Archive | August 16th, 2016

Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia…: What Happened to the “Pink Tide” of “Left Leaning” Governments in Latin America?

pink tide

When the ‘pink tide’ of left-leaning governments first rose to power on the back of anti-neoliberal protests across Latin America in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the initial reaction from the Left was euphoric. Striving to move beyond the “there is no alternative” mantramany pinned their hopes on what seemed to be a new wave of actually existing alternatives to neoliberalism. Amidst the revolutionary fervor of social forums, solidarity alliances, and peoples’ councils, it appeared an epochal shift was underway, which Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa optimistically dubbed “a genuine change in the times.”

But in retrospect, the 2005 political mobilizations that led to the defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) may have been the high point of the pink tide project. Since then, the balance of power has slowly shifted back toward the Right, with the popularity and efficacy of left-wing governments rapidly diminishing.

Activists and indigenous community members hold pictures of Evo Morales in Cochabamba, Bolivia in July 2013.

Activists and indigenous community members hold pictures of Evo Morales in Cochabamba, Bolivia in July 2013. Cancillería del Ecuador / Flickr.

Since 2012, economic decline has generated political instability throughout the region. In Venezuela, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) suffered a major defeat in recent National Assembly elections, casting doubt on the government’s future. The Movement for Socialism’s (MAS) power in Boliviawas dealt a blow with the recent referendum loss, which if passed would have extended term limits for leftist president Evo Morales.

Argentina and Brazil

However, the biggest defeats have come in the two largest pink tide economies. The election of Mauricio Macri in Argentina represents the first time a government from Latin America’s progressive coalition has been defeated in a presidential election, while in Brazil the opposition has achieved what it was not able to in the electoral process through an effective coup d’état against President Dilma Rousseff orchestrated by the judiciary and members of Congress.

There is no doubt that the United States is maneuvering to take advantage of the crisis. In contrast to the 1970s and 1980s, its current efforts to reassert its dominance in the region are not primarily via military coups (with the exception of Honduras and Paraguay), but “soft coups.”

Strategies of economic sabotage and shortages, alongside protracted propaganda campaigns and scandals in media and social networking sites are generating a climate of fear, desperation, and instability. All this is paving the way for the Right to deliver the final blow through institutional mechanisms like judiciaries, elections, and in the case of Venezuela a recall referendum that would cut short the presidency of Nicolás Maduro.

Nonetheless, it is insufficient to invoke imperialism to explain the crisis facing the Latin American left. Previously, when opposition forces had attempted to overthrow left-wing governments through coups d’état in Venezuela in 2002, Bolivia in 2008, and Ecuador in 2010, popular support for these governments was sufficient to resist pressure from the Right. This was despite economic sabotage and fierce opposition from the mass media. By contrast, today these governments have much weaker defenses against attacks from the Right.

To understand the current crisis, the Left must also look inwards. The current political and economic crisis is also about the limitations and structural contradictions inherent in the project of the pink tide itself, which have increasingly undermined its radical goals.

Challenging Neoliberalism

The left-wing governments which together comprised the pink tide – including Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and to a less radical extent Brazil and Argentina – first achieved electoral victory on the back of widespread popular discontent about the effects of neoliberalism. Accordingly, the main thrust of their project was anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal.

In response to massive popular mobilizations, these governments softened the harshest blows dealt by neoliberalism, reversing privatizations, promoting growth based on production rather than speculation, recuperating the role of the state in wealth redistribution, and expanding public services, especially in health care, food, and education.

The initial objective was to build an alternative hegemonic bloc capable of breaking with U.S. hegemony and the neoliberal world order. The shared goals of alternative forms of industrialization, trade, finance, and communications were accompanied by important efforts toward integration through initiatives such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Carribean States (CELAC). The most interesting of these projects was the Venezuelan initiative, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which sought alternative forms of cooperation based on the principles of complementarity and solidarity.

There is no doubt that the social programs of pink tide governments brought significant gains for poor and working people. Many for the first time gained access to basic goods, housing, higher education. and health care.

With the possible exception of Venezuela, the reforms of progressive governments were only designed to confront U.S. hegemony and mitigate the effects of neoliberalism. They did little to challenge the more fundamental structures of capitalism in these countries. The main targets for nationalization were foreign assets, while the structures of power within Latin American countries were mostly left intact.

Social programs sought only to assist the poor, but they refrained from compromising the rich. There was no significant agrarian reform, and major resources like mining, agro-industry, finance, and mass media remained in the hands of a small sector of elites, who continued to profit under pink tide governance. As a result, as the pink tide project unfolded it was increasingly undermined by its own contradictions.


The key defining characteristic of the pink tide’s economic strategy was the neo-developmentalist model. This was an updated version of the import-substituting industrialization model promoted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in the postwar period designed to help Latin American countries break North-South dependency and regain national sovereignty.

Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador attempted to reduce dependence on foreign capital by promoting local entrepreneurship and forging alliances with their “national bourgeoisies.” But subsidies to business owners failed to promote investment in ways that could support the goals of national development or economic diversification. Throughout the pink tide countries structural economic imbalances persisted, leading these countries to depend even more on raw material exports to fuel economic growth and fund social welfare programs.

Indeed, the increasing dependence on natural resource extraction has been the most problematic aspect of pink tide development strategies. Although the extractivist model was defended by governments as a necessary “stage” of development to move toward a more advanced economy, in fact the opposite has been true.

The “reprimarization” of economies has further restricted their productive base and locked them into a path of dependency on raw material exports. Despite attempts to implement neo-developmentalist strategies for channeling agro-mineral rents into alternative productive activities, these projects never got off the ground.

The most significant geo-economic change associated with the primary-export-led growth strategy has been the increase in ties with China. But these new trade links have been neither able to provide the basis for regional sovereignty nor break the logic of dependence. Rather, trade with China has brought new forms of subordination, reinforcing primary commodity export-led growth with very little transfer of technology.

But perhaps the biggest problem with the extractivist model is its association with a highly undemocratic concentration of power and resources, characterized by structural unemployment on the one hand, and wealth accruing in the hands of a small stratum of investors and multinational corporations on the other.

The extractivist growth model has in fact prevented the possibility of any further progressive change, instead encouraging a deeper penetration of capital into Latin American territories. Critics describe this model as “predatory capitalism” because the costs of economic growth are placed on natural resources and rural communities, dispossessing peasants and indigenous peoples and precipitating ecological disaster. This has generated a new cycle of territorial struggles against extractive projects.

As a result, despite making significant gains in social welfare, pink tide governments have been unable to overcome the tensions inherent in this growth model. They had dealt a blow to the “new world order” represented by U.S. imperialism and neoliberal globalization by blocking free-trade agreements and reversing privatizations. But in the end, the pink tide governments never extended their mission to that of transcending capitalism as such. Instead they accommodated to it, deepening their dependence on global capital.

What’s more, extractivism increased governments’ vulnerability to boom-bust cycles. Plummeting commodity prices – a result of declining growth in China, reduced demand for agro-fuels, and the development of shale and other substitute oil – have been devastating to pink tide economies, leading to reduced or negative rates of growth, currency devaluations, and declining fiscal resources. The region now faces its fourth year of economic decline. Meanwhile, very few alternative trade and industrialization goals have been achieved, compounding economic stagnation.

Transformation Undermined

There is no doubt that the extractivist model provided pink tide governments with the rents necessary to implement significant welfare programs. But unaccompanied by a more radical project for structural transformation, these social programs have only been a temporary solution; the systemic mechanisms which reproduce inequality and social exclusion are left intact.

The absence of a broader project for transforming society and social consciousness has limited the effectiveness of social programs. In Argentina, food emergency plans and soup kitchens were set up to provide life support to the most impoverished sectors of the population during the economic crisis. But they were unable to tackle the underlying structural causes of poverty in the long run. After the initial emergency these programs were never replaced by efforts to organize alternative livelihoods for people beyond the mold of individual consumption.

Emptied of their radical potential, social assistance programs became mechanisms for co-opting popular sectors and social organizations. The Kirchners’ unemployment schemes were used as a tool to divide and conquer the piquetero movement. “Loyal” activists were rewarded with official positions and resources, while those more critical were isolated. The result of these clientelistic practices was the depoliticization, demobilization, and delegitimization of the movement.

In Brazil, the rise to power of the Workers’ Party (PT), was associated with the dissolution rather than activation of left-wing social forces. The PT’s relationship with movements was primarily defined by the appointment of leaders from unions, social organizations, and NGOs to public administrative positions. But this meant that activists and progressives left the ranks of popular leaders to form part of the elite, resulting in a loss of popular legitimacy. The Left was disoriented and deactivated, unable to form an independent political stance.

Across the board, social programs were not accompanied by new forms of popular education, mobilization, unification, and political formation. The role of the poor was to act as passive beneficiaries of social programs rather than radical political subjects. They were inserted into “consumer society” but were not part of a project seeking to challenge that form of society or transform social consciousness. This has thwarted the possibility of building toward postcapitalist societies.

As a result, the political horizon of the pink tide project was limited to a temporary increase in consumption capacity for poor and working people. While this was most clearly evident in Brazil and Argentina, a similar dynamic also evolved in the more radical projects of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

The commodity price slump has laid bare these contradictions in the pink tide project. Governments are no longer able to fulfill their dual role as both facilitators of higher profits for capital and benefactors for the poor. And in the absence of a more radical strategic vision to confront capitalism through popular mobilization, governments have retreated to the right, implementing pro-market reforms in response to economic stagnation.

In Brazil, Rousseff cut back social policies and appointed a liberal finance minister. In Ecuador, Correa’s initial attempts to increase tax revenues and social programs were curtailed and he was eventually forced to increase public debts and exports, and award oil concessions to large corporations. Meanwhile, the governments’ market-friendly policies and strategic alliances with sectors of the elite caused confusion amongst their popular base.

Rising Tensions

The limited political horizon of the pink tide project fostered tensions between governments and social movements. Governments were unable to establish relationships with movements that allowed the latter to maintain their autonomy whilst opening up to self-criticism and holding constructive dialogue when protest arose.

The proposed societal transformations of Bolivia and Ecuador have been emptied of their radical content. In Ecuador, the popular mobilizations and constituent assemblies reached a high point in 2008, when the rights of nature were recognized in the Constitution and buen vivir – “living well,” an alternative vision of development based on the cosmovisions of ethnic groups and the principles of ecology – was incorporated into the national development plan.

But in practice, these goals were always subordinated to the neo-developmentalist growth strategy, as demonstrated last year when Correa abandoned the Yasuní Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) initiative to keep oil in the ground in favor of opening drilling operationsin the Yasuní national park.

Ecuador’s extractivist growth model has heightened the tensions between the Correa government, which has become increasingly top-down, and popular protests of peasant, indigenous, and environmentalist movements. Movements organized marches and petitions against the government’s expansion of agribusiness and mining, as well as the criminalization of social protest. The government’s hostility to these protests ended up providing an opening for the Right, which took the opportunity to mobilize against higher taxes with the ultimate goal of restoring the conservative government.

Similarly, in Bolivia the MAS’s appeal to “plurinationality” and “pluriculturalism” emphasizes the issues of identity and values for indigenous peoples primarily through legal recognition, but pays insufficient attention to the material conflicts arising for these communities within the national development strategy.

The model of “Andean-Amazonian” capitalism acknowledges the coexistence of diverse cultural-economic modes within Bolivian society: the ayllus, the family, the informal sector, small business, as well as national and transnational capital. But again, the practical experience of conflict between these sectors over infrastructure and mining projects would appear to demonstrate the dominance of the latter two.

When the highway proposal for the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) was pushed through despite popular protests, the Bolivian government was accused of intimidating, dividing, and criminalizing indigenous organizations. Social movements have been weakened in the face of divisions over popular protests, suffering a loss in autonomy and militancy. In this context, the project risks becoming not one for promoting radical activation, but for accommodating social forces to the demands of capital accumulation.

Governments too focused on the economic agenda and technocratic state administration have lost their relationship with autonomous, organized social sectors. Mass protests against the PT in Brazil in 2013 started as left-wing demands concerning public transport. However, the party’s disregard for these popular demands opened the doors for the right-wing media and upper middle classes to seize the opportunity to mobilize the discontent, which eventually became a major force behind the toppling of the government in 2016.

It has become evident that the social mobilizations that initially brought pink tide governments to power have had little continuity. This is partly because they lacked a long-term project to become a self-sustaining force, but also because they were undermined by the agendas of their governments. Even if activism has not disappeared completely, it is nonetheless the case that forces on the Left are a far cry from constructing a clear project to build an alternative hegemonic force.

The result is that social forces on the Left were unprepared for the current economic crisis. While governments made alliances with the Right and adopted pro-market policies, popular forces lacked the capacity to understand what was happening and mobilize for a popular alternative. Absent a strategy to push for a radical exit from the crisis, in both Brazil and Ecuador movements criticizing governments ended up promoting the cause of the Right.

What these experiences make clear is that a project for societal transformation cannot be limited to greater social redistribution without also seriously confronting deeper power structures and building a radical popular base. It is not that greater access to basic goods, education, and health are unimportant, but that their effectiveness does not fundamentally alter the reproduction of class and power inequalities.

Nor do they necessarily encourage the mobilization, education, and political formation necessary for a longer-term transformative project. It is not enough to defeat neoliberalism without also having a transitional strategy toward a postcapitalist society.

Venezuela’s Example

Venezuela is the only country that attempted to go beyond the post-neoliberal project, paving the way toward a postcapitalist society. Following the coup attempt and the oil strike of 2002, Hugo Chávez realized that his social agenda could only move forward if it turned in a more radical direction on the basis of popular participation. Chávez’s vision of “twenty-first-century socialism” sought to construct a communal state accompanied by revolutionary activism and popular protagonism.

Venezuela’s Bolivarian Missions are an extensive set of social programs tackling a range of issues from poverty reduction, food, housing, education, and health care to indigenous rights. But more important than material redistribution in Venezuela has been the attempt to transform popular political culture, with a surge in grassroots organization, class consciousness, and popular mobilization.

The Bolivarian Missions have been accompanied by new mechanisms for political participation. Community councils have empowered people to make decisions on a variety of issues in their everyday lives, from health to water and transport. There is no doubt that elements of these processes demonstrate a radicalism that sets them apart from those of the rest of the pink tide, promoting the activation of popular forces outside the state bureaucracy and the transformation of social consciousness.

Yet the limitations of Venezuela’s project for socialism still lie in the structural contractions of the process. Throughout the Venezuelan process there has remained a major contradiction between the expansion of popular protagonism and the failure to accompany these processes with fully socialized productive property.

The nationalization of oil and other industries represented important steps in precipitating a rupture with capitalism and bringing the economy under social control. But these projects were often carried out as an immediate response to conflict and were not part of a broader strategic plan for societal transformation.

Moreover, the project would always be limited by its inability to escape the extractivist model that, as described above, is inherently undemocratic. Despite major attempts to channel oil funds to diversify the economy through a system of cooperatives, these lacked the capacity to become self-sustaining independently of the government subsidies that propped them up.

Dependency on subsidized imports for food and other basic goods left the top-down rentier model intact. With no economic diversification, local business remained dedicated only to imports rather than productive industry. This has limited real popular participation. Despite a significant surge in popular protagonism, the fact that these new forms of organization had no foundation in the productive relations of Venezuelan society meant they were unsustainable. Social transformation was mainly limited to the political sphere, taking place only at the local level with no foundation in the productive base of the economy.

This means that it is still top-down decisions made by the state and in the world market that will ultimately impact people’s livelihoods. In Venezuela this top-down model has been accompanied by an extensive corruption of state bureaucrats that popular mobilization could not overcome.

These underlying contradictions have been unveiled by the current economic crisis. When oil prices plummeted they took with them the access to food and medicine for the poorest sectors of society. Even if the horror stories presented in the mainstream media of famine, desperation, and the failure of socialism are politically motivated exaggerations, there is nonetheless no doubt that the Venezuelan project has proven unsustainable.

Like his counterparts, Maduro has desperately turned to Canadian mining companies to make up for the shortfall in dollars. The hope for Venezuela lies in the continued empowerment of popular classes, who have mobilized bottom-up solidarity initiatives like communal networks for production and consumption of basic goods to confront the crisis.

Left Neoliberalism

The experience of left-wing governments in power is representative of the problems of trying to “humanize” capitalism, or build an “Andean-Amazonian” capitalism without going beyond it. Despite a fierce anti-neoliberal platform, with the exception of Venezuela few steps were taken toward a complete rupture with the previous order.

Instead, the result was what some described as “left neoliberalism,” whereby the new governments continued to manage a post-neoliberal society but were not able to overcome capitalism. So far, they have been successful neither in preventing the contradictions of the operations of global capitalism in Latin America from erupting into crisis, nor in preparing the masses to organize and propose their own solutions going forward. This must change if these governments are to retain their hold on power.

In the face of crisis, people want change. Bolivian vice president Álvaro García Linera has pointed out that the Right has no alternative proposal. The neoliberal policies they propose resemble those implemented in the 1980s and 1990s that initially caused economic devastation and popular protest. Yet after over a decade in power, the pink tide governments seem unable to move beyond the impasse and provide an alternative to the economic woes facing the people.

Rather than implementing pro-market policies and making pacts with sectors of the elite, the key is to push for a solution to the crisis by increasing popular protagonism through mobilization, unification, and education. In the face of crisis, the popular sectors must be prepared to build toward another type of society.

This involves strengthening political consciousness and collective organization to protect the social gains made under progressive governments, but also providing greater space for social activism to limit the expansion of capitalism, and building a social and ecological economy beyond extractive capitalism.

This cannot be achieved simply by spontaneous self-activity, but nor can it come from technocratic decisions from above. Political parties must open up to self-criticism and national-level debate with popular movements about the type of social, ecological, and economic model people need, that will have a real impact on the party’s program. The primary task is to steer away from extractivism toward a socialized economy that is ecologically sustainable.

An important example of a left alternative is emerging from the continent-wide ALBA social movements project. The goal of ALBA movements is the construction of a continental social movements network in order to mobilize, unify, and educate diverse sectors of the popular movement around a common project, from peasant, indigenous, and African communities to students, workers, and co-operatives.

ALBA’s response to the current conjuncture is to build toward “the creation of an alternative proposal based on popular power” which “seeks a solution [to the crisis] in accordance with the interests of popular organizations.” This means precipitating the struggle for the construction of an alternative, postcapitalist economy that can be “socialist, ecological, communal, feminist, and self-sustaining.”

In the face of an exhausted model, processes like ALBA will be critical to building “political subjects” capable of acting as forces of radical change. The pink tide governments may have failed to tame capitalism, but what the Peruvian journalist and socialist activist José Carlos Mariátegui envisioned as “the socialism of our Americas” is still a project worth fighting for. •

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Documents Confirm CIA Censorship of Guantánamo Trials


In January 2013, during the military trial of five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks, a defense lawyer was discussing a motion relating to the CIA’s black-site program, when a mysterious entity cut the audio feed to the gallery. A red light began to glow and spin. Someone had triggered the courtroom’s censorship system.

The system was believed to be under the control of the judge, Col. James Pohl. In this case, it wasn’t.

“The 40-second delay was initiated, not by me,” Pohl said. He was referring to the delayed audio feed, which normally broadcasts to the press and other observers seated in the gallery. The gallery is cut off from the courtroom by three layers of soundproof Plexiglas. “I’m curious as to why. … If some external body is turning the commission off under their own view of what things ought to be, with no reasonable explanation, then we are going to have a little meeting about who turns that light on or off.”

Later, Pohl said the censorship was the work of an “OCA,” short for “Original Classification Authority.” In the future, he said, no external body would be permitted to unilaterally censor what was happening in his courtroom.

Many have speculated that Pohl’s “OCA” is in fact the CIA. That speculation is now confirmed with the release of three new documents by The Intercept. The documents show the evolution of secret rules governing what is and is not allowed to be discussed before the military court at Guantánamo.

All three of the declassified documents are marked “secret” and were distributed to defense attorneys and Pentagon-employed courtroom security officers. The documents clearly identify CIA as the OCA for torture-related information at the Guantánamo military commission proceedings.

Dean Boyd, who heads the CIA’s public affairs office, referred questions about the January 2013 censorship incident to the Pentagon. Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a Pentagon spokesperson, declined to comment. “I don’t have anything to offer you beyond what is written in [the court] transcript,” she said.

This page from a 2008 CIA guidance document designates as top secret the “treatment of detainees,” their “conditions of confinement,” and certain “false allegations of torture,” which were later shown to have merit.

Another CIA spokesperson confirmed the dates of the guidance, which are not given in two of the three documents.

The first guidance document is from spring of 2008.

The second document is from late spring or early summer of 2009.

The third document is from September 2011.

The Intercept obtained the documents through an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the CIA and other federal agencies. Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic is providing legal representation for the request.

The term “OCA” is a placeholder that can refer to multiple agencies, but with respect to the rendition and torture program, Guantánamo observers have assumed for some time that it means the CIA. A defense lawyer asserted the connection in open court, and it has previously been hinted at in several other documents. At the end of January 2013, Judge Pohl issued a ruling declaring that there would be no more outside censorship of the tribunals. “It is the judge that controls the courtroom,” he said.

The courtroom’s internal censorship system, including the Plexiglas and audio delay, continues to this day. But assuming Judge Pohl’s order is enforced, the CIA no longer has the power to decide when to cut the courtroom audio, as it did in January 2013.

“The Department of the Defense runs the courtroom, but CIA owns a lot of the information,” said attorney James Connell III, who is representing Ammar al-Baluchi before the tribunal. Baluchi, whose torture at multiple overseas black sites was depicted in the film Zero Dark Thirty, is one of five men who stand accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks and now face the death penalty.

What appears to be a 2015 version of a similar CIA guidance document was released by last year. Unlike the older guidance documents released by The Intercept today, the sections addressing the CIA’s black-site and rendition programs are completely redacted.

The CIA calls its classification rules “guidelines … to be applied throughout the legal process.” They are intended to provide the Pentagon-employed court security officers with “general direction about when national security information may be at issue, … triggering the need for protection.”

Much of what the CIA sought to keep out of open court effectively constrained the detainees’ ability to give an account of their own torture at the hands of the CIA and officials from other countries where they were held.

At first, these prohibitions were broad, but they grew narrower over time. The oldest guidance document, from 2008, prohibits talking about “conditions of confinement of detainees” and “treatment of detainees,” although “general allegations of torture are unclassified.” By this time, the CIA had released three of the names of detainees subjected to waterboarding. Though the CIA continues to insist those three were the only ones waterboarded, the claim is tenuous at best. According to the 2008 guidance, no other detainee could talk about waterboarding. Anyone who did, wrote the CIA, was lying, and even the existence of those lies was secret.

“Allegations of waterboarding by any detainees other than the three … are false allegations and are TS//SCI,” the guidance states.

In other words, even the alleged lies of other detainees who claimed to have been waterboarded were designated top secret and “sensitive compartmentalized information,” a higher-level classification than top secret alone. And yet many of these allegations, which the CIA’s guidance kept out of the tribunals for years, were later shown to have merit.

“In effect, the government was making the chilling and breathtaking assertion that it owned and controlled detainees’ memories of torture, whether true or false,” said Ashley Gorski, a staff attorney with the ACLU, who reviewed the newly released guidance documents.

“We stand by the document,” Dean Boyd, director of the CIA’s public affairs office, wrote in an email.

The 2008 guidance identifies CIA’s own “Original Classification Authority” as having the power to declassify statements by detainees. Other officials and agencies likely have some say as well. The 2011 and 2009 guidance say that the president and director of national intelligence can also declassify information related to the torture program; the 2008 guidance suggests that the power was delegated even further.

Seventy-six men are still held at Guantánamo. Sixteen are “forever prisoners,” who have not been charged by the court but are considered too dangerous to be candidates for release. President Obama’s self-imposed deadline to close the prison is more than six years past due.

Initially, the purpose of Guantánamo was to extract useful intelligence from high-level detainees to aid the war on terror. The orders to subject detainees to torture — or what the George W. Bush administration euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation” — came from the White House. It fell to the CIA to carry them out. The agency’s initial intelligence-driven mission got muddled up by other motives — revenge against al Qaeda, the avoidance of political fallout, control over the flow of information to Congress and the public, and later, by the problem of what to do with the detainees themselves.

Today’s legal environment is more open to detainees giving accounts of their own torture, according to Joseph Margulies, an attorney who represents Abu Zubaydahone of the three men who the CIA admits having waterboarded.

“It is our position that the United States government has confirmed that Abu Zubaydah’s first-person account of his treatment is not classified,” Margulies said. “Therefore he ought to be allowed to disclose it.” As evidence of the shift, he pointed to the release of the Senate torture report summary, accounts of torture taken down by lawyers representing Majid Khan, and filings in Salim v. Mitchell, a lawsuit brought against two psychologists who designed the torture program as contractors for the CIA.

Connell, the attorney representing Ammar al-Baluchi, said that he welcomed the shift toward openness at Guantánamo but that the rules were still too restrictive. “The most important information for accountability is who did what and where they did it. Until that information is declassified, there will never be accountability for the CIA’s torture program.”

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Roots of “Black Lives Matter” in Bwa Kay Iman, Haiti (14-15 August 1791)


At the Black Summit “Hoodstock 2016”, last night, in Montreal, a sister stood up during one of the panel discussions to place due emphasis on the pioneering role played by African women in the U.S. in launching the most recent reaffirmation of African self-love, aka: The Black Lives Matter Movement.

During the bus ride back to Ottawa, I could not stop thinking about the importance of that timely intervention. Indeed, students of history must be ever mindful of the role patriarchy plays in mis-shaping our collective memory of historical facts and events. For those of us who are descendants of displaced Africans (survivors of the Maafa), it is even more vital to learn about, acknowledge, share and celebrate the heroic stands taken by our daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, throughout the ages.

Let us applaud the pioneering work of Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrice Cullors whose labor of love launched #BlackLivesMatter. The movement they launched in St. Louis, Missouri (USA) with the powerful social media hashtag to support mourners of 18-year old Mike Brown who was killed at the hands of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, has since mushroomed into a formidable global movement for justice.

As I mentioned during my speech at Hoodstock 2016, although the words we use to express it differ from country to country, from generation to generation, for a long while now, Africans all over the globe have been screaming to their tormentors ears: “I am an asset, not a threat!”. In the barrios of Rio de Janiero, in the mines of Sierra Leone, Congo and Azania as in New-York City (USA), Ottawa (Canada), Marseille (France) and Cite-Soleil (Haiti) black hands and voices have arisen again and again, to exclaim: “don’t shoot, don’t contaminate, don’t incarcerate – I am an asset, not a threat”.

Today, August 14, 2016, marks the 225th anniversary of Bwa Kay Iman, a momentous world event I consider to be among the many roots of Black Lives Matter. As dozens of African women and men gathered in the woods of Northern Haiti, the night of August 14-15, 1791, pledging their lives to the abolitionist revolution, they were affirming African self-love in a most dramatic and effective manner. For hundreds of years, kidnapped, displaced and tortured women, men and children had attempted to civilize their torturers, to educate them about the fact of their humanity, to reason with them, to escape from them. It was all to no avail. The visceral attachment European imperialists had with stolen wealth rendered them death, blind and stupid at once. So, the inevitable happened; 450,000 enslaved souls rose up on the Caribbean island and, over a bloody 12-year war, they chased out the Spanish, British and French murderers who had held them in bondage since 1499.

Asked about the Haitian revolution, few Africans living on or off the island who are familiar with the subject may name Toussaint Louverture, Henri Christophe, Boukman and Jean-Jacques Dessalines as leaders of the Revolution. Yet, throughout the uprising, African women and African men had always struggled side by side, in efficient complicity. Haiti’s great liberator and founder Jean-Jacques Dessalines, himself, was trained and educated in the arts of warfare by the valiant ABDARAYA TOYA, a fierce elder who led her own regiment of soldiers during the war of independence. “Grann Toya” is said to have been a close friend to Dessalines’ mother who passed away soon after his birth. Other key figures of the Haitian Revolution include the amazing Lieutenant Sanit Bélair, whose portrait now graces Haitian paper currency, Marie-Jeanne Lamartinière and Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité Bonheur, initiator of the January 1st Pumpkin Soup Revolutionary Communion.

In closing, I would like to dedicate this humble text to all the women and men, boys and girls whose names we are unable to retrace although we know they stood up on the shores of Africa to resist their kidnappers. To Aminata who might have tightly held unto her newborn as she jumped overboard “The Good Ship Jesus”, reaching the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with at least one of her Portuguese kidnappers whom she grabbed during her desperate leap, let us respond: “nou renmen ou grangrann: Indeed, Mama Aminata, our black lives matter”.

To Simba, to Araya who never survived long enough to transmit family names to our present generation of Africans in Rio, in Ottawa, in Acra, in Washington, we say: “yes, we value our black lives in which we pledge to invest love everlasting”.

To the inheritors of the loot collected by Napoleon Bonaparte, Leopold, Elizabeth I and John Hawkins, we say:

“Brother, sister, we are not a threat!”.

Listen up, wise up! Forget about the wall you plan to erect to prevent the Mexicans from returning to their ancestral lands. Listen up, wise up! Your coast guards are not numerous enough to stop the rightful owners of Congo’s gold and coltran from finding the whereabouts of the riches you’ve stolen from their land.

Listen up, wise up! 1 million Haitians you’ve contaminated with cholera, after having killed over 10,000 black lives on the island since 2004, will not let you sleep in peace at night. Listen up, wise up! white privilege is the real threat to all of our lives. Give it up and let us move forward, together, investing in all our assets.

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Syrian War Report: ISIS Rebels Attack on US Outpost, Russian Airforce Bombs ISIS Positions


Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bombers have made another blow on the ISIS terrorist group outside the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor. The six Tu-22M3 bombers, which took off from an air base in Russia, have destroyed two ISIS command centers, six large ammunition depots, two tanks, four infantry fighting vehicles, seven SUVs with mounted machine guns, and also decimated the terrorist group’s manpower.

On August 14, the Jaish al-Fatah operation room has been continuing attempts to widen its tiny corridor to eastern Aleppo. Jabhat Fateh al-Sham-led forces attacked the al-Zahraa Neighborhood and the al-Zahraa Artillery Base, the 1070 Apartment Project and the Cement Plant. Jabhat Fateh al-Sham used few Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices. Heavy clashes continued overnight with initial reports that the militants captured 25 building blocks in the 1070 Apartment Project and seized the Cement Plant.

However, August 15 reports indicated that the Syrian army, the National Defense Forces and Hezbollah regained the Cement Plant and reversed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s gains in the 1070 Apartment Project. Both sides report “dozens of injured and killed” enemies in the clashes.


According to the ISIS-linked media outlet, Amaq Agency, 7 suicide bombers broke through a residential area near Al-Farouk Dam east of Aleppo where a U.S. military outpost and the operation room for Manbij operation were located. 3 bombers detonated explosives in a group of guards, mostly Kurdish fighters, other 4 entered the buildings. Before these 4 terrorists were neutralized, at least 41 US soldiers and Kurdish fighters had been killed and injured, according to Amaq.

On August 14, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced creation of the Al-Bab Military Council. This could indicate that developing the success in Manbij, the Kurds are going to advance on Al Bab in order to link the four cantons of Rojava along the Syrian-Turkish bordel-Bab has a population about 69,000. Its inhabitants are mostly Sunni Muslim Arabs.

Even with the significant superiority in manpower, military equipment and air power, and with support of the US Special Forces, the Kurdish-led SDF will face a stiff resistance there.

ISIS militants could easily launch flank attacks on SDF units advancing on Al-Bab. Furthermore, the liberation of Al Bab is far away from the political goals of Obama administration in Syria. The White House is seeking to show the success of American anti-terrorist operations by taking major ISIS strongholds – Raqqa and Mosul – in Syria and Iraq. Al Bab is just located in another direction.

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US War Crimes or ‘Normalized Deviance’

By Nicolas J S Davies 

Sociologist Diane Vaughan coined the term “normalization of deviance as she was investigating the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. She used it to describe how the social culture at NASA fostered a disregard for rigorous, physics-based safety standards, effectively creating new, lower de facto standards that came to govern actual NASA operations and led to catastrophic and deadly failures.

Vaughan published her findings in her prize-winning book, The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA, which, in her words, “shows how mistake, mishap, and disaster are socially organized and systematically produced by social structures” and “shifts our attention from individual causal explanations to the structure of power and the power of structure and culture – factors that are difficult to identify and untangle yet have great impact on decision making in organizations.”

When the same pattern of organizational culture and behavior at NASA persisted until the loss of a second shuttle in 2003, Diane Vaughan was appointed to NASA’s accident investigation board, which belatedly embraced her conclusion that the “normalization of deviance” was a critical factor in these catastrophic failures.

The normalization of deviance has since been cited in a wide range of corporate crimes and institutional failures, fromVolkswagen’s rigging of emissions tests to deadly medical mistakes in hospitals. In fact, the normalization of deviance is an ever-present danger in most of the complex institutions that govern the world we live in today, not least in the bureaucracy that formulates and conducts U.S. foreign policy.

The normalization of deviance from the rules and standards that formally govern U.S. foreign policy has been quite radical.  And yet, as in other cases, this has gradually been accepted as a normal state of affairs, first within the corridors of power, then by the corporate media and eventually by much of the public at large.

Once deviance has been culturally normalized, as Vaughan found in the shuttle program at NASA, there is no longer any effective check on actions that deviate radically from formal or established standards – in the case of U.S. foreign policy, that would refer to the rules and customs of international law, the checks and balances of our constitutional political system and the experience and evolving practice of generations of statesmen and diplomats.

Normalizing the Abnormal

It is in the nature of complex institutions infected by the normalization of deviance that insiders are incentivized to downplay potential problems and to avoid precipitating a reassessment based on previously established standards. Once rules have been breached, decision-makers face a cognitive and ethical conundrum whenever the same issue arises again: they can no longer admit that an action will violate responsible standards without admitting that they have already violated them in the past.

This is not just a matter of avoiding public embarrassment and political or criminal accountability, but a real instance of collective cognitive dissonance among people who have genuinely, although often self-servingly, embraced a deviant culture.  Diane Vaughan has compared the normalization of deviance to an elastic waistband that keeps on stretching.

Within the high priesthood that now manages U.S. foreign policy, advancement and success are based on conformity with this elastic culture of normalized deviance. Whistle-blowers are punished or even prosecuted, and people who question the prevailing deviant culture are routinely and efficiently marginalized, not promoted to decision-making positions.

For example, once U.S. officials had accepted the Orwellian “doublethink” that “targeted killings,” or “manhunts” as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called them, do not violate long-standing prohibitions against assassination, even a new administration could not walk that decision back without forcing a deviant culture to confront the wrong-headedness and illegality of its original decision.

Then, once the Obama administration had massively escalated the CIA’s drone program as an alternative to kidnapping and indefinite detention at Guantanamo, it became even harder to acknowledge that this is a policy of cold-blooded murder that provokes widespread anger and hostility and is counter-productive to legitimate counterterrorism goals – or to admit that it violates the U.N. Charter’s prohibition on the use of force, as U.N. special rapporteurs on extrajudicial killings have warned.

Underlying such decisions is the role of U.S. government lawyers who provide legal cover for them, but who are themselves shielded from accountability by U.S. non-recognition of international courts and the extraordinary deference of U.S. courts to the Executive Branch on matters of “national security.” These lawyers enjoy a privilege that is unique in their profession, issuing legal opinions that they will never have to defend before impartial courts to provide legal fig-leaves for war crimes.

The deviant U.S. foreign policy bureaucracy has branded the formal rules that are supposed to govern our country’s international behavior as “obsolete” and “quaint”, as a White House lawyer wrote in 2004.  And yet these are the very rules that past U.S. leaders deemed so vital that they enshrined them in constitutionally binding international treaties and U.S. law.

Let’s take a brief look at how the normalization of deviance undermines two of the most critical standards that formally define and legitimize U.S. foreign policy: the U.N. Charter and the Geneva Conventions.

The United Nations Charter

In 1945, after two world wars killed 100 million people and left much of the world in ruins, the world’s governments were shocked into a moment of sanity in which they agreed to settle future international disputes peacefully. The U.N. Charter therefore prohibits the threat or use of force in international relations.

As President Franklin Roosevelt told a joint session of Congress on his return from the Yalta conference, this new “permanent structure of peace … should spell the end of the system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balance of power, and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries – and have always failed.”

The U.N. Charter’s prohibition against the threat or use of force codifies the long-standing prohibition of aggression in English common law and customary international law, and reinforces the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy in the 1928 Kellogg Briand Pact. The judges at Nuremberg ruled that, even before the U.N. Charter came into effect, aggression was already the “supreme international crime.”

No U.S. leader has proposed abolishing or amending the U.N. Charter to permit aggression by the U.S. or any other country.  And yet the U.S. is currently conducting ground operations, air strikes or drone strikes in at least seven countries: Afghanistan; Pakistan; Iraq; Syria; Yemen; Somalia; and Libya. U.S. “special operations forces” conduct secret operations in a hundred more. U.S. leaders still openly threaten Iran, despite a diplomatic breakthrough that was supposed to peacefully settle bilateral differences.

President-in-waiting Hillary Clinton still believes in backing U.S. demands on other countries with illegal threats of force, even though every threat she has backed in the past has only served to create a pretext for war, from Yugoslavia to Iraq to Libya. But the U.N. Charter prohibits the threat as well as the use of force precisely because the one so regularly leads to the other.

The only justifications for the use of force permitted under the U.N. Charter are proportionate and necessary self-defense or an emergency request by the U.N. Security Council for military action “to restore peace and security.” But no other country has attacked the United States, nor has the Security Council asked the U.S. to bomb or invade any of the countries where we are now at war.

The wars we have launched since 2001 have killed about 2 million people, of whom nearly all were completely innocent of involvement in the crimes of 9/11. Instead of “restoring peace and security,” U.S. wars have only plunged country after country into unending violence and chaos.

Like the specifications ignored by the engineers at NASA, the U.N. Charter is still in force, in black and white, for anyone in the world to read. But the normalization of deviance has replaced its nominally binding rules with looser, vaguer ones that the world’s governments and people have neither debated, negotiated nor agreed to.

In this case, the formal rules being ignored are the ones that were designed to provide a viable framework for the survival of human civilization in the face of the existential threat of modern weapons and warfare – surely the last rules on Earth that should have been quietly swept under a rug in the State Department basement.

The Geneva Conventions

Courts martial and investigations by officials and human rights groups have exposed “rules of engagement” issued to U.S. forces that flagrantly violate the Geneva Conventions and the protections they provide to wounded combatants, prisoners of war and civilians in war-torn countries:

–The Command’s Responsibility report by Human Rights First examined 98 deaths in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. It revealed a deviant culture in which senior officials abused their authority to block investigations and guarantee their own impunity for murders and torture deaths that U.S. law defines as capital crimes.

Although torture was authorized from the very top of the chain of command, the most senior officer charged with a crime was a Major and the harshest sentence handed down was a five-month prison sentence.

–U.S. rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan have included: systematic, theater-wide use of torture; orders to “dead-check” or kill wounded enemy combatants; orders to “kill all military-age males” during certain operations; and “weapons-free” zones that mirror Vietnam-era “free-fire” zones.

A U.S. Marine corporal told a court martial that “Marines consider all Iraqi men part of the insurgency”, nullifying the critical distinction between combatants and civilians that is the very basis of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

When junior officers or enlisted troops have been charged with war crimes, they have been exonerated or given light sentences because courts have found that they were acting on orders from more senior officers. But the senior officers implicated in these crimes have been allowed to testify in secret or not to appear in court at all, and no senior officer has been convicted of a war crime.

–For the past year, U.S. forces bombing Iraq and Syria have operated under loosened rules of engagement that allow the in-theater commander General McFarland to approve bomb- and missile-strikes that are expected to kill up to 10 civilians each.

But Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network has documented that U.S. rules of engagement already permit routinetargeting of civilians based only on cell-phone records or “guilt by proximity” to other people targeted for assassination. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has determined that only 4 percent of thousands of drone victims in Pakistan have been positively identified as Al Qaeda members, the nominal targets of the CIA’s drone campaign.

–Amnesty International’s 2014 report Left In The Dark documented a complete lack of accountability for the killing of civilians by U.S. forces in Afghanistan since President Obama’s escalation of the war in 2009 unleashed thousands more air strikes and special forces night raids.

Nobody was charged over the Ghazi Khan raid in Kunar province on Dec. 26, 2009, in which U.S. special forces summarily executed at least seven children, including four who were only 11 or 12 years old.

More recently, U.S. forces attacked a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, killing 42 doctors, staff and patients, but this flagrant violation of Article 18 of the Fourth Geneva Convention did not lead to criminal charges either.

Although the U.S. government would not dare to formally renounce the Geneva Conventions, the normalization of deviance has effectively replaced them with elastic standards of behavior and accountability whose main purpose is to shield senior U.S. military officers and civilian officials from accountability for war crimes.

The Cold War and Its Aftermath

The normalization of deviance in U.S. foreign policy is a byproduct of the disproportionate economic, diplomatic and military power of the United States since 1945. No other country could have got away with such flagrant and systematic violations of international law.

But in the early days of the Cold War, America’s World War II leaders rejected calls to exploit their new-found power and temporary monopoly on nuclear weapons to unleash an aggressive war against the U.S.S.R.

General Dwight Eisenhower gave a speech in St. Louis in 1947 in which he warned, “Those who measure security solely in terms of offensive capacity distort its meaning and mislead those who pay them heed. No modern nation has ever equaled the crushing offensive power attained by the German war machine in 1939. No modern nation was broken and smashed as was Germany six years later.”

But, as Eisenhower later warned, the Cold War soon gave rise to a “military-industrial complex” that may be the case par excellence of a highly complex tangle of institutions whose social culture is supremely prone to the normalization of deviance. Privately, Eisenhower lamented, “God help this country when someone sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do.”

That describes everyone who has sat in that chair and tried to manage the U.S. military-industrial complex since 1961, involving critical decisions on war and peace and an ever-growing military budget. Advising the President on these matters are the Vice President, the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, several generals and admirals and the chairs of powerful Congressional committees. Nearly all these officials’ careers represent some version of the “revolving door” between the military and “intelligence” bureaucracy, the executive and legislative branches of government, and top jobs with military contractors and lobbying firms.

Each of the close advisers who have the President’s ear on these most critical issues is in turn advised by others who are just as deeply embedded in the military-industrial complex, from think-tanks funded by weapons manufacturers to Members of Congress with military bases or missile plants in their districts to journalists and commentators who market fear, war and militarism to the public.

With the rise of sanctions and financial warfare as a tool of U.S. power, Wall Street and the Treasury and Commerce Departments are also increasingly entangled in this web of military-industrial interests.

The incentives driving the creeping, gradual normalization of deviance throughout the ever-growing U.S. military-industrial complex have been powerful and mutually reinforcing for over 70 years, exactly as Eisenhower warned.

Richard Barnet explored the deviant culture of Vietnam-era U.S. war leaders in his 1972 book Roots Of War. But there are particular reasons why the normalization of deviance in U.S. foreign policy has become even more dangerous since the end of the Cold War.

In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. and U.K. installed allied governments in Western and Southern Europe, restored Western colonies in Asia and militarily occupied South Korea. The divisions of Korea and Vietnam into north and south were justified as temporary, but the governments in the south were U.S. creations imposed to prevent reunification under governments allied with the U.S.S.R. or China. U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam were then justified, legally and politically, as military assistance to allied governments fighting wars of self-defense.

The U.S. role in anti-democratic coups in Iran, Guatemala, the Congo, Brazil, Indonesia, Ghana, Chile and other countries was veiled behind thick layers of secrecy and propaganda. A veneer of legitimacy was still considered vital to U.S. policy, even as a culture of deviance was being normalized and institutionalized beneath the surface.

The Reagan Years

It was not until the 1980s that the U.S. ran seriously afoul of the post-1945 international legal framework it had helped to build. When the U.S. set out to destroy the revolutionary Sandinista government of Nicaragua by mining its harbors and dispatching a mercenary army to terrorize its people, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) convicted the U.S. of aggression and ordered it to pay war reparations.

The U.S. response revealed how far the normalization of deviance had already taken hold of its foreign policy. Instead of accepting and complying with the court’s ruling, the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the binding jurisdiction of the ICJ.

When Nicaragua asked the U.N. Security Council to enforce the payment of reparations ordered by the court, the U.S. abused its position as a Permanent Member of the Security Council to veto the resolution. Since the 1980s, the U.S. has vetoed twice as many Security Council resolutions as the other Permanent Members combined, and the U.N. General Assembly passed resolutions condemning the U.S. invasions of Grenada (by 108 to 9) and Panama (by 75 to 20), calling the latter “a flagrant violation of international law.”

President George H.W. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher obtained U.N. authorization for the First Gulf War and resisted calls to launch a war of regime change against Iraq in violation of their U.N. mandate. Their forces massacred Iraqi forces fleeing Kuwait, and a U.N. report described how the “near apocalyptic” U.S.-led bombardment of Iraq reduced what “had been until January a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society” to “a pre-industrial age nation.”

But new voices began to ask why the U.S. should not exploit its unchallenged post-Cold War military superiority to use force with even less restraint. During the Bush-Clinton transition, Madeleine Albright confronted General Colin Powell over his “Powell doctrine” of limited war, protesting, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

Public hopes for a “peace dividend” were ultimately trumped by a “power dividend” sought by military-industrial interests. The neoconservatives of the Project for the New American Century led the push for war on Iraq, while “humanitarian interventionists” now use the “soft power” of propaganda to selectively identify and demonize targets for U.S.-led regime change and then justify war under the “responsibility to protect” or other pretexts. U.S. allies (NATO, Israel, the Arab monarchies et al) are exempt from such campaigns, safe within what Amnesty International has labeled an “accountability-free zone.”

Madeleine Albright and her colleagues branded Slobodan Milosevic a “new Hitler” for trying to hold Yugoslavia together, even as they ratcheted up their own genocidal sanctions against Iraq. Ten years after Milosevic died in prison at the Hague, he was posthumously exonerated by an international court.

In 1999, when U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Secretary of State Albright the British government was having trouble “with its lawyers” over NATO plans to attack Yugoslavia without U.N. authorization, Albright told him he should “get new lawyers.”

By the time mass murder struck New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the normalization of deviance was so firmly rooted in the corridors of power that voices of peace and reason were utterly marginalized.

Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz told NPR eight days later, “It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done. …  We must make a distinction between punishing the guilty and punishing others. If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t approve of what has happened.”

But from the day of the crime, the war machine was in motion, targeting Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

The normalization of deviance that promoted war and marginalized reason at that moment of national crisis was not limited to Dick Cheney and his torture-happy acolytes, and so the global war they unleashed in 2001 is still spinning out of control.

When President Obama was elected in 2008 and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, few people understood how many of the people and interests shaping his policies were the same people and interests who had shaped President George W. Bush’s, nor how deeply they were all steeped in the same deviant culture that had unleashed war, systematic war crimes and intractable violence and chaos upon the world.

A Sociopathic Culture

Until the American public, our political representatives and our neighbors around the world can come to grips with the normalization of deviance that is corrupting the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, the existential threats of nuclear war and escalating conventional war will persist and spread.

This deviant culture is sociopathic in its disregard for the value of human life and for the survival of human life on Earth. The only thing “normal” about it is that it pervades the powerful, entangled institutions that control U.S. foreign policy, rendering them impervious to reason, public accountability or even catastrophic failure.

The normalization of deviance in U.S. foreign policy is driving a self-fulfilling reduction of our miraculous multicultural world to a “battlefield” or testing-ground for the latest U.S. weapons and geopolitical strategies. There is not yet any countervailing movement powerful or united enough to restore reason, humanity or the rule of law, domestically or internationally, although new political movements in many countries offer viable alternatives to the path we are on.

As the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned when it advanced the hands of the Doomsday Clock to 3 minutes to midnight in 2015, we are living at one of the most dangerous times in human history. The normalization of deviance in U.S. foreign policy lies at the very heart of our predicament.

Posted in USAComments Off on US War Crimes or ‘Normalized Deviance’

UK police under fire for training Bahraini forces


A British parliamentary committee has criticized UK police for training Bahraini forces who are accused of ruthlessly suppressing public protests and dissent.

Under a confidential agreement in 2015 obtained by the Observer, the UK’s College of Policing agreed to train forces of Bahrain’s Zio-Wahhabi Interior Ministry.

The deal, however, does not mention human rights issues.

The UK parliament’s home affairs select committee has slammed the college’s agreements with Zionist puppet regimes that have poor human rights records. The committee also blasted UK’s Foreign Office for refusing to disclose such contracts.

The committee said “opaque” agreements with foreign governments, which have been criticized for human rights abuses, “threaten the integrity of the very brand of British policing that the college is trying to promote”.

A law firm representing a tortured Bahraini activist has written a letter to the Foreign Office, saying the agreement with Bahrain raises concerns about the UK’s commitment to protecting human rights.

“We know the college provides a wide range of training programmes domestically that are of potential concern, such as the use of communications data obtained by telecoms operators, the use of interception material, surveillance and undercover policing, and the scope of its courses to overseas customers is not limited in any accountable way,” said Daniel Carey, of DPG Law.

He also argued that the college must have acquired the parliament’s approval for its profit-making activities. “The College of Policing is doing something unusual for government in selling services overseas.”

Anti-regime protesters have staged numerous demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis since February 14, 2011, calling on the Zionist puppet Al Khalifah regime to relinquish power.

Troops from Saudi Zio-Wahhabi regime and the United Arab Emirates — themselves repressive Arab regimes — were deployed to the country in March that year to assist the Manama government in its crackdown on peaceful and pro-democracy rallies.

Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others injured or arrested in Manama’s crackdown on the anti-regime activists.

Posted in Bahrain, UKComments Off on UK police under fire for training Bahraini forces

Opposing Corporate Theft of Mayan Textiles, Weavers Appeal to Guatemala’s High Court


By Jeff Abbott

A member of the 13 B'atz' weavers collective tightens the threads on the piece that she is weaving. The final product will then go to another member who will embroider birds and other animals on the piece. (Photo: Jeff Abbott)

A member of the 13 B’atz’ weavers collective tightens the threads on the piece that she is weaving. The final product will then go to another member who will embroider birds and other animals on the piece. (Photo: Jeff Abbott)

Guatemala’s Indigenous Mayan communities are doubling down in their struggle against the corporations that are increasingly seeking to turn aspects of their culture into commodities promoted to tourists. The struggle is just the latest front in their centuries-long resistance against the forces of conquest, imperialism and genocide.

Hundreds gathered outside the Guatemalan Congress and the Supreme Court on May 6 to demand that the government act to protect their sacred textiles from appropriation by both national and transnational companies, and on June 28, Indigenous activists testified at a public hearing in the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City.

“There is a strong appropriation of our designs and textiles,” Angelina Aspuac of the Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez (AFEDES), the organization spearheading this campaign, told Truthout. “This isn’t only the government, but more so, it is the companies that make bags, shoes, and belts with our designs without respecting how we see these pieces within our communities, or their significance in our communities. There are elements of our clothing that are sacred, that have a spiritual significance, and others that are only used in ceremonies or by the spiritual leaders in our communities.”

Currently, the laws of Guatemala do not protect the intellectual property rights of the designs of Indigenous clothing. This has left traditional Mayan designs open to theft by transnational companies looking to exploit and appropriate Mayan identity. The protesting communities and weavers have initiated a legal process at Guatemala’s Constitutional Court to demand that Guatemala’s Congress amend the national laws that govern national industry and industrial property rights to protect what AFEDES describes as the “collective intellectual property of Indigenous Peoples,” especially “in the case of textiles and Indigenous clothing.”

The plaintiffs in the legal process are not necessarily opposed to the use of their weavings by small producers, so long as these producers consult them in accordance with the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on the rights of Indigenous and tribal peoples, prior to the use of the weavings. (The convention states that governments and companies must consult Indigenous people prior to any projects that impact their culture or territory.)

What concerns the plaintiffs more is the use of their weavings by large companies and fashion designers. Guatemalan fashion designers have increasingly utilized Indigenous designs and clothing.

In 2011, Guatemalan fashion designer Giovanni Guzmán provoked outrage by using the traditional clothing of the male spiritual leaders of the K’iche’ Maya highland town of Chichicastenango for Miss Guatemala in the Miss Universe beauty pageant. Mayan leaders from across Guatemala condemned the designer’s use of the sacred clothing.

“The use of Mayan ceremonial dress is a clear violation of cultural and collective rights of Indigenous peoples,” wrote representatives of Indigenous authorities in a statement. “There is a lack of respect for the Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala. These pieces are exclusive to ancient Mayan authorities of profound significance, historical, cultural, spiritual and philosophical character.”

They added, “We are appalled and outraged, because of the misuse of our cultural possessions that follow and are sacred and bequeathed by our ancestors, therefore they are not objects for display and contamination.”

Other companies, such as the high-end designer handbag company, María’s Bags, utilize Indigenous weavings in their products, which sell for hundreds of dollars in Guatemala, the United States and Europe. The women of AFEDES have accused these companies of not only appropriating the indigenous weavings, but of overt racism as well. For example, they say that while the name “María’s Bags” may not be meant to offend indigenous women in Guatemala, it’s relevant to note that the word María is commonly used in a derogatory way to refer to all Mayan women. The bags marketed as “María’s Bags” are promoted to wealthy foreign and national tourists in tourist enclaves like Antigua Guatemala.

Currently the case primarily involves women from the departments (provinces) of Guatemala, Sacatepéquez, and Chimaltenango, but this case also affects Indigenous weavers across the country and many have expressed their support for it.

“We are supporting this action that AFEDES is taking,” Diego Petzey Quiejú, a young Tz’utujil Maya and weaver from Santiago Atitlan, told Truthout. “We are not able to be there physically in the court with them, but we are there spiritually with them. This is a necessary struggle.” However, according to Petzey Quiejú, one obstacle to gaining a broader support for the movement is the lack of awareness in many rural communities.

“No one here in (Santiago) Atitlan knows about this initiative,” Petzey Quiejú said. “There is nothing on the television, there is nothing on the radio, because there is no community radio station here. There are only publications on the internet, and it is primarily the youth that have access to these networks.”

“The system is quietly dispossessing us of our identity,” Petzey Quiejú added. “The government has influenced this process. When they publish various materials in the Guatemalan tourism ministry, INGUAT, they are objectifying the real significance of our weavings. It is necessary to defend our weavings. So they recognize that this is more than just work, it is our identity, it is our history, and it is the knowledge of our communities. As of now, the valorization of this is not happening.”

The appropriation of Indigenous designs by fashion designers and transnational companies in Guatemala reflects a growing situation internationally. Across the globe, Indigenous communities have organized to challenge the theft of sacred designs. In 2011, for example, the Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters for millions of dollars for the appropriation of their name for a clothing line. The tribe lost the two lawsuits, with the court claiming that the tribe’s trademark was “not famous enough.”

Last November, the Inuit Nation threatened the London-based Kokon to Zai (KTZ) with a lawsuit over the use of the designs of an Inuit spiritual leader’s clothing for a sweatshirt. The company apologized for the use of the design and removed the sweatshirt from stores.

Dispossession and the Commodification of Identity

A member of the 13 B'atz' weavers collective sits in the garden of her house in Santiago Atitla and using a backstrap loom to weave one of the famous pieces. (Photo: Jeff Abbott)

A member of the 13 B’atz’ weavers collective sits in the garden of her house in Santiago Atitla and using a backstrap loom to weave one of the famous pieces. (Photo: Jeff Abbott)

In Guatemala, the women of AFEDES argue that the nation’s government has appropriated Indigenous weavings as a means to attract tourism — and that the benefits do not make their way back to the community.

“Guatemala is dominated by tourism,” said Aspuac. “When the State wants to promote tourism, they use the Indigenous. They use the photos of the women with güipiles – the traditional blouse of the Indigenous women. But the reality is that the society is very discriminatory and exclusionary against our communities. The state is benefiting from our work, but we are still discriminated against because we look different, because we see the world differently, and because we dress differently.”

The rise of tourism as part of the “Mundo Maya,” a route of tourist attractions that includes Guatemala, Belize and Chiapas, Mexico, especially exacerbated this dispossession. At the heart of this promotion is the attempt to transform the Indigenous woman into a commodity while erasing histories of violence against Mayan communities.

At the height of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict many Indigenous Mayas were targeted because of their traditional clothing.

“They exhibited us in our native dress as if we were in a zoological park where people would come and pay them money to see us,” said Lucía, a former Guerrilla fighter, in the 1983 book Guatemala in Rebellion: Unfinished History, edited by Jonathan L. Fried. “They exhibit our clothes and with all this, without any effort of their own, they rake in money. The Government has used us, but now we are no longer lending ourselves to these games. Now we realized that instead of weaving another güipiles, we are better off picking up a weapon, picking up a bomb and throwing it in front of them.”

From 1960-1996, Guatemala was gripped in an internal armed conflict between Marxist Guerrillas and the Government. The war disproportionally impacted Indigenous communities, which represented a major proportion of the 200,000 people killed and 45,000 disappeared.

Following the signing of the Peace Accords on December 29, 1996, Guatemala’s Indigenous peoples began the process of the recuperation of their identity. But the arrival of transnational companies through neoliberal reforms guaranteed that they would continue to face dispossession.

Weaving Connections With the Ancestors

Another member of the 13 B'atz' weavers collective sits on the floor of the house as she weaves. (Photo: Jeff Abbott)

Another member of the 13 B’atz’ weavers collective sits on the floor of the house as she weaves. (Photo: Jeff Abbott)

Mayan communities have a long history of weaving, which is steeped in tradition. Weaving is a deeply spiritual process for Mayan weavers. It is a mystical connection between the living culture today, and its ancestors.

Each weaving is deeply rooted in the Mayan cosmovision and reflects knowledge held by the community. Indigenous clothing commonly depicts colorful birds, trees, mountains, animals and other parts of nature. The significance of each weaving is rooted to the place where it was made. These weaving practices and patterns stretch back thousands of years.

“We have had our weavings from before the Spanish conquest,” Petzey Quiejú told Truthout. “They did not come and impose these weavings, we had them before they arrived.”

As western culture has entered into the communities, many youth have chosen to leave behind their traditional clothing, thus growing more distant from their oral histories, which are woven into traditional clothing. But many other youth have continued to protect the stories that are woven into Mayan clothing.

“The phrase ‘dispossession of identity’ encapsulates what all Indigenous people of Guatemala are suffering from,” Petzey Quiejú said. “Fifty years ago, the majority of families made their own clothing, which [was] based in their relations with the cosmos; the weavings were not decorations, but rather something that had symbolic meaning that was connected with [the] life and nature that surrounded them. But then came the [capitalist] system, which told us that we needed money and you need these things. Families began to teach their children that they need these things, and little by little we’ve lost the connection with the meaning of the weavings.”

But there are a few young weavers, such as Petzey Quiejú, who are painstakingly continuing to weave these ancient understandings into their work and actively working to protect the Mayan culture and its symbols from being lost. He works along with his family and the other young weavers of the 13 Batz’ collective. Since 1997, his father, Bartolomé Petzey, has coordinated a collective of weavers in Santiago Atitlan. In addition to protecting Indigenous identity, the recuperation and protection of traditional weaving techniques provides work for many youth who might otherwise be forced to migrate north in search of employment.

According to the weavers, the weavings represent not only the past but also the future of the Mayan communities and a means of passing knowledge to future generations.

“The women have found a means to immortalize the knowledge and understanding of our ancestors within the güipiles,” Aspuac told Truthout. “We worry that we are losing this philosophy and understanding. Many youth are not learning to weave, or to use the traditional clothing. So we’ve worked to recuperate the knowledge.”

Posted in Human Rights, WorldComments Off on Opposing Corporate Theft of Mayan Textiles, Weavers Appeal to Guatemala’s High Court

Seymour Hersh on White House Lies About bin Laden’s Death, Pakistan and the Syrian Civil War


By Mark Karlin

People look into the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 4, 2011. (Warrick Page / The New York Times)

People look into the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 4, 2011. (Warrick Page / The New York Times)

What really happened on the night of Osama bin Laden’s death? Famed investigative journalist Seymour examines this critical question in his new book, but The Killing of Osama Bin Laden is also a broader indictment of the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly concerning Syria and Turkey. Order your copy today by making a donation to support Truthout’s reporting!

In The Killing of Osama bin Laden, Seymour Hersh offers a compelling alternative version to the details that led to bin Laden’s death. He also investigates unproven assertions justifying the US’s thus far disastrous involvement in the Syrian civil war. Truthout recently interviewed Hersh about the book.

Mark Karlin: I found your narrative based on research and informants very persuasive. Your version of how Osama bin Laden came to be killed was ridiculed by the White House, the intelligence communities and the military. Why do you think the mainstream press — and even The Guardian — marginalized your sourced account as conspiratorialist?

Seymour Hersh: The mainstream press relies on access. The reporters covering beats — most notably national security beats — must be able to get calls returned and interviews when needed. This does not mean that the reporters on those beats are incompetent or in the hands of the White House — it is just a fact of life that those who cross boundaries, as defined by the White House, do not get the same treatment as those who faithfully reflect the view of the President and his minions. It is especially so when it comes to crisis reporting — an airplane tragedy, a battlefield victory or defeat. Thus, the White House controlled all details of the story from the moment President Obama announced the kill, and it did all — as White Houses will — to glorify the President’s action and shape the story in ways that would help in Obama’s re-election the next year. The major media lined up for information and begged and pleaded for any scraps that could be labeled exclusive. Once the narrative was set, any significant change in the story had to be resisted by the White House, and especially by those who wrote the initial stories. The scapegoat in my revisionist approach to the bin Laden killing was my reliance on anonymous sources, as if anyone on the inside who deviated from the official script could survive in their job if their name became known. Most journalists, especially those in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, where I worked with a lot of prize-winning success in the 1970s, were especially angered at my reporting. Their position, in my view, defies common sense — their view was that there was nothing more to learn, even years later, about an event as dramatic and complicated as the bin Laden raid once the White House put an end to its forced feeding of the media.

Seymour Hersh. (Photo: Verso Books)

Seymour Hersh. (Photo: Verso Books) Why did the White House and military fiction about how bin Laden was killed suit their purposes?

The propaganda goal was to show that it took enormous courage and superb judgment for Obama to take the chance and order the hit. If the mission had gone badly, the argument was, his re-election could be on the line. Another President, ala Jimmy Carter, who lost his re-election in the desert. It was a close call, so the White House said, because it was not clear that the person in the compound in Abbottabad actually was bin Laden. There were many senior people deeply involved in the planning for the raid who shared that view, essentially because the fact that the US, with high-level Pakistani help, had obtained a DNA sample from Bin Laden was a closely held secret. Yes, there was a risk of things going badly in the raid, but knowing without question that the target indeed was bin Laden, and that the Pakistani army and the intelligence service, the ISI, was working with us, diminished the danger.

The core of my criticism was based on the fact of that help, and the fact that it had been agreed, or understood, with the Pakistani leadership well before the raid itself, that the White House would wait at least one week after the secret raid to announce that bin Laden was dead. It was to be said then that bin Laden had been killed in an American drone attack somewhere in the mountains separating Pakistan and Afghanistan. The last-minute decision to ignore that understanding, and effectively double cross the Pakistani military and intelligence leadership, left the Pakistanis with no recourse but to go along with the White House’s story that two American special forces helicopters had evaded Pakistan’s sophisticated radar system (built with US dollars in return for Pakistani support for the American invasion of Afghanistan in 1979). Why was this such an important issue, and one that enraged some on the inside, including Robert Gates, the defense secretary? Because Pakistan had at the time more than one hundred nuclear weapons in its growing arsenal, and maintaining Pakistani confidence in US intentions and reliability is essential to our national security and world security. We do not want Pakistan to make a move with its nuclear arsenal without our knowledge and approval. It is one of the most serious, albeit highly secret, concerns of our national leaders.

Can you talk a bit about the murky role of Pakistan in relation to bin Laden and al-Qaeda?

Pakistan, despite its overt loyalty to the United States, went its own way, in what was perceived as its own national security issues, when it came to bin Laden. The Saudi jihadist leader had been arrested by the Pakistani ISI sometime in 2006, according to information provided to the CIA by a Pakistani military defector (whose reliability on other issues remains unclear). The Pakistani military and intelligence services have longstanding ties to Saudi Arabia — some senior Pakistani officers are known to have done sensitive police and intelligence work for the Saudis after their retirement. Pakistanis worked with al-Qaeda and some of the Taliban on behalf of the US in its initial invasion of Afghanistan — America was fighting a proxy war against Russia in that war — and the US-Pakistani ties remained close. America, in fact, looked the other way as Pakistan became a nuclear state in the late 1980s. I was told while researching the long article in my new book that Pakistan had been paid many millions by the Saudi leadership not to tell Washington about its capture of bin Laden. The assumption for such payments can only be that the Saudis did not want America to interrogate bin Laden about the 9/11 attacks, and that our Pakistani allies chose money over loyalty to us. It was a deeply distressing thought, given the nuclear stakes involved.

You also quote a source as claiming “that the CIA leadership had become experts in derailing serious threats from Congress.” How so?

It is a sad fact that the CIA did not merely undermine Congressional oversight in the Bush/Cheney years — it sabotaged them. Vice President Richard Cheney ran covert CIA and overt military operations abroad with no Congressional fundings, as required by the Constitution, and with no knowledge whatsoever, in many cases, by the relevant committees in the House and Senate. Congress was not a significant player as the White House responded to 9/11. The sad truth is that eight or 10 neoconservatives managed to overturn the Constitution with a minimum of Congressional and mainstream journalism dissent. Our Constitution is far more frail than one might think.

Can you summarize what is Turkey’s role in the ceaseless clash and bloodletting in Syria?

The Erdogan government was a covert supporter of the ISIS war against the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria for years, rearming ISIS fighters, buying seized Syrian oil from the ISIS at discount prices, and keeping the borders between Turkey and Syria, especially in Hakkari province, open for a steady stream of anti-Assad jihadists from around the world who wanted to join in the war against Syria. There also is evidence that some anti-Syrian factors in the United States have welcomed the Erdogan support or, at the least, looked away when necessary. Erdogan’s constantly expanding extremism and grab for power was ignored, more or less, by many in the mainstream US media until early this year, and President Obama, for reasons not known, has yet to fully share the intelligence about Erdogan’s political and religious obligations with the nation.

The irony, or tragedy, of Erdogan’s move to extremism is that throughout much of the last decade he was seen as being fully in the Ataturk tradition in Turkey — that of a strong leader with strong religious beliefs who made sure that his nation remained secular. That is no longer true, as the recent coup, and Erdogan’s extremist response to it, has made clear. Those called by Erdogan to go to the street and attack the army when the coup began to fail were not fighting in support of democracy, as widely reported at first, but as Islamists fighting a secular military.

Your book explores the infamous sarin attack that almost led to wholesale US military involvement in the intractable Syrian deadly scrum. What was wrong with the official US version concerning the perpetrators of the August 21, 2013, use of chemical weapons in Syria?

The critical issue [regarding] the August 20, 2013, sarin attack in a suburb of Damascus is that the US and its allies knew from highly classified CIA and allied intelligence reporting throughout the spring and summer of 2013, that the jihadist opposition to Assad (primarily al-Nusra) had the ability to manufacture a crude form of sarin and other gas warfare items. And yet, in the days after the August gas attack, the Obama administration focused its attention solely on the fact that the Syrian army was known to have a significant chemical warfare (CW) capability. The Syrian government became the only suspect, at a time when there were, at the minimum, two suspects. That was a fatal flaw. It also is so that the Syrian gas arsenal was not a secret, as many in the US insisted, but widely known for decades to exist.

The CW system had been generated by Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad, who ran the nation for 20 years, as a deterrent to the known — if undeclared — Israeli nuclear arsenal. But the fact that Syria had a weapons capability did little to change the reality that Israeli nuclear weapons clearly would be dominant in any war. The Syrian system was seen after Hafez’s death in 2000, with young Bashar al-Assad now in charge, to be useless, expensive, and hard to maintain — and publicly complained about as such. I, in The New Yorker magazine, as had others, had written about the Syrian CW arsenal after the 9/11 attacks.

There was another consideration: Israel and the US had joined forces, initially in secret, to monitor all of the suspected CW storage depots scattered through Syria; there were more than 20 of them. Any effort to begin preparing for a CW warfare attack would immediately trigger alarms in the US and Israel, and the government in Tel Aviv would begin preparing for a pre-emptive air force attack. The joint US-Israeli system did not signal an alarm in the hours before or after the CW attack near Damascus — clear evidence that the attack could not have come from a Syrian CW facility. To this date, despite constant references by the media to the Syrian attack, there has been no specific evidence linking the Syrian version of sarin, whose sophisticated additives and chemical make-up is known to the West, to the far cruder sarin found at the site.

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The Biggest Spender Backing Donald Trump? The NRA


By Bill Scher

Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., Aug. 10, 2016. With Trump increasingly isolated and hobbled by controversies of his own making, the National Rifle Association has emerged as one of his remaining stalwart allies, spending millions on ads in support. (Scott McIntyre / The New York Times)

Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, August 10, 2016. With Trump increasingly isolated and hobbled by controversies of his own making, the National Rifle Association has emerged as one of his remaining stalwart allies, spending millions on ads in support. (Scott McIntyre / The New York Times)

Why is Donald Trump pandering so hard to “the Second Amendment people”? Possibly because the National Rifle Association is the biggest financial backer of his campaign.

The NRA has spent $6 million in TV ads on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, which is $6 million more than the Trump campaign has spent on itself. (A super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, claimed in June to have $32 million in commitments from four donors, but has only spent $5 million on ads to date. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson once made a pledge to create his own $100 million super PAC, but as of July has not followed through.)

Many traditional conservative constituencies have abandoned Trump. The Koch brothers won’t touch him, saving their cash for congressional campaigns. Only two percent of donors to Mitt Romney’s main 2012 super PAC had given to Trump as of June. The New York Times reported that, “Of the donors who gave at least $200 to Jeb Bush, Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Chris Christie or Senator Lindsey Graham in the Republican primaries, more of them have also contributed to Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton than to Mr. Trump.”

Republican hawks are repudiating him, with some embracing Clinton outright. Free-traders unhappy with Trump’s protectionism are warming to Libertarian Gary Johnson. Social conservatives feel politically homeless.

Yet the NRA is sticking with the Republican nominee.

The NRA’s endorsement was not without controversy in gun rights circles, as some couldn’t shake Trump’s attempt to triangulate on guns in his 2000 book: “Democrats want to confiscate all guns, which is a dumb idea because only the law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the bad guys would be the only ones left armed. The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions. I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”

But even in that quote, you can see Trump’s affinity for the NRA’s “good guys with guns” worldview. So the NRA concluded, as one official told Politico, “Hillary Clinton is not an option. She must be defeated at all costs.”

That’s an understandable bet the NRA made, considering Clinton is running on the most explicit gun control platform of any Democrat since Al Gore. But it’s a bet that the NRA may lose big.

Many Democrats blamed Gore’s losses in places like West Virginia and Tennessee for his gun control stance. In turn, Democrats have downplayed the issue, arguably helping them win the 2006 midterms and the 2008 presidential elections.

But the politics of guns have changed since Sandy Hook. The intensity of the gun control constituency has deepened. Clinton used the gun issue to fend off the Sanders insurgency, and has not hesitated to campaign on it in the general. Yet Clinton is running well ahead of Trump, while Trump has damaged himself in his clumsy pandering to “the Second Amendment people.”

There was a time when conservatives saw the NRA as part of a broad “Leave Us Alone” coalition. But in the aftermath of the Great Recession and the rise of public mass shootings, too many people want to work together and help each other solve tough problems.

Such liberal thinking is anathema to the hyper-libertarians who run the NRA. The conservative ship may be sinking, but the NRA is determined to go down with it.

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Stark New Evidence on How Money Shapes US Elections


By Lynn Parramore

(Photo: 401(k) 2012; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: 401(k) 2012; Edited: LW / TO)

Outrage over how big money influences American politics has been boiling over this political season, energizing the campaigns of GOP nominee Donald Trump and former Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders alike. Citizens have long suspected that “We the People” increasingly means “We the Rich” at election time.

Yet surprisingly, two generations of social scientists have insisted that wallets don’t matter that much in American politics. Elections are really about giving the people what they want. Money, they claim, has negligible impact on elections.

That was a good line for Cold War propaganda, and good for tenure, too. Corporate titans seized upon it to argue that their money should be freer to flow into political campaigns. Not only billionaires, but academics, too, argued that more money in elections meant more democracy.

Even today, many academics and pundits still insist that money matters less to political outcomes than ordinary citizens think, even as business executives throw down mind-boggling sums to dine with politicians and Super Pacs spring up like mushrooms. The few dissenters from this consensus, like Noam Chomsky, are ignored in the US as “unpersons,” though they are enormously respected abroad.

This is a scandal. It has stymied efforts at campaign finance reform and weakened American democracy.

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson, Director of Research at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), has spent a career setting the record straight with clear empirical evidence in a field where such research has been shockingly rare. Ever since his 1995 book Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition blasted through received academic wisdom by showing how wealthy individuals and businesses strategically invest in political parties for the biggest pay off, Ferguson has been the man to seek when you really wanted to know how elections work and who controls them.

White collar criminologist William K. Black and others still recall Ferguson’s famous warning, issued long before the nominating convention in 2008, that the contributions from big finance piling up in Barack Obama’s campaign war chest meant that his promises of sweeping reforms of finance were not to be believed. In 2014, he foresaw the unraveling of America’s two major political parties and predicted that voters feeling betrayed would increasingly abandon both.

“Want a happy ending?” he quips. “See a Disney movie.”

In recent years, Ferguson has often worked with two other talented researchers, Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen. The three have tracked the generous funding of Obama by high tech businesses engaged in spying on the American public and the waves of money from polluters into the Republican Party.

Spend Money, Win Votes

Now the researchers have turned their attention on political money in Congressional elections in a new paper for (INET).

They begin with a simple question: What are the facts about total campaign spending and election outcomes? As they write: “We can pool all spending by and on behalf of candidates and then examine whether relative, not absolute, differences in total outlays are related” to the differences in votes received by the major political parties.

Their answer is stunning: there is strong, direct link between what the major political parties spend and the percentage of votes they win — far stronger than all the airy dismissals of the role of money in elections would ever lead you to think, and certainly stronger than anything you read in your poli sci class.

They show the strength of this relationship through a simple graph. The line going out to the right in the graph shows the Democratic percentage of the total money flowing into the race for the major parties and runs from 0 to 100 percent. The vertical line shows the percentage of the major party vote that the Democrats won. Dots represent individual House races in 2012.

As Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen sum up:

At the bottom left Democrats spend almost no money and get virtually no votes; at the top right, they spend nearly all the money and garner virtually all the ballots, calculated as proportions of totals for the major parties.


If money and voting outcomes were unrelated, then the dots representing individual House races in 2012 would be scattered all over the square. If they were perfectly related, the dots would all cluster tightly on a line.

Not only in 2012, but in every election for which the data exists (from 1980 to 2012), Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen found that the graphs came out with neat, straight lines, with minimal scattering of dots. The link is clear: when the Democrats spend more than Republicans, their candidates win. When Republicans spend more than Democrats, they win.

There was but one exception, the Senate races of 1982, when Senator William Proxmire, whose disdain for fundraising was legendary but who still won elections, brought down the average. Otherwise, with alarming regularity, Democrats and Republicans candidates’ share of the vote was correlated, to an astonishing degree, with the amount money spent in the campaign.

Nothing like this graph has ever made its way into a political science textbook. That it now exists sure should change what Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen call the “optics” of the campaign finance discussion. But will it?

Does Money Just Follow Popular Candidates?

Political scientists have long had way out of admitting the implications for democracy of such a direct a relationship between politics and money: the idea that the wealthy tend to spend on the most popular Congressional candidates. Their “influence,” the thinking goes, is thus nothing more than a reflection the will of the people. They don’t force any outcome other than the one that voters would choose. Political scientists call this idea “reciprocal causality.”

Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen tackle this issue head on. They use a cutting-edge method invented by Dutch statistician Peter Ebbes and recently studied by Irene Hueter in another new INET paper. The researchers find that while reciprocal causation happens, its extent is not large: money’s effect is direct and powerful.

They confirm their conclusion by using another method now widely employed in finance and economics: they look at published gambling odds on the chances of a Republican takeover of the House in 1994. These are relevant because a huge wave of money swept the Republicans to victory in that election, but the odds never moved very much. The relative lack of change rules out the idea that soaring expectations of victory drove the wave. But the wave, when it came, nevertheless produced a big change in the electoral outcome, just as a money-driven “investment theory” of political parties would predict.

Eccentric Gazillionaires or Big Corporations Driving Elections?

Their paper closes by examining the notion that right wing politics in America has been driven by donations piling up from eccentric entrepreneurs like investor and conservative mega-donor Foster Friess — the sort of people who are widely imagined to populate the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans – rather than mainline big business corporations, such as those on the Fortune 500 list

On the contrary, the researchers find that “a simple count of firms and investors on Forbes show that the largest American corporations support Tea Party Congressional candidates and organizations supporting the movement, such as Freedom Works, at much higher rates than Forbes 400 members. Even making due allowances for Dark Money, the difference is substantial.”

Evidently American big business firms are not centrist, as many pundits would have it. As Ferguson and his colleagues put it:

Stories that the steady rightward drift of the American political universe is somehow the work of exceptionally ideological individual entrepreneurs are huge over-simplifications. If the center is not holding in American society — and it rather plainly is not — America’s largest companies are as implicated as anyone else; indeed, perhaps more so.

This state of affairs explains why economic inequality has grown into a crisis, with social unrest amplified by economic distress. Because of this money-driven system — which has been getting worse since 1970s up to the current dysfunctional mess — when the rich don’t feel like paying taxes, we all suffer. Infrastructure collapses, schoolchildren and sick people suffer, and hard-working citizens are robbed of their fair share of the country’s prosperity and end their lives struggling keep body and soul together.

Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen conclude:

It goes without saying that this news is not reassuring; particularly in elections below the federal level — in states and local elections, we suspect, money has come to dominate outcomes to a frightening degree, not least because it is unlikely that the Republican advantage is offset there to the degree that it has been in recent federal elections. If it turns out that the US has entered a Post-Democratic age, the situation will not be improved by social scientists behaving like ostriches. It is time economics, political science, and history recognize the reality of industrial and financial blocs within parties and acknowledge money’s powerful effects on elections.

If mainstream social scientists are not pursuing the truth, what exactly are they pursuing? Whatever it is, it does not appear to be good for democracy.

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