Archive | August 29th, 2020

Veterans Demand Congress End the Forever Wars

An older man holds a black and white photo of crying women in chador
Antiwar activists gathered on March 19, 2019, outside 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan for a rally on the 16th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The rally was followed by a march on several military recruiting offices along Chambers Street and to Borough of Manhattan Community College to oppose the United States’s endless cycle of war and militarism.

BYMike LudwigTruthout

As politicians and pundits opined on the 16-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq this week, organizer and veteran Perry O’Brien observed that people who were born after the 9/11 attacks and the beginning of the global war on terror are now old enough to join the military and deploy to Afghanistan, where fragile peace talks between with the Taliban continue. Blood is still spilling in Kandahar, the province in Afghanistan where O’Brien served as a medic during the early years of the Afghan war.

“In 2003, the idea of being in Afghanistan even five more years would have sounded unlikely; 15 years would have been madness,” O’Brien said in an interview with Truthout.

Nowdays, O’Brien is a political organizer with Common Defense, a nationwide group of progressive veterans that grew out of protests against President Trump’s racist remarks on the 2016 campaign trail. Conservative political forces have long held a monopoly on the public image of military service and patriotism, O’Brien said, but the nationwide community of progressive veterans is actually “enormous.”

“We didn’t want to be props for Trump’s campaign for hate,” O’Brien said. “We were outraged by his remarks about Muslims and immigrants, and the whole platform and were, you know, angry with … how he wraps himself in the flag and the symbols of service even though he has never served anything other than himself.”

Common Defense organizes and trains veterans to advocate on issues ranging from racial and economic justice to opposing the Trump administration’s ban transgender troops, but after nearly two decades of seemingly endless war, O’Brien and other vets want to make it glaringly clear to policymakers that supporting U.S. military intervention has nothing to do with supporting the troops.

“There is a mistaken view that the military community wants you to show your support for the troops by being pro-intervention,” O’Brien said. “Nothing could be further from the truth in terms of what the military community really wants.”

Congress Debates U.S. Militarism Under Trump

Common Defense is one of several veterans’ groups on both the left and the right that are putting mounting pressure on Congress to bring a clear end to the “forever wars.” Now that the war on terror has come to 80 countries, directly caused nearly half-a-million deaths and cost taxpayers more than $5.9 trillion since 2011, momentum among lawmakers to reassert their constitutional war-making authority is gaining steam after years of inaction and failed bipartisan attempts to rein in the White House and Pentagon.“There is a mistaken view that the military community wants you to show your support for the troops by being pro-intervention.”

Both the House and Senate have approved resolutions to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s bloody civil war, a clear rebuke of both the Saudi royal government and its cozy relationship with President Trump. Lawmakers in both chambers, particularly Democrats, have warned against U.S. military intervention in Venezuela, where hawks in the Trump administration are actively supporting a right-wing opposition leader as the country suffers an ongoing political and humanitarian crisis.

Progressive Democrats and some isolationist Republicans are also pushing legislation that would force a drawdown of war on terror operations in Afghanistan and across the world. Common Defense and dozens of other groups have seized on these proposals, putting mounting pressure on lawmakers (and House Democrats in particular) to bring them up for debate.

“There’s more and more of a drumbeat in Congress, but there’s also more and more of a drumbeat outside of Congress,” said Heather Brandon-Smith, a legislative director at the pro-peace Friends Committee on National Legislation, in an interview.

On March 13, a coalition of 42 advocacy organizations from across the political spectrum sent a letter asking the ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to advance H.R. 1274, a bill that would sunset the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) issued by Congress in the days following the 9/11 attacks. Congress only debated the war in Afghanistan, but the Bush and Obama administrations broadly interpreted the authorization to justify at least 41 military operations in 19 countries.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) introduced H.R. 1274 and was the lone member of Congress to vote against the initial use-of-force authorization. She is also one of the few members of Congress from that era who is still serving today. Now, Representative Lee has 50 co-sponsors from both parties on her bill to repeal what she calls “that blank check for endless war.”“Our brave men and women in uniform deserve a full debate and vote on the costs and consequences of our ongoing wars.”

“For far too long, Congress has been missing in action when it comes to our constitutional duty,” Lee told Truthout in an email. “Our brave men and women in uniform deserve a full debate and vote on the costs and consequences of our ongoing wars. I’m encouraged that my colleagues — both Democrat and Republican — are standing up for the Constitution and insisting Congress muster the courage to repeal the 2001 AUMF.”

A spokesman for Rep. Eliot Engle, the Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, did not respond to an email inquiry about Lee’s bill by the time this story was published.

Peace Is a Litmus Test for Democrats

O’Brien said there are not enough isolationist Republicans in Congress to rein in the global reach of the U.S. military. President Trump has been able to have it both ways, pitching himself as a non-interventionist on the campaign trail while promoting war hawks like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton to top positions in his administration, and threatening to invade Venezuela and even Chicago.

“When we look at the last 18 years, it has proved the Republicans are not going to lead us towards a more peaceful foreign policy,” O’Brien said. “They are not going to give up defense spending.”

Instead, Common Defense is focusing on mainstream Democrats, who could be leading the way for peace but have shirked antiwar stances for years out of a misguided fear of being labeled “foreign policy wimps.” Democrats have also received tens of millions of dollars in contributions from defense contractors over the years, and even progressive Democrats are reluctant to oppose military spending that brings pork back to their home states.

Common Defense has been meeting with lawmakers and urging them to sign a “pledge to end the forever war” and halt the foreign policies keeping the U.S. military in a permanent state of international conflict. O’Brien is pitching the pledge as a litmus test for progressives, much like support for the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. Several progressive stars have already signed on, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar and presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

There is no more patriotic American than @Ilhan. She is graceful, brilliant, and insightful. I will not stand for the anti-black attacks against her. She belongs on the foriegn affairs committee. #VetsForIlhan #IStandWithIllhan @commondefense pic.twitter.com/4kE1FrlfOR

— Dennis (@css_dennis) March 6, 2019

“We want the country to know that these are the folks that the military community is standing behind — the people who are willing to support the military and see use-of-force as a last resort,” O’Brien said.

Will other Democrats listen to veterans in the party’s base and follow suit?

Posted in USAComments Off on Veterans Demand Congress End the Forever Wars

Veterans Urge Presidential Candidates to Say No to Militarism

BYCandice BerndTruthout

Veterans are making clear that they — the troops that everyone claims to support — are being exploited by extremist politicians.
Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016

During a campaign rally for Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on February 19, the eve of that state’s primary, a group of 10 veterans unfurled a banner reading, “Mr. Trump: Veterans are not props for hate. We stand with our Muslim sisters and brothers.” Shortly after, they were escorted out of the Trump rally by security.

(Courtesy: Iraq Veterans Against the War / Beyond the Choir)

Jose Vasquez, who serves on the board of directors for Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), condemns Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, emphasizing that many of his fellow veterans also oppose such measures.

“Some of us have served overseas and have worked sideby side with Iraqi interpreters or people in Afghanistan working with the American troops there, and also interacted with Iraqi and Afghan people and know that not everybody who is Muslim is evil,” Vasquez told Truthout.

Vasquez served from 1992 to 1996 as a cavalry scout in the U.S. Army and then as a combat medic, nurse and emergency medical technician instructor from 1997 to 2005 before applying to be discharged as a conscientious objector. He was honorably discharged in May 2007 at the rank of staff sergeant.

Vasquez is one of 14 antiwar veterans and conscientious objectors traveling along the campaign trail to hold both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates accountable for their rhetoric on veterans’ issues and foreign policy. Vasquez says their group wants to show that Trump and other candidates are simply pandering to vets rather than substantively addressing their needs, and that many of their proposals would harm their interests rather than help.

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Beyond the Choir protest during a Trump campaign stop.

The contingent is associated with IVAW and its sister organization Veterans for Peace, as well as Beyond the Choir, a strategy group that is working to help veterans become leaders in progressive social justice movements by providing a strong critique of foreign policy at a time when the national antiwar movement has waned. In the past few weeks, they have directly challenged GOP candidates, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and others who have since dropped out of the race, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) businesswoman Carly Fiorina and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), on issues such as the Iraq war, welcoming refugees to the United States, Islamophobia and war profiteering.

The group is injecting veterans’ concerns into a presidential debate in which, for the first time in modern U.S. politics, no candidate from either party currently in the primary race has ever served in the military. (Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Virginia) had served but are no longer in the race.)Veterans are making clear that they — the troops that everyone claims to support — are being exploited by extremist politicians.

Vasquez asked Santorum about the deportations of immigrant veterans after their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and what he would do to prevent such deportations in the future. According to Vasquez and others, Santorum was shocked to hear that veterans were being deported. Other candidates simply snubbed the vets, such as Bush when he was confronted about his support for the Iraq war.

In each forum, the veterans are making clear that they — the troops that everyone claims to support — are being exploited by extremist politicians whose goals differ vastly from their own.

“[We’re] trying to direct these campaigns and ask them questions in a way that makes them think about issues that they haven’t,” says another conscientious objector, Jacob Bridge, who served in the Marine Corps from 2011 to 2016. “[We’re] trying to shift conversations so that they actually have to represent our wants and needs…. We’re getting some of these politicians on the record with our bird-dogging attempts, and we’re not letting events go off, especially like Trump’s, where they can just kind of say whatever they want and expect no repercussions from these groups that they use.”

Messages from veterans shared across social media.

One of the issues this contingent is working to highlight and pressure candidates to address is an ongoing right-wing effort to privatize the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system through an AstroTurf group funded and created by the Koch brothers, Concerned Veterans for America, which advocates free market proposals to “fix” the problems plaguing the VA.

“I sort of got the same canned response from everybody, which was, ‘Oh, we’re not trying to privatize the VA; we want veterans to have a choice,’ which seems to be the official talking point for people who want to privatize the VA,” Perry O’Brien of Beyond the Choir told Truthout. O’Brien served as a medic in the Army from 2001 to 2004, and deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. “A lot of the candidates on the Republican side have sort of unofficially endorsed [privatizing the VA health care system] by … talking about versions of it under the auspices of creating ‘choice’ for veterans.”

O’Brien pointed to his experience watching the private sector in action during his time in Afghanistan, where he saw “obscene levels of graft, waste, fraud and abuse perpetrated by private contractors in the areas of the occupation that were outsourced and privatized.” He says these abuses have made a lot of veterans understandably skeptical about the private sector’s ability to solve any of the problems at the VA.

Meanwhile, Republican candidates have vied to supply the strongest rebuke of President Obama’s plan to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its prisoners to their home countries or to a U.S. prison. Senator Rubio said the plan would be tantamount to handing over the base to the Cuban government. “We are not giving back an important naval base to an anti-American, communist dictatorship,” he said. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) compared the plan to former President Jimmy Carter’s signing of the Panama Canal Treaty.“Politicians saying that the Iraq war was a mistake doesn’t begin to get at the hundreds of thousands of lives lost.”

As the GOP candidates try to one-up each other to reject a move by the president that once held wide bipartisan support, they are also volleying over how best to expand the role of the U.S. military, both domestically and abroad. Most of the candidates have advocated for beefing up and “modernizing” the armed forces and intelligence spheres, which would require increasing military spending. It’s the components of a foreign policy agenda that antiwar veterans say would not just harm those who serve in the armed forces but also the U.S. public and the victims of U.S. imperialism across the globe more broadly.

“Politicians saying that the Iraq War was a mistake doesn’t begin to get at the hundreds of thousands of lives lost,” O’Brien said. “I think there’s no question that the war in Iraq led to the creation of what we now call ISIS and the struggles in Syria. You can draw a pretty clear causal line between the invasion of Iraq and the [foreign policy] challenges that we face today, not to mention the collapse of our own economy and the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been killed. I think it’s fair to say that there’s very little of our current political situation abroad or at home that hasn’t been dramatically negatively impacted by [Iraq’s] invasion.”

Military spending accounts for more than 50 percent of all U.S. discretionary spending, according to the National Priorities Project. President Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget includes a proposed Pentagon budget of $582.7 billion, up from a defense budget of $580.3 billion for fiscal 2016. An analysis of the largest defense budgets in 2015 by the International Institute for Strategic Studies shows that U.S. defense spending easily dwarfs all other countries individually and is almost as much as 14 other countries’ budgets combined. Antiwar vets on the campaign trail argue that even just cutting the U.S. military budget by a small percentage would provide the U.S. public with more social services.

“There isn’t a single [GOP] candidate who actually addresses the problem of militarism, which to me means getting the military influence out of middle schools and out of high schools, drawing down the military’s size, decreasing the budget and using that extra money for social health care,” Bridge said. “They’re really all about a bigger and bigger military.”

But it’s not just Republicans’ positions on military expansionism that the veterans want to challenge — the problem also extends to the Democratic candidates. “The Democrats in general fall less into the war hawk camp than certainly the current field of Republicans. However, I think it does matter that [former Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton not just supported the war in Iraq but really rallied behind it,” O’Brien told Truthout, warning against her hawkish record.

While the contingent was generally supportive of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s emphasis on diplomacy, history of opposition to the Iraq War and rejection of increases to defense spending that come at the expense of domestic social spending, they cautioned that no one politician can be a solution to the sprawling U.S. military-industrial complex, and that all the candidates need to be held accountable to veterans and everyone else who is impacted by U.S. militarism and interventionism.

If given the chance, Bridge said he’d challenge both Clinton and Sanders on their willingness to continue the use of drone warfare in the war on terror. “[Drones] are the strongest source of ISIS recruitment because we have a lot of civilian casualties over there that we refuse to acknowledge,” he said.

Both major parties have received campaign contributions from the arms industry, something the veterans are also working to highlight in their electoral activism. So far during the 2016 election cycle, defense contractors have contributed nearly $10 million to politicians, with most of that going to Republicans. But, of the top 20 recipients of the arms industry’s cash, including congressional candidates, Clinton is ranked number three, receiving $256,050 in contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In fact, she has received the most contributions from the defense sector of any presidential candidate, with Senator Cruz coming in second, having received $87,997. Senator Sanders’s campaign has received $$98,057 in contributions.

“The idea that you can profit off a machine that’s only used, really, to destroy property and people, I think is a perverse thing, and then I think that the companies that profit off that would then inject that money into the political process is totally, totally wrong,” Bridge said. “It totally warps what a democracy is.”

But the veterans aren’t just trying to challenge the candidates and hold them accountable on militarism and warfare abroad. They are also organizing beyond the election, pushing issues they view as central to the well-being of veterans, such as expanding access to the VA health care system and support for vets with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

The VA health care system came under national scrutiny when CNN reported in 2014 that 40 veterans had died while waiting for care at Veterans Health Administration facilities in Phoenix, Arizona. An internal VA audit later revealed that more than 100,000 veterans waited more than 90 days for care or never received it.

Both Democratic and Republican candidates have promised to reform the VA, pledging additional funding for PTSD and TBI treatment, job training and placement services, and to end waste, fraud and mismanagement within the VA system. However, the antiwar veterans don’t buy all of these promises; they remain united in highlighting the threat of some Republican candidates’ vague rhetoric about giving veterans the option of using public funds to see private sector providers.

The group was more divided over charges that Sanders allowed the VA scandal of 2014 to unfold on his watch as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, with some saying the problems at the VA predated Sanders’s tenure on the committee and that the VA has long been underfunded and ill-equipped to meet the needs of a surge of veterans created by the global war on terror. Still, others said Sanders does share some of the blame for the lack of oversight, although they also praised him for having the strongest record of all the candidates in terms of authoring and co-sponsoring legislation that has substantially improved the lives of veterans, such as the post-9/11 GI Bill.

Regardless of who becomes president, however, the activists see their work with Beyond the Choir and the 2016 election as an opportunity to promote the voices of antiwar veterans and recruit other veterans who are connected to racial, economic and climate justice movements like Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15.

“Many of the so-called ‘domestic’ issues are intimately connected with issues of foreign policy, war, militarism and imperialism, and veterans are the ones who are best positioned to draw those connections, and to help lead a broader progressive movement in a way that encompasses those issues,” O’Brien said. “It’s not so much about bringing back a separate, stand-alone peace movement that is organized around opposition to a particular war but a more durable, long-term progressive alignment that includes those issues and strategically recognizes intersections.”

Posted in USAComments Off on Veterans Urge Presidential Candidates to Say No to Militarism

As Trump Threatens to Send Military Into Cities, Some GIs Refuse to Comply

One national guardsman looks away as the rest face forward in a line
National Guardsmen block off Sunset Blvd during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 2, 2020, in Los Angeles, California.

BYCandice BerndTruthout

Some National Guard and active-duty GIs are refusing to deploy to U.S. cities rising up against police-perpetrated killings, saying no to complicity in the repression of the American populace and that they have not been properly trained in riot response or de-escalation tactics on domestic soil.

Veterans and GI rights organizations told Truthout that dozens of GIs are reaching out to assess their options as President Trump orders military and federal police onto the streets of Washington, D.C., and threatens to use the 1807 Insurrection Act to send active-duty military into cities across the U.S. if governors cannot repress dissent in their states.

The National Guard has already mobilized 20,000 members in at least 29 states, and some governors, including Minnesota’s Tim Walz, have already declined Trump’s offer to send in military police. Trump has the authority, however, to deploy the military to states under the Insurrection Act, which would represent a dramatic escalation of Trump’s executive authority and likely spark pushback from state and local officials.

While the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits the domestic use of military for law enforcement purposes without specific congressional authorization, the Insurrection Act gives the president authorization to do so under certain circumstances, according to legal experts. The Insurrection Act has been invoked dozens of times in the country’s history, most recently during the 1992 uprising over the Los Angeles police officers’ beating of Rodney King.

But it’s not just the legality of the president’s and governors’ deployment orders that is weighing on Guardspersons and active-duty soldiers; it’s the potential moral injury of brutalizing their own communities.

One activated National Guard member who is currently in the process of refusing orders told Truthout that the events of the last few days have shattered his belief that there can be such a thing as a justified use of force. “Most of all, I feel that I cannot be complicit in any way when I’ve seen so many examples of soldiers and police acting in bad faith,” he said via an encrypted text message.

The Guardsman, who is consulting a lawyer, spoke to Truthout on the condition of anonymity to protect against further retaliation for his defection and for speaking to the press. He is relatively new to his unit, having recently graduated training, and says he enlisted in part due to his financial situation.“I cannot be complicit in any way when I’ve seen so many examples of soldiers and police acting in bad faith.”

His unit, he says, has not received any relevant riot response or de-escalation training amid the rapid pace of the unit’s deployment operations. “I learned basic soldiering and rifle skills in Basic Combat Training, and my trainee Military Occupational Specialty is not related to policing or riot response in any way,” he said. “No aspect of my training has touched on this subject. I am told that my unit has conducted riot response periodically in the past. We have not had any training or conversation relating to de-escalation tactics.”

Another Guardsman, a medic in an infantry line company in Pennsylvania who has not yet received orders to deploy, says he plans on refusing if it comes to that and is also currently consulting a lawyer regarding his options.

“I can’t do it. Even looking at my uniform is making me feel sick that I’m associated with this, especially after [the National Guard unit] shot that man who owned that barbecue shop [in Louisville, Kentucky],” he said. “I live in Pennsylvania. I live with the history of Kent State. I’m not being a part of that.”“I can’t do it. Even looking at my uniform is making me feel sick that I’m associated with this.”

The Pennsylvania Guardsman is also relatively new, he says; he began basic training in late 2016 and has never deployed. He enlisted because he felt he needed “a sense of purpose, some kind of direction” in life and because he comes from a military family. He originally hoped to join medical missions assisting in natural disasters.

He also hasn’t been trained for a domestic riot response scenario but says his unit would likely receive “some kind of slap-dash training” if it were called to deploy because of the situation’s time sensitivity.

Should they refuse orders to deploy, what consequences might soldiers face? Siri Margerin, a counselor with the GI Rights Hotline, heavily emphasized that there are still a lot of unknowns in regard to how command structures may punish troops who resist, including those who publicly refuse to obey orders, don’t show up to their armories, or deploy but quietly hold their fire.

“We don’t know, because this hasn’t happened in a very long time, and it has never happened with a president like we have right now,” Margerin said.

The GI Rights Network is organizing emergency conscientious objector packets for troops who may have only a matter of hours before they are scheduled to ship out, after orders are given. “Once they have [the conscientious objector packet] in, they should have the right to say that they can turn up at their mobilization point, but they cannot carry a weapon,” Margerin says.

Depending on commanding officers’ tolerance levels, Margerin says troops could face more serious charges ranging from desertion, absent without leave (AWOL) and misconduct charges to less serious consequences, such as separation from the Army with an other-than-honorable discharge. It’s also possible, however, that troops may not be charged at all. In any case, they most certainly risk hostile reactions from their commanders and fellow soldiers.“Once they have [the conscientious objector packet] in, they should have the right to say that they can turn up at their mobilization point, but they cannot carry a weapon.”

“People have not been charged with desertion routinely, but that could happen. They could certainly be charged with AWOL. If they’re charged with desertion, that is likely a court martial, and that could certainly mean some severe punishment,” like a dishonorable discharge, Margerin says. “Typically, when people don’t show up where they’re expected to be, they get an other-than-honorable discharge,” she says, again underlining that “that was before now, and now is very different, so we really don’t know.”

Margerin has already fielded a number of emotional calls this week from troops in tears, and says the hotline has received roughly 30 calls in the last five days, mostly consisting of Guard members with questions regarding the consequences for not showing up to their armories. The hotline has received a couple of calls from active-duty soldiers at Fort Bragg in North Carolina who have been mobilized.

Margerin says she’s also receiving inquiries from friends and associates outside the hotline whose relatives are facing the question of whether to deploy to American streets. “The individual soldier has to really decide what their tolerance level is and what their purpose is in [resisting orders],” she says. “There’s a lot of capacity for moral trauma in this and for people to end up doing things that they couldn’t live with if they did do.”“There’s a lot of capacity for moral trauma in this and for people to end up doing things that they couldn’t live with if they did do.”

Guardspeople and active-duty soldiers face starkly different questions and challenges in terms of resisting orders. The Pennsylvania Guardsman, for instance, doesn’t fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice unless he comes under federal orders. Until then, he remains under the purview of the state of Pennsylvania. Still, Margerin says, it’s complicated, because if the president orders the state’s governor to mobilize troops, he will become federally activated while still under the purview of state law.

“Those are different things, and it really is all about who would be punishing them, who would be making those judgments and who would be paying for it,” Margerin says. “So that’s where they’re going to be drawing lines about exactly who’s responsible for whom.”

Other left-leaning, antiwar veteran’s organizations are receiving an influx of inquiries. About Face: Veterans Against the War recently penned an open letter asking activated troops to stand down for Black lives. Since the letter was published, About Face Organizing Director Brittany DeBarros says more than 300 veterans have signed on, and that the organization has received several responses from National Guard members and active-duty troops.Troops are now occupying American communities, and are faced with a choice about whether to take actions that could haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Veterans for Peace Executive Director Garett Reppenhagen, a former Army Cavalry scout, says the organization is likewise receiving an influx of inquiries right now. He personally spoke with an activated National Guard member who didn’t show up to his armory Tuesday morning and to another active-duty Army soldier who doesn’t have current orders but is fielding options.

“It’s a very emergent, messy situation,” says About Face’s DeBarros, a former Army Reserve captain who was investigated by the Army for her criticisms of the military on social media, including her support for Colin Kaepernick’s stand against police-perpetrated violence. She says units’ last-minute riot response training “has a lot of people who maybe even aren’t politicized, or haven’t thought a lot about their service, just saying the kind of obvious, which is, ‘This is really dangerous.’”

DeBarros told Truthout she is receiving reports of troops being handed rules of engagement and somewhat less-than-lethal weapons that they’ve never been trained to use. “Those of us who have experience and training with less-than-lethal weapons know that all of those different weapons systems have distances that can make them lethal, and [troops] need to know those things and be trained on those things.”

Other units are moving so fast that some troops are reporting confusion regarding command structures and being deployed onto American streets without any kind of briefing regarding rules of engagement.

However, the Guardsmen say that many of their fellow soldiers are enthusiastic about deploying domestically, with some newer soldiers eager to get their first “stripes.” DeBarros has seen it before, saying that officers are not thinking soberly and thoughtfully “about the potential moral injury this could create, especially when you’re being asked to look your neighbors in the eye and point a weapon at them.”“A few people seem to be wrestling with their conscience, but they are quiet about it because there is some risk.”

Still, others are also expressing hesitation and reticence against turning on their own communities, even if they aren’t quite planning to refuse orders. “A few people seem to be wrestling with their conscience, but they are quiet about it because there is some risk involved with voicing that,” says the activated Guardsman about some officers in his unit.

Reppenhagen and DeBarros say that what is happening domestically is directly linked to the systemic oppression that has fueled the nation’s founding, as well as its expansionary imperialist hegemony abroad.

DeBarros says it’s not exactly that the war on terror is coming home, but that “it’s really more of a circle in that the war as we know it has come home again, we might say. Not only do we have these same institutions that have been used to oppress poor folks, Black folks, Brown folks, Indigenous folks since the founding of the country, but now we have them becoming more and more militarized.”“People who stay in need to very much think about what side of history they want to be on. They really need to sit down and think about what they’re willing to do for an oath that means trampling on their neighbors.”

Reppenhagen adds that when an “armed occupation comes to any place in the world, it invites violent resistance against it because people don’t like to see an oppressive force in their community and will do almost anything to get rid of it because of the humiliation and the threat that it presents.”

Troops are now occupying American communities, and are faced with a choice about whether they want to stoke more violence and take actions that could haunt them for the rest of their lives.

“I can say from experience that the moral cost, the cost to your soul of following an order that you wish that you hadn’t, is far greater and far more sustained than whatever the military can do to you in the short run,” DeBarros said.

The Guardsman in Pennsylvania also cautioned his fellow soldiers to think twice before deploying. “In this moment, the people who stay in need to very much think about what side of history they want to be on,” he said. “They really need to sit down and think about what they’re willing to do for an oath that means trampling on their neighbors.”

Posted in USA, C.I.AComments Off on As Trump Threatens to Send Military Into Cities, Some GIs Refuse to Comply

Trump’s Federal Police Surge Could Provoke an Election Day Constitutional Crisis

Federal police under the orders of President Trump launch tear gas after a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, on July 23, 2020.
Federal police under the orders of President Trump launch tear gas after a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, on July 23, 2020.

BYCandice BerndTruthout

Voting Wrongs

Courts must end Trump’s paramilitary urban war against Democratic mayors and cities ahead of the November election, voting rights and legal experts tell Truthout, otherwise they leave open the possibility of an unprecedented constitutional crisis buttressed by the president’s personal secret police.

As President Trump prepares an additional “surge” of federal agents into Democratic-led U.S. cities, including Chicago and Albuquerque, after days of dystopian images of unidentified feds brutalizing and kidnapping protesters in Portland, local leaders are balking. State and local officials have filed several lawsuits against Trump’s unprecedented police-state practices in Portland, and other targeted states are gearing up for their own legal fights.

At least four lawsuits have been filed in federal court relating to the feds’ handling of Portland’s protests, which have roiled for more than 60 nights after the Minneapolis police-perpetrated killing of George Floyd.

On Thursday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring feds from arresting or using physical force against journalists and legal observers in Portland. On Friday, a federal judge in a separate case denied a request by the Oregon attorney general’s office for an order that would have required feds in Portland to identify themselves.

If courts fail to permanently enjoin Trump’s federal police apparatus from being deployed in cities against the will of local officials, legal experts say there remains a chance that Trump could use his newfound personal paramilitary before and after Election Day in a cynical attempt to intimidate and suppress voters at polls — or even to remain in power if he doesn’t accept the election’s results.

Senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials told Politico they “expect the unrest to escalate at least through the November election, and noted that the protection of federal buildings falls squarely within their remit,” based on Trump’s Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence, and a 2003 federal statute.

Voting rights experts say that the deployment of federal police in major U.S. cities is enough to potentially suppress in-person voting. But it could be even worse than that, since without clear restrictions from courts, it remains unclear just how far feds could float during voting periods.“It’s just a highly unusual and very difficult to defend process that’s being used.”

Trump’s federal police are just the latest front in a wider reelection strategy focused on suppressing mail-in voting, intimidating voters, spreading misinformation and undermining the democratic process. Last month, Trump called his campaign’s potential loss of lawsuits related to states’ mail-in ballot procedures the “biggest risk” to his reelection bid.

Not only is Trump enlisting an army of 50,000 poll watchers to intimidate voters of color in his war against the ballot; he’s enlisting secret stormtroopers to possibly to do the same, while also inflaming tensions and renewed uprisings to justify a potential power grab less than 100 days before the election in one of the most nefarious reelection bids of all time.

Can Courts Rein In Trump’s Secret Police?

Unidentified feds’ actions against protesters in Portland — including their use of tear gas, impact munitions and unmarked vehicles to snatch, interrogate and transport protesters to unknown locations without informing them of why they’re being arrested, and then releasing them with no record of arrest — violate First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections of speech, press, due process, and against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The 10th Amendment, which determines that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states, puts “the safety and welfare of the public,” including policing powers, in the hands of the states, not the federal government, according to Michael Greenberger, a law professor and the director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland.“The actions here are so extraordinary that I think they can overcome a claim of qualified immunity.”

Federal forces, including agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Protective Service, are operating under the legal authority of a 2003 statute and Trump’s executive order on protecting federal monuments and property but have been patrolling largely nonfederal areas of Portland.

“It’s just a highly unusual and very difficult to defend process that’s being used,” Greenberger told Truthout, as there’s no legal precedent that would support the presence of so many unidentified federal police in U.S. cities without the cooperation of local and state officials and law enforcement.

Nonetheless, while individuals whose rights have been violated could bring successful challenges against federal police, it may be more difficult for states or cities to end or restrict the presence of feds in their jurisdictions because of issues related to their legal standing to do so, Greenberger says.

While Thursday’s temporary restraining order barring feds from using force, threats and dispersal orders against journalists or legal observers is a hopeful sign; Bush-appointed Federal Judge Michael Mosman ruled Friday that Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum lacked standing to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the state because her office “hadn’t articulated any specific state interest beyond the constitutional rights of individuals.”

During a remote hearing in Oregon’s suit last week, Judge Mosman noted that in earlier cases, “the court has required states to meet the high bar of ‘quasi-sovereign interest’ to sue the federal government.”

Judge Mosman also said that compelling feds to identify themselves might prove too limited to give much solace to would-be protesters. He added that the use of unmarked vehicles by police is commonplace, and couldn’t be used exclusively to conclude that feds were out of line.“One thing we need to worry about is CBP and ICE being used to intimidate people at the polls.”

Individual plaintiffs may likewise find it difficult to criminally prosecute federal agents for damages, as feds, much like cops, are protected by immunity. Greenberger, however, says that suits brought by individual plaintiffs could still prove successful in enjoining federal police, and that “the actions here are so extraordinary that I think they can overcome a claim of qualified immunity.”

The other legal framework undergirding Trump’s strategy is the 1807 Insurrection Act, which allows such deployments of active-duty military police or federalized National Guards when “the ability to enforce civil and constitutional rights has been abandoned because local law enforcement has no ability to protect people,” Greenberger says.

The Act is an exception to federal law that prevents the military from being involved in civilian law enforcement and has been invoked dozens of times in the country’s history, most recently during the 1992 uprising over the Los Angeles police officers’ beating of Rodney King. Greenberger notes the law does not require that state and local officials invite military deployments.

On July 21, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Act that would require the president to consult with Congress before deploying federal troops to U.S. cities. It compels the administration to certify to Congress that local authorities are unable or unwilling to quell violence.

A Test Run for Election Day?

Without a permanent injunction against Trump’s brazen deployments of secret stormtroopers by fall, there remains a chance that he could try to use them to bolster another army: The Republican Party is recruiting 50,000 partisan poll watchers to deploy in key precincts around the country to intimidate voters of color under the guise of protecting against virtually nonexistent “voter fraud.”

In 1981, New Jersey Republicans hired county deputy sheriffs and local police outfitted with revolvers, two-way radios and armbands reading, “National Ballot Security Task Force” to patrol majority Black and Latinx precincts in the state. A New Jersey voter who was turned away from a polling place by a task force member sued, resulting in a 1982 consent decree barring the party from intimidating voters of color and deputizing off-duty police as poll watchers.“The way a constitutional crisis evolves is through litigation. There are longer interlocutory injunctions that could last until the case is resolved.”

The 2020 presidential election will be the first in nearly 40 years when the Republican National Committee (RNC) won’t be bound by the terms of the 1982 decree. The RNC already is spending millions on a renewed voter suppression scheme involving thousands of poll observers targeting predominantly Black precincts in Philadelphia, for instance, where the Trump campaign is legally challenging not only the state’s mail-in ballot procedures but also a state statute that places limits on who may serve as a poll watcher.

Depending on the state, partisan poll watchers can challenge a voter’s eligibility based on their address, citizenship or even when they registered to vote. Stipulations regarding poll watchers’ qualifications, powers, proximity to polling places, and observation process vary widely depending on state and county election codes.

But Republicans aren’t just looking to deputize off-duty cops as poll watchers again; they’re also looking to recruit former Navy SEALS to do the job. Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of True the Vote, a conservative election monitoring group, laid the plan at a closed-door conference in February: “You get some SEALs in those polls, and they’re going to say, ‘No, no, this is what it says. This is how we’re going to play this show,’” Engelbrecht said, according to a recording obtained by The Intercept.

Add Trump’s federal secret police to the mix, and the picture becomes more than ominous for predominantly Black and Latinx inner-city polling places this fall.

“One thing we need to worry about is CBP and ICE being used to intimidate people at the polls. I’m not predicting it will happen. I’m not saying it will happen. I’m saying that we have to worry about it,” Jason Stanley, a philosophy professor at Yale University and an expert on fascism, recently told Business Insider. “When people encounter law enforcement, they’re much less likely to vote; to participate civically.”

Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, cited a study that found probability of voting went down by 8 percent among those who were stopped or questioned by police. He also cited another study that similarly showed communities with the highest rates of police contact were 50 percent less likely to vote.“This raises the specter of authoritarian practices, and the fear is that Trump may deploy feds if he loses the election.”

Still, with 41 states allowing voters to vote absentee this fall for any reason, if current polling holds, it’s unlikely Trump will be able to suppress enough votes to fight an Electoral College loss. Moreover, law professor Greenberger is confident that by the time of the election, cases will have wended through trial and circuit courts, perhaps even to the Supreme Court, with clear rulings restricting Trump’s police-state practices in some form.

“As these cases are litigated, there will be more concern about this introduction of federal law enforcement officials,” Greenberger says. “The way a constitutional crisis evolves is through litigation and people bringing lawsuits…. There are longer interlocutory injunctions that could last until the case is resolved.”

But a national crisis could also arise after the election, as Trump’s federal deployments raise “the specter of authoritarian practices, and the fear is that Trump may [deploy feds] if he loses the election,” as Greenberger says.

Since in-person votes could skew Republican this year, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, and because in-person votes are typically reported first on election night, the initial results on November 3 might favor Trump and cause him to claim victory prematurely.

But as mailed ballots — skewing Democratic, according to the same poll — are counted, Biden could end up taking the lead days later. Trump could instigate a national crisis if he decries late-counted ballots as fraudulent and/or refuses to concede.

In such a scenario, though, even if Trump tries to stay in the White House after Biden is inaugurated, it’s unlikely that the Defense Department would be willing to back him.“There’s a better chance of the Republicans trying to replace Trump as a candidate than Trump having enough credibility to use law enforcement to keep him in the White House.”

Trump is losing support from his own military brass, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who recently raised concerns within the administration about Trump’s use of federal forces for law enforcement. Employees within DHS are also calling the department’s deployment of the feds an unusual maneuver that could do long-term damage to the agency’s reputation.

Still, with the steadfast backing of DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, Trump could attempt a power grab by employing federal forces with an illegal suspension of civil liberties or even a declaration of martial law.

With renewed unrest over the weekend in several U.S. cities, as protesters faced off with feds in Portland, forced a police retreat in Seattle, and set fire to a courthouse in Oakland, the stage is set.

Greenberger doubts Trump could pull it off, though, saying he doesn’t have “enough credibility to use law enforcement, even in his own administration, to keep him in the White House.”

Further, even if Trump declared martial law, he still wouldn’t be able to postpone the November 3 election. Only Congress can alter the federal statute to change the date that states convene electors. Even then, the president’s term would still expire at noon on January 20, 2021. The powers of the office would then succeed to the Speaker of the House.

Nonetheless, if Trump loses, the period between November and January could be one of the most dangerous chapters in the nation’s modern history — especially if courts do not restrain the president’s federal paramilitary force.

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Trump Is Laying the Groundwork to Reject the Results of the Election

Donald Trump points
Donald Trump gestures after delivering his acceptance speech for the Republican Party nomination for reelection during the final day of the Republican National Convention from the South Lawn of the White House on August 27, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

BYSasha AbramskyTruthout

Voting Wrongs

Last week, as Donald Trump ginned up for the Republican National Convention, he went on Fox News to talk with Sean Hannity about “voter fraud,” be it fraud committed at polling sites or fraud committed by mail. To preempt this, he assured his audience, he would send sheriffs, miscellaneous other law enforcement and U.S. attorneys into polling places around the country to monitor for irregularities.

This warning, along with ongoing GOP plans to send 50,000 “poll watchers” to polling stations around the country, echoed GOP strategies from decades past, when the party routinely sent out monitors to Black neighborhoods and other areas that tended to skew Democratic. In April, The Intercept reported that conservative activists wanted monitors for the November elections to include off-duty and retired police, military, even Navy SEALs — a practice that was banned between 1981 and 2018 by a consent decree stopping the GOP from carrying out such monitoring, but which has been permitted for the past couple years after a judge in New Jersey decided not to renew the consent decree. Into this legal opening, Trump apparently hopes to place an armed force intended to scare would-be voters away from polling sites.

A few days after Trump’s Hannity interview, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf acknowledged his department didn’t actually have the authority to dispatch agents to in-person vote sites in November. In Congress, Trump’s beleaguered Postmaster General Louis DeJoy tried damage limitation by claiming that the U.S. Postal Service was absolutely equipped to handle a surge in mail-in votes; he also reportedly told Trump and his operatives to stop undermining confidence in the postal system.

Trump responded not with contrition but with more attacks on the postal system. As the GOP convention got underway, he continued issuing warnings that his opponents were intent on stealing the election through a vast conspiracy to commit wholesale vote-by-mail fraud.

Now, this may all be bluster. But it’s calculated bluster that is designed to shore up Trump’s position in November. For whether or not Trump actually tries to order the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and other departments to send out armed agents and other officials to polling sites, the damage that he is already doing is immense.

Two-thirds of Republican voters now tell pollsters they don’t have confidence in the fairness of the election. And some polls have shown that 8 out of every 10 Republican voters now believe that an expanded vote-by-mail system will lead to a fraudulent result.The vast majority of voter suppression efforts emanate from the right wing.

Now, don’t get me wrong; a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to elections being undermined by those with power isn’t a bad thing. After all, when political leaders push and courts uphold restrictions on the franchise — through purges of voter rolls, disenfranchisement of those with felony convictions, making it harder for students to register to vote in the college towns in which they live, and so on — that clearly isn’t a good thing for democracy. Similarly, when polling sites are closed in poor, disproportionately nonwhite neighborhoods, resulting in people having to spend hours in line simply to cast a ballot, that too flies in the face of any sense of democratic fairness. When polling stations are shut, as they were this June in Lexington, Kentucky, while hundreds of people who have waited for hours are still in line outside, that’s also anti-democratic, as a judge noted in ordering the polls to stay open longer so that these voters could cast their ballots.

For more than 20 years I have written about organized efforts to suppress the vote. And the vast majority of voter suppression efforts emanate from the right wing. They are championed by people such as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who, both as secretary of state and in his current job, has pushed for strict voter ID laws in his state. These laws are seen as election-winning tools by conservative activists in states such as Wisconsin, who have sued to enforce strict purges of the electoral rolls. They are embraced by the GOP in Florida, which, despite passage of a ballot initiative a couple years back to re-enfranchise those with felony convictions, has stonewalled the changes and fought a rearguard political and legal action to limit the scope of the re-enfranchisement.Trump’s definition of fraud seems to be electoral participation by people who disagree with Trump.

If Trump were genuinely interested in protecting the integrity of the electoral process, he would tackle all of these well-documented abuses head-on. If he really wanted to use federal agents and attorneys to protect the election, he would ask William Barr’s Department of Justice to investigate these orchestrated efforts to disenfranchise huge numbers of Americans. But, of course, that’s the last thing Trump wants.

Trump, who has never had an approval rating above 50 percent as president, knows that the more Americans that vote, the poorer his re-election chances are. If he wants to maintain power, he has to both massively reduce the numbers who vote and also gin up enough distrust in the results amongst his supporters that, if he loses, he can convince them the result is illegitimate.

In short, Trump’s definition of fraud seems to be electoral participation by people who disagree with Trump. And his definition of “monitoring” for fraud, is, similarly, more realistically “intimidating political opponents and refusing to acknowledge unfavorable vote tallies.”

To call this a scorched-earth strategy is an understatement. For it is a strategy that could push the U.S. toward violent civil conflict over the coming months. This week, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a young white man fixated on his support for the police murdered two people protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake, as armed white militias swarmed the protests. Now, the country needs to grapple with the likelihood that these same far right militias may turn to violence to protect Trump’s presidency.

With less than 10 weeks until the election, Donald Trump is explicitly laying the groundwork to reject the results of the election, and to encourage his followers to take to the streets to maintain his hold on power.

In an era in which paramilitary groupings have increasingly brought weapons to protests, and in a period in which there are more guns in civilians’ hands in the U.S. than there are people, that is a scenario that ought to inspire horror no matter what your ideological affiliations are.

Posted in USA, Campaigns, PoliticsComments Off on Trump Is Laying the Groundwork to Reject the Results of the Election

Trump Touts Stock Market Gains That Benefit the Wealthy as Americans Suffer

President Trump gestures during his acceptance speech for the Republican Party nomination for reelection during the final day of the Republican National Convention from the South Lawn of the White House on August 27, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
President Trump gestures during his acceptance speech for the Republican Party nomination for reelection during the final day of the Republican National Convention from the South Lawn of the White House on August 27, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

BYSteven ChovanecTruthout

It is always curious when the health of the economy is equated with the stock market, as President Trump did when he touted the recent record highs of the S&P and Dow Jones, claiming he is presiding over the “fastest economic recovery” in U.S. history.

This is strange given that the stock market doesn’t represent the economy or its people’s well-being. As economist Dean Baker has noted time and again, “The stock market is a measure of the expectations of future profits of companies that are listed in the exchange.” In other words, it is a projection of how good things will be for the wealthy investor class, not for you or me.

Furthermore, the benefits of stock market increases go primarily to a small number of already rich and wealthy people. According to a 2016 Federal Reserve data analysis by New York University economics professor Edward Wolff, “84% of stocks owned by U.S. households are held by the wealthiest 10% of Americans.” So, while Trump tries to portray stock gains as good for average people by pointing to retirement funds and pension plans, Wolff explains that in reality, “For most Americans, a stock price increase is pretty immaterial to their well-being.” They might see small increases to their wealth, but “it’s not going to be anything to write home about.”

Whenever Trump, the Republicans or anyone within the mainstream tries to portray a good economy by pointing to a good stock market, just remember they are talking not about you but a small group of privileged people. As George Carlin said, “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it!”

This tendency to equate what’s good for the rich with what’s good for all is deeply ingrained in U.S. politics. Despite the fact that future corporate profits do not necessarily equate to a better economy, the stock market continues to be used as an indicator of overall economic health. This is largely because doing so serves the interests of those who benefit from higher stock prices. Namely, the very wealthy who own most of the stock and — due to their economic status — have an inordinate amount of power and influence over what narratives are discussed throughout the media. When a narrative reinforces a worldview that is beneficial to powerful elites, there is a lot of incentive for it to be proliferated without being held to much scrutiny.

Yet this becomes a problem when the people whose lives aren’t much affected by stock prices start to internalize this framework. While stocks can trend with the economy given that strong growth will normally also mean larger profits, it is also just as likely that profits are rising for other reasons. If labor costs go down because a company slashes worker benefits, or if companies receive large tax breaks, that would translate into higher profits and stock prices, but it says nothing about the growth of the economy. When this narrative is continually repeated, however, it is no wonder that many working people will reflexively start to adopt it. But this is very dangerous, as it will likely lead people to support policies that help increase the wealth of the very rich instead of ones that would improve their own lives.This tendency to equate what’s good for the rich with what’s good for all is deeply ingrained in U.S. politics.

Having an understanding of this is even more imperative since it is glaringly apparent that the overall economy has been structured to work primarily for the privileged few.

From 1979 to 2017, total productivity rose by 70.3 percent. Yet the wages of typical workers largely stagnated in comparison, growing by just 11.1 percent. That “excess” productivity went almost exclusively to corporate profits, investors and the top 1 percent of earners. During the same period, the top 0.1 percent saw their earnings grow by a staggering 15 times that of the bottom 90 percent combined.

When UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston conducted an official investigation into the nature of inequality in the U.S. in 2018, he pointed to key policy platforms that were contributing to the problem, noting the “high tax breaks and financial windfalls to the very wealthy and largest corporations” which were paid for in part by “reducing welfare benefits to the poor”; the undertaking of radical deregulation that “eliminates protections mainly benefiting the middle classes and the poor”; attacks on health care that left millions without coverage; restrictions of “eligibility for many welfare benefits”; “dramatic increases in spending on defense”; insufficient funding to tackle the opioid crisis; and there being “no effort to tackle the structural racism that keeps a large percentage of non-Whites in poverty.”For the first time in history, the 12 richest individuals in the U.S. collectively hold over $1 trillion in wealth.

Yet in the COVID era, the failures of our unequal system have been more starkly evident. Even before the pandemic, nearly half of Americans lived paycheck to paycheck. Nearly 40 percent didn’t have the funds to cover a $400 emergency, and 50 percent of workers made less than $33,000 per year in 2018.

Now, in addition to over 177,000 COVID deaths within the country, the number of food-insecure households with children doubled from pre-COVID levels, as many as 40 million people are at risk of eviction from their homes, and more than 57 million have filed for unemployment benefits since March. Meanwhile, food banks are struggling to meet increased demand during the economic crisis. This, of course, is on top of the fact that frontline workers were forced to go back to work and risk their lives prematurely, without adequate safety measures implemented, and largely without hazard pay.

Meanwhile, a very different U.S. lurks on the other side of the divide. Since the nationwide lockdowns in March, the wealth of U.S. billionaires increased by $685 billion, leading to a situation where now, for the first time in history, the 12 richest individuals in the U.S. collectively hold over $1 trillion in wealth. And while joblessness, homelessness, devastated public services and bankrupted small businesses affect average Americans, a majority of the most profitable corporations in the U.S. are set to gain $85 billion more in 2020 than in previous years. And, as Oxfam America notes, “If we continue with business as usual, these windfall profits will not be handed out to workers in wages, won’t be used to lower consumer prices, nor used to pay a bit more in taxes to fund healthcare workers. These profits will be paid to shareholders, a group of largely white, rich men who already control the vast majority of our country’s corporate stock.”The most profitable corporations in the U.S. are set to gain $85 billion more in 2020 than in previous years.

The Oxfam analysis tracks the most egregious of these pandemic profiteers, and the researchers advocate an excess profits tax — one targeting profits not derived from hard work, but from rent-seeking and luck, like taking advantage of a public health crisis to spike prices. The logic is simple: Why should the already ultra-wealthy be allowed to profit through luck or exploitation at a time when others suffer, especially when those funds could be redirected toward COVID relief and recovery efforts and supporting the working people on whom our society relies?

Yet, the Trump administration and Republicans are doing the exact opposite, vowing to continue tax cuts and attacks on public services while arguing that working people don’t deserve to be compensated for being unemployed during a pandemic.

Republican lawmakers have continuously negotiated to slash the meager $600 a week unemployment benefit down further. And now that the program has expired, the administration has implemented a continued payment of only $300 per week. The justification being put forward is that people are making more money off unemployment than they were at their former jobs, and this is disincentivizing them from returning to work. Despite the fact that this is simply untrue, no one seems to state the obvious: If people were making less than $600 per week (or $15 per hour) at their job prior the pandemic, the problem is that their job doesn’t pay them a living wage, not that they are receiving unemployment.The historic rise in the stock market and the ominous sickness-profiteering by big business has been buoyed by a massive government corporate welfare program.

It should also be noted that the historic rise in the stock market and the ominous sickness-profiteering by big business has been buoyed by a massive government corporate welfare program. The Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury’s stimulus package, which vastly outweighs the Obama-era stimulus, has seen a massive windfall of government cash into the hands of the financial markets, which has allowed these record stocks and profits to come to fruition. In addition, the administration’s response to the pandemic directly aided corporate profiteering. It was even admitted by a Trump confidant that the president deliberately faltered on addressing the pandemic because doing so “would spook the markets and so we just shouldn’t do it.”

Portraying stock gains as indicative of economic recovery is really just another example in a long line of dishonest “pro-worker” rhetoric. While there exists a vast divide between the wealthy and everybody else, and while policy is crafted to serve the interests of that wealthy sector, those very same policies are promoted as though they are made with the interests of working people in mind.

Far from actually supporting policies that benefit average Americans, Trump continually uses pro-worker arguments while touting pro-investor policies, as can be clearly seen within his steadfast dedication to raising stock market prices while denying workers unemployment compensation during a pandemic.

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DHL announces 2,200 job cuts at JLR facilities

Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem,Sr

DHL truck drivers delivering components to JLR are being made redundant

Logistics firm DHL has notified unions that 2,200 workers, around 40 percent of those currently employed on its JLR contract, will be laid off. This comes as a further blow after 1,100 agency workers were told in June by JLR that they would be sacked.

The Workers Party of Britain and our members in the north west and the Midlands are ready to support workers and unions who fight any of the cuts planned at Castle Bromwich, Solihull, Ellesmere Port and Halewood.

Workers must resist attempts by JLR and owners Tata, as well as by subsidiary companies, to present job losses as merely a response to Covid-19. It was only a year ago that socialists were pointing out that JLR and others in the automotive industry were cynically trying to label job cuts as being ‘in response to Brexit’.

According to Unite the Union, DHL has indicated that around half the redundancies would be “efficiency savings”, rather than having been brought about by the decline in car production. Despite that open admission, most commentators, including union officials, are referring to the pandemic as the cause of lay-offs, with no mention of the wider economic crisis engulfing capitalism.

‘Efficiency savings’

In a research paper entitled the ‘Digitalisation of the automotive industry’ in 2016, KPMG [i] and the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) pointed out that “By fully embracing digitalisation, the automotive sector stands to gain £6.9bn every year by 2035. The cumulative total benefit to the economy could be £74bn by 2035. This is a significant prize.” [ii]

Digitisation, robotisation and other advances in technology and production processes are being used under capitalism to the detriment of workers.

The export of capital; of machinery, factories and production out of the country to the EU countries and elsewhere, ensures that profits are maximised by enabling the capitalists to benefit from low wages, low land costs and other benefits.

If hugely important firms cannot protect skills and jobs that are vital to the British economy then they should be taken into public ownership.

The vast, intricate and integrated system of supply is a wonder to behold, and if people could only apply themselves to producing with such efficiency the things they need for a healthy and enjoyable life, rather than whatever will enrich a handful of shareholders, then the world would be veritable Garden of Eden.

What can be done?

The Workers Party of Britain will back any fight to save jobs; don’t blame covid, don’t blame Brexit.

The Workers Party of Britain demands that measures should be taken to reduce the impact of US tariffs on British exports.

The ‘just in time’ delivery of components from the EU, which brings £35m of car parts into Britain each day on 1,100 lorries should be replaced by a saner, greener system that creates jobs in Britain.

Trade unions and socialists must plan for the repurposing of car manufacturing facilities that are under threat. There is a global crisis in car manufacturing which cannot be ignored if we are to protect workers’ jobs and welfare.


[i] Auditors whose job is to drive down labour costs and increase capitalist profits.

[ii] According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 186,000 workers are directly engaged in manufacturing jobs in the British car industry, with 856,000 workers to be found in the wider industry, from sales executives to garage mechanics. It’s an industry worth a whopping £82bn (turnover).

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Posted in Politics, UKComments Off on DHL announces 2,200 job cuts at JLR facilities

We demand meaningful work for all: WPB takes a stand on UBI

Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem,Sr

The Jarrow march against unemployment in 1936

After serious discussion of the arguments for and against the introduction of a universal basic income (UBI), the members council of the WPB passed the following motion at its meeting on 20 June 2020.

Resolution on UBI

This 20 June meeting of the national Members Council of the Workers Party of Britain has discussed the question of a universal basic income, examined arguments for and against, and resolves as follows:

The Workers Party of Britain believes that unemployment is a disease of capitalism, and that our goal is a society with full employment guaranteed for those who are able to work. For those who are unable to work, society must provide a standard of living fit for our people. In the immediate term, the Workers Party of Britain is supportive of the TUC’s call for an earnings-related system.

The Workers Party of Britain is opposed to the current proposals for a universal basic income, which we believe will in reality be a continuation of the ongoing deterioration in the benefits system, consolidated under Michael Gove and renamed ‘universal credit’.

Our party is resolutely opposed to the further introduction of universal credit, and demands its abolition.

In the current circumstances our political priority is to fight for the abolition of universal credit and a return to the previous schemes, all of which should be reviewed in consultation with the trade unions. In this regard, the Workers Party of Britain associates itself with the recommendations made in April by the TUC:

“The government should move towards an earnings-related system. But as this cannot be implemented swiftly, it calls for ministers to urgently raise the basic level of universal credit for the duration of the outbreak to 80 percent of the real living wage – or £260 a week.”  

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George Galloway: Labour’s demand for Ofcom review of RT licence is apostasy against democratic principles

George Galloway

was a member of the British Parliament for nearly 30 years. He presents TV and radio shows (including on RT). He is a film-maker, writer and a renowned orator. Follow him on Twitter @georgegalloway24 Jul, 2020 12:24 / Updated 1 month agoGet short URL

George Galloway: Labour’s demand for Ofcom review of RT licence is apostasy against democratic principles

Ofcom Hq, London, United Kingdom, Architect Fletcher Priest, Ofcom Hq Panoramic View Featuring Ofcom Sign ©  Getty Images / View Pictures / Universal Images Group

The descent to apostasy in the UK Labour Party of Sir Keir Starmer continues at such a pace it would come as no surprise if he were to expel his predecessor in whose shadow cabinet he sat without public complaint.

Oh wait… Seems that’s already underway.

Full disclosure: I joined the Labour Party at the age of 13, in 1967, and was in it until expelled by Tony Blair over the Iraq War 36 years later. Now, I wish for its total destruction and for a hundred different reasons.

Another reason arrives most every day, but they are seldom as clear-cut as the demand for a ban on RT.

Being more Catholic than the Pope, more royal than the King, is of course ‘a thing’ in politics. But it can only be used sparingly, it must retain the capacity to shock. If overused it becomes merely a descending staircase to apostasy.READ MORELabour letter calling to revoke RT’s license is ‘devastating’ proof of UK war on free press – Afshin Rattansi

Labour is well down that staircase now, and so I was as shocked as the Claude Rains character in Casablanca on discovering there was gambling going on in Rick’s Cafe when in response to the busted ‘Russia Report’, Labour decided to go full Jolly George.

Though whereas the British Labour movement sank the Tory plan to dispatch the good ship Jolly George to help in their invasion of Russia a hundred years ago by refusing to load it, this time it is the Labour Party which wants to sink RT and the Tories who will, for a variety of reasons, block such a ban.

Not that it is the business of either to ban or not to ban. At least that’s what it says on the tin of Ofcom the media regulator, which is supposedly independent of government. In fact, the Labour Party have now significantly undermined that claim. Only Ofcom has the right to withdraw the licence of a broadcaster, and then supposedly acting in a quasi-judicial manner. An evidence-free “open-source reports”-based Report of the Security and Intelligence Committee which made NO specific allegations against RT and Sputnik, let alone prove any, would not be sufficient in a judicial process, however quasi.

Neither is this apostasy a product of Sir Keir Starmer’s Blairite orientation. The first proscription of Labour MPs appearing on RT was made not by the Blairites but by the Trotskyite John McDonnell, shadow chancellor and right-hand man to Jeremy Corbyn.

Shooting from the hip on a TV sofa one Sunday morning, without the knowledge let alone the consent of anyone else in the party, McDonnell’s ex cathedra announcement took those regular parliamentary guests on my own RT shows quite by surprise. But it worked.

Labour over the last four years was subjected to a ferocious and unremitting assault by virtually the entire British media, radio, television and print. Labour sanctions were taken against none of them. Nobody said that Rupert Murdoch’s anti-worker lie machine was beyond the pale, nobody boycotted the media telling us daily that Corbyn=KGB. In fact, Labour spokespeople turned up like lambs to the slaughter every day and were duly slaughtered. The ONLY British-based network which covered British politics in a fair and balanced way WAS RT. It was a kind of political masochism. It turns out they secretly enjoyed the flaying.ALSO ON RT.COMFree press? Labour letter demands RT UK’s license gets REVOKED in light of ‘damning’ Russia report that gave NO examples or proof

Apostasy against what, I hear you asking. Well, this. In a free country, freedom of expression is sacrosanct. How else in a democracy can leaders be held to account, prevented from committing crimes against their own people, or others? A media, free to differ from the government is a sine qua non surely? An opposition demanding the destruction of media pluralism is like the turkey volunteering for an early Christmas. In a free market democracy, surely the market must decide who gets viewers and who does not?

As the great English man of letters Dr Johnson once said, “the grimmest dictatorship of them all is the dictatorship of the prevailing orthodoxy.” Banning television stations in 2020 is of course a fool’s errand. The book they tried to ban always goes to the top of the Best Seller List. The only people further degraded and diminished by this sojourn into the realms of the ridiculous are the increasingly misnamed “Labour Party.”

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Posted in Media, Politics, Russia, UKComments Off on George Galloway: Labour’s demand for Ofcom review of RT licence is apostasy against democratic principles

Gassing Immigrants with a Highly Toxic Industrial Disinfectant in Detention

by DAVE LINDORFF

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

As the first and hopefully only presidential term of Donald Trump nears its November 3 moment of truth, the accusations of fascist or even Nazi tendencies and actions by him and his administration have multiplied.

But this latest one I’m calling out is particularly horrific: The use of a powerful “for industrial use only” disinfectant called HDQ Neutral on captive immigrants at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center, a Trump administration-funded for-profit detention center outside of Los Angeles, CA.

According to a report in the Independent, a UK newspaper, the powerful toxic ammonia-based chemical made by Spartan Chemical Co. is being sprayed in the occupied detention facility despite company warnings on the label that it only be used near people outdoors, not in confined spaces. Worse yet, there are allegations from detainees that the chemical is being sprayed directly on them, though the company’s label warns that exposure to the eyes can cause “permanent eye damage” while inhaling it can cause lung damage , breathing difficulty and asthma.

The Nazi connection?  As Charles Vidich, author of a powerful and timely new book due out later this year on the history of quarantines in the US, dating back to the earliest days of the Colonies in the 1600s down to the present (Germs at Bay, Praeger),  notes, Zyklon B, the extermination gas of choice of Hitler’s Third Reich for its extermination camps, was actually a powerful cyanide-based insecticide invented during the late 19th Century. It was for decades, well into the early 20th century, used to fumigate ships engaged in international trade in order to kill rats, mice, fleas and other vermin.  The Nazis adopted a variant of the product to eliminate Jews, Gypsies, Communists, people with deformities or retardation and other “undesirables” during the war years.

Now we have the administration of Donald Trump, whose own family had a history of Nazi sympathies and who himself has referred to Nazi demonstrators in the US as “good people,” similarly using an insecticide/disinfectant that is highly toxic and life-threatening on detained immigrants awaiting deportation

.Investigations by Reuters an organization called the Shut Down Adelanto Coalition and a not-for-profit legal organization called Earthjustice, have learned that immigrants locked indoors in detention at Adelanto have been getting sprayed “as often as every 15-30 minutes,” sometimes directly at them, with a chemical that the company says should only be used outdoors or in well-ventilated areas. They are reporting rashes, nosebleeds, nausea, headaches and breathing difficulties among other symptoms following the spraying.

I must point out that when I first learned about the vicious way African slaves were treated in the colonies and later in the United States by their owners, it struck me, even as a youngster, that it was strangely worse than these white owners treated their own beasts of burden. I wondered at that, only coming to understand later as I got older, that the abuse of slaves — the whippings, the starving, the over-working, etc. —  was a control mechanism, a dehumanization process of both owner and slave that wasn’t necessary in dealing with horses or cattle. I recognize that the same analysis applies to the way ICE and its detention center contract employees cruelly abuse their immigrant captives.

HDQ Neutral thankfully isn’t as toxic as the Zyklon B gas used by Nazi death squads at the German extermination camps, but what is being done is still a grotesque chemical assault on America’s “undesirables,”  differing from the Nazi efforts against their human victims only in degree.  The inhumanity of the overlords administering this toxin to their captive victims is little different from that which was punished, often with death sentences, in the Nuremberg Trials that followed World War II.

One can only hope that when this Trumpian nightmare is over in the US, Donald Trump and his criminal henchmen in the Homeland Security Department will be similarly hauled before a court to face crimes against humanity charges for their abuse of immigrants, including young children, as well as for their other grotesque crimes.

Posted in USA, Human RightsComments Off on Gassing Immigrants with a Highly Toxic Industrial Disinfectant in Detention


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