelerating since late 2012,” and will “further polarize an already divided country.”

As Weisbrot notes, the US is taking measures “to increase Venezuelan suffering in the hopes of provoking the overthrow of the government” — the strategy being “to prevent an economic recovery and to worsen the shortages (which include essential medicines and food) so that Venezuelans will get back in the streets and overthrow the government.” And “despite all [of the] blather about human rights and democracy,” this is “not a peaceful strategy they are promoting.”

Despite its support for such actions, the US still refers to the Venezuelan opposition as being synonymous with the highest of democratic ideals.

Valuable Leverage

Thomas Carothers, director of the Carnegie Endowment Democracy and Rule of Law program, is the foremost academic on Washington’s democracy promotion efforts. In his research he concludes: “Where democracy appears to fit in well with U.S. security and economic interest, the United States promotes democracy. Where democracy clashes with other significant interests, it is downplayed or even ignored.”

Prominent newspapers also concur: “Despite decades of lofty American talk of democracy and human rights…, policies have prioritized security and strategic considerations over principle.”

Describing it best, a State Department adviser recently penned a memo to Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, informing the former Exxon CEO in the ways of diplomacy.

It explained that there has long been a foreign policy consensus in Washington as to how “ideals and interests” should be employed “in relation to our competitors” to whom we are “to pressure, compete with, and outmaneuver.” For this reason, “We should consider human rights as an important issue in regard to US relations with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran” because “pressing those regimes on human rights is one way to impose costs, apply counter-pressure, and regain the initiative from them strategically.”

Indeed, the Trump administration “has not hesitated to use human rights as a cudgel against unfriendly countries, like Iran, North Korea and Venezuela,” as The New York Times commented.

The effect of this “cudgel” is to impose conditions “over strongmen” and “unfriendly countries” which pressures them into following US diktats. The US can use its influence over global narratives to style leaders like Maduro — who “still care about their international image” — as dictatorial if they do not subsume their policies within the bounds of US interests. Others who do follow along are either given a free pass or are ignored.

The United States has, for instance, largely succeed in focusing international condemnation on crimes committed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while those committed in Yemen with US backing are almost completely disregarded. Crucially, this is accomplished with the aid of the far-reaching Western propaganda systems.

To take just one example relevant to Latin America, when describing the elections in Honduras — and their statistical near-impossibility — Western media usually refrain from making declaratory statements about fraud and instead reference accusations. So, the vote was “tainted by allegations of fraud,” as one report put it, but was not itself fraudulent. In contrast, Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly elections were “a widely discredited vote for a bogus parliament … which is packed with government supporters.”

In terms of US interests in Latin America, policy makers refer to it as “our little region over here.” As such, it is expected to fall in line. This means supporting US wars and foreign policy objectives. Domestically, it means instituting neoliberal “reforms” that open a country’s markets and resources to penetration by Western investors.

A State Department cable from 1978 explained as much.

“Our fundamental interests in Venezuela,” the State Department explains, are “that Venezuela continue to supply a significant portion of our petroleum imports,” that it “continue to be an important market for US exports,” that “US business be treated equitably,” and for it to “maintain positions in multilateral fora that either support our positions or are non-confrontational and within limits the US can accept.”

Describing this in its simplest terms, presidential advisers explained that US actions abroad are necessary to “make the world safe for American businesses.” These businesses, after all, are the major interests driving US policy.

There are very legitimate reasons to criticize the Venezuelan government and its current actions, including things like its exclusion of popular opposition candidates from running in the upcoming elections. At the same time, these have nothing to do with US policy towards the country. Instead, they serve as beneficial pretexts to be exploited for other ends.

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“The Battle for Paradise”: Naomi Klein on Disaster Capitalism and the Fight for Puerto Rico’s Future


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Six months since Hurricane Maria battered the island of Puerto Rico, the island is the site of a pitched battle between wealthy investors — particularly from the technology industry — and everyday Puerto Ricans fighting for a place in their island’s future. The Puerto Rican government has pushed for a series of privatization schemes, including privatizing PREPA, one of the largest public power providers in the United States, and increasing the number of privately run charter schools and private school vouchers. For more, we speak with best-selling author and journalist Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Her latest piece for The Intercept, where she is a senior correspondent, is “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich ‘Puertopians’ Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Island.”


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It has been six months since Hurricane Maria battered the island of Puerto Rico. It was the most catastrophic storm to hit the island in over a century. As many as 200,000 people remain without power in what’s considered the longest blackout in US history. Energy officials say some areas won’t have power restored until May.

On Tuesday, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz tweeted, “Six months after Maria things are not what they should be. Thousands still w/o electricity due to neglect and bureaucracy. Our lives matter!”

The devastating storm has reshaped Puerto Rico in countless ways. The official death toll remains at just 64, but independent counts put the total number of fatalities at over a thousand. According to a recent study by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York, more than 135,000 Puerto Ricans have fled to the US mainland since the storm. Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló is moving to privatize PREPA, one of the largest public power utilities in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: The governor is also pushing for privately run charter schools and private school vouchers. On Monday, teachers across Puerto Rico held a one-day strike to protest the privatization plan. Meanwhile, displaced Puerto Ricans protested Tuesday in Washington, D.C., outside the headquarters of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Well, today we spend the hour looking at the future of Puerto Rico, which was already facing a massive economic crisis before the storm hit six months ago. We’re joined by two guests. From Toronto, best-selling author and journalist Naomi Klein, author of many books, including The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.She has just published a major piece for The Intercept on the future of Puerto Rico; it’s titled “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich ‘Puertopians’ Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Island.” And here in New York, Puerto Rican anthropologist Yarimar Bonilla, who teaches at Rutgers University. She is founder of the Puerto Rico Syllabus.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Naomi. You’ve just returned. You’ve just written this epic piece. Explain what you found and what you mean by your title, “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich ‘Puertopians’ Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Island.”

NAOMI KLEIN: Good morning, Amy and Juan and Yarimar. It’s great to be with you.

So, what I’m referring to is that in this moment, when so much attention is focused on the failures of FEMA, the failures of the entire relief and reconstruction project — as it rightly should be, because this is an ongoing humanitarian emergency — we’re seeing the strategy that we’ve seen in many other disaster zones, that we’ve spoken about many times, which is exploiting that state of shock and distraction and emergency to push through a radical corporate agenda. You referred earlier to the plans to privatize PREPA, to open up Puerto Rico’s school system to charter schools and vouchers, at the same time as radically downsizing and closing 300 schools, on the back of already having closed more than 340 schools by exploiting the economic crisis in the past decade. All in all, we’d be talking about the closing of half of Puerto Rico’s public schools. So, a radical downsizing, deregulation and privatization of the state.

But that isn’t the only thing that’s going on in Puerto Rico. There is also a powerful resistance movement, that was really gaining ground before Maria hit, that was resisting this illegitimate debt, this previous shock doctrine strategy of exploiting the economic crisis to push these very same policies. But they aren’t just saying no. They are also proposing a people’s recovery process that would rebuild Puerto Rico in the interest of Puerto Ricans, a very, very different vision that’s grounded in food sovereignty, in growing much more of the food Puerto Ricans eat in Puerto Rico, by small farmers using agroecological methods; not privatizing Puerto Rico’s electricity system, but shifting to a decentralized, community-controlled model that is based on renewable energy — all kinds of other deeply democratic changes. And so, there’s this pitched struggle and a kind of race against time over whose vision for the island is going to triumph in this window.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Naomi, you begin your piece talking about the town of Adjuntas up in the mountains of Puerto Rico and also about one of these grassroots organizations that even before the storm had already been pioneering at least electricity generation for their own center. Could you talk about that some?

NAOMI KLEIN: Sure, Juan. I mean, one of the things that I found most striking when I was reporting in Puerto Rico was, you know, we heard so much about what didn’t work. And almost everything didn’t work. The food system collapsed. The energy system completely collapsed and is still in a state of collapse.

But there were a few things that did work. And one of the things that worked in the community that you’re referring to was solar power. And there was — there is this community center in Adjuntas which is called Casa Pueblo. It’s been around for decades. It’s been at the center of a lot of major fights in Puerto Rico, against open-pit mining, against logging, against gas pipelines. But they’ve also been building their alternatives. And they’ve had solar panels on their roof for more than 20 years. And after Maria wiped out the electricity grid, it turned out that Casa Pueblo’s solar panels, rooftop solar panels, survived, survived the hurricane-force winds, survived the falling debris.

And so you had this beacon. Arturo Massol, who is the director of the board of directors of Casa Pueblo, described it as an energy oasis. So, in the midst of this sea of darkness, you have this community center that has light, the day after Maria, because their solar panels survived. And so, people came there. It becomes this hub of people-to-people recovery. They start handing out solar lanterns. And it becomes this kind of field hospital, where people plug in their medical devices. So this is, you know, very intensely practical. And we saw some similar things happening on farms, as well.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Naomi, this was a town that was — not only had no electricity and no water, but was completely cut off from the rest of the island for quite a while because of the roads washed out, right?

NAOMI KLEIN: As so many communities were, you know, outside of San Juan, particularly in the mountains, where roads were either obstructed by fallen trees and branches or by mudslides. So, yeah, completely cut off. It’s weeks before they receive any substantial aid.

AMY GOODMAN: Its founder got the Goldman Prize, is that right? The environmental prize in San Francisco. Him, his son and the community building this place that became this sunny satellite, just shocking, given what was around, the darkness around them.

NAOMI KLEIN: And it’s not the only example of this that I saw. I also saw an amazing example of this in the community of Mariana, in Humacao, where, you know, as — where an amazing mutual aid center was constructed, in the failure of FEMA, in the failure of the state to respond to this disaster. So people linked in with the Puerto Rican diaspora, got their own solar panels installed, and then this become — you know, while I was there, I witnessed an elderly man come in, plug in his oxygen machine, because this was still — and at this point, it was five months after Hurricane Maria — the only source of electricity in the region.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about who the — what you call the Puertopians are.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, Yarimar, I think, can talk about this, as well. The Puertopians, as some of them call themselves, are part of this influx of what the Puerto Rican government refers to as high-net-worth individuals, who they’ve been trying to attract as a way, a sort of backwards way, out of the ongoing economic emergency in Puerto Rico. So, in 2012, a couple of laws were passed to attract very wealthy people to Puerto Rico by giving them essentially the most favorable tax system in the world. And it’s particularly favorable if you happen to be Americans, because Americans who move to Puerto Rico are exempted from paying federal taxes.

But in addition to that, these twin laws, Act 20 and Act 22, mean that if you relocate to Puerto Rico for just half the year — so you can basically just skip winter, which I’m sure, to New Yorkers, sounds very appealing just about now — so you spend 183 days in Puerto Rico, and, in return, you don’t pay federal taxes. You don’t pay taxes on dividends. You don’t pay taxes — capital gains taxes on interest. And if you change the address of your financial services company or your cryptocurrency company, then you’d pay a 4 percent corporate tax rate. So, if you think about what’s just happened to US tax law, where Trump has offered this huge tax reduction which brings the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, Puerto Rico is besting that with a 4 percent corporate tax rate. So they’re doing absolutely everything they can to lure high-net-worth individuals and these very mobile industries, that basically can do what they do from wherever they have access to data. And so, now there’s a big push to attract the cryptocurrency market to Puerto Rico.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we don’t want to get into cryptocurrency, but if you could just briefly explain — since you write about cryptocurrency — Bitcoin and blockchain, just to give people a sense of what you mean?

NAOMI KLEIN: So, just last week there was a major conference in San Juan in one of the luxury hotels, the Vanderbilt Hotel, which is actually owned by one of these high-net-worth individuals who moved to Puerto Rico because of these favorable tax rates. And so they had this conference, which originally was called “Puerto Crypto,” and then, because of concerns about crypto-colonialism, they renamed themselves “Blockchain Unbound.” Essentially, what it was is a trade show for people who see the future of finance in currencies like Bitcoin.

And they are attracted to Puerto Rico because it holds out the promise that they can convert their cryptocurrencies into harder currencies while paying no taxes whatsoever. And so, that’s — so it was a combination of a trade show for cryptocurrencies and a kind of an advertisement for Puerto Rico put on by the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, pitching the island as this never-ending vacation where you can have this incredible tax holiday.

And part of the irony of this is that cryptocurrencies are one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. It is an incredibly wasteful way to create money. It’s the sort of gamification of money. So, right now, Bitcoin uses as much energy in the creation of this currency as the state of Israel uses to — consumes energy. So this is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions. And here you have Puerto Rico, battered by climate change and also unable to provide power to its own people, being — pitching itself as a hub for the cryptocurrency market.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking to Naomi Klein, senior correspondent for The Intercept. Her piece for The Intercept — she’s just back from Puerto Rico — “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich ‘Puertopians’ Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Island.” When we come back, she’ll be joined by Yarimar Bonilla, associate professor of anthropology and Caribbean studies at Rutgers University. Stay with us.

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Why Homelessness Is Harder for Women


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The myth that laziness is the direct cause of homelessness is not only insulting, but it also perpetuates people’s ignorance of the real problems associated with being homeless, and further isolates people who find themselves in that situation. Outsiders are much less likely to be kind or even empathize with homeless people when they can just “blame the victim” without knowing their story.

The fact is, a lack of work motivation is rarely the cause of homelessness. The true culprits: Unforeseeable life circumstances, mental illness and trauma.

There are many misconceptions about homelessness. For starters, there is no such thing as “a homeless person,” as this implies that someone is permanently homeless, and equates their status with the person’s being. In fact, homeless doesn’t refer to a type of person but, rather, to an unfortunate and usually unpredictable event in some people’s lives.

Homelessness is also deeply individualistic. For example, women who face the challenges of homelessness have to deal with additional factors when they find themselves without a place to live. Here are some of those specific causes, challenges and ways to help women who face homelessness.

Trauma and Domestic Abuse

Studies have found that in cases of homelessness for women and children, 80 percent of them involved past domestic violence. In such situations, a woman might not have any other option than to leave everything behind for her safety. This often results in the financial burden of finding a new place to live. If she didn’t have a steady income before, and if she doesn’t have family to stay with, she can end up living on the street.

In fact, in an article by Healthline about homelessness and trauma, Dr. Barry Zevin says the following about how trauma affects the majority, if not all, homeless people:

“Violence and victimization are a daily reality to most homeless people I see. If I had to say one unifying theme of practically everyone I see it’s this idea of having been traumatized, whether that was in childhood at the hands of parents, whether that was in adolescence, or sexual trauma, whether that’s in the streets. It’s just practically universal.”

Viewed in that way, trauma plays perhaps one of the most impacting roles as a driving force for homelessness.

Understanding Medical Needs

On the surface, homelessness may seem to revolve mostly around having a safe place to sleep and a next meal to eat. While that might be true, many other underlying problems come with being homeless, and often they have to do with medical care. When people are homeless, they become part of the medically underserved population, meaning that they struggle to receive health care.

According to Bradley University, the problem is particularly severe in medically underserved areas. The university reports that this is especially evident in five states and the District of Columbia, and “even though they are primarily rural and southern, the inclusion of the nation’s capital on the list signifies the prevalence of underserved populations in urban centers, as well.”

For women in particular, common struggles also include getting the necessary supplies to deal with menstrual cycles, like tampons, sanitary pads and access to showers. Tampons and pads are expensive and although they are basic needs, food and shelter usually take priority.

Women who are homeless also struggle with healthcare if they are pregnant. Whether they can’t afford the prenatal care, or they can’t get to a clinic that offers free prenatal care for those who can’t afford it, the lack of access can pose a risk to both mother and child.

Community Solutions to Homelessness

While homelessness affects individuals, more and more it is communities that feel responsible for them. Studies have shown that providing housing for the homeless is three times cheaper than keeping them on the streets. Additionally, Duquesne University reports that the following factors can help reduce risks to vulnerable homeless populations:

  • Improve social determinants to promote healthy living
  • Use a global budgeting national healthcare system
  • Provide access to virtual healthcare
  • Match hospitalization needs to surrounding communities
  • Support community-appropriate healthcare access

Additionally, you can take steps in your own community to help homeless individuals. Besides volunteering and donating, you can get an app that issues a call to volunteers to help the homeless with mental health training. The app, called Concrn, connects community volunteers with mental health training so they can respond to escalating situations with homeless people. This allows people to feel more connected to their community, especially the homeless population, while helping people avoid unnecessary conflicts with police.

If you are looking to help homeless members in your community, first consider their situation and their needs. Remember that women have specific needs that men don’t have. If you are donating items, remember to include tampons, pads and wipes. Consider offering women rides to healthcare providers like Planned Parenthood, which can offer them affordable solutions. And if you’re looking to help an individual in particular, don’t hesitate to ask them what their needs are so that you can best help them.

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William Rivers Pitt | Fifteen Years After Iraq Invasion, Torture Has a New Address


By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed

Protesters Dressed as Guantánamo Detainees Hold an Anti-Torture Demonstration on the 15th Anniversary of Guantánamo's Opening

Protesters dressed as Guantánamo detainees hold an anti-torture demonstration on the 15th anniversary of Guantánamo’s opening on January 11, 2017. The Trump administration continues to perpetuate and glorify torture, exemplified by the recent nomination of Gina Haspel to CIA director. (Photo: Justin Norman)

“I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” —Donald Trump, 02/16/2016

Fifteen years ago this week, George W. Bush and his pack of unprosecuted murderers transformed the city of Baghdad into a bowl of fire, “Shock & Awe,” in what was a massive war crime right there on live television. I call it a war crime justly: It was an act based entirely on lies founded in greed and lust for power, for which not one person has been called to account.

Millions of human beings have been butchered, maimed, displaced and undone in those 15 years since the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. The war there has actually been going on in one form or another for 27 years now. Yet no one is held accountable even as we slog, year after year, through the drifting ashes of aftermath.

We simply don’t talk about it.

We are allowed, within the narrow confines of permissible debate, to rub our collective woes together and wonder how so much could go so wrong so fast. The physical shock of September 11 doesn’t explain it, but the manner in which that day was used against us certainly fills in the blank spaces. They used it to start a war that has now become several wars, and a few people you’ll never meet continue to swim in the profits.

More than a trillion dollars have been spent so far on the wars, and that’s just the coin on the books, not to mention the trillion or more to be spent as the veterans of that war seek VA care for the damage they will bear all their lives. They are still young, most of those who have survived their multiple tours in the forever wars. They will be with us for a half-century at least, and they deserve every dime we spend on their care. All in all, we will spend plenty on this butcher’s bill.

I used to imagine George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of them standing before the bar in The Hague. Fifteen years later, I can’t imagine a more farfetched possibility.

We don’t talk about the war and what it has stolen from us, because the politicians and news organizations still live in dread of a reckoning that seems, in the orange light of the now, so terribly and enduringly out of reach. I used to imagine George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of them standing before the bar in The Hague. Fifteen years later, I can’t imagine a more farfetched possibility. Neptune is closer.

The war in Iraq was and remains a debasing, despicable act the United States may never recover from. It is a moral catastrophe in every respect, one that still wounds us deeply to this day. No aspect of our shame is more vivid than the stain of torture. Some have tried to scrub that stain out of us — President Obama famously whitewashed the horror of it all by admitting “We tortured some folks,” before calling the critics “sanctimonious” and the torturers “patriots” — but it’s still there, like Lady MacBeth’s damned spot.

Now, as we approach the 15th anniversary of Bush’s Iraq invasion, two notorious torturers are poised to assume positions of enormous power within the federal government. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has been tapped to replace ignominious failure Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, and agency veteran Gina Haspel is set to replace Pompeo as head of the CIA.

Pompeo was quick to denounce the practice during his CIA confirmation hearings, but his political path to power is littered with the broken bodies of torture victims. He did not lay hands on them himself, but was a vocal supporter of the “black sites” where torture took place, and he has championed an Islamophobia so profound that he once blamed all Muslim leaders everywhere for the Boston Marathon bombing. Pompeo’s ardent support for torture is what first caught Donald Trump’s attention, as the president is also an ardent believer in “enhanced interrogation.”

Gina Haspel is another matter entirely. She was not just another pro-war shouter back in DC. Haspel was in it up to her throat. For a time, she ran one of the “black sites,” this one located in Thailand, and was so proud of her work that she destroyed the tapes of her interrogations. For this, she was neither fired nor prosecuted, and pending confirmation will be in charge of one of the largest intelligence organizations in the world.

The lengths those talking heads went to try and butter over Pompeo and Haspel’s bloody history was positively aerobic.

These are some of the many issues only a thorough investigation can answer, but with torture advocates and practitioners about to control the White House, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, such an investigation is almost certainly never going to happen. “Gina Haspel does not belong as head of the CIA,” journalist Jeremy Scahill told Democracy Now! “She belongs in front of a judge, answering to what she was doing, running a torture operation at a black site in Thailand and destroying evidence.”

When the TV news people were covering Tillerson’s sudden departure and Pompeo’s subsequent elevation, the subject of torture actually elbowed its way into the discussion. Suddenly, we were talking about one of the things we never talk about … and it was as vile as every other seedy, shabby element of this ongoing disgrace.

The lengths those talking heads went to try and butter over Pompeo and Haspel’s bloody history was positively aerobic. There hasn’t been that much televised stammering since the Porky Pig marathon on the Cartoon Network. The sum and substance of their collective conclusion was, “Well, Steve, it … seems to me … that if we … took away … everyone in CIA who … participated … in … torture … well … there wouldn’t … be anyone left … to run the place.”

Now there’s a thought.

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The Staggering Death Toll in Iraq


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March 19 marks 15 years since the US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the American people have no idea of the enormity of the calamity the invasion unleashed. The US military has refused to keep a tally of Iraqi deaths. General Tommy Franks, the man in charge of the initial invasion, bluntly told reporters, “We don’t do body counts.” One survey found that most Americans thought Iraqi deaths were in the tens of thousands. But our calculations, using the best information available, show a catastrophic estimate of 2.4 million Iraqi deaths since the 2003 invasion.

The number of Iraqi casualties is not just a historical dispute, because the killing is still going on today. Since several major cities in Iraq and Syria fell to Islamic State in 2014, the US has led the heaviest bombing campaign since the American War in Vietnam, dropping 105,000 bombs and missiles and reducing most of Mosul and other contested Iraqi and Syrian cities to rubble.

An Iraqi Kurdish intelligence report estimated that at least 40,000 civilians were killed in the bombardment of Mosul alone, with many more bodies still buried in the rubble. A recent project to remove rubble and recover bodies in just one neighborhood found 3,353 more bodies, of whom only 20% were identified as ISIS fighters and 80% as civilians. Another 11,000 people in Mosul are still reported missing by their families.

Of the countries where the US and its allies have been waging war since 2001, Iraq is the only one where epidemiologists have actually conducted comprehensive mortality studies based on the best practices that they have developed in war zones such as Angola, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda. In all these countries, as in Iraq, the results of comprehensive epidemiological studies revealed 5 to 20 times more deaths than previously published figures based on “passive” reporting by journalists, NGOs or governments.

Two such reports on Iraq came out in the prestigious The Lancet medical journal, first in 2004 and then in 2006. The 2006 study estimated that about 600,000 Iraqis were killed in the first 40 months of war and occupation in Iraq, along with 54,000 non-violent but still war-related deaths.

The US and UK governments dismissed the report, saying that the methodology was not credible and that the numbers were hugely exaggerated. In countries where Western military forces have not been involved, however, similar studies have been accepted and widely cited without question or controversy. Based on advice from their scientific advisers, British government officials privately admitted that the 2006 Lancet report was “likely to be right,” but precisely because of its legal and political implications, the US and British governments led a cynical campaign to discredit it.

A 2015 report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Body Count: Casualty Figures After 10 Years of the ‘War on Terror,” found the 2006 Lancet study more reliable than other mortality studies conducted in Iraq, citing its robust study design, the experience and independence of the research team, the short time elapsed since the deaths it documented and its consistency with other measures of violence in occupied Iraq.

The Lancet study was conducted over 11 years ago, after only 40 months of war and occupation. Tragically, that was nowhere near the end of the deadly consequences of the Iraq invasion.

In June 2007, a British polling firm, Opinion Research Business (ORB), conducted a further study and estimated that 1,033,000 Iraqis had been killed by then.

While the figure of a million people killed was shocking, the Lancet study had documented steadily increasing violence in occupied Iraq between 2003 and 2006, with 328,000 deaths in the final year it covered. ORB’s finding that another 430,000 Iraqis were killed in the following year was consistent with other evidence of escalating violence through late 2006 and early 2007.

Just Foreign Policy’s “Iraqi Death Estimator” updated the Lancet study’s estimate by multiplying passively reported deaths compiled by British NGO Iraq Body Count by the same ratio found in 2006. This project was discontinued in September 2011, with its estimate of Iraqi deaths standing at 1.45 million.

Taking ORB’s estimate of 1.033 million killed by June 2007, then applying a variation of Just Foreign Policy’s methodology from July 2007 to the present using revised figures from Iraq Body Count, we estimate that 2.4 million Iraqis have been killed since 2003 as a result of our country’s illegal invasion, with a minimum of 1.5 million and a maximum of 3.4 million.

These calculations cannot possibly be as accurate or reliable as a rigorous up-to-date mortality study, which is urgently needed in Iraq and in each of the countries afflicted by war since 2001.  But in our judgment, it is important to make the most accurate estimate we can.

Numbers are numbing, especially numbers that rise into the millions. Please remember that each person killed represents someone’s loved one. These are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters. One death impacts an entire community; collectively, they impact an entire nation.

As we begin the 16th year of the Iraq war, the American public must come to terms with the scale of the violence and chaos we have unleashed in Iraq. Only then may we find the political will to bring this horrific cycle of violence to an end, to replace war with diplomacy and hostility with friendship, as we have begun to do with Iran and as the people of North and South Korea are trying to do to avoid meeting a similar fate to that of Iraq.

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Fascism Depends Upon a Belief in Human Inequality


By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview

A member of an anti-government militia holds an assault rifle as he stands guard at a checkpoint in front of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. (Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

A member of an anti-government militia holds an assault rifle as he stands guard at a checkpoint in front of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. (Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Fascism is an explosive word with different connotations to different people. That is why Truthout has been selecting books that shed light on expert perspectives on the political implications of fascism in the era of Trump. Shane Burley sheds further light on how the ideology has evolved through various groups in the United States and their common and different threats to democracy.

Mark Karlin: What is your response to people who call Donald Trump a fascist?

Shane Burley: I think it misses the point of both the word and of the Trump presidency. If we are going to get specific, Trump seems to be of a more “right populist” bent rather than open fascism. There are certainly fascist qualities to Trump: the strongman presentation, violent militarism, race-baiting and nativism, open misogyny. But I define fascism since the 21st century as a mix of essentialized identity, the belief in human inequality, and the resurrection of violent mythologies. What this means really is that a fascist ideology is self-aware of its politics, it argues openly for race hatred and social oppression, and Trump simply does not commit fully to white nationalism. Instead, we should look at what Trump represents in the American public and whether or not he creates a situation where those who do commit fully to the white nationalist program are able to take power. That is a different conversation altogether, and Trump needs to be resisted not because he fits all the boxes on a fascist checklist perfectly, but because he enacts a monstrous policy agenda and empowers vigilante racist violence.

What is the relationship of misogyny to the right-wing followers of Trump?

Misogyny is a deep part of the motivating impulses of the right, both of the reactionary segment of the GOP that went for Trump and of the far-right. Part of the appeal of Trump was that he gave leeway to the id of a male demographic that feels slighted by anti-oppression movements. The anti-feminist backlash is a huge part of this, especially given an era where men are seeing the paradigm of their interpersonal power shift. It is a lot easier to turn towards a reactionary element that validates their baser instincts rather than the side that challenges them to grow.

Hatred of women, of femininity broadly, has been mobilized viscerally by the Trumpian movement. It is distrustful of women, especially those raising their voices about sexual assault, and instead he presents himself as the archetype of “toxic masculinity”: a man who indulges the worst interpretation of masculinity. In this way impulsive violence, control over women, and the dominance of men in the social sphere has created a sense of tribal unity in the Trumpian circle, and this internal culture helped to mobilize his base in a way that few beltway pundits could have predicted.

The “alt-right,” including the “manosphere” and other online movements that fused starting in 2015, had misogyny as a key component of their ideological flavor. They have perception that women, and all the qualities they erroneously ascribed to women, are bringing down the Western Civilization that their white maleness built. Just as they throw blanket claims of guilt at Jews, they often will simply line up qualities they despise and ascribe them to women. Consumerism, materialism, liberalism, etc., are all seen as essentially feminine, part of the destruction of society that evolved from the extension of rights to women. What leads these men to this movement is variable, but their own outsider nature should not be ignored, and their inability to connect with women on a personal level has led to many joining movements like the men’s rights movement. As these movements coalesced, they helped to forge a political identity and a way of interpreting politics that were suspicious of women and celebrated those that openly rebuked them. Trump is the perfect figure for this perspective.

What is your definition of “alt-right”?

To define the “alt-right” we should go directly to the “alt-right” itself. What has been so irritating about so many media outlets getting the politics of the “alt-right” so incorrect is that the major figures of the “alt-right,” such as Richard Spencer, have been prolific in explaining themselves and their ideas.

The “alt-right” existed for a few years before its major surge in 2015. Much of the attention around the “alt-right” focused on message boards like 4Chan, memes and their troll behavior, but all of this is less than defining. The years that came before, when the hardcore “alt-right” white nationalist believers were forming their ideology, gives us a window into exactly who they are. From their mouths, in publications like the original, the first “alt-right” podcast Vanguard Radio, or the early “alt-right” publishers like Counter-Currents or Arktos, the “alt-right” is both about identity and inequality. First, identity is something that a person does not choose, but instead chooses them in a sense. This primarily means race, but also includes gender and other qualities. They believe that these elements are bio-spiritually what define us, and that we need to return to very rigid notions of determinism, tribal ingroup and outgroup thinking, and barriers between groups. Second, the belief that human beings are not created equal, that inequality is sacred and profoundly human. Those two qualities together define the “alt-right,” manifesting in the US as a pseudo-academic form of white nationalism whose culture just happened to be developed in a vicious online cauldron.

A lot of what is often referred to as the “alt-right” is better called the “alt-light.” Radical right provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos, Lauren Southern, Gavin McInnes, Alex Jones, Mike Cernovich, Ann Coulter and others, often get within proximity to the white nationalists of the “alt-right.” They may enjoy the trolling culture, they may mainstream their positions, they even might prop up some of their most appalling arguments, but they also do not commit to the ideology in an open and honest way…. The “alt-right,” on the flip side, used them as a gateway to a larger conservative audience, just as white nationalists used figures like Pat Buchanan and the paleoconservative movement to mainstream their views in the 1980s and 1990s.

Today, the “alt-right” has been alienated from its more moderate counterparts and has reverted to what it always was. The best line to describe the “alt-right” comes from Greg Johnson, the founder of the neo-fascist Counter-Currents Publishing. “The “alt-right” means white nationalism, or it means nothing.”

Why do you recommend a mass anti-fascist movement?

The mass anti-fascist approach comes from a few assumptions that I think have proven true over time. First, a violent threat like white nationalism appears in a myriad of ways, in a host of different venues, and makes entry into a variety of cultural spheres. At the same time, it can grow quickly and decisively without opposition. So, when movements like the “alt-right,” patriot militias, and those that support them swell, it requires a mass force of people to stop them. This means that it cannot just be small contingents, but everyone in a community, coming together to shut down their advance.

It may sound redundant, but the only thing that stops fascist movements is stopping them. This means stopping the functions of their organizing, their public events, their ability to propagandize, their capacity to organize violence. This requires catalyzing events and the very organized response of huge swaths of people, all finding a connection to the issue from their own unique backgrounds.

Second, movements like antifascism are a gateway to organizing broadly, a way of communities taking control back directly. The act of organizing with your neighbors and community members, of going outside your normal code of life and the channels offered by the state, and then winning gives a window to a different way of organizing life. It is empowerment made pure, and that is something that can only become truly revolutionary when it is brought to scale.

You state in the book that “the modern fascist project has always been centered on race.” How so?

As I define the “alt-right,” and fascism broadly, I use language to link up very different movements that all share an essential core. You can have fascist movements that do not focus heavily on race (they could focus more on gender or body type, but for most of history, and in modern America, race is the center. Race fuels the movements just as it fueled the expansive colonialism of Western capitalism, the growth of systemic inequality, and the fragmentation of the working class. White supremacy has always been a tool to break up class solidarity and to redirect class struggle against other workers and oppressed people, and therefore the thinking of fascist radicals returns to race. The American mythology was founded on the idea that some races were biologically and spiritually inferior to others. That idea left the American consciousness while it remained in its institution and subconscious, and fascists simply intend to make it a primary motivator once again. In eras where anti-racist struggles take place, such as the battle over immigration or against police brutality with Black Lives Matter, fascist radicals will simply stoke the racist subconscious of white America to get them to turn toward nationalism rather than collective liberation.


Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End ItResist!

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What is the role of revolutionary feminism in resistance?

There is no antifascism without a revolutionary feminist movement as a part of the analysis and coalition. Patriarchy is an implicit part of far-right movements that attempt to use a mythology about the essential roles of men and women to reinstate traditionalist interpretations of gender roles and servitude. This belief in the centrality of male power creates a false narrative for the male-identified working class, stripping them of actual solidarity with promises of privilege. Maleness is one of those essential identities, like whiteness, which the fascist movement is built around, and if the underlying systems of structural patriarchy are not addressed, they will continue to create insurgent male supremacist movements to reject progress. The reality is that only a radical revolutionary feminism can be up to this task, not just countering the violent reactionary men that make up the fascist core, but also the underlying values, systems and realities that birthed them. Fascism just makes implicit inequality explicit, and so revolutionary feminism goes both after the vanguardist misogyny as well as the systems that continue to oppress women and gender nonconforming people and divide the revolutionary multitude.

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PCHR Denounces Arrest of Patient’s Companion by the Nazi Forces at Beit Hanoun Crossing


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The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) strongly condemns that Nazi forces stationed at Beit Hanoun “Erez” Crossing continued to apply the policy of arresting patients and their companions when traveling for treatment in the Zionist or Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem.  The latest was arrest of a patient’s companion from the Gaza Strip after summoning him for a security interview with the Nazi authorities in Beit Hanoun Crossing.

According to PCHR’s follow-up, at approximately 08:00 on Thursday, 15 March 2018, the Nazi forces stationed in Beit Hanoun “Erez” crossing in the northern Gaza Strip arrested Na’im Mohammed Hussein Kotkot (44) from Jabalia refugee camp after the Nazi authorities summoned him for a security interview in Beit Hanoun Crossing.  Kotkot was summoned for the interview after he applied for a permit to cross the Beit Hanoun Crossing as a companion for his son, who is a patient suffering blood disorders and was referred for treatment in Augusta Victoria Hospital “al-Motale’a” in occupied Jerusalem.

Hussein Na’im Mohammed Kotkot (19), son of the arrested civilian, said to PCHR’s fieldworker that:

“On Thursday, 15 March 2018, my father headed for a security interview in Beit Hanoun Crossing after the Medical Coordination Department informed him on Wednesday, 14 March 2018, that the Nazi authorities asked him for the interview.  The request for the interview came to examine the possibility of giving my father a permit to travel via Beit Hanoun Crossing in order to accompany my brother, Mohammed (18), in his treatment trip in Augusta Victoria Hospital in occupied Jerusalem as he managed to get an appointment from the hospital on 30 March 2018.  After waiting for my father to come back from the crossing following the interview that went on for hours, we started feeling concerned and contacted the General Authority of Civil Affairs (GACA) in Gaza City.  At approximately 20:00 on the same day, GACA responded to inform us that my father was arrested by the Nazi authorities.”

PCHR reiterates its strong condemnation of the Nazi policy to arrest patients and their companions at Beit Hanoun “Erez” Crossing and calls upon the international community, particularly the High Contracting Parties to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as the international organizations, particularly the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to practice pressure immediately on the  Nazi authorities to stop this inhuman and unjustifiable policy.  PCHR also calls for serious action to facilitate the movement and travel of patients from the Gaza Strip to the hospitals in the Nazi state or the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem especially that continuing to apply this policy endangers the life of hundreds of patients in the Gaza Strip and deprives them of receiving the proper medical treatment for their serious diseases that cannot be remedied in the Gaza Strip hospitals.

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