Archive | December 4th, 2019

America’s Arms Sales Addiction

The 50-year history of U.S. dominance of the Middle Eastern arms trade

by: William Hartung

“All the American arms sales to the Middle East have had a severe and lasting set of consequences in the region,” writes Hartung. (Photo: Chayak/Flickr/cc)

It’s no secret that Donald Trump is one of the most aggressive arms salesmen in history. How do we know? Because he tells us so at every conceivable opportunity. It started with his much exaggerated “$110 billion arms deal” with Saudi Arabia, announced on his first foreign trip as president. It continued with his White House photo op with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in which he brandished a map with a state-by-state rundown of American jobs supposedly tied to arms sales to the kingdom. And it’s never ended. In these years in office, in fact, the president has been a staunch advocate for his good friends at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics — the main corporate beneficiaries of the U.S.-Saudi arms trade (unlike the thousands of American soldiers the president recently sent into that country’s desert landscapes to defend its oil facilities).

All the American arms sales to the Middle East have had a severe and lasting set of consequences in the region in, as a start, the brutal Saudi/United Arab Emirates war in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians via air strikes using U.S. weaponry and pushed millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine. And don’t forget the recent Turkish invasion of Syria in which both the Turkish forces and the Kurdish-led militias they attacked relied heavily on U.S.-supplied weaponry.

“Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear that he cares far more about making deals for that weaponry than who uses any of it against whom. It’s important to note, however, that, historically speaking, he’s been anything but unique.”

Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear that he cares far more about making deals for that weaponry than who uses any of it against whom. It’s important to note, however, that, historically speaking, he’s been anything but unique in his obsession with promoting such weapons exports (though he is uniquely loud about doing so).

Despite its supposedly strained relationship with the Saudi regime, the Obama administration, for example, still managed to offer the royals of that kingdom a record $136 billion in U.S. weapons between 2009 and 2017. Not all of those offers resulted in final sales, but striking numbers did. Items sold included Boeing F-15 combat aircraft and Apache attack helicopters, General Dynamics M-1 tanks, Raytheon precision-guided bombs, and Lockheed Martin bombs, combat ships, and missile defense systems. Many of those weapons have since been put to use in the war in Yemen.

To its credit, the Obama administration did at least have an internal debate on the wisdom of continuing such a trade. In December 2016, late in his second term, the president finally did suspend the sale of precision-guided bombs to the Royal Saudi Air Force due to a mounting toll of Yemeni civilian deaths in U.S.-supplied Saudi air strikes. This was, however, truly late in the game, given that the Saudi regime first intervened in Yemen in March 2015 and the slaughter of civilians began soon after that.

By then, of course, Washington’s dominance of the Mideast arms trade was taken for granted, despite an occasional large British or French deal like the scandal-plagued Al Yamamah sale of fighter planes and other equipment to the Saudis, the largest arms deal in the history of the United Kingdom. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, from 2014 to 2018 the United States accounted for more than 54% of known arms deliveries to the Middle East. Russia lagged far behind with a 9.5% share of the trade, followed by France (8.6%), England (7.2%), and Germany (4.6%). China, often cited as a possible substitute supplier, should the U.S. ever decide to stop arming repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, came in at less than 1%.

The U.S. government’s stated rationales for pouring arms into that ever-more-embattled region include: building partnerships with countries theoretically willing to fight alongside U.S. forces in a crisis; swapping arms for access to military bases in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and other Persian Gulf states; creating “stability” by building up allied militaries to be stronger than those of potential adversaries like Iran; and generating revenue for U.S. weapons contractors, as well as jobs for American workers. Of course, such sales have indeed benefited those contractors and secured access to bases in the region, but when it comes to promoting stability and security, historically it’s been another story entirely.

The Nixon Doctrine and the Initial Surge in Mideast Arms Sales

Washington’s role as the Middle East’s top arms supplier has its roots in remarks made by Richard Nixon half a century ago on the island of Guam. It was the Vietnam War era and the president was on his way to South Vietnam. Casualties there were mounting rapidly with no clear end to the conflict in sight. During that stopover in Guam, Nixon assured reporters accompanying him that it was high time to end the practice of sending large numbers of U.S troops to overseas battlefields. To “avoid another war like Vietnam anywhere in the world,” he was instead putting a new policy in place, later described by a Pentagon official as “sending arms instead of sending troops.”

The core of what came to be known as the Nixon Doctrine was the arming of regional surrogates, countries with sympathetic rulers or governments that could promote U.S. interests without major contingents of the American military being on hand. Of such potential surrogates at that moment, the most important was the Shah of Iran, with whom a CIA-British intelligence coup replaced a civilian government back in 1953 and who proved to have an insatiable appetite for top-of-the-line U.S. weaponry.

The Shah’s idea of a good time was curling up with the latest copy of Aviation Week and Space Technology and perusing glossy photos of combat planes. Egged on by the Nixon administration, his was the first and only country to buy the costly Grumman F-14 combat aircraft at a time when that company desperately needed foreign sales to bolster the program. And the Shah put his U.S.-supplied weapons to use, too, helping, for instance, to put down an anti-government uprising in nearby Oman (a short skip across the Persian Gulf), while repressing his own population at the same time.

In the Nixon years, Saudi Arabia, too, became a major weapons client of Washington, not so much because it feared its regional neighbors then, but because it had seemingly limitless oil funds to subsidize U.S. weapons makers at a time when the Pentagon budget was beginning to be reduced. In addition, Saudi sales helped recoup some of the revenue streaming out of the U.S. to pay for higher energy prices exacted by the newly formed OPEC oil cartel. It was a process then quaintly known as “recycling petrodollars.”

The Carter Years and the Quest for Restraint

The freewheeling arms trade of the Nixon years eventually prompted a backlash. In 1976, for the first (and last) time, a presidential candidate — Jimmy Carter — made reining in the arms trade a central theme of his 1976 campaign for the White House. He called for imposing greater human-rights scrutiny on arms exports, reducing the total volume of arms transfers, and initiating talks with the Soviet Union on curbing sales to regions of tension like the Middle East.

Meanwhile, members of Congress, led by Democratic Senators Gaylord Nelson and Hubert Humphrey, felt that it was long past time for Capitol Hill to have a role in decision-making when it came to weapons sales. Too often Congressional representatives found out about major deals only by reading news reports in the papers long after such matters had been settled. Among the major concerns driving their actions: the Nixon-era surge of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, then still an avowed adversary of Israel; the use of U.S.-supplied weapons by both sides in the Greek-Turkish conflict over the island of Cyprus; and covert sales to extremist right-wing forces in southern Africa, notably the South African-backed Union for the Total Independence of Angola. The answer was the passage of the Arms Export Control Act of 1978, which required that Congress be notified of any major sales in advance and asserted that it had the power to veto any of them viewed as dangerous or unnecessary.

As it happened, though, neither President Carter’s initiative nor the new legislation put a significant dent in such arms trafficking. In the end, for instance, Carter decided to exempt the Shah’s Iran from serious human-rights strictures and his hardline national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, undercut those talks with the Soviet Union on reducing arms sales.

Carter also wanted to get the new Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) he established — which eventually morphed into the U.S. Central Command — access to military bases in the Persian Gulf region and was willing to use arms deals to do so. The RDF was to be the centerpiece of the Carter Doctrine, a response to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Shah of Iran. As the president made clear in his 1980 State of the Union address: “An attempt by any outside forces to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States. It will be repelled by use of any means necessary, including the use of force.” Selling arms in the region would prove a central pillar of his new doctrine.

Meanwhile, most major sales continued to sail through Congress with barely a discouraging word.

Who Armed Saddam Hussein?

While the volume of those arms sales didn’t spike dramatically under President Ronald Reagan, his determination to weaponize anti-communist “freedom fighters” from Afghanistan to Nicaragua sparked the Iran-Contra scandal. At its heart lay a bizarre and elaborate covert effort led by National Security Council staff member Oliver North and a band of shadowy middlemen to supply U.S. weapons to the hostile regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. The hope was to gain Tehran’s help in freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon. North and company then used the proceeds from those sales to arm anti-government Contra rebels in Nicaragua in violation of an explicit Congressional ban on such aid.

Worse yet, the Reagan administration transferred arms and provided training to extremist mujahedeen factions in Afghanistan, acts which would, in the end, help arm groups and individuals that later formed al-Qaeda (and similar groups). That would, of course, prove a colossal example of the kind of blowback that unrestricted arms trading too often generates.

“The vast majority of Americans oppose runaway arms trading on the sensible grounds that it makes the world less safe.”

Even as the exposure of North’s operation highlighted U.S. arms transfers to Iran, the Reagan administration and the following one of President George H.W. Bush would directly and indirectly supply nearly half a billion dollars worth of arms and arms-making technology to Iran’s sworn enemy, Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein. Those arms would bolster Saddam’sregime both in its war with Iran in the 1980s and in its 1991 invasion of Kuwait that led to Washington’s first Gulf War. The U.S. was admittedly hardly alone in fueling the buildup of the Iraqi military. All five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the U.S., the Soviet Union, France, the United Kingdom, and China) provided weapons or weapons technology to that country in the run-up to its intervention in Kuwait.

The embarrassment and public criticism generated by the revelation that the U.S. and other major suppliers had helped arm the Iraqi military created a new opening for restraint. Leaders in the U.S., Great Britain, and other arms-trading nations pledged to do better in the future by increasing information about and scrutiny of their sales to the region. This resulted in two main initiatives: the United Nations arms trade register, where member states were urged to voluntarily report their arms imports and exports, and talks among those five Security Council members (the largest suppliers of weapons to the Middle East) on limiting arms sales to the region.

However, the P-5 talks, as they were called, quickly fell apart when China decided to sell a medium-range missile system to Saudi Arabia and President Bill Clinton’s administration began making new regional weapons deals at a pace of more than $1 billion per month while negotiations were underway. The other suppliers concluded that the Clinton arms surge violated the spirit of the talks, which soon collapsed, leading in the presidency of George W. Bush to a whole new Iraqi debacle.

The most important series of arms deals during the George W. Bush years involved the training and equipping of the Iraqi military in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But $25 billion in U.S. arms and training was not enough to create a force capable of defeating the modestly armed militants of ISIS, when they swept into northern Iraq in 2014 and captured large swaths of territory and major cities, including Mosul. Iraqi security forces, short on food and equipment due to corruption and incompetence, were also short on morale, and in some cases virtually abandoned their posts (and U.S. weaponry) in the face of those ISIS attacks.

The Addiction Continues

Donald Trump has carried on the practice of offering weaponry in quantity to allies in the Middle East, especially the Saudis, though his major rationale for the deals is to generate domestic jobs and revenues for the major weapons contractors. In fact, investing money and effort in almost anything else, from infrastructure to renewable energy technologies, would produce more jobs in the U.S. No matter though, the beat just goes on.

One notable development of the Trump years has been a revived Congressional interest in curbing weapons sales, with a particular focus on ending support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. (Watching Turkish and Kurdish forces face off, each armed in a major way by the U.S., should certainly add to that desire.) Under the leadership of Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA), Congress has voted to block bomb sales and other forms of military support for Saudi Arabia, only to have their efforts vetoed by President Trump, that country’s main protector in Washington. Still, congressional action on Saudi sales has been unprecedented in its persistence and scope. It may yet prevail, if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020. After all, every one of the major presidential contenders has pledged to end arms sales that support the Saudi war effort in Yemen.

Such deals with Saudi Arabia and other Mideast states may be hugely popular with the companies that profit from the trade, but the vast majority of Americans oppose runaway arms trading on the sensible grounds that it makes the world less safe. The question now is: Will Congress play a greater role in attempting to block such weapons deals with the Saudis and human-rights abusers or will America’s weapons-sales addiction and its monopoly position in the Middle Eastern arms trade simply continue, setting the stage for future disasters of every sort?

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Trump’s Child Separation Policy “Absolutely” Violated International Law Says UN Expert

The way the Trump administration was “separating infants from their families only in order to deter irregular migration from Central America to the United States of America, for me, constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment.”

by: Andrea Germanos,

A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas.

A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

The Trump administration violated international law when it separated migrant children from their families, a United Nations expert said Monday.

That’s not all, said Manfred Nowak, the independent expert leading a global study on children deprived of liberty. With over 100,000 children still in migration-related detention, the United States leads the world with the highest number of children in migration-related custody in the world.

Nowak made the remarks to press at the formal launch of the report, the U.N. Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, he said has the power to effect positive change.

Referencing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Nowak said that “the detention of children shall only be a measure of last resort and only if absolutely necessary for the shortest appropriate period of time. That means, in principle, children should not be deprived of liberty.”

“Alternatives to detention are usually available,” said Nowak, “it’s simply a question of politics.”

A lack of political will to make that policy change was clear, Nowak suggested, when the Trump administration instituted its so-called zero tolerance policy in which officials separated children from their parents at Southern border.

“There’s a lot of evidence…that migration-related detention for children can never be considered as a measure of last resort and in the best interest of the child,” he said. “There are always alternatives available, and there a quite a number of states that have decided already that they will not put children any longer in migration-related detention.”

“Of course, separating children—as was done by the Trump administration—from their parents, even small children, at the Mexican-U.S. border is absolutely prohibited by the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Nowak continued. “I would call it inhuman treatment for both the parents and the children. And there are still quite a number of children that are separated from their parents—and neither the children know where their parents are and the parents [don’t] know where the children are—so that is definitely something that definitely should not happen again.”

“We still have more than 100,000 children in migration-related detention” in the U.S., Nowak said, “so that’s far more than all the other countries where we have reliable figures.” Nowak added that the U.S. “did not respond to our questionnaire” requesting data for the report.

Nowak added the U.S. is detaining high numbers of children in the criminal justice sector as well.

“In general the incarceration rate in the United States is very high,” said Nowak.

The United States detains on average about 60 out of 100,000 children—a figure Nowak said was “the highest we could find followed by others like Bolivia or Botswana or Sri Lanka.”

Looking at figures by region, North America has the highest rate of incarceration of children, which includes Canada’s detention of roughly 14 to 15 out of 100,000 children. In Western Europe, by comparison, the average is just about 5 out of 100,000 children in custody.

“In general we could say that the American hemisphere has the highest rate of children deprived of liberty in the administration of justice,” the U.N. expert said. The lowest rate was found in sub-Saharan Africa.

Asked whether the United States—the only U.N. member state not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child—would face direct consequences of the rights violations, Nowak said direct action from the United Nations was unlikely because the United States is a permanent member of the Security Council 

“That’s one of the weaknesses of the United Nations,” said Nowak.

The United States is party to the Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on Torture, Nowak noted, and said that the way the Trump administration was “separating infants from their families only in order to deter irregular migration from Central America to the United States of America, for me, constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment. And that is absolutely prohibited by the two treaties.”

“I’m deeply convinced that these are violations of international law,” Nowak adding, same that the same could be said of the high number of children incarcerated through the U.S. criminal justice system.

Despite likely inaction by the U.N. to make the U.S. face consequences, Nowak said it doesn’t mean the continued deprivation of children’s liberty would continue unabated. 

Nowak expressed hope his new study, like the 1996 report on child soldiers, would have an impact “not because of sanctions but because of its power of facts.”

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Trump ‘Pandering to His Extremist Base’ on Israeli Settlements, Says Bernie Sanders

Sanders was one of a number of critics who saw the Monday announcement that the White House won’t treat the settlements as illegal as another attack on the Palestinian people. 

by: Eoin Higgins,

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during the 2019 J Street National Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. on October 28, 2019.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during the 2019 J Street National Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. on October 28, 2019. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders was among a number of critics decrying the Monday announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the U.S. would no longer consider Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank illegal, a break with longstanding precedent that could ireversibly damage the two-state solution and peace process. 

Sanders, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said in a tweet that it was clear the settlements are illegal and suggested that President Donald Trump was pushing the issue due to pressure from his right-wing supporters. 

“Once again, Mr. Trump is isolating the United States and undermining diplomacy by pandering to his extremist base,” tweeted Sanders.

Pompeo’s announcement was the latest attack on Palestinians from the White House, which has allied itself strongly with Israel and that country’s extremist right-wing Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu. In June, as Common Dreams reported, audio leaked of Pompeo admitting the administration’s peace plans had little chance of passage due to the way they treated the Palestinians.

Brooklyn-based organizer Linda Sarsour, a Sanders surrogate, expressed her anger in a tweet. 

“Not only do Trump and his administration believe they’re above the law of THIS LAND, they believe they are above international law by announcing that the ‘U.S.’ (cause they don’t speak for me) doesn’t see illegal settlements in Palestine as ‘inconsistent with international law,'” said Sarsour. 

The enthusiasm from Pompeo over Monday’s change in policy, opined Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi, is likely based in his theocratic Christianity. 

“Another blow to international law, justice, and peace by a Biblical absolutist waiting for the ‘rapture,'” tweeted Ashrawi.

Council on American-Islamic Relations national executive director Nihad Awad, in a statement, concurred.

“It is obvious that Donald Trump’s panic over his looming impeachment is motivating him to try to solidify the most extreme parts of his political base,” said Awad. “To reject international law and the rights of the Palestinian people who suffer under an illegal occupation contradicts our nation’s claimed support for justice and human rights.”

The settlements represent a continuation of abusive policies, said Al Jazeera‘s Sana Saeed.

“This is (continued) land theft, this is (continued) displacement,” Saeed said.

Sana Saeed@SanaSaeed

Let it be clear that there are no “both sides” – not ever and certainly not today. This is (continued) land theft, this is (continued) displacement. The bar for US policy towards Palestinians was already low, but this is especially heinous and blatant.

So, this is why we BDS.

View image on Twitter

IfNotNow co-founder Emily Mayer, in a statement, said it was time for American politicians to speak out against the Trump regime’s behavior toward the Palestinians. 

“The time is long gone for toothless statements condemning Israeli actions, which have allowed this crisis to continue unchallenged,” said Mayer. “Standing up to the Trump administration’s reckless disregard for human rights today also means standing up to decades of Israeli human rights violations by ending our blank check to Israel and defunding the occupation once and for all.”

“Israeli settlements are illegal,” CodePink’s Ariel Gold said on Twitter. “Mike Pompeo is a threat to humankind.”

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It’s Our Choice: Medicare for All, or Endless War?

If we end wars, shut down wasteful and failing weapons programs, and close unnecessary foreign bases, we could come up with an extra $350 billion to spend on Medicare for All—without sacrificing security.

by: Lindsay Koshgarian

Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All. (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you’re following the presidential race, you’ve heard plenty of sniping about Medicare for All and whether we can afford it. But when it comes to endless war or endless profits for Pentagon contractors, we’re told we simply must afford it—no questions asked.

Where can we find it? In a giant pot of money that’s already rampant with waste and abuse: the Pentagon.

According to one study, even if universal health insurance didn’t bring health care prices down—an unlikely worst-case scenario—we’d need an extra $300 billion a year beyond our current spending to provide full insurance for everyone.

Where can we find it? In a giant pot of money that’s already rampant with waste and abuse: the Pentagon.

Right now, only about one quarter of the $738 billion Pentagon budget goes to our troops. The rest is mainly three things: the cost of maintaining 800 military installations all over the world; lucrative Pentagon contracts, which account for nearly half of the entire Pentagon budget; and, of course, our never-ending wars in the Middle East.

According to my research, if we end those wars, shut down wasteful and failing weapons programs, and close unnecessary foreign bases, we could come up with an extra $350 billion to spend on Medicare for All—without sacrificing security.

As experts of various political stripes will tell you, the U.S. military is carrying out a costly 20th-century security vision in a 21st century world. For instance, the Pentagon still keeps tens of thousands of troops in Germany and Italy. Maybe 75 years after the end of World War II (and nearly 20 years into our ill-fated Iraq adventure) is a good time to finally bring those troops home?

Closing 60 percent of our foreign bases would save $90 billion a year. There’d be enough left over for more than one foreign military installation in each country on earth, if we insisted.

Right now, those bases enable our endless wars. Troops rotate from Germany into the Middle East and Africa, and tens of thousands are stationed in the conflict-ridden Middle East at any given time. Yet our wars have only further destabilized the region. It’s time we brought our troops home for good—and saved $66 billion each year in the bargain.

Then there are those highly paid contractors. For instance, the F-35 fighter jet is projected to cost more than the entire military budget of Iran. But even after many years and massive cost overruns, the lead Pentagon tester just reported that the F-35 is still “breaking more often than planned and taking longer to fix.”

We should halt the F-35 boondoggle, cut back on 20th century war technology like the aircraft carrier, and freeze nuclear weapons spending, with the eventual goal of eliminating these weapons that could wipe us all out at a keystroke.

All told, we could cut $100 billion from outdated, ill-conceived, or outright dangerous programs like these. The contractors will howl, but they’ve run things long enough.

None of this is as radical as it sounds. Today, military spending higher than it was at the peak of the Vietnam War. Even with a $350 billion cut, it would simply return to levels from the late 1990s.

Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All.

Which would make us safer: Medicare for All or endless wars? The choice is ours.

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‘There Is No More Two-State Solution’: Trump Administration to Further Soften Opposition to West Bank Settlements

“How the hell is it possible for the U.S. policy to be any softer?”

byEoin Higgins,

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced the U.S. is reversing course on decades of nominal opposition to Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced the U.S. is reversing course on decades of nominal opposition to Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the President Donald Trump administration will “soften” its stance on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a move that reverses decades of precedent and effectively kills the two-state solution peace process.

The Associated Press‘s Matthew Lee broke the story Monday afternoon.

Pompeo claimed that “calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace.”

“The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict,” said Pompeo, “and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”

According to Amnesty International, the settlements are a war crime:

The international community has consistently recognized that settlements contravene international law and create a situation which perpetuates a range of violations of Palestinian human rights including, but not limited to, discriminatory policies based on nationality, ethnicity, and religion.

U.S. policy toward the settlements has largely been limited to public rebukes with no actual consequences.

“How the hell is it possible for the US policy to be any softer?” CounterPunch‘s Jeffrey St. Clair wondered on Twitter. 

Reaction to the announcement from peace advocates and progressives was filled with anger and disappointment. 

Posted in Palestine Affairs, USA, ZIO-NAZI, Human RightsComments Off on ‘There Is No More Two-State Solution’: Trump Administration to Further Soften Opposition to West Bank Settlements

Bernie Sanders’ Stance on Bolivia Matters

Any presidential candidate who claims to represent workers and marginalized communities, who even nominally opposes U.S. imperialism, should be able to identify a coup as such. 

by: Jacob Sugarman

Since Morales’ forced resignation, the response of leading Democrats and presidential hopefuls has been one of almost total silence, even among the party’s putative progressives. (Photo: CNN)

Since Morales’ forced resignation, the response of leading Democrats and presidential hopefuls has been one of almost total silence, even among the party’s putative progressives. (Photo: CNN)

Toward the end of Saturday night’s Democratic forum hosted by the Spanish language network Univision, moderator Jorge Ramos posed what can charitably be called a leading question to 2020 hopeful Bernie Sanders. Ramos, who cemented his place in the public consciousness when then-candidate Donald Trump had him tossed from a news conference in 2015, noted that Sanders had called the overthrow of Bolivian President Evo Morales a “coup,” but that others maintain that Morales was attempting to become a dictator. So what does Sanders think?

In a Democratic field that seems to grow more crowded by the month if not the week, the Vermont senator’s answer was nothing short of revelatory. “I don’t agree with that assertion,” he said. “I think Morales did a very good job in alleviating poverty and giving the indigenous people of Bolivia a voice that they never had before. Now we can argue about his going for a fourth term, whether that was a wise thing to do. … But at the end of the day, it was the military who intervened in that process and asked him to leave. When the military intervenes, Jorge, in my view, that’s called a ‘coup.’”

Since Morales’ forced resignation, the response of leading Democrats and presidential hopefuls has been one of almost total silence, even among the party’s putative progressives. As video emerged of right-wing protesters burning the flag of the indigenous Wiphala and pro-coup police officers gleefully cutting it off their uniforms, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., declined to comment publicly despite the gruesome precedent in the region. (She has since issued a tepid tweet calling on Bolivian security forces to “protect demonstrators, not commit violence against them.”) The same can be said of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who has made opposition to U.S. regime change the centerpiece of her campaign, although her anti-imperialism has always been questionable at best. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., an outspoken critic of the U.S.-backed Saudi war in Yemen, could only muster the following on social media:

Given that the U.S. has repeatedly backed coup attempts in Venezuela, most recently throwing its support behind President of the National Assembly Juan Guaidó, the last line of that tweet seems confusing at best and ominous at worst. What, after all, is the United States’ to botch? By contrast, British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn instantly condemned Morales’ removal from office as an assault on “democracy, social justice and independence.” Both Trump and Prime Minister Boris Jonson have officially recognized Bolivia’s interim government.

In the week since, the crisis in Bolivia has grown increasingly deadly. The Bolivian military has slaughtered dozens of demonstrators, and over the past two days, hand-picked president, Jeanine Áñez, has issued a pair of disturbing edicts. The first is that the Bolivian military will not be prosecuted for crimes committed in the suppression of protests, providing it with what members of the socialist MAS party are calling a “license to kill”; the second is the creation of a “special government apparatus” to detain MAS lawmakers, who constitute a two-thirds majority in the Bolivian legislature. Meanwhile, Argentinian journalists have been chased from the country under the threat of violence.

Ánez, whose deceptively named Democratic Social Movement Party won just 4.2% of the vote in the October elections, has called a New Year’s celebration of the Aymara people “satanic” and has referred to Morales as a “pobre indio” (a poor Indian). Upon assuming office, she declared that “La Biblia vuelve al palacio” (“the Bible has returned to the presidential palace”), bearing an oversized scripture to re-enforce the point. The New York Times notes that she has made her speeches “shadowed by an aide carrying a cross.”

None of this absolves Morales of his apparent illiberalism or real missteps in office. As his critics in Western media eagerly observe, he narrowly lost a 2016 referendum to determine his eligibility for a fourth term, receiving approval instead from his country’s Supreme Court. Along similar lines, the U.S.-backed Organization of American States has reported irregularities in 2019’s presidential elections, although those remain in dispute. As “Empire’s Workshop” author and Latin American historian Greg Grandin recently wrote, “there has never been a coup in Latin America where the president being overthrown wasn’t considered ‘problematic.’ (Yes, not even [Salvador] Allende.)” Indeed, The Economist blamed the Chilean president directly for Augusto Pinochet’s seizure of power in 1973.

It seems telling, then, that the military asked Morales to resign after he agreed—likely under duress—to a second election. And while the current Secretary General of OAS Luis Almagro will not, former Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has said that Bolivia’s democratic interregnum meets the political definition of “un golpe” (a coup).

So why can’t Democrats do the same? Whether the Trump administration is directly responsible for Morales’ overthrow or the U.S. is merely the passive beneficiary of a new market-friendly and increasingly Christofascist regime is, ultimately, beside the point. (A passing familiarity with Bolivian history or Operation Condor more broadly point to the former, to say nothing of the attempts in Venezuela earlier this year, although I am loath to speculate.) Any presidential candidate who claims to represent workers and marginalized communities, who even nominally opposes U.S. imperialism, should be able to identify a coup as such. If they can’t, why should we trust them to implement a just and holistic foreign policy?

It’s a basic test that the party has, to date, failed miserably—one that not only illuminates the threat Sanders poses to America’s two-party duopoly but renders absurd the notion that he shares the politics of Warren or any other 2020 contender.

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Evo Morales Calls for ‘Truth Commission’ to Expose Deceitful Role of US-Backed OAS in Bolivia Coup

“We invite international organizations, Pope Francis, to form a truth commission about the October 20 elections.”

by: Jake Johnson,

Evo Morales

Evo Morales speaks at a press conference in Mexico City on November 20, 2019. (Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales on Wednesday called for an international truth commission to examine the role of the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States in the military coup on November 10 that brought a right-wing anti-indigenous regime to power.

“We invite international organizations, Pope Francis, to form a truth commission about the October 20 [presidential] elections,” Morales said during a press conference in Mexico, where he was granted asylum after the Bolivian military forced him to resign earlier this month.

“Luis Almagro and the OAS joined the coup d’etat in Bolivia,” Morales said, referring to the OAS secretary general. “The Truth Commission will show the role of the OAS in the coup.”

View image on Twitter

The day after Bolivia’s October 20 presidential election, the OAS—which receives 60 percent of its funding from the U.S.—issued a statement casting doubt on preliminary election results showing that Morales prevailed outright over right-wing former President Carlos Mesa.

“The OAS Mission expresses its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results revealed after the closing of the polls,” the organization said.

But a statistical analysis of the election results by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) published on November 8 found no evidence of irregularities or fraud.

“The OAS isn’t all that independent at the moment, with the Trump administration actively promoting this military coup, and Washington having more right-wing allies in the OAS than they did just a few years ago.”
—Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research

“There is simply no statistical or evidentiary basis to dispute the vote count results showing that Evo Morales won in the first round,” CEPR senior policy analyst Guillaume Long said in a statement at the time. “In the end, the official count, which is legally binding and completely transparent, with the tally sheets available online, closely matched the rapid count results.”

OAS did not back away from its claim of election fraud by Morales. On November 10, just hours before Morales was forced to resign, OAS issued a report (pdf) claiming there were “irregularities” in the election and questioning the “integrity” of Morales’ win.

In an op-ed for MarketWatch on Tuesday, CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot accused OAS of misleading the Bolivian public about the results of the presidential election and helping to spark the coup that ousted Morales.

“The consequences are quite serious; this misrepresentation (or lie) has already played a major role in a military coup in Bolivia,” Weisbrot wrote. “I would regard with great skepticism the allegations presented in their preliminary audit, and further publications—unless these can be verified by independent investigators from publicly available data.”

“And the OAS isn’t all that independent at the moment,” Weisbrot added, “with the Trump administration actively promoting this military coup, and Washington having more right-wing allies in the OAS than they did just a few years ago.”

In a scathing open letter last week, renowned Uruguayan-American writer Jorge Majfud called on OAS Secretary General Almagro—a Uruguayan lawyer—to resign from his post.

“In light of your repeated failures and continued abuse of the functions of ‘secretary’ of the States, we request that you, for the sake of the little honor that remains to you, resign your position and thereby allow someone more fitting to continue, at least in a more disguised fashion, with the OAS’s well-known and fundamental mission of pursuing the interests of Washington (not to say the interests of the U.S. public, which tends to shine in its radical ignorance of what is happening in the world),” Majfud wrote.

“We kindly ask for your resignation,” Majfud added, “because we know that you will not be brought down by any coup d’etat, since the OAS does not have an army of its own.”

Read the full letter:

Mr. Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS):

In light of your repeated failures and continued abuse of the functions of “secretary” of the States, we request that you, for the sake of the little honor that remains to you, resign your position and thereby allow someone more fitting to continue, at least in a more disguised fashion, with the OAS’s well-known and fundamental mission of pursuing the interests of Washington (not to say the interests of the U.S. public, which tends to shine in its radical ignorance of what is happening in the world).

Surely it will be no great effort for you to cease your history of making a fool of yourself, and even less so from the perspective of those at the bottom of the social order who have to suffer your criminal indifference and disdain. You have honored the old rule that the cowl makes the monk in every public charge you have occupied, from the left-wing administration of Uruguay to the right-wing administration of the OAS.

We kindly ask for your resignation, because we know that you will not be brought down by any coup d’etat, since the OAS does not have an army of its own.

Attentively yours,
Jorge Majfud

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Record Inequality and Corporate Profits Are What Media Call a ‘Strong Economy’

Corporate news outlets have an inherent interest in cloaking class warfare by equating a “strong economy” with the prosperity of the investor class, even if it comes at the expense of everyone else.

byJoshua Cho

Almost half of US families are unable to afford the basics like rent and food, and 40% can’t afford an unexpected $400 expense, with almost 80% of US workers living paycheck to paycheck. (Photo: AP/Craig Ruttle)

Almost half of US families are unable to afford the basics like rent and food, and 40% can’t afford an unexpected $400 expense, with almost 80% of US workers living paycheck to paycheck. (Photo: AP/Craig Ruttle)

CNBC: The Hard Data Says the US Economy Is Just Fine

Who are you going to believe, “hard data” or your lying eyes (CNBC, 10/7/19)?

Last month, CNBC (10/7/19) reassured us that fears of a potential recession are “overblown,” because the “hard data” shows that the “US economy remains strong.”

If you’ve been keeping track of corporate media coverage of the US economy over the past several years, you might have noticed a contradictory pattern. You’ll find that corporate media make ubiquitous references to a “strong economy,” while simultaneously providing many reports on the increasingly impoverished and precarious working class alongside the continuously rising fortunes of the rich.

Last month, a New York Times report (10/20/19) exemplified this seemingly bizarre practice when it wondered why so many workers are striking when we apparently live in such a “strong economy,” because the piece also discussed how “today’s strikes are fueled by a deeper sense of unfairness and economic anxiety.”

Even though corporate media are now warning us not to be too complacent because of a potential imminent recession and slowing GDP growth (CNN8/18/19Wall Street Journal10/30/19), references to a “strong economy” and an “economic recovery” from the Great Recession still abound.

Three years ago, the New York Times (12/2/16) remarked that former President Barack Obama was handing off a “strong economy” to President Donald Trump, even as it noted that “tens of millions of Americans understandably feel that the recovery has passed them by.” Two years later, Times columnist David Brooks (11/29/19) led off a column by declaring, “We’re enjoying one of the best economies of our lifetime.”

LAT: The economy is thriving — but that may not be enough to get Trump reelected

LA Times (5/3/19)

This year, the Los Angeles Times (5/3/19) pondered the two “great conundrums” of the Trump presidency: “How does his approval rating stay so bad when the economy is so good, and what might that forecast about his prospects for reelection?”

Politico (10/15/19) and Reuters (10/15/19) advise us that election models are forecasting Trump’s likely reelection based on “economic trends in key swing states” under his administration, as CNN (7/5/19) proclaimed that the “strong economy” is functioning as Trump’s “safety blanket” for his reelection chances. The Financial Times (5/8/19) declared that “there is no doubt that the US is the strongest large economy in the world,” even as it warned that “much of the growth surprise appears temporary.”

The “strong economy” narrative is so thoroughly entrenched, the Atlantic (8/5/19) observed that even Democratic presidential candidates are wary of mentioning “economic growth,” lest it sound like an implicit endorsement of the Trump administration’s policies. However, following slower GDP growth and recession forecasts, some Democratic presidential candidates, like Joe Biden, are changing their campaign strategies by claiming that Trump is “squandering” the “strong economy” inherited from the Obama administration, reversing their previous view of discussing the “strong economic data” as a “losing” electoral strategy (Reuters8/22/19).

To the extent that there is a “debate” over the existence of a “historic recovery” and a “strong economy,” it is largely restricted to whether the economy was better under the Obama administration or under the Trump administration, and over who “really” deserves credit for this allegedly amazing economy.

The Washington Post has run several comparative articles (6/25/185/7/198/20/19) arguing that Trump “inherited” the “strong economy” from Obama, even wondering if this economy is “too good to be true?” while noting that the “vital signs look solid.” CNBC (9/7/18) declared that Trump has “set economic growth on fire,” praising a “economic boom uniquely his” as a “tremendous achievement.” The Wall Street Journal (5/5/19) discussed how a poll found that “select groups of Americans” who disapprove of his job performance are still willing to credit Trump for a “bustling economy,” while USA Today (7/1/19) discussed a survey that found that the “solid economy is doing little to bolster support for President Donald Trump.” Some articles have pushed back on the idea that Trump deserves the credit for the “strong economy,” instead crediting the Federal Reserve and Congress, or a vague “broader, global trend” (New York Times8/8/19Wall Street Journal11/8/17).

Common Dreams: Rejecting Trump Spin, 62% of Americans Believe US Economy Primarily Benefits Rich and Powerful

Common Dreams (4/29/19)

But who determines whether we live in a “strong economy,” and what metrics should we use to find out? Despite what media say, most Americans believe that the economic system is “rigged” to benefit the wealthy elite at the expense of the working class (CNN6/28/16; Pew Research, 10/4/18Common Dreams4/29/19). Do the standard economic metrics deployed by corporate journalists accurately capture and explain the feelings and economic situation of most American workers?

When one also reads the contradictory coverage found in corporate media regarding the precarious situation facing the American working class, it’s clear they don’t. Here’s a nonexhaustive catalog of facts that make elite pundits like the New York Times’ David Brooks’ declaration that “We’re enjoying one of the best economies of our lifetime” appear fatuous and puncture this myth of a “strong economy.”

Overwhelmingly, many of these reports point to GDP growth (increased annual spending on total goods and services), a low unemployment rate (currently at 3.6%) and the number of jobs added to the US economy as evidence of a “strong economy.”

However, the standard unemployment rate in the US only includes people with no job who have been searching for work within the past four weeks; this leaves out significant portions of the population, like the underemployed and involuntary part-time workers (those who want full-time work but can’t find any), and discouraged workers who have given up searching for a job (Quartz6/7/18). This is why the New York Times (10/31/19) found that there are still millions of people not captured in the official unemployment rate, and people having trouble finding work in this “strong economy.” The U-6 unemployment rate, considered to be more accurate by economists because it includes discouraged workers and part-time workers seeking full-time employment, is 7%—almost double the U-3 unemployment rate usually cited by corporate media.

Another figure that complicates this picture of a “strong economy” is the labor force participation rate (the sum of all workers who are employed and actively seeking employment divided by the total working age population). The current labor force participation rate is 63.3%, 4 percentage points lower than the average of 67.3% at the beginning of the 21st century.

Although the number of involuntary part-time workers dropped this year, even people who only work one hour a week would not be considered unemployed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A 2016 study by economist Lonnie Golden found that the number of involuntary part-time workers increased almost 45% from 2007.

While there has been pushback against a widely cited 2016 study from economists Lawrence Katz and the late Alan Krueger, which found that 94% of job growth from 2005 to 2015 has been in precarious “alternative work arrangements” in the “gig economy,” there’s no shortage of studies and projections showing that freelancing, independent contracting and temp work for corporations like Uber are playing a larger role in the US economy, without much of the job security and benefits found in more traditional jobs (NBC8/31/17Forbes2/15/19New York Times8/22/19).

Critically, throughout several years of reports on this “strong economy,” there have also been numerous reports on the persistent problem of low and stagnant wages. Although there are reports indicating that workers are finally seeing slightly better wage growth after decades of stagnant wages, it’s still only a fraction of record corporate profits (Washington Post11/2/18).

The long-term trend of wages not keeping up with the prices of essentials hasn’t improved much, as it’s been reported that minimum-wage workers can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the US. (The Economic Policy Institute—7/19/182/5/19—found that if the minimum wage tracked productivity growth since the 1960s, it would now be over $20 an hour.)

Almost half of US families are unable to afford the basics like rent and food, and 40% can’t afford an unexpected $400 expense, with almost 80% of US workers living paycheck to paycheck. Perhaps this is why increasing numbers of people are living in poverty, in cars and on the streets, despite having jobs (CBS7/31/18New York Times9/11/18Washington Post3/22/19). These low and stagnant wages may also be why Americans are increasingly buried in debt, as student loan debt reached $1.5 trillion last year, exceeding all other forms of consumer debt except mortgages, and auto debt is up nearly 40% from the last decade, reaching $1.3 trillion (Wall Street Journal8/1/19).

One of the grimmest signs that the economy is not working for many is that US life expectancy continues to drop, from a peak of 78.9 in 2014 to 78.6 in 2017. The drop is led by rising deaths from suicide, drug overdose and alcohol-related disease—known as “diseases of despair”—among men, particularly those without college degrees (Brookings Institution, 11/7/19).

Atlantic: Government Debt Isn't the Problem—Private Debt Is

Atlantic (9/9/14)

Richard Wolff has been one of the few economists who have argued that the media’s false “recovery hype” is a “weapon of mass distraction” (Extra!12/14) and observed (in Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens) that the finance industry’s decades-long wave of spectacular growth has coincided with stagnating wages beginning in the 1970s, as more and more Americans have to rely on debt to maintain their lifestyle and keep up with the soaring costs of essentials like housinghealthcare and higher education. Historically, private debt—not public debt—is the harbinger of economic disaster, contrary to the obsessive focus of media austerity hawks (Atlantic9/9/14Guardian11/4/13FAIR.org2/22/19).

Despite corporate media’s ludicrous “factchecks” on presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ (correct) claim that “three people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of America” (the Washington Post argued that the comparison is “not especially meaningful,” because “people in the bottom half have essentially no wealth, as debts cancel out whatever assets they might have”), journalists have consistently reported on the reality of rising prosperity of the wealthy, record stock markets and soaring corporate profits. (Of course, such stories are often presented as good news, as if higher stock prices benefited anyone other than people who own stock—Extra!7–8/02.)

Matt Bruenig at the People’s Policy Institute found that the top 1 percent’s net worth has increased by $21 trillion, while the bottom 50% of the population saw theirs decrease by $900 billion, from 1989 to 2018. Perhaps this is due to massive criminal tax evasion/avoidance by the wealthy and corporations in overseas tax havens (euphemistically labeled “loopholes”), coupled with unprecedented tax cuts for the rich, alongside relentless selective enforcement and increased taxes on the working class (FAIR.org12/6/171/17/18).

Given all this, GDP growth tells us little about how wealth and income are distributed amongst the US population. It’s theoretically possible for GDP growth to be entirely accounted for by things like increased military spending for a US-driven arms racecorporations buying back stocks and paying out dividends to further inflate their stock prices—instead of giving raises to employees or hiring more of them—and the wealthy’s environmentally destructive conspicuous consumption of things like private jets and superyachts, since all of them count towards GDP. Journalists shouldn’t use GDP as an indicator of economic health without further context, because growing GDP alongside skyrocketing income and wealth inequality is not evidence of a “strong” economy, but of a parasitic economy.

What explains corporate media’s credulous reliance on uninformative economic measures, and contradictory references to a “strong economy,” alongside reports on a struggling working class? It makes little sense if one assumes corporate journalists are primarily concerned with informing the public. It makes a great deal of sense when one realizes that corporate news outlets have an inherent interest in cloaking class warfare by equating a “strong economy” with the prosperity of the investor class, even if it comes at the expense of everyone else (FAIR.org10/16/19).

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A 12-Step Program to Opioid Justice

Finding peace amid the new opium wars.

by: Mattea Kramer

Diane Semo, whose daughter is in recovery from Heroin, joins over 100 drug reform advocates, former addicts, and family members who have lost loved ones to drugs in a march to demand action on Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Diane Semo, whose daughter is in recovery from Heroin, joins over 100 drug reform advocates, former addicts, and family members who have lost loved ones to drugs in a march to demand action on Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It was evening and we were in a windowless room in a Massachusetts jail. We had just finished a class—on job interview skills—and, with only a few minutes remaining, the women began voicing their shared fear. Upon their release, would someone really hire them? Beneath that concern lurked another one: Would they be able to avoid the seductively anesthetizing drugs that put them in jail in the first place?

Their disquiet was reasonable. Everyone with me around that grey plastic table, along with the vast majority of other prisoners in the jail, was addicted to opioids. On the cinderblock wall, a laminated sign read: “We take stock of all the suffering we have experienced and caused as addicts.”

Those drugs, including OxyContin and fentanyl, have killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, while entangling untold numbers of others in addiction.

Thousands of lawsuits are making their way through the court system in an effort to force some kind of repayment from the corporations that manufactured, distributed, and dispensed billions of doses of prescription opioids. Those drugs, including OxyContin and fentanyl, have killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, while entangling untold numbers of others in addiction (and, often, in illegal activities like larceny to pay for the drugs they then craved). The pharmaceutical companies involved have, unsurprisingly, been eager to deny their culpability, which has led to a vast blame game that’s routine in our republic of finger pointing.

When a surge of opioid addiction transformed my small New England hometown, I began to write about what was happening and follow local efforts to combat the scourge. This, in turn, led me to that jail, first as a writer on assignment and eventually to the front of that ad-hoc classroom. At the same time, over the course of two years, I interviewed dozens of people in recovery. What I learned was that, nestled within this crisis (if you knew where to look), people were taking responsibility for what had happened to them and doing so in a transformative way. They had discovered that blaming others—even the worst of those drug companies—was a quick path to the bottom, while taking responsibility turns out to be a race to the top.

The “Scum of the Earth”

On a sunny fall morning, I pulled off Route 2 in central Massachusetts and into the parking lot of what used to be the Wachusett Village Inn. It still looks like a picturesque country hotel, but today it’s a detox facility and recovery center. I’m here to meet the friend of a friend. When she greets me at the front atrium, I notice that she has a lanyard around her neck with an ID indicating that she’s on staff. Years ago, though, Anna Du Puis could have been a patient here. Before she got sober, she went through detox for opioid addiction so many times she lost count.

“I’m a story of perseverance,” she assures me—and, when she says it, she seems to glow with energy.

It’s only recently that Anna has had this full-time job helping others who are, as she once was, in early recovery. Before that she sold insurance, telling no one she had been an addict and regularly hearing coworkers and others dismiss addiction as a choice and treatment as a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Thought about a certain way, the pharmaceutical companies that produced those opioids pulled off the perfect crime. They peddled addictive products that were prescribed by trusted physicians, while those who became addicted gained scant sympathy. After all, once they were hooked, they were, by definition, drug addicts. Richard Sackler, former president of Purdue Pharma and mastermind behind the marketing campaign that launched OxyContin and remade opioid prescribing practices in this country, is now infamous for referring to those who became addicted to his blockbuster drug as the “scum of the earth.”

For this we vilify Sackler—what he did was deplorable—but it’s also true that every time any of us has accepted drug addict as an unsavory epithet, we’ve given an assist to him, to Purdue, and to the rest of the pharmaceutical industry that profited not only from addiction but from our prejudice toward it. By looking down on those afflicted with this disease, we, the public, helped insulate corporate perpetrators from responsibility.

In the process, we have also missed the chance to witness something incredible.

“A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory”

On another night in the county jail, our little group strategized together. These women would soon have to explain their criminal records to prospective employers who increasingly run background checks on applicants. So, quietly at first and then with more confidence, they practiced reflecting on their pockmarked pasts, affirming how much they had learned (a lot) and their efforts (herculean) to regain control of their lives. All of them referenced the importance of embarking on a 12-step program to recovery.

This is something I heard again and again from people in long-term recovery. Beginning with an admission of powerlessness over addiction, 12-step programs are so often transformational in part because they involve radical responsibility-taking. Even when something is someone else’s fault, the steps encourage you to look inward and ask: What was my own role? What responsibility do I have in all this? A pivotal moment comes in step four, which calls for “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of oneself. This is a breathtakingly tall order—and one that pays commensurately large dividends for those with the courage to undertake it.

“I accept myself wholly for who I am and every single thing that I’ve done in my life,” says Raj Aggarwal, who became addicted to OxyContin in the 1990s and subsequently switched to heroin. When he made that switch, he told almost no one. Whereas Oxy, which was widely prescribed by doctors, was socially acceptable, heroin was not. Like so many others, the deeper Raj waded into addiction, the more isolated he became.

Today, he has been sober for more than 15 years, and his enviable self-acceptance has liberated him to be a force for good in the world. Raj is the founder and president of Provoc, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that helps businesses create positive social change. Provoc has designed successful campaigns in areas ranging from expanding clean energy and combatting racism to boosting voter participation. Over video chat he told me that he used to think addiction was the worst thing ever to happen to him. Now, he says, “My greatest challenge has turned into a tremendous source of strength.”

The soul-searching that Raj and others engage in as part of their recovery process is not only applicable to addiction. Let’s say you’re angry about something devastating a family member said, or a colleague’s poor behavior, or maybe you’re despondent—who isn’t?—over our broken democracy. Consider the 12-step approach to investigating your own role in the situation. This doesn’t mean other people aren’t responsible, too. It just gives you a shot at seeing your actions (or your lack of them) with greater clarity. In other words, it allows us to own our shit—and then, perhaps, to take the next right step forward.

This is largely a foreign concept in our culture, at least to people who aren’t in recovery, but its promise is bottomless. As one example, it’s relevant to the problematic way the media have covered the current opioid crisis. When addiction is rampant in communities of color, the subject tends to draw minimal attention. But in recent years, as great numbers of white people have been afflicted, the media have zoomed in with stories of blue-eyed kids dying untimely deaths. And this is a place where I bear responsibility. I took up the subject of addiction only after it enveloped my overwhelmingly white hometown. In other words, I initially focused on (and so privileged) the concerns of people white like me. In retrospect, 12-step-style, I see what I did and that it reinforced the white supremacy that drenches our American world.

Maybe you’ve heard this one from the visionary novelist James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Here lies the key to overcoming the opioid crisis: that people in recovery are teachers for how to face the hardest things of all.

“As Long As You’re Breathing, There’s Hope”

When he filed his complaint against Purdue Pharma, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said, “The Sackler defendants were motivated not by human dignity or the value of human life, but by unlimited greed above all else.” Billionaire Richard Sackler unrelentingly pushed addictive drugs that destroyed lives and pulled at the threads of unraveling communities. Why? To make yet more money, of course. It turns out that, in this story, there are many kinds of addiction, and if money is your drug of choice, then (as the recent responses of multi-billionaires to the possibility of a wealth tax suggest) you’ll never have enough, no matter how much you’ve amassed.

And so, while we malign the Sackler family and other corporate executives for what really does appear to be jaw-dropping greed, their condition is instructive. At a more modest level, many of us are skating along, feeding ongoing cravings for electronic devices or wine or work or money or just fill in the blank yourself. Like minor versions of those billionaires, we, too, are often chasing a high—a brief sense of euphoria to distract us from something underneath.

Anna Du Puis told me that her drug use was a search to fill an “internal barren place of desolation.” Raj said OxyContin offered him blissful relief from his difficult childhood as an immigrant in a white neighborhood. In many thousands of cases, opioid addiction resulted from people in chronic pain searching for an answer. Yet there are many kinds of chronic pain, including despair, or a crushing sense of emptiness. Maybe the Sacklers, nightmares of greed as they have been, are in some deeper sense more like us than we’d care to think.

There is now a growing call to put them and other pharmaceutical executives in jail. After all, why should people who committed low-level crimes thanks to their addiction to the very drugs the Sacklers peddled, like the women in my class, get locked up, while they walk away with blood on their hands and billions stuffed away in bank accounts? The answer mostly has to do with who has good lawyers. Just as in the financial and foreclosure crises of 2007-2008, when corporations inflicted widespread devastation, we are unlikely to see executives behind bars for what their companies did.

And yet, as Sam Quinones, author of the remarkable book Dreamland about the roots of the opioid crisis, points out, the public has already won important victories. Back in 2014 when he was finishing his book, he says, Purdue was “untouchable.”

In the years since then, individuals and families have rejected isolation and spoken out about drug addiction. Their outcry, in turn, has transformed the problem from something taboo into a priority for local governments—and thousands of lawsuits have been the result. Quinones acknowledged that pharmaceutical companies will likely never pay anything close to the full cost of what they’ve done. And yet, as he told me by phone, “We have probably seen the last of Purdue Pharma the way it once looked, and that right there is stunning.” He’s right: that is no small feat.

Still, there’s something else that future settlements could require, something that Raj Aggarwal sees as a potentially just approach. What if a team of people in recovery from drug addiction were enlisted to teach the pharmaceutical executives what it really means to take responsibility? It’s an idea that honors those whom they most victimized, while giving the perpetrators a framework for grappling with what they’ve done and beginning to make amends.

Imagine the Sacklers embarking on a searching 12-step moral inventory of themselves. (I, at least, fantasize about this.) Cynicism tells us that, even if this were to come to pass, a group of white-collar criminals would never listen, but Anna Du Puis takes a more charitable view. “As long as you’re breathing, there’s hope,” she told me.

I learn so much from people in recovery that sometimes I think my head will explode. Instead what happens is that my heart grows.

At the county jail, we finish our final class in that windowless room and the women file back to their cells. They will soon be released. Even though I know the odds are against them, I allow myself a tiny serving of optimism. Maybe, eventually, they will be viewed as true teachers among us.

Posted in USAComments Off on A 12-Step Program to Opioid Justice

The OAS Lied to the Public About the Bolivian Election and Coup

Facts show nothing suspicious about the re-election of Evo Morales.

by: Mark Weisbrot

Supporters of Evo Morales demonstrate in Cochabamba, Bolivia, on Monday. (Photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

Supporters of Evo Morales demonstrate in Cochabamba, Bolivia, on Monday. (Photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

What is the difference between an outright lie—stating something as a fact while knowing that it is false—and a deliberate material representation that accomplishes the same end? Here is an example that really pushes the boundary between the two, to the point where the distinction practically vanishes.

And the consequences are quite serious; this misrepresentation (or lie) has already played a major role in a military coup in Bolivia last week. This military coup overthrew the government of President Evo Morales before his current term was finished—a term to which nobody disputes that he was democratically elected in 2014.

More violent repression and even a civil war could follow.

The Organization of American States (OAS) sent an Electoral Observation Mission to Bolivia, entrusted with monitoring the Oct. 20 national election there. The day after the election, before all the votes were even counted, the mission put out a press release announcing its “deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results…”

Here is what the OAS was referring to: there is an unofficial “quick count” of the voting results that involves contractors who upload results at intervals, as the tally sheets are available. At 7:40 p.m. on election day, they had reported about 84% of the votes and then stopped reporting for 23 hours (more on that below).

When they resumed reporting results at 95% of votes counted, Morales’s lead had increased from 7.9% before the interruption to just over 10%.

This margin was important because in order to win without a second-round runoff, a candidate needs either an absolute majority, or at least 40% and a 10-point margin over the second-place finisher. This margin — which grew to 10.6% when all the votes were counted in the official count — re-elected Morales without a second round.

Morales’s lead grew steadily

Now, if you had any experience with elections or maybe even arithmetic, what is the first thing you would want to know about the votes that came in after the interruption? You might ask, were people in those areas any different from people in the average precinct in the first 84%?

And was the change in Morales’s margin sudden, or was it a gradual trend that continued as more vote tally sheets were reported?

You might even want to ask these questions before expressing “deep concern and surprise” about what happened, especially in a politically very polarized situation that was already turning violent.

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This graph shows that the lead held by President Evo Morales (light blue dots) and by his party in parliamentary elections (dark blue dots) rose at a steady rate for most of the vote counting. There was no sudden surge at the end to put him over the 10% threshold. CEPR

A look at that data shows that the change in Morales’s lead was actually gradual and continuous, and started rising many hours before the break in reporting of the quick count. You can see that in a graph of the results.

It’s geography

Why did it happen? The answer is simple and not that uncommon: the people in later-reporting areas were more pro-MAS (Morales’s party, the Movement Toward Socialism) than those in areas that reported earlier. Hence the gradual and continuous rise in Morales’s lead, in which the votes after the interruption put him over the top.

The OAS has published two press releases, one preliminary report, and one preliminary audit on the election. How many of these contained the disparagement of the election results implied by the “deep concern and surprise” quoted above? Three. How many contained anything about the difference between the percentage of MAS/Morales voters in areas with later returns versus earlier? Zero.

As it turns out, the interruption in the quick count was not a sign of foul play either.

Quick count has no legal status

The quick count is separate from the official count, and has no legal status to determine the results. It’s never been intended or promised to be a complete count; in prior elections it did not even near 84%.

It’s just a quick series of snapshots, done by contractors, to provide early results before the official count is done. It makes sense that the electoral authorities might not want two sets of voting results, which are inherently different, coming out at the same time in a violently polarized political situation.

For those who like numbers better than graphs: Morales’s margin after the first 84% of votes was 7.9%, as noted. If we look at the remaining 16% of precincts, and we ask, what is Morales’s pre-interruption margin in the areas where these later-reporting precincts were located? That margin is about 22%. Again, a simple explanation of how his margin increased as it did with later returns.

For a more powerful statistical analysis, we can project the remaining (and thus total) vote count on the basis of the first 84% reported. And—no surprise here—Morales’s projected final margin based on the first 84% of votes turns out to be slightly more than 10%.

It is difficult, almost impossible, to believe that this OAS mission, or those above them in the OAS Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation, felt “deep concern and surprise” and yet were too incompetent to even look at this data.

Three lies

That is why I would say that they lied at least three times: in the first press release, the preliminary report, and the preliminary audit. And that is why I would regard with great skepticism the allegations presented in their preliminary audit, and further publications—unless these can be verified by independent investigators from publicly available data.

And the OAS isn’t all that independent at the moment, with the Trump administration actively promoting this military coup, and Washington having more right-wing allies in the OAS than they did just a few years ago.

Not to mention that the U.S. supplies 60% of its budget. But the OAS has horribly abused its mandate in election monitoring before, helping to reverse election results as the U.S. and its allies wanted: most destructively, in 2000 in Haiti; and also in the same country in 2011.

More evidence: in the last three weeks, the OAS has refused to answer questions from journalists, on the record, about their statements or reports since the election.

Maybe they are afraid that a curious reporter would ask questions like these: Is there a difference between the political preferences of people who live in later-reporting areas as compared to earlier ones? Doesn’t this explain how Morales’s lead rose to more than 10% as votes from more pro-Morales areas came in? Did you even look at this question?

Since I am an economist, I believe in incentives: I am offering a $500 reward for the first journalist who can get a substantive answer to these questions from an OAS official, on the record. Even if turns out to be a lie.

Posted in USA, BoliviaComments Off on The OAS Lied to the Public About the Bolivian Election and Coup

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