Feed aggregator

NAFTA Talks Falter, Time To Increase Pressure

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:50

The NAFTA-2 negotiations seem to be faltering after the fourth round of talks recently held in the United States. The Trump administration is pushing Mexico and Canada aggressively to include provisions from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in order to renegotiate NAFTA in a way that benefits US corporations. Mexico and the US are under particularly high pressure to complete the talks successfully as each country has major elections in 2018.

News reports of the highly secretive talks describe the negotiations as hitting roadblocks. While this is good news, if it is accurate, this is the time for people in Mexico, Canada and the United States to call for each government to not only withdraw from the talks but also to abandon the corporate model of trade that puts profits before protection of people and the planet. Our view is — if it doesn’t work, don’t fix it, get rid of it and adopt a new and more positive trade model.

In “NAFTA talks bog down over U.S. demands as latest round concludes,” the Los Angeles Time reports,

“After seven straight days of talks fraught with emotion, officials representing the U.S., Canada and Mexico were at seeming loggerheads over several American proposals that observers fear could derail the negotiations and ultimately cause an unraveling of the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.”

Further, they report “observers briefed by trade negotiators said the mood during the latest session of talks had turned grim and pessimistic, and that most everyone expected Canada and Mexico to roundly reject U.S. efforts to weaken NAFTA’s regional structure with U.S. protectionist measures consistent with Trump’s ‘America first’ agenda.”

Reuters described a grim reality, writing that the disagreements are so extreme that they could result in the end of the trade agreement:

“Some downcast participants said the demands, unveiled this week in line with Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda, have increased the odds of NAFTA’s demise. At the very least, they could make it impossible to reach a deal renewing the treaty before a year-end deadline.”

CNBC also warned that time may run out — saying the negotiators are working on a schedule that is “a very tight negotiating schedule — described as ‘insane’ by one official.”  The initial goal was to complete the talks in December of this year in order to avoid the Mexican presidential election. The current pro-corporate president, Enrique Peña Nieto, is very unpopular and is likely to be replaced.

The divisions between the countries were on clear display as the round of talks wound down. The Star reports that Canadian “Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland blasted the Trump administration’s NAFTA proposals publicly for the first time in an awkward joint press conference in Washington on Tuesday, the clearest sign yet that negotiations are strained to the breaking point.”

Freeland denounced the US for “an approach that seeks to undermine NAFTA rather than modernize it,” warning that the “unconventional” proposals from President Donald Trump’s administration would “turn back the clock” and put tens of thousands of jobs at risk. Lighthizer criticized Canada and Mexico for refusing to agree to provisions that they previously accepted in the TPP.

Things are going so badly in the negotiations that the parties have decided to take a short break. Rather than meeting every two weeks, they’ve pushed the next round back to a month and the deadline for completion of the re-negotiations into early 2018.

BBC reports that in an October meeting with Justin Trudeau, President Trump said he would pull out of NAFTA and be open to a new bilateral agreement between the US and Canada if the NAFTA-2 negotiations fail.

NAFTA was the start of a long line of disastrous trade deals that put the interests of large corporations ahead of the necessities of people and planet. Now that people see the results of this model of trade such as a race to the bottom in wages and worker’s rights, environmental destruction and an erosion of democracy, there is widespread opposition to ‘free trade.’ This was evident in the large movement of movements that stopped the TPP and stalled the TTIP.

This is the time to be strong and persistent in our demand for an end to NAFTA and a new era of positive trade. Trade agreements could be negotiated in the open with broad input from all sectors of society. Trade agreements could drive a race to the top in wages and worker protections around the world. Trade agreements could also include enforceable environmental standards and promote meaningful steps to address the climate crisis.

For now, the best way to stop NAFTA is to heighten the controversies so that the talks continue to be delayed. As we did with the TPP, we can push the talks into the election season and make our positive agenda for trade a part of campaigns.

If you are interested in getting involved, please sign up at TradeForPeopleandPlanet.org. Remaking trade in a positive way is another route to the future we need.

Why We Shouldn’t Let Hillary Haunt Us … And Why Having a Vision Matters

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:50

Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election but she made it to number one on the best seller lists with her recently published memoir, What Happened. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, editor David Remnick interviewed Clinton. He claims that when he met with her, eight months after the election, “she was through with political politesse” and “of grim determination to get a message across, one last time.” But during their talk, she remained as cagey and self-righteous as ever, and the message she delivered, and which Remnick did not push back against, was the same message that fills her five-hundred-twelve-page book: “It wasn’t my fault.”

The reasons she gives as to why it wasn’t her fault are many and have been widely reported at this point: the misalignment of her campaign, her inability to connect with Americans who “questioned my authenticity and trustworthiness.” And then there is racism, misogyny, Putin, Assange, Comey … the list goes on and on.

But what happens in What Happened is that Clinton gives us nothing but a self-serving, bitter, angry, anecdotal explanation of why she lost. A better book would have been one that articulated the vision for America she had hoped to implement had she won the election. But she couldn’t write that book. She couldn’t write it because she didn’t have a vision. And her lack of one was her downfall.

Hillary Clinton had 35-plus years of public service to prepare for her run for president, but when she stepped on the electoral stage the spotlight—like an X-ray—revealed her emptiness. It was immediately apparent that she had nothing to say, nothing inspiring to galvanize the hopes and dreams of the American people.

Where, one might ask, were the big ideas the Democratic National Committee and her campaign strategists should have supplied? Where were the breakthrough insights from the pollsters, the advanced political agendas from the think tanks and consultants? Well, they were running on empty because for more than two decades, the search for transformational political ideas and a vision that voters could rally behind was sacrificed on the altar of the lust for power by the Clintons. From the time they took up residence in the White House, in 1993, succession planning—how to get Hillary to helm the country after Bill’s final term—was the prime preoccupation of the First Family. Thus, in the years between the Clinton’s arrival in Washington and Hillary’s first run for President in 2008, the Clintons, as titular heads of the Democratic Party, made no intellectual contributions, and articulated no vision for advancing the welfare, wealth, and happiness of the American people. It was all about the Clintons. There was, it should be recalled, no landmark legislation enacted under Bill Clinton. Nothing of note. Except, of course, that he signed into law the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, which repealed the part of the Glass–Steagall Act which had prohibited banks from offering a full range of investments and commercial banking, and, ultimately led to the financial crisis of 2008.

The democrats were shut out of the White House by George W. Bush in 2001. After spending time in the Senate, where her accomplishments were underwhelming, Hillary emerged to run for president in the primary of 2008. She lost to Barack Obama, who took her into the White House, in 2009, as Secretary of State, giving her a seat at the power table.

History will show Obama’s presidency to have been a failure. Yes, he gave us the Affordable Care Act. But over and over again during his time in office, he declined to use his power for the good of the American people. He didn’t point the finger at the big banks that brought about the financial crisis, he didn’t adequately address the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he ignominiously stepped back from the “red line” in the sand he had drawn over the use of chemical weapons when president Bashar al-Assad crossed it. Even though Obama had won the election on the idea of “change” not much changed during his administration. He didn’t improve the social and economic standing of most African Americans, or middle-class white Americans. He didn’t call out the rampant racism—even when it was directed against him—under the guise of “taking the high road.” While unemployment did go down, wages remained stagnant. The “gig” economy expanded. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

In 2015, it was finally time for Hillary for to run for president, the job for which she had long been groomed, and for which she was perceived to be a shoe in. The democrats were counting on a woman to win, just as they had counted on a black to win. Democratic Party leadership didn’t give a hoot about developing a vision for America, and wouldn’t acknowledge the ideological bankruptcy of the party. All they cared about was blowing the “dog whistle” which proclaimed: it’s time to elect the first woman president of the United States and if you’re not with us, then you don’t count, and we won’t spend the time, effort, or money courting your vote.

But the lack of ideological development within the Democratic Party’s meant that when Hillary won the primary in 2015, she had nothing to say. On her campaign website one was encouraged to “Learn more about Hillary’s vision for America.” If you visited it, you didn’t find a vision. There were six program categories (economy and jobs, education, environment, health, justice and equality, national security—all the usual suspects). It listed over 35 issues! The so-called vision proclaimed on the homepage was nothing more than a hodge-podge of regurgitated programs and policies that democrats have been chewing on and regurgitating for as long as there have been democrats. And the electorate was sick of it.

Clinton proudly points out that she won the popular vote, and won it by the largest margin of votes of any candidate who has gone on to lose the election through the vagaries of the electoral college. This has to be put into perspective. Yes, she received 65,844,610 votes (48.2%) and Trump received 62,979,636 votes (46%). But the difference in the popular vote was a mere 2.1%!  Which means that more than sixty-two million Americans found Trump’s message, “Make America Great Again,” more appealing than hers. And no matter how you spin it that’s a large constituency.

Moreover, the fact that Hillary carried the popular vote but lost the election through the nefarious workings of the electoral college makes her failure all the more pathetic. Here’s why: she lost the electoral college in the swing states that Obama won in 2008 and 2012—back when people voted for “change.” The reversal of fortune in these states demonstrates that under Clinton leadership, the Democratic Party and its front-person, Hillary, failed to gauge the depth of unhappiness of the electorate. It wasn’t in touch with the politically alienated and neglected working-class population who were tired of identity politics and multiculturalism. These folks didn’t want to join in the kumbaya of electing the first female president. They didn’t want to be “with her.” They saw her as someone who was out for herself, out to ensure the continuance of the Clinton regime. And she couldn’t convince them otherwise because she had nothing to say that voters hadn’t heard before. So, the democrats lost: They lost Governorships. The Senate. The House. The Presidency.

Hillary and David Remnick remind us in the New Yorker interview that she’s “still here.” And that’s too bad. For the empire of influence that was “Clintonia” should disband and disappear. Neither Hillary, nor Bill have anything more to say to us. Hillary makes this abundantly clear in her vapid book. There is nothing to learn from the Clintons as we look to the future.

But how do we move forward? The Democratic Party needs new ideas. It needs writers and thinkers and philosophers to reimagine and describe a vision of how to help Americans realize the American Dream.

A year ago this month, Tom Hayden, one of the founders of the of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), passed away. Hayden was the lead author of the most radical, political document written in this country since the Declaration of Independence, The Port Huron Statement, which was published in 1962. The Statement provided their generation with a vision that was not an inane list of issues or a sound bite: “The goal of man and society should be human independence: a concern not with image of popularity but with finding a meaning in life that is personally authentic…”

John F. Kennedy borrowed ideas from The Port Huron Statement for his New Frontier speech, and it provided much of the philosophical underpinning of Lyndon Johnston’s Great Society program. It was the genesis of many the stunning radical legislative advances in America: The Civil Rights Act (1964); the Voting Rights Act (1965); and the creation of Medicare and Medicaid (1965).

That was more than half a century ago. What’s happened since then? Where are the texts offering a critique of the status quo and a guiding vision for the future?

What will our future be? What will our vision be? We need to begin writing it today. And in writing it, we should not be afraid to push our imaginations to the limit and come up with radical, life-changing ideas. We should remember the final sentence of The Port Huron Statement: “If we appear to seek the unattainable… then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.”

Stop the Idiocy! Stop the Mattis-ness!

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:49

This is just freaking crazy. Mad Dog Mattis—one of the so-called sane guys in the Trump White House—is discussing northern Korean targets with his henchmen (and women I suppose). Great Britain’s Theresa May can hardly wait to get Britain’s military into a potentially nuclear conflagration in Asia while other governments hold their tongues perhaps thinking any war on the Korean peninsula might somehow have a beneficial result. Evacuation drills are being run on Americans in Korea. Meanwhile, potential elements of a movement against another senseless and bloody war are sending memes on Facebook about kneeling athletes and sexual predators in Hollywood. Not that those things are not important, but they will mean very little if hundreds of thousands die in a war of US aggression.

Is there no antiwar movement because people don’t believe Trump and his crew will actually go to war? Or is there no antiwar movement because too many US residents actually believe that the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) prefers war to negotiations acknowledging their status and paving a way to a peace treaty with the US and Seoul? After all, it is rarely mentioned that the DPRK has repeatedly said that if there is a treaty to end the Korean War that it will cease pursuit of nuclear weapons technology. Perhaps the reason there is no movement opposing the moves towards war because most of the American people actually think that the Korean people need to be murdered en masse. If that is the case, and I hope it isn’t, then there truly is no hope for this bloodthirsty excuse of a nation.

The prelude to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq saw millions of people in the streets of the world’s cities. Although Bush, Blair and company went ahead and began what may well have been the world’s most unpopular war, the existence of such a large antiwar movement had to have affected their plans. The continued popularity of that movement in later years certainly affected the way Washington and London dealt with the insurgency against their occupation. Likewise, the existence of antiwar movements against earlier US wars of aggression in Central America and Vietnam forced the Pentagon and its sycophantic civilian cohorts to pull back on their plans for complete and total victory.

When discussing the current situation in Korea it is absolutely essential to include its beginnings. Let me quote from a piece I wrote over fifteen years ago. I believe it explains quite clearly how things got to where they are today, especially when one considers the countless number of antagonistic episodes between Pyongyang and Washington since the truce signing in 1953.

Near the end of the Second World War, right before the U.S. dropped the bomb on Japan, the Soviet Union moved into northern Korea to fight the occupying Japanese troops. Within weeks of Japan’s surrender, democratic groups of Korean peasants, merchants, and workers formed local governing organizations and begin to organize a national assembly. The U.S. and U.S.S.R., meanwhile, chose to maintain a “temporary” occupation of the country with the 38th parallel as the dividing line. This occupation was to end after the Koreans established their own government, and Korea was to reunite. However, after the United States realized that the makeup of any Korean-organized government would be anti-colonial, it reneged on its promise.

Within weeks of the election of a popular national assembly, the Soviet Union began to withdraw its forces. The U.S., however, increased its military strength and coordinated security with the remnants of the hated Japanese army. At the same time, Synghman Rhee, an ultra-right Korean politician who was living in America, was flown back to Korea (with the assistance of the US intelligence community). He immediately began to liquidate the popular movement in Southern Korea and, with the complete support of the U.S. military, refused to acknowledge the existence of the newly elected national assembly. In the weeks following his installment as ruler of Southern Korea, over 100,000 Korean citizens were murdered and disappeared. The United States military provided the names of many of the victims.

After realizing that the United States had no plans to withdraw its troops, the Soviet Union put its withdrawal on hold and asked for assistance from the People’s Republic of China. In the days and weeks that passed, military units from the south persistently forayed into the northern half of Korea, testing its defenses. Eventually, although the exact details remain unclear, Northern Korean and Chinese troops attacked. On June 25, 1950, the U.S. responded, using the authority of the U.N. Security Council, and the Korean War began. Three years and one month later an armistice was signed between the warring sides.

The toll in lives was: 52, 246 US soldiers, an estimated 4 million Koreans on both sides of the parallel (mostly civilians), 1 million Chinese soldiers, and another 4000 soldiers from armies that allied themselves with the United States.

Ever since, the US has refused to sign a peace treaty, even when Seoul wanted them to.

Since that truce signing, the government in Seoul has alternated between being anti-DPRK and being more open to negotiating some kind of treaty that will open the border on the 38th parallel and ultimately reunite the divided Koreas into one nation. The current government tends toward the latter philosophy although that is being tested by the current situation. Stuck between a bellicose Pyongyang and an even more bellicose Washington, DC, Seoul finds itself with little room to maneuver. Although it does not want war, it is also unsure of how genuine northern Korea’s Kim Song Um’s threats of war are. Likewise, it is unsure how real the threats of war from Washington actually are. Consequently, Seoul is accepting military assistance from Washington that it had refused earlier, while simultaneously calling for talks instead of combat. One assumes that recent offers from Jimmy Carter and others to begin some kind of talks are broadly supported by the Seoul regime.

Unfortunately, those talks (or any other such efforts to negotiate) may very well be in vain. The Pentagon is stepping up its never-ending exercises in the area while Donald Trump, various US legislators, the Japanese government, and certain US generals talk as if they are hoping for war. Like pubescent boys uncertain of their masculinity, Pyongyang and Washington are waging a pissing contest with radioactive consequences. While an antiwar movement might not be able to stop this war of tweets from becoming something much more deadly, it is virtually guaranteed that if there is no popular opposition to the growing threat of war the madmen in power will have few if any qualms at launching their bomber planes, missiles and other hardware.

There is a real need for a movement opposing US wars and war moves around the world. Nowhere is this need greater than in regards to the Korean peninsula. Our demands should be simple:
Negotiations, not war.
Withdraw all foreign troops from Korea.

Talley Sergent Aaron Scheinberg Coca Cola Single Payer and the Failure of Democrats in West Virginia

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:49

Congressman Alex Mooney is the former chair of Republican Party in Maryland. But now he’s a congressman from the second Congressional district of West Virginia.

How did that happen? In 2014, Mooney saw that he wasn’t going to win anything in Maryland, so he crossed the bridge over the Potomac River and came on over to West Virginia.

Mooney should have been — and in 2018 should be — easily defeated. Mooney puts the interests of powerful out of state corporations over the interests of the people of his district. He is hardly ever is seen in the district. (Instead, he does phone call town hall meetings.)

Strike three and he should be out.

But he keeps winning.

Why?

Democrats in West Virginia are politically bankrupt.

Take for example the two declared Democrat candidates for the Mooney seat.

One is Talley Sargent. She’s a former public relations executive at Coca-Cola.

The other is Aaron Scheinberg. He’s been endorsed by Congressman Seth Moulton of the New Democrat Coalition, a group that raises funds from Big Business and is seeking to move the Democratic Party to the right.

Both Sergent and Scheinberg refuse to take economic positions that would rile big business.

Both, for example, have refused to back the West Virginia Democratic Party platform’s call for a single payer, Medicare for All plan along the lines of HR 676.

HR 676 currently has 120 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives — none from West Virginia.

When asked about this, Scheinberg spokesperson Elizabeth Gale said that “Aaron believes that we have a duty to each other to ensure that all West Virginians have access to comprehensive health care.”

“As a veteran, Aaron is lucky to receive reliable, affordable health care through the VA,” Gale said. “He believes no one should to have to worry about losing or being denied health insurance. That will be a major focus of his agenda if he is elected. As far as commenting on specific bills, Aaron will wait until he can participate in the debate within Congress.”

But Margaret Flowers of Health Over Profit, said that the phrase “access to health care” is used by politicians across the spectrum to dodge the issue of single payer.

“Politicians will say that people have access to health care right now under the current system, it’s just that some people can’t afford it,” Flowers said. “Will Democrats say that a public option gives access to health care? The policies matter and candidates need to show that they understand what policies will solve the crises we face.”

“It is an unwillingness to take strong stances that is one of the reasons Democrats are doing so poorly. The majority of Democratic voters support single payer health care and it is a proven policy, so there is nothing controversial about supporting it. Voters are looking for candidates with the courage to take positions.”

While at Coca-Cola, Sargent worked to promote a Coca-Cola front group called the Global Energy Balance Network.

The message of the network? Exercise more and worry about calories less. Take the focus off of sugary drinks like Coke and put the focus on the couch potato behind the straw.

In August 2015, the New York Times exposed Coke’s front group in an article titled — Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets.

The Times reported that Coca-Cola spent $1.5 million to start the organization.

“Health experts say this message (exercise more important than diet) is misleading and part of an effort by Coke to deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes,” the Times reported. “They contend that the company is using the new group to convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet despite evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume.”

“This clash over the science of obesity comes in a period of rising efforts to tax sugary drinks, remove them from schools and stop companies from marketing them to children. In the last two decades, consumption of full-calorie sodas by the average American has dropped by 25 percent.”

“Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption,” Michele Simon, a public health lawyer, told the Times. “This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”

One internal Coca-Cola email shows the head of Coke’s public relations department — Clyde Tuggle — reporting that “Talley has been leading some of our health and wellness work” and that “I’d like her to be my right hand and a core part of the team on this work going forward” — referring to the Global Energy Balance Network.

Gary Ruskin of the public interest group US Right to Know, which helped expose Global Energy Balance Network and make public the internal Coca-Cola emails, said that “Talley Sergent is perhaps the least qualified person in West Virginia to serve in Congress.”

“As a Coke public relations executive, Sergent helped perpetrate a deceit so egregious that it was exploded on the front page of the New York Times. She was a Coke handler for one of its front groups, the Global Energy Balance Network, and their efforts to snooker consumers and public health leaders, and to shield Coke from accountability for its role in helping to create the global obesity epidemic.”

“Now she wants to represent West Virginia in Congress. There is already enough deceit in Congress without her.”

“Coke’s role in West Virginia has been especially destructive of late. The state is suffering from some of the worst levels of obesity in the nation. In a notable insult to public health, the founding dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health was a key Coke ally and a leader in Coke’s Global Energy Balance Network debacle.  Hand left the deanship following the avalanche of negative news coverage about his role in the Coke deceit.  And now comes Talley Sergent.”

Sergent now says it was a mistake for Coca-Cola to fund the Global Energy Balance Network and that after the Times article ran, she helped move Coca Cola into a new, more transparent direction.

In response to an inquiry,  Sergent, a native of Huntington, West Virginia defended her work at Coca-Cola and took a barely veiled shot at Ruskin (based in Oakland, California), Scheinberg (who is originally from Cherry Hill, New Jersey) and Mooney (the former chair of the Republican Party in Maryland) as “outsiders.”

And Coca-Cola isn’t an outsider doing tremendous harm to the state?

“Isn’t West Virginia number one in obesity in the country?” Sergent was asked.

“We’re actually number two — behind Mississippi,” she said.

(Actually, according to a recent listing, West Virginia is number one — with a 37.7 percent obesity rate, with Mississippi coming in second with a 37.3 obesity rate.)

“Outsiders think they know voters here in West Virginia – shoot – we have folks from outside the state moving here just to run,” Sergent said. “But, like most West Virginians, I don’t take cues from special interests or outsiders, just the special people of my home state.”

“On my watch, the Coca-Cola Company transformed its approach to public health, owning up to its mistakes, becoming more transparent with its consumers and starting an open dialogue with the public health community. It wasn’t easy work but it was the right thing to do.”

“Now, I’m taking the same approach to Congress. We need a congresswoman who will take tough obstacles like health care head on, beginning with protecting and improving the Affordable Care Act, which will help break the cycle of opioid addiction, improve lives with preventive care and coverage for pre-existing conditions and encourage every West Virginian to live their best life. West Virginia needs a congresswoman who will stand up for the people and who welcomes an open dialogue with every West Virginian, no matter what. As congresswoman, I’ll do just that.”

But Sergent refused to commit to a public health campaign against sugary drinks or to a single payer, Medicare for All health program.

Some West Virginians aren’t giving up on Sergent or Scheinberg.

West Virginians Cathy Kunkel, Sally Roberts Wilson, and Lynn Moses Yellott, who are active members of grassroots organizations in the state advocating improved Medicare for All, have spoken with both Sergent and Scheinberg.

“We will continue to educate and push these candidates to support a single-payer ‘Medicare for All’ system as the only real way to fix our broken healthcare system,” Kunkel, Wilson and Yellot said in a statement. “HR 676 is the only solution put forth that will enable the country to afford comprehensive care for everyone. We urge candidates to ask voters the question — ‘Since under expanded and improved Medicare for all, more than 95% of you will pay less through a fair tax than you now pay for premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, are you willing to convert the money you now pay for health insurance and out of pocket expenses to a fair tax so all in our country can have needed care?’ The grassroots will continue to educate and to push candidates to support National Improved Medicare for All.”

In addition to working for Coca-Cola, Sergent was the West Virginia director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign for President.

And unfortunately for the people of the second Congressional district, Sergent and Scheinberg appear to be playing by the same Clinton corporate playbook that brought us President Trump — and that will re-elect Congressman Mooney.

The Fiction of Kurt Anderson’s “Fantasyland”

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:48

Kurt Anderson is the author of the “instant best-selling” book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire—A 500-Year History (Random House, 2017) – a problematic volume which deserved the more suitable subtitle Why America’s Elites Can’t Think!  This much is clear from reading Anderson’s 13,000 word essay (as adapted from Fantasyland) that was featured in the September issue of The Atlantic. Providing an intriguing overview of the leading proponents of magical-thinking (i.e., believing in UFOs, superstitions, miracles, etc) over the past half century, this subject matter, as interpreted through Anderson’s factually-troubled article, has been given its very own fantastic twist. Blame for widespread irrationality apparently rests with the delusions of the working-class majority, not with the powerful elites who have actively reaped the benefits from sowing seeds of confusion. As Anderson bluntly puts it, perhaps two thirds of Americans are now so hopelessly lost that “the solidly reality-based” citizens are now just a minority… “maybe a third of us…” This classic case of victim-blaming dovetails with Anderson’s electoral fantasies. Thus, in the recent faceoff between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, he arrived at the wrongheaded conclusion that the only realistic choice for the people of America was to plump for the Wall Street Democrat, Hillary, a serial liar and warmonger to boot!?

So when Anderson repeatedly refers to “we Americans,” I can only imagine that what he is really referring to are fellow liberal elites who, like their right-wing counterparts, have no faith in the working-class to make democratic decisions about America’s future. As he explains “we Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation—small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us.” Too right as far as the elites are concerned. And there is nothing more feared by libertarian or liberal elites than the prospect of the collective and democratic empowerment of ordinary people. This is precisely why this class-based aspect of history remains marginalized by Anderson and his undemocratic cohort of pessimists who peddle their toxic wares in the mainstream media.

Like the many conspiracy theorists that he so despises, Anderson is mostly wrong… and right only occasionally. For instance, he seems to stumble over the truth when he lays blame for the current state of affairs at the doorstep of mainstream institutions including the “media, academia, government, corporate America, professional associations, respectable opinion in the aggregate”. These institutions have, as he points out, “enabled and encouraged every species of fantasy over the past few decades.”[1] But rather than being a problem of recent pedigree, such institutional elite commitments to fantasy far predates the last few decades. It is a problem that is umbilically-connected to capitalism and its perpetual need to place profit before human need. Thus, contrary to Anderson’s rose-tinted view of history, capitalist institutions have never had any principled dedication to keeping the public well-informed about anything much except the righteousness of the political system.

The Descent to Fantasy

Somewhat arbitrarily the befuddled author in question, rather than focus his full rage against mainstream institutions, traces the “descent into full Fantasyland” to two “momentous changes.” One, he says, was the onset of the new era of information” that allowed ordinary people to have easy access to new narratives of social change that had previously been excluded from the liberal media. And secondly, that there was “a profound shift in thinking that swelled up in the ’60s” that led many people to start doing their own thing – his problem being that people started to explore political and social alternatives to the deadening confines of a consumer society. But here, should I be accused of wilfully misrepresenting Anderson’s deep-seated anxieties, he says that he has no regrets regarding “the ways the ’60s permanently reordered American society and culture”; “just that along with the familiar benefits,” there have also “been unreckoned costs.”

Attacking the publics’ ability to think comes easily to Anderson, but again, almost in passing he reiterates that fantasy-thinking has always found a welcome home within elite networks which have incubated all manner of idiocies before serving them up to the public. Anderson states that on the forefront of the evolution of such nonsense in the recent period was the Esalen Institute which had been formed in 1962 by a pair of wealthy Stanford graduates. Esalen as it turned out became something of “a pilgrimage center for hundreds and thousands of youth interested in some sense of transcendence, breakthrough consciousness, LSD, the sexual revolution, encounter, being sensitive, finding your body, [and] yoga”.

As Anderson surmises, this group’s impact on the spread of New Age modalities has been huge: “Esalen is a mother church of a new American religion for people who think they don’t like churches or religions but who still want to believe in the supernatural.” But while it is true that one should recognize the detrimental influence of Esalen on rational thinking, the individualist spiritual ideas peddled therein had been doing the rounds for decades – as exemplified by the popular spiritual cult that was theosophy. Nevertheless, all manner of supernatural and anti-socialist ideas were certainly thrown into the melting pot of ideas at this new institute, producing irrational fads which were soon consumed and popularized by middle-class drop-outs like for instance Harvard psychology lecturer Timothy Leary. Indeed, much like the utopian socialists of the nineteenth century, many of these well-funded social experimenters then set about the task of building small communities of resistance in the belly of an inhumane society. The limited ambitions of these budding utopians however stand in stark contrast to the determined social projects embarked upon by socialists like the Black Panthers who during the same period sought to build mass based movements for social change along class lines.

The Postmodern Fantasy Machine

Providing useful context for understanding the renewed interest in mysticism, Anderson is correct in stating that such developments were “understandable, given the times: colonialism ending, genocide of American Indians confessed, U.S. wars in the developing world.” Yet as he goes on to explain, in their keenness to reject all that capitalist society had bequeathed them, spiritual seekers at Esalen and elsewhere went awry when they combined their social experiments for change with frontal attacks on the legacy of the Enlightenment and the core tenets of the scientific process itself.

Thriving in this irrational milieu, anti-socialist intellectuals then took their cue from the mainstream to hype the emerging New Age. Anderson points towards influential books like professor Theodore Roszak’s The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition (1969), and Yale Law School professor Charles Reich’s The Greening of America (1970). Both books were well-publicized by elite media outlets and Reich’s bible soon “became The New York Times’ best-selling book (as well as a much-read 70-page New Yorker excerpt), and remained on the list for most of a year.”

Here Anderson once again emphasizes the backward role play by elite institutions, noting how in the 70s “mainstream publishers and media organizations were falling over themselves to promote and sell fantasies as nonfiction.” One good example is The Secret Life of Plants (1970) which wasa big best seller arguing that plants were sentient” which Anderson notes made the outlandish claim that this new truth about plants was being “suppressed by the FDA and agribusiness.” Other similarly ludicrous books mentioned by Anderson included Uri Geller’s 1975 autobiography, and Life After Life (1975) by Raymond Moody, the latter being “a philosophy Ph.D. who presented the anecdotes of several dozen people who’d nearly died as evidence of an afterlife” and whose “book sold many millions of copies”.

In addition to these developing fads, Anderson observes how “During the ’60s, large swaths of academia made a turn away from reason and rationalism as they’d been understood.” This was most pronounced in that area of intellectual enquiry now commonly referred to as postmodernism. Early leading lights in this field, as highlighted by Anderson, included the French philosopher Michel Foucault — a man whose “suspicion of reason became deeply and widely embedded in American academia.” Anderson continues: “Ever since, the American right has insistently decried the spread of relativism, the idea that nothing is any more correct or true than anything else.” This may be true, but Anderson neglects to mention that the relativist proponents of post-modernism have always faced vocal opposition from socialists (and particularly Marxists), i.e., those people who are serious about organizing and not just theorizing about ending oppression.

By contrast, ever content to muddy the intellectual waters of history, conservatives continue to promote the lie that an authoritarian clique of cultural Marxists control and dominate America’s academic institutions with relativist mumbo jumbo. However, those on the Left continue to oppose both the conservatives and all irrational philosophical turns precisely because they recognise the threat posed by such intrigues to the future of democracy. Anderson partially comprehends this danger, writing that when this relativist groundswell eventually “flowed out across America” “it helped enable” the spread of “extreme Christianities and lunacies on the right—gun-rights hysteria, black-helicopter conspiracism, climate-change denial, and more.” More to the point he adds:

“The term useful idiot was originally deployed to accuse liberals of serving the interests of true believers further on the left. In this instance, however, postmodern intellectuals—post-positivists, poststructuralists, social constructivists, post-empiricists, epistemic relativists, cognitive relativists, descriptive relativists—turned out to be useful idiots most consequentially for the American right.”

Attacking the Left and Right

Keen to badmouth both socialists and conservatives, Anderson contrasts what he calls the “zealots on the left” with the moderate left. He was apparently particularly taken by the “sweet and reasonable” founding manifesto that was drafted in 1962 by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which Anderson holds in esteem because, he states, they declared themselves “in basic opposition to the communist system.” To be polite to Anderson, this is a fairly mechanistic appreciation of the founding of SDS, as a good case can be made that it was the powerful lobbying efforts undertaken by liberal civil rights activists like Bayard Rustin that were most responsible for convincing SDS to adopt his own fierce opposition to communism. In later years Rustin was not as successful in foisting his views upon other young activists, as he failed to get the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to moderate their constitution to include a formal commitment to anti-communism, while SDS themselves had no qualms about working alongside the far-left.[2]

Returning to Anderson’s left-wing zealots, it turns out that the group that he had to the fore of his mind when making this point was the terrorist group Weather Underground — the tiny successor organization to the SDS. Having set up his own crude caricature of what constituted left-wing politics, Anderson then adds that the right-wing had become “unhinged” as well. He explains how leading agencies of the State (including the police, the FBI and the CIA) began to “to spy on, infiltrate, and besmirch” organizations on the left which he said “thereby validated the preexisting paranoia on the new left and encouraged its wing nuts’ revolutionary delusions.” But on the issue of repression this is an understatement to say the least as State agencies went far beyond merely besmirching the left, they also helps others to firebomb their offices and murdered their leaders. A prominent example of the latter took place on December 4, 1969 when the police slaughtered two leaders of the Black Panther Party, a group which had been successfully working alongside many others on the left including the SDS. We should also recall just one of the many other reasons why the left might have been feeling paranoid in the 1960s. For instance, the US government gave vital aid to Indonesia’s Suharto dictatorship that upon assuming power in 1965 proceeded to murder hundreds of thousands of “left-wing zealots”!

Having ostensibly established the unhinged nature of left-wing politics, Anderson then draws attention to the far-right conspiracies of the John Birch Society — an organization that had been founded in 1958 and is truly deserving of the unhinged descriptor. Anderson, however, fails to see the connection between the exceptionally paranoid anti-communism of the Birchers and the ingrained anti-communism of liberals like himself, or of the Cold War liberals of the past. It was, after all, the fear of the influence of the Marxist left upon the working-class that had led liberals to lay the groundwork for the McCarthyite excesses that followed. Cold War liberals threw fuel on the fires on conspiracism that were raised to new levels by demagogic groups like the John Birch Society who went on to denounce both Republican and Democratic presidential Cabinets as including “conscious, deliberate, dedicated agent[s] of the Soviet conspiracy”.

Although Anderson states that “Delusional conspiracism wouldn’t spread quite as widely or as deeply on the left,” he remains astounded that “more and more people on both sides would come to believe that an extraordinarily powerful cabal—international organizations and think tanks and big businesses and politicians—secretly ran America.” But what Anderson is describing here is not really a conspiracy at all, it is capitalism at its most effective. An “extraordinarily powerful cabal” – that is, the ruling-class – do run America as best they can, but they definitely don’t do it secretly. Their profit-driven actions only appear to be hatched in secrecy because of the mainstream media’s ongoing failure to accurately report on the exploitation of the global working-class; and much like Anderson, the media continue to downplay or ignore any successful efforts to resist their misrule. Nevertheless, Anderson is correct that “real life made such stories plausible.” And although he primarily faults the far-right for this confusion, he feels compelled to reiterate his critique of the left by stating: “the belief that the federal government had secret plans to open detention camps for dissidents sprouted in the ’70s on the paranoid left before it became a fixture on the right.” Yet this troublesome concern should hardly be surprising, as in 1973 the US government openly backed the rise of the dictatorship in Chile where vast detention camps had been openly employed to devastating effects against democratic activists on the left. (Here a powerful early film that warned against the potential persecution of left-wing activists in America was the 1971 mockumentary Punishment Park.)

Ruling Class Delusions

Of course, in spite of his disdain with the so-called irrationality of the majority of citizens, who, as he puts it inhabit a “post-factual America,” Anderson repeats again (with little emphasis) that elite forces in society have nurtured America’s interest in conspiracies. Specifically, he draws attention to the international best-selling book Chariots of the Gods? which was written by the “convicted thief and embezzler” Erich Von Däniken – a book that describes how extraterrestrials apparently seeded life on Earth. Anderson then explains how the subsequent spin-off documentary “had a huge box-office take in 1970” and was only topped when NBC “aired an hour-long version of the documentary in prime time.” This was all part and parcel of the disempowering media milieu that titillated both the liberal left and the far-right but was categorically rebuked as a dangerous distraction by the socialist left. As always, the upper-class strata within society, whether they be in the corporate world or at the top of the CIA, were particularly enamoured by such irrationalities, and “In the ’70s, the CIA and Army intelligence set up their infamous Project Star Gate to see whether they could conduct espionage by means of ESP.”

The persistence of grand delusions and magical thinking within ruling elites is of course nothing new, and in many ways such fantasies have been a mainstay of American history. But amongst the broader public a good case can be made that the flight to fantasy tends to ebb and flow depending upon the tempo of working-class struggles. During times of vigorous and successful grassroots organizing one might expect to observe a decline in supernatural thinking, while during periods of intense repression and political defeat the intrigues boosted by the “fantasy-industrial complex” are able to rise to the fore. These problems are further exacerbated by a corporate media environment that serves to confuse and befuddle the public, all the better to allow corporate elites and their shareholders to profit from our hard labour. Thus, the same mainstream media that is so intent on ridiculing socialists, alternatively places the gurus of mumbo jumbo on a golden pedestal. From this position they are able to make immense profits, both for themselves and the mainstream press, and confuse the public to boot!

What is to be Done?

Moving to the present day, Anderson is again partially correct to say that Donald Trump rose to power because he was able “to exploit the skeptical disillusion with politics,” but he is wrong to suggest that Trump can be credited with any form of “genius.” The orange-tinted beast only did what any mildly intelligent demagogue does when their opponents are discredited: adopt populist rhetoric that appeals to a section of angry people — those who can still stomach voting — who have been worn down by the lies and poverty of the status quo. The key in the matter is that Trump’s Presidency represented change. Furthermore, we should never forget that Trump has only been given the opportunity to sell his populist right-wing lies to the public because his so-called progressive counterpart, Hillary Clinton, was so downright appalling. Only a genuine socialist representative of the 99% could have undermined the rising tide of division and hate that is personified in Trump. The Democrat’s have therefore proved once again — as they have throughout the past century — that the American public desperately needs a genuine working-class alternative to that raised time and time again by the tired old corporate shell that is the Democratic Party.

With Trump now in the White House, Anderson, having plumped for the fantasy candidature embodied by Hillary, is apoplectic with the majority of Americans who he blames for the rise of Trump. “I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline, heading deeper into Fantasyland.” But apparently because Anderson remains a fact-loving American, fortified by his faith in the shining power of truth, we can breathe a sigh of relief as he still remains “(barely) more of an optimist than a pessimist.” This is despite the fact that Anderson is adamant that America has entered a period of “foolishness and darkness” where “too many Americans are losing their grip on reason and reality”. If one truly believed Anderson’s ill-informed diagnosis then surely any level of optimism would seem unwarranted.

If anyone is living in Fantasyland it is Anderson himself, who concludes his shallow list of reasons for being (barely) hopeful by saying: “Since 1981, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty around the globe has plummeted from 44 percent to 10 percent.” This statement of apparently uncontroversial fact is emblematic of an individual who has retreated into the statistical depths of unreason. Anderson is wrong on so many fronts, not least the decline in poverty. But if he really wanted to understand the poverty of the world around him, but especially within America itself, he might look to books like The American Way of Poverty or more critical texts like They Rule: The 1% Vs. Democracy – the latter of which highlights the ritual complicity of the Democrat’s in the ongoing transfer of wealth and power to a tiny plutocratic elite.

When Anderson concludes his essay by asking “What is to be done?”, ironically echoing the title of a seminal text by one of history’s most renowned “left wing zealots”, his own fantastic and irrational response is to admit that he doesn’t actually “have an actionable agenda” for change; although almost as an afterthought he adds, we should do our best to “stop things from getting any worse.” To undertake this task he rallies his troops, pleading that “we in reality-based America” must now stand firm and commit to waging a “struggle” of fact against falsehoods. He sees no urgent need to fight for meaningful political change, or to even partake in collective democratic action. Instead he implores his reality-based readers to “Fight the good fight in your private life.” But remember, he warns “You needn’t get into an argument with the stranger” who persists in promoting magical thinking; save your energy for winning over only your acquaintances, friends and family members (particularly your “children or grandchildren” if you have any). On that note of fantasy, I will leave you (the reader) to decide whether you stand in solidarity with Anderson or with the ordinary Americans that the author of Fantasyland has so little respect for.

Notes.

[1] The publisher of Fantasyland, Random House, is a good example of a mainstream media organization that derives immense profits from selling all manner of mumbo jumbo from Erich Von Daniken’s infamous books about ancient aliens, to an endless stream of books about anti-scientific health remedies written by the likes of Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil.

[2] James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Open Hand Publishing, 1985 [1972]), p.220.

Yes, We Need to Tax the Rich

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:48

You have to hand it to the rich in dealing with the tax reforms proposed by the Liberals. They didn’t even have to put pen to paper or pick up the phone to protest the tax man messing with their ill-gotten wealth. They got the poor besotted small business person to fight on their behalf. In this newly fact-free world it didn’t matter that 80 percent of conventional small businesses and farmers would be completely unaffected or that the changes impacted only those earning $150,000 or more.

The dimpled face of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in TV ads repeating the outright falsehoods contributed to a win-win-lose-lose outcome: The rich won by not having to play the game, small biz got a tax cut they didn’t deserve, the notion of tax fairness took a hit as did any real increase in government revenue. The loss in revenue from decreasing the small business tax to 9.5 percent will likely cancel out any increased revenue from what remains of the tax changes.

As the dust settles we are left to puzzle over why Morneau and Trudeau chose this particular set of tax loopholes to close when there are so many others that would have been politically popular, would have forced the wealthy to defend their indefensible privileges and would have brought in far more revenue. One of the most outrageous giveaways which exclusively benefits the very wealthy is stock options. We lose a billion a year to this scam which allows corporations to pay their executives with options to buy their company’s shares at a set, low, price. This loophole – the beneficiaries pay tax on just half the gains – also leads to CEOs driving up share prices short term to increase the value of their options while discounting the long-term growth of the company.

The most costly loophole for the wealthy is the capital gains exemption.   The rationale for this break is laughable as it suggests that investing in the stock market is actually investing in new productive activity. In fact it is nothing more than a tax break for gambling which is exactly what anyone who invests in the stock market is doing.

There are other features of the tax system that basically reward people for already being rich – the benefits of RRSPs and Tax Free Savings Accounts accrue disproportionately to the wealthiest 10 percent. The vast majority of Canadians – for whom these programs were supposedly established – come nowhere near the maximum contribution allowed. Capping the benefits could save billions.
The Trudeau government is now coming smack up against its progressive promises and its political will to find the revenue necessary to keep them. The NDP with its new leader is poised to take advantage of any show of hypocrisy by the no-longer-new prime minister. He has just two years left to prove his metal.

Morneau’s tax changes deserve to be supported even if they were badly rolled out. But for the next round of loophole-closing the Liberals need to be prepared for the high profile and well-funded onslaught. As was shown in two previous efforts at comprehensive tax reform – the 1960s Carter Commission and the 1981 reforms by Allan McEachan – the motivation of a small powerful minority standing to lose real money is much stronger than that of the tens of thousands of regular income earners whose financial benefit will be minimal.

But it goes beyond loopholes and special breaks. The wealthy in this country can easily afford at least two new tax brackets targeting extremely high income. The myth so firmly rooted in the public consciousness and promoted by the media that wealthy people create economic growth needs to be challenged. It is useful to remember that in the late 1950s and early sixties the highest marginal tax rate was over 80 percent and economic growth was nearly double that experienced over the past twenty-five years.

If Trudeau islooking for allies in taxing wealth and high income he just got a major boost from a highly unusual source: the International Monetary Fund. In a recent report the IMF stated unequivocally, according to the Guardian newspaper: “Higher income tax rates for the rich would help reduce inequality without having an adverse impact on growth.”  The report rejected the claim that higher marginal rates would impact growth: “Empirical results do not support this argument…”

The IMF reported that “the average top income tax rate for the rich country members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development had fallen from 62% in 1981 to 35% in 2015.”
While it is understandable that the Liberal government is pre-occupied with NAFTA negotiations it is precisely this crisis on the trade front that should remind the government that 80 percent of our economy is domestic. That is the part of the economy that the government actually has some influence over. Trudeau in the election campaign talked a lot about the scourge of inequality. The IMF report stated that “..between 1985 and 1995, redistribution through the tax system had offset 60% of the increase in inequality caused by market forces.” Since that time inequality in Canada has skyrocketed at the same time that the tax system failed completely to respond.

Trudeau has to realize he can’t deliver sunny days and win the next election without first weathering a political storm.

Two Soviet Spies Who Deserve a Posthumous Nobel Peace Prize

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:46

It becomes increasingly clear that two Soviet spies, Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall, should receive posthumous Nobel Peace Prizes for actions that almost certainly saved millions of innocent lives.

Had these two young Communists, both scientists working on the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II, not provided crucial information about the secret US/British project to develop the atomic bomb, and with key information about the workings of both the atomic bomb, and later, in Fuchs’ case, the hydrogen bomb — information which allowed Soviet physicists and engineers to quickly catch up and develop their own nuclear weapons to match those in the possession of the US military — all the nations of the world that failed to bow to the wishes of a “lone superpower” United States would have become victims of nuclear blackmail or potential targets for annihilation, like the vaporized cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Even after Russia developed its own atomic bomb, which it demonstrated in 1949, there were powerful forces in the US that were pushing for using the weapon — in Vietnam to rescue the trapped French military at Dien Bien Phu, against North Korean and Chinese forces during the Korean War, against Mao’s China, later again against North Vietnam and on other occasions — perhaps even in Eastern Europe against Russian forces.

Thanks to Fuchs and Hall, and to several lesser figures who acted as messengers for them in their efforts to get plans to the Soviets, the US was held in check and was unable to have free rein to drop nukes in every conflict which it started or in which it found itself.

The mentality of the US, coming out of World War II, was akin to the one we saw on display after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s when we had Neo-Conservatives like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, and presidents like George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, as well as Neo-Liberals like the Clintons, seeking to establish the US as the unchallenged lone global superpower, able to impose its will around the world, and to prevent the rise of any new challenger to that power.

We have seen how this effort has failed in this later period, but imagine how close the US was to succeed in its plan during the era of the late ‘40s and the 1950s, had it obtained even for a decade or less a monopoly on nuclear weapons.

In the current era, there is serious talk in some government circles and among the Neocon and Neoliberal think-tank and political circles of the US, of launching wars against Iran and/or North Korea, possibly even using small “useable” nuclear weapons, to destroy the infrastructure of nuclear weapons-making in those countries.

President Trump himself has spoken about using nuclear weapons, and has proposed an expansion of America’s already huge nuclear arsenal, which already is undergoing a $1-trillion “upgrade” ordered by President Obama. The US is also pressing ahead with the emplacement of nuclear-capable anti-missile missiles along Russia’s eastern and western borders — missiles which Russia points out could both be used as actual delivery systems to nuke cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg or its naval base at Kaliningrad, and, if successful in functioning as ABMs, as a means of limiting or destroying Russia’s ability to retaliate against an all-out US first strike against Russian nuclear missiles.

Clearly then, the US remains hell-bent on achieving global military dominance and is not beyond using nuclear weapons to get it.

What saves the world, and that includes us US citizens, from this madness (because really any major nuclear war launched by the US would inevitably be a catastrophe not just for the nation or nations attacked but for the US itself), is the reality of Russia’s and China’s own powerful nuclear weapons and delivery systems, which are sufficient to destroy the US, even if only a fraction of them were to succeed in reaching their targets.

For that we can thank Fuchs and Hall and their associates.

Hall, who had moved to the UK, was very clear about this before he died in 1999. A US citizen who was never actually charged with being a Soviet spy, his role became public with the declassification of key documents in 1995, and he went public himself at that point, explaining that he had acted to provide critical scientific documents to the Soviet Union because “It seemed to me that an American monopoly was dangerous and should be prevented.” Saying he had no regrets or second thoughts about what he had done, he added, “I was not the only scientist to take that view.” How right he was! (My father, a young engineer and Marine who, during World II worked on another top-secret project at MIT called the Radiation Lab that miniaturized radar to fit on planes, and on that job came to know some of those senior scientists who subsequently worked on the Manhattan Project, later felt the same way: that had the US obtained a nuclear monopoly, it would have used it casually in global conflicts.)

The US showed itself willing to murder millions of civilians in mass fire-bombings of cities in Germany and Japan towards the end of World War II, and especially with two nuclear bombs, it dropped on cities that were not even remotely militarily targets. This country then went on to slaughter three million Koreans, mostly civilians, in the 1950s, and 3-4 million Indochinese — peasants and freedom fighters — in the mid-1960s and ‘70s, and more recently to destroy three countries, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, for purely geopolitical reasons, as none posed any threat to the United States. Such a nation clearly would have had no qualms about unleashing its nukes in all those, and in other conflicts, for example, to destroy the Communist government in Cuba, had nuclear-armed Russia and later China not stood in the way.

Now, with the clearly unbalanced and ego-crazed President Trump talking casually about using America’s nukes, it is again critically important that at least the generals in the Pentagon and the people in the president’s National Security Council understand, even if the narcissistic sociopath in the White House doesn’t, that this cannot be done without potentially unleashing a global nuclear holocaust. And again, this is thanks to the courageous work of Fuchs and Hall.

Revisionist historians will claim that the nuclear weapons dropped on Japan “saved American lives,” but the evidence is overwhelming that Japan was trying desperately to surrender, and that no invasion of Japan was going to be necessary to end World War II. Those bombs were dropped on Japan to warn Russia about what the new order would be. (In fact, there was an unseemly rush by the US to drop them before the Japanese decided to wave the white flag, eliminating the opportunity for a couple of live demonstrations of US power.)

Those same revisionists, along with right-wing super-patriots, will no doubt say that because of Fuchs and Hall and other “traitors” giving the Soviet Union America’s atomic secrets the US had to lose 38,000 soldiers in Korea and 58,000 soldiers in Vietnam since it couldn’t use nukes to end those wars. But of course using nuclear weapons in those wars, if the US could have gotten away with it, would have been at the expense of the lives of even more millions of Koreans and Vietnamese in what were two completely unnecessary conflicts in the first place.

The United States in Japan, and later in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and now Syria, has made it abundantly clear that nukes or no nukes, it is not and has not been a force for peace, liberation or freedom, but is rather an imperial power desperate to hang on to its dominant geopolitical role even if its economic power is in decline.

We can only be thankful that in that as this nation struggles desperately to cling as long as possible to its alpha-role in the world, it does not have a monopoly on nuclear weapons.

Open Letter to the People of the United States From Puerto Rico, a Month After Hurricane María

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:46

Dear Friends:

By now you have surely heard about the catastrophic impact of Hurricane María in Puerto Rico, as well as the slow and still inadequate response by U.S. federal agencies, such as FEMA.

A month after María, dozens of communities are still inaccessible by car or truck. Close to 90 percent of all homes lack electricity. Half lack running water. Many of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million residents have difficulties obtaining drinking water. The death toll continues to rise due to lack of medical attention or materials (oxygen, dialysis) or from poisoning caused by unsafe water.

The failures of U.S. agencies might come as no surprise, since the federal response (including FEMA’s) to other disasters, such as for Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, was as slow and inadequate.

You may have also heard President Trump state that Puerto Rico was dealing with a debt crisis before the hurricane and that its electric grid had been allowed to deteriorate. As far as they go, these statements are true.

But President Trump also tweeted suggestions that Puerto Rican workers are lazy and that FEMA and other agencies cannot remain in Puerto Rico forever. This spins the notion that Puerto Ricans are themselves to blame and should not expect any more handouts. Trump aims to build a wall between us, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise either, by portraying us as a burden, as illegitimately claiming resources to which we have no right.

Through the media you may have also heard that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens as well as a nation, a people with its own identity and culture, under U.S. colonial rule since 1898. Sometimes these facts generate confusion regarding Puerto Rico’s relation with the United States.

Dear friends, contrary to what the President would have you believe, Puerto Rican workers are neither lazy, nor do they want everything done for them (as he also tweeted). They wish for the same things that most American working people want: jobs and adequate income; appropriate housing, education, health services and pensions; dependable infrastructure and livable neighborhoods, along with protection of the environment. Working people in the United States and Puerto Rico share the same interests. We have common needs. The effort to rebuild Puerto Rico should help us understand this fully, regardless of the political path Puerto Rico eventually follows, be it toward independence, statehood or some form of sovereign association with the United States. To better understand this joint agenda, we’d like to share a few historical facts.

Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since the Spanish-American War of 1898. Puerto Rico was legally defined as unincorporated territory, a possession but not part of the United States, under the plenary powers of Congress. Although Congress has reorganized the territorial government over the years, up to the 1952 creation of the present Commonwealth status, the colonial nature of the relationship has remained unchanged. Puerto Ricans elect their governor and legislature, but they only attend to insular matters. We remain subject to both federal legislation and executive decisions, even though we have no participation or representation in their elaboration. Since 1898, Congress has never, we repeat, never consulted the Puerto Rican people in a binding plebiscite or referendum on whether to retain the present status, become independent or a state of the Union. Having retained its plenary powers, Congress should assume responsibility for a territory it claims as a possession: yet it has often skirted that responsibility. This again should come as no surprise, as Congress has often ignored and overlooked many unjust situations in the United States (affecting workers, women, African-Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, among others), unless activism and mobilizations forced it to do otherwise.

But colonialism has an economic, as well as a political, dimension. After 1898, Puerto Rico’s economy came under the control of U.S. corporations. Puerto Rico then specialized in producing a few goods for the U.S. market. One consequence has been the constant outflow of a significant portion of the income generated in Puerto Rico. At present, around $35 billion leave annually. This is around 35 percent of Puerto Rico’s Gross Domestic Product.

This capital is not reinvested and does not create employment here in Puerto Rico. Thus, Puerto Rico’s one-sided, externally controlled and largely export-oriented economy has never been able to provide enough employment for its workforce: not when sugar production was the main industry; not in the 1950s and 1960s with light-manufacturing that came and often went; not today, through capital intensive operations, among which pharmaceuticals are the most important.

This dependent and colonial nature of Puerto Rico’s economy lies at the root of the high levels of unemployment, not the alleged laziness of Puerto Rico’s workers, an old racist stereotype now taken up by President Trump.

At present, Puerto Rico has a 40 percent labor participation rate. That is to say, 60 percent of its working-age population is out of the formal labor market; they have abandoned all hope of finding a job. Of the 40 percent that are still in the labor market, around 10 percent are officially unemployed.

Mass unemployment depresses wages, which deepens inequality, and creates high levels of poverty. This helps explain the persistence of the wide gap in living standards with the U.S. mainland. After more than a century of U.S. rule, Puerto Rico’s per capita income is half that of the poorest state, Mississippi. Around 45 percent of the people in Puerto Rico live under the poverty level.

Lack of employment has resulted in considerable migration to the United States, with the Puerto Rican population stateside now at 5 million. Historically, Puerto Ricans have been incorporated into the U.S. working class as one of its discriminated and over-exploited sectors, along with African-Americans and other fellow Latinos. Deeply connected and concerned with the situation of their homeland, they are also part of a multi-racial and multi-national U.S. working class.

Given the levels of poverty, it is not surprising that many in Puerto Rico participate in federally funded welfare programs. That is to say: considerable public funds are spent to partially mitigate the dire consequences of a dysfunctional colonial economy. To put it otherwise: the present situation, while profitable for a few corporations, is a disaster for both Puerto Rico and U.S. working people. Therefore, it is in the interest of both that Puerto Rico acquires an economy capable of providing for its inhabitants without requiring such compensations.

Since 1947, certain exemptions from federal and island taxes was one of the means of attracting foreign investors. Yet, in 1996 Congress began phasing out federal tax-exemption, which was completed in 2006. Make no mistake: tax exemption was never able to guarantee development or employment. But Congress replaced an inadequate mechanism with, well… nothing. A broken crutch may be of little help to a limping person, but simply removing it is even worse. As a result, manufacturing jobs have fallen by more than half since 1996. Puerto Rico’s economy has shrunk since 2006. More than 250,000 jobs have been lost; 20 percent of the jobs that existed a decade ago have vanished.

But Congress does not bear all the blame. As Puerto Rico’s economy collapsed, its government did not re-evaluate its priorities. It did not seek, for example, to recuperate a larger portion of the profits leaving the island through taxation or other means. Instead, it took on massive debt. Meanwhile, electrical and other infrastructure was allowed to deteriorate, often to generate support for privatization. The situation could not be sustained: by June 2015 the government had to admit that its debt is unsustainable and would have to be renegotiated.

Congress then adopted the Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). It created a non-elected, federally-appointed control board, with broad powers over Puerto Rico’s state finances. It provides no funds or measures for economic recovery. It enables austerity policies that deepen poverty while perpetuating the present depression. In other words, it is anti-democratic, colonial, socially unjust and economically counterproductive. Under the fiscal plan it certified, no growth is foreseen until 2024! Again, this may not come as a surprise: this has been the formula (layoffs and cutbacks) applied against working people in dozens of budget crises, from New York City in the mid-1970s to Detroit in the recent past.

Proposed government cuts come after other austerity measures such as new sales taxes (IVU, 2006); mass government layoffs (Law 7, 2009); attacks on public sector labor rights (Law 66, 2014); reduced public employment through attrition (90,000 jobs eliminated since 2006) and rescinding labor rights in the private sector (2017).

What does Puerto Rico need? We need an adequately funded program of economic reconstruction (including the transition to renewable energy), the powers to carry it out and a true process of political self-determination. Congress can and should provide funds for reconstruction, which also requires the cancellation of Puerto Rico’s public debt. This debt was already unsustainable; to collect it now would be criminal.

You might rightfully ask: why should Congress allot billions for reconstruction in Puerto Rico, when it does not do so in the states? Our answer: it should do so in the states as well! After all, working and poor people in the United States are suffering the social and environmental consequences of decades of neoliberal economic policies. As much as we do, American working people need a vast program of economic reconstruction, geared toward creating jobs and addressing social needs.

We draw inspiration from the many movements with similar objectives in the United States: to tax corporate profits, for job programs, urban reconstruction, expanded social services, universal health insurance and free higher public education, renewable energy, student debt cancellation and relief for indebted families, reduced military in favor of social spending, to organize workers and revitalize the labor movement, to end all forms of racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic discrimination. We in Puerto Rico need these movements as much as you do. We count on you to build and expand them. And we ask that you include Puerto Rico’s needs for economic reconstruction, debt cancellation and self-determination in your demands and proposals.

The limitations of one-sided dependent development are not the result of restrictions on movement of capital between Puerto Rico and the United States. They are, if anything, the result of the unfettered action of private interests. In other words, the dogmas of privatization, deregulation and free trade fundamentalism are part of the problem, not the solution. We need a planned reconstruction of our economy, with broadened public and cooperative sectors. Such plans must be elaborated in Puerto Rico, not by federal programs or agencies beyond our control or supervision.

The same holds true in the United States, where budget deficits are not the result of over-generous social programs, but of low corporate taxes, and, after the crisis of 2008, of government debt to bail out the banks from their own speculative excesses.

Over the years, much of the product of our labor has left the island, not unlike much of the wealth created by U.S. workers is taken by a fabulously rich corporate caste. This harsh reality demands that the fight against these ills –colonial and class exploitation– advance jointly. To those who threaten “No bailout for Puerto Rico” we respond: it is high time we invest in the people of Puerto Rico and of the United States –and stop protecting the privileges of banks and large corporations!

Let us work together then for justice: justice for working people in the United States and for immediate and adequate hurricane relief, as well as lasting economic reconstruction, debt cancellation and self-determination in Puerto Rico.

Sincerely,

Rafael Bernabe
Manuel Rodríguez Banchs

Rafael Bernabe is a researcher and professor at the University of Puerto Rico. He is the author, with César Ayala, of Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History Since 1898 (2007).

Manuel Rodríguez Banchs is a labor lawyer and social justice advocate. Both belong to Working Peoples Party in Puerto Rico.

#FreeJackLetts

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:46

Former neighbours I had not seen for years recently came back into my life when they told me that their son Jack, who had converted to Islam as a teenager at Oxford’s Cherwell comprehensive school, was trapped in ISIS territory in Raqqa, Syria.

In September 2014, aged 18, he had travelled to Syria by some circuitous route, inspired by the idea of a truly Islamic government and wanting to help. But it did not take long before this deeply religious young man was denouncing ISIS for their un-Islamic behaviour and horrific actions, including the mass execution of their own former supporters. Forced into hiding, he was desperate to find a way out before he was executed himself.

Jack’s parents, John Letts and and Sally Lane, had tried to send him a thousand pounds to pay to a guide to arrange his escape. But a last-minute police intervention (after officers had previously approved the transfer) blocked the payment. Then they were both arrested and charged with ‘making money available knowing or having reasonable cause to suspect that it may be used for a terrorist purpose’. Both have pleaded not guilty.

These charges, for which they are now being prosecuted in London’s Old Bailey criminal court, carry the risk of 14-year prison sentences. Proceedings have taken a break while the Supreme Court considers an important point of law: whether that danger of the money falling into terrorist hands should be considered objectively, or in the light of John and Sally’s personal knowledge and understanding at the time.

But in May 2017, after two years of trying, Jack finally escaped. After being shot at by border guards and crossing a live mine field, he arrived safely in the autonomous Kurdish Syrian territory of Rojava, in the north-east of the country. At first he was well-received by the YPG, the same Kurdish forces that have been liberating Raqqa from ISIS. But then things took a darker turn.

The YPG handed Jack over to the civilian authorities of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), who placed him in ‘protective custody’ in a prison in Qamshileh, near the Turkish border, until he could be handed over into the safe custody of UK or Canadian authorities (he’s a dual British / Canadian citizen). So far, so good.

But then everything slowed down. Jack’s detention has now continued for over five months. He has been allowed no contact with the outside world since July, and information reaches John and Sally only in minute dribs and drabs via third parties. What they do know is that Jack has been kept for long periods in solitary confinement. He has been underfed and experienced severe hunger. When they last spoke on the phone back on 8th July he was in acute distress and indicated that he had been threatened with torture.

To John and Sally’s knowledge the UK government hasn’t lifted a finger to help Jack, despite their responsibility to provide assistance to distressed British citizens abroad. Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt, who takes responsibility for the region, has repeatedly claimed that the government is unable to act because it has no consular presence in Rojava.

But this is to ignore the substantial British military presence in the region, referred to in a June 2016 BBC report which mentions “British special forces operating in the area.” Their job is to train YPG forces and prepare them for combat (in which respect they seem to have done rather well in view of the Raqqa and other victories). Also, as the Chatham House foreign affairs think tank noted in December 2016,

The PYD utilizes its access to global communications and advocacy networks to pursue a sophisticated programme of public diplomacy … The Rojava project is credited for its ability to communicate and create solidarity for itself via traditional and new media as well as diplomacy institutions and networks. This promotes a thriving discourse; one that links to universalist values, is consistent and is crucially tailored to different audiences.

This does not look like an authority that is immune to diplomatic pressure from one of its principal supporters, the UK government. Indeed the contrary. It would be hard for the PYD to refuse a request from the UK government for the release of Jack Letts to its diplomatic representatives or military forces, all the more so as Jack’s continuing detention without charge casts grave doubt on the PYD’s commitment to ‘universalist values’. He could then be rapidly conveyed to Qamshileh’s large airport and returned to the UK, doubtless landing at Brize Norton airport, half an hour’s drive from his Oxford home.

Meanwhile international organisations concerned with such matters have been of little or no help. The Red Cross / Red Crescent says it has tried to visit Jack, but says prison authorities denied access to their representatives. Amnesty International has refused to intervene because, they say, the case is “too politically sensitive”. Prisoners Abroad has declined to take up their case. As for the Canadian government, their initial can-do attitude soon lapsed into a sober view that he is likely to remain there for some extended period. However their diplomats do at least provide occasional reports, for example to confirm that they believe him to be alive.

So why the UK’s government’s abjuration of responsibility for Jack Letts? One explanation concerns the role that he could play in his parents ‘terrorism’ case – which is starting to acquire the character of a show trial being pursued for highly politicised purposes. His appearance as a witness for the defence could destroy the prosecution case at a stroke. How much easier to allow his detention in Rojava to continue … indefinitely.

But John and Sally also suspect the intervention of the USA, whose military and intelligence presence in Rojava is considerably greater than the UK’s. It has already been revealed that in addition to its well-known detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the US operates a covert network of ‘black sites’ around the world for detention and torture of suspects in its ‘war on terror’ (ten of which are listed here).

They believe that the Qamshileh prison serves as another such black site: conveniently located in a disputed territory beyond the reach of law and consular officials, and close to a large airport well suited to international renditions. If their theory is correct, it would also provide a second explanation for the UK government’s reluctance, or inability, to secure Jack’s release. It might also explain the reluctance of human rights organisations to risk confrontation with the US government and its powerful security organisations.

John and Sally now fear that unless they raise the volume of public concern and publicity around Jack’s continuing illegal detention without trial, they may never see him again. He might die in custody from some infection compounded by malnutrition. He might be given a secret trial, convicted, and executed. He might lose his mind to depression and commit suicide. That’s why they are today beginning a week-long hunger strike at various locations in London, beginning today at St Paul’s Cathedral.

In a statement released to the press today, Sally writes:

Although the British police have repeatedly told us there is no evidence that Jack has done anything wrong, he has been labelled in the world’s press as a jihadi, on the assumption that everyone who goes to Syria must be a ‘terrorist’. Jack is now paying the price of such irresponsible reporting, so that now, despite the lack of any evidence against him, he is being held under false suspicion. Held indefinitely without charge, he has not been given a lawyer and has no opportunity to defend himself.

The truth is that Jack worked against ISIS while in hiding, and has not been involved in violence. After trying to leave Syria for almost two years, he finally escaped in May 2017, and was intercepted by the Kurdish YPG forces while fleeing to the Turkish border. He has had no access to family, to welfare visits from the Red Cross or any other organisation, nor consular assistance, in a clear breach of the Geneva Convention.

Jack’s father John adds:

During our last conversation with Jack on July 8th, he told us that he had been held for two months in solitary confinement with ‘only my brain for company’; that he was not allowed to leave his cell at all; and was being inadequately fed. Jack also said that humanity had forgotten about him and he feared he was losing his mind.

Despite our pleas, the British government has refused to engage with the Kurdish authorities in trying to secure Jack’s release. They state there is no consular assistance in Rojava and that this self-declared autonomous region is not recognised by any foreign government. They also state that they advise against all travel to Syria, as this absolves them of any responsibility for any British national who fails to follow their advice.

The British government has a duty to protect its citizens, including the many British Muslims who went to Syria for humanitarian or religious reasons. We believe the government’s policy of preventing anyone who went to Syria from returning to the UK is short-sighted and ultimately counter-productive. Young people like Jack, who publicly condemned IS brutality in Syria, can bear witness to the destruction caused by religious and political fanaticism, and the human cost of the battle for the oil resources of the Middle East.

John and Sally insist they are not trying to get Jack any kind of ‘free pass’ for any crimes he may have committed in Syria – though they clearly do not believe he is guilty of any serious wrongdoing. “If the British authorities think Jack has done anything wrong,” says Sally, “then bring him back to the UK to face the music. Put him on trial, and present the evidence! What is utterly unacceptable is to leave him to die in some lawless middle-eastern hell hole.”

Action

+ Petition to Free Jack Letts!

+ ‘Free Jack Letts’ on Facebook.

+ Twitter: #freejackletts.

Oliver Tickell is contributing editor at Ecologist & Resurgence magazine.

From Jamaica to Knees

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:46

First the good news, if very belatedly. In a summer session the Bundestag (the old one, since replaced by elections) finally legalized same-sex marriage. Partnerships, already possible, were given equality as regular marriages, thus permitting the adoption of children. An estimated 80 percent of the population favored the decision, but not nearly so many delegates of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) or Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union. She loosened party discipline, however, telling her parties’ delegates to vote their conscience. Seventy did and joined all other parties to vote “Yea”. But not Merkel; she voted “Nay”. The final vote: 393 Yea, 226 Nay, four abstentions.

A second good item, at least for Berliners and visitors. The State Opera House on Unter den Linden boulevard, Berlin’s most beautiful building for me, built in 1743 for King Frederick II (“the Great”), burnt down a century later, wrecked twice by bombs two centuries later and reconstructed by the GDR, is finally re-opening after seven years of repairs and renovations. Opera means more here than in the USA, also for many “middle-class” people, who can now rejoice with Daniel Barenboim, its Argentinian musical director, conductor and pianist (also with Spanish, Israeli and Palestinian citizenship!). As for ticket prices: don’t ask! And how many millions it cost over the original estimate? Again, don’t ask! It was out-matched only by Berlin’s new airport, planned to open ceremoniously in 2011, now scheduled for 2019, or possibly 2020, who knows, nor how many made fortunes in the process, which cost the political crash of one Berlin mayor – hopefully no omen! Berlin is still quarreling on whether to keep or scrap its older Tegel airport.

That leads to politics, no easy matter for outsiders (or insiders). In Lower Saxony, a state of western Germany, one Green delegate switched to the Christian Democrats (CDU) last summer (she was bribed, it was insinuated). The one-seat majority of the Social Democrat-Green coalition was gone; its collapse made special state elections necessary, only three weeks after the all-German elections.

It looked like a shoo-in for the CDU. The Social Democrats (SPD) with their new boss Martin Schulz, had been losing ground even faster than Merkel’s party in every state and national election and were way behind. But to widespread surprise, the Social Democrats sprinted to a 3.3 % lead, won and rejoiced.

But the hot race cost their buddies, the Greens, a full 5%, making the duo too weak to rebuild the old coalition – again by one seat. The big-biz Free Democrats refused to join them to form a trio. To make matters worse, the extreme-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), although far weaker than they hoped, got seats for the first time in that state. But alas, the LINKE (Left), while gaining 1.5 % over its vote four years ago, failed to master the 5 % hurdle, and with only 4.6% was left out in the cold. The stalemate in Hannover, the state capital, makes Lower Saxony’s future look very hazy!

So is the future of the federal government, with a similar problem. Here the SPD was battered, and lost in the race to the top spot. Refusing to continue playing second fiddle to Angela Merkel for four more years, it bowed out. The end of that duet, and with no other party successful enough to become a new partner (and the AfD ruled out of the game), it was clear; it would take not two but three to tango.

The hopes of some for a trio with SPD, Green and an obediently-tamed LINKE– “red-green-red” – simply didn’t add up to the needed majority of 355 seats.

Parties here have no animal ties, like donkeys or elephants, but only colors. The SPD still claims red, yellow belongs to the Free Democrats: with the Greens that combination would be a “Traffic Light Coalition” – but even then a majority was lacking. Since the “Christian” CDU-CSU union is connected with the clerical color black, the only remaining possibility seems to be a “Jamaica coalition”. The connection with that island-nation is only the color of its flag, also black, green and yellow. But the Free Democrats insist they will not join up with the Greens: they seem to recall the years, long past, when that party was really almost leftist. Today, despite occasional echoes of that past at the green grass roots level, it has largely moved toward a uniform-shaded olive green, with many of its leaders less interested in German living standards than in picking risky quarrels with Russia. In general, jealousy, opportunism and strategic zigzags are making the road ahead in German political line-ups very hazy –with or without traffic lights or inspiration from the island in the Gulf of Mexicoand.

This wheeling and dealing distracts from a major menace. For the first time, far right members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) will be sitting in the Bundestag, ninety-four strong. With about one-third one might suspect a swastika tattoo under the tailored new suits, and by all of them a sharply nationalist piercing pin. Some have called Berlin’s memorial to the Holocaust victims “a monument of shame” for Germany – not the Holocaust but the monument! Another defended the great unblemished role of the German Wehrmacht in World War II. The party’s leader, attacking the official responsible for immigrant integration, who has a Turkish name but was born in Hamburg, warned with typical Nazi vocabulary that she will soon be “disposed of to (Turkish) Anatolia, thank God”! Some AfD supporters have shown a willingness to get physically rough, while many police officers have somehow been far slower to step in against them than to arrest leftwing demonstrators. TV channels, and now even a Lutheran bishop in their stronghold in Saxony (not Lower Saxony!), are ready to treat AfD politicians as “normal members” of the political scene. Is it only a question of time before more politicians show willingness to accept them? The LINKE at least is persistent in saying “No! – Fascism is not a viewpoint, it’s a crime!” The AfD, they maintain, must be avoided and isolated, like any with dangerous contagions.

On Sunday the ominous clouds moved closer. The Freedom Party of Austria, a blood relative of Germany’s AfD and all far-right parties in Europe, moved into a strong third place (26 %) and will most likely form a coalition with the winner, the center-right People’s Party, which got a greatly improved 31.6 %. The resulting government, based on a truly vicious propaganda campaign against refugees, will push the second place Social Democrats out of the chancellor job and the soft, warm Cabinet seats it has thus far enjoyed – and onto hard, chilly opposition benches. It is the punishment for years of “going along” in conformist, conflict-free comfort – and even offering to team up with the far right Freedom Party if that would win back government positions. This half-hearted offer was ignored, however, and Austria’s new rightist rulers may even join the “Visegrád group” – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – all united in defying the European Union (and Angela Merkel) and rejecting any and all refugees. Xenophobia – and worse – is marching on!

Most such hatred-based trends exploit the insecurity, worries and disappointment of large sections of the population, especially in formerly Communist-led regions, including the former GDR. People feel cheated – and hunt for scapegoats, almost always the wrong ones thanks to clever politicians and slick journalists with no conscience who play up every news item which leads to distrust and hatred of any “others”, especially if they speak a different language or wear different clothes.

The only effective opposition should be from the Left. Where it really fights it can really make gains, as in Britain with Jeremy Corbyn. But Corbyns are rare. Even the LINKE in Germany is divided on these issues. It agrees on defending the rights of refugees and explaining that their exodus results from the strangling of southern economies by wealthier countries in the north and military conflicts unleashed and armed by the same forces, including arms exporters like Heckler & Koch and Rheinmetall. But there is not always agreement on how many to welcome in and how best to solve resulting pressures.

Where the left can succeed in overcoming confusion and directing anger against those truly responsible for these troubles, and takes the lead in opposing them, it can make gains. But when it is considered to be part of the “establishment”, just another party which can’t be trusted, it loses even many of its earlier supporters. That is what happened in the federal election, lop-sidedly in eastern Germany but not in western Germany with its more militant leftist traditions. The only answer to current dangers, as I see it, is a fighting Left which arouses and joins other people in fights for people’s rights, with energies directed against those really causing the problems, not the refugees and immigrants.

One current possibility would be to support employees of Berlin Air, now bankrupt and being taken over by its rival Lufthansa, with several thousand soon facing joblessness and despair. And also – to end with an encouraging note – to applaud Berlin’s soccer team Hertha which demonstrated solidarity in the fight against racism in the USA and among European soccer hooligans, by all “taking the knee” at the start of the game. The players (and manager) won almost universal praise in wide soccer circles, demonstrating that one can both kneel and fight at one and the same time!

Faith and the World: the Baha’i Vision

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:45

A new revelation announced

Two hundred years ago, in 1817, Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i world religion was born in Iran. His new revelation was preceded by the announcement of the “Promised One” by the Bab (the gate), who was born in 1819. Millions of Baha’is world-wide are celebrating the births of the “Twin Manifestations” who gave humanity Teachings for the realization of equality, peace and unity. What is the Baha’I world vision? Why has it captured the imagination of many in our war-torn and materialistic civilization?

Eminent Baha’I scholar Michael Karlberg (Beyond the culture of protest [2004]) states that Baha’is are a “microcosm of the planet’s diverse human population” (p. 124). In one sense, it is a revolutionary world religion without a professional clergy. The community is organized through a system of locally elected governing assemblies in more than 11,700 localities world-wide, nationally elected governing assemblies in 182 independent nations and territories and a single internationally elected governing body that coordinates its activities on a global scale. “By all these measures,” Karlberg informs us, “it is likely the most diverse, widely distributed, democratically organized community of people on the planet today” (ibid.). These statements are audacious and bold.

The Baha’i world-faith community is not easily categorized. It is a universally inclusive faith community with a spiritual world view; it is a worldwide social movement with a clearly articulated agenda for social change; it is an integrated system of global democratic governance; it is a grassroots network of social and economic development projects; it is a decentralized system for the education of children and the training of human resources; and it is a prominent NGO within the UN system. But Karlberg urges us to view the Baha’i community as a discourse community: a “community of people who share a common way of thinking and talking about social reality, from which they derive unique social structures and practices” (ibid.).

Since 1844, the date of the announcement of the Bab (the “gate” opening to the declaration of Baha’u’llah in 1863), this community has been committed to fundamental equality and interdependence of all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, nationality or religious background. They have laboured to build a system of unified, just and sustainable social practice. The Baha’i spiritual vision, which has millenarian roots, sweeps us into the future. One day, Baha’is imagine, their system will demonstrate its efficacy to the rest of the world as a model of social organization for the age of global interdependence that we are entering.

Karlberg thinks that the Baha’i community is only now beginning to emerge from relative obscurity on the world scene. Increasingly, the Baha’i international community is well known for its work in such areas as human rights, the advancement of women, education and literacy, environmental preservation and sustainable development as well as peace organizations. From the UN’s founding in 1945, the Baha’i International community (BIC) has been extremely involved with the UN system.

It has been accorded consultative status to the UN Economic and Social Council as well as the UN Children’s Fund and many other organizations. Karlberg presents us with a remarkable list of organizations Baha’is are involved with and underscores the active role as planner and participant in major international events such as the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on women in Beijing.

This breathtaking emergence from obscurity has propelled the Baha’i Faith Community into the scholarly limelight. In 1975 an international Association of Baha’i Studies was created to study the theory and practice of the Baha’i community. Since then, a wide variety of interest groups (such as the arts or conflict resolution) and a network of 18 national and regional affiliates have been created. Baha’I scholarship is vast and often remains unread by secular scholars.

But in the early days of the growth of the Baha’i Faith one senses a kind of wild joyfulness and exultation, manifest in the writings of Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921) and seemingly endless attestations to the magnetic power of the Cause. In 1992 the University of Maryland established the Baha’i Peace Chair to bring a Baha’i perspective to the formal study of peace and world order issues. And the Hebrew University of Jerusalem founded a Baha’i Studies Chair in 1999 for the formal study of the Baha’i Faith itself.

An organic world-view

The Baha’i community share a common world view that could be designated as “organic.” Karlberg declares: “Baha’is speak of the organic interdependence of the human species, the organic nature of the relationship between human beings and their environment, and the organic processes of growth and adaptation that characterize humanity’s collective evolution” (p. 129).

In a sense, the Baha’i affirmation of the developmental unfolding of human civilization runs against the grain of much contemporary thought that rejects the idea of progress and any sense that history has purpose and meaning. For Baha’is, within their organic world view, power is not conceived of in terms of conflict and the struggle for domination. Rather, Baha’is think of power in terms of unity, integration and coordination. But Karlberg reminds his readers that the Baha’i conception of organic society is different from others.

Organic metaphors have been used by the privileged to specify that the elites have been called to ensure the smooth functioning of the whole. They have also been used to stifle diversity, suppressing human rights and forcing a consensus on the masses. “In contrast to this largely hollow and imposed organicism, Baha’is invoke organic metaphors as a means of promoting diversity, preserving human rights and pursuing social change” (p. 130).

This affirmation is significant because if the organic interdependence of society is unrecognized, Karlberg states that “oppressive and exploitative social relations are perceived as normal, natural and inevitable because conflict, rather than cooperation, is assumed to be the defining characteristic of human existence” (p. 130). Now we cut to the chase: affirming the organic unity and interdependence of humanity challenges head-on some of the 20th century’s most deeply entrenched assumptions.

The oneness of humanity

One of the foundational ontological axioms of the Baha’i Faith is the unity, or oneness, of all of humanity. The collective recognition of the oneness of humanity (the “earth is but one country”) lies at the heart of the Baha’i world view and vision of world peace. The Baha’i International Community document—Who is Writing the Future?—states: “The primary disease that afflicts society and generates the ills that cripple it…is the disunity of a human race that is distinguished by its capacity for collaboration and whose progress to date has depended on the extent to which unified action has at various times and in various societies, been achieved” (ibid.).  Baha’is try hard to resist caving into meddlesome cynicism and acedia of the spirit. They believe that fundamental changes in the manner of human beings relating to each other are “necessary and inevitable” (ibid.).

Particularly, Baha’is insist that the old ways of exercising power and authority, rooted in entrenched assumptions about human nature, must leap beyond acts of domination. Indeed, Baha’is claim that ever increasing levels of interdependence within and between societies presents us with a fundamental learning challenge as a human species. Can we learn to exercise the powers of collective decision-making and collective action—which are born out of recognition of our organic unity as a species?

Our contemporary situation, Baha’is assert, propelled by reproductive and technological success as a species, has led to increasing levels of social interdependence. This means that the increasingly complex and interrelated social and environmental problems have placed “mounting evolutionary pressures that are compelling us towards ‘an organic change in the structure of present-day society’” (p. 131). Thus, we have inherited maladaptive social structures and practices. Our old maps and scripts are no longer adequate in new conditions. We stumble around, looking at our maps, but nothing is identifiable. We are bewildered and confused.

The Baha’i presence in the world poses this formidable question to humanity. Will humanity “adapt new social structures and practices out of a forward-looking response to these evolutionary pressures or whether humanity will adapt only in response to ever more catastrophic events ‘precipitated by humanity’s stubborn clinging to old patterns of behaviour?’”(ibid.).

Humankind appears paralyzed before the monstrous catastrophes facing us—if we do not turn from war and the horrific politics of empire. This disordered empire, distraught and in disarray on its home soil, projects this disarray and anxiety on to other nations. Accordingly, Baha’is suggest that the ‘bedrock of a strategy that can engage the world’s population in assuming responsibility for its collective destiny must be conscious of the oneness of humankind’” (p. 132).

Indeed, Baha’is claim that the competitive spirit infusing so much of modern life is simply accepted as the mainspring of human interaction. Once the world—from our schoolyards to geo-politics—is divided into friends and enemies we are prevented from seeing the oneness of all with newly alert and wondrous eyes. We carve up the human species into races, nations and religions, and superior West against the Inferior Rest. The jigsaw pieces of the wholeness of humanity are scattered everywhere across the landscape.

But humankind is becoming more inter-dependent in so many criss-crossing ways. If sanctions are imposed by one powerful country on another, and the weaker countries pressed to withhold products, farmers in Germany are hurt and ordinary Russians may go hungry. Why can we not see ourselves as a “single people”? Baha’is wonder if “the inhabitants of the planet” will be “enabled to turn away from the patterns of conflict that have dominated social organization in the past and begin to learn the ways of collaboration and conciliation” (p. 132). If not, the degradation of the natural foundation of human existence will continue to threaten the lives of all of us, rich and poor. And the geo-political world will descend further into a Hobbesian hell of war of all against all.

Unity in diversity

It is easy to misunderstand what Baha’is mean by unity. Some might think that “unity” will smother diversity and promote uniformity of thought and practice. However, Karlberg argues that, “In advocating recognition of the organic unity and interdependence of the human species, Baha’is emphatically caution against any notion of unity that results in a stifling of diversity” (p. 133). Baha’is, in fact, “view diversity not simply as something to be tolerated but as an essential collective resource to be cultivated and valued” (ibid.).

Baha’is are also opposed to the idea that any notion of organicism will suppress  human rights. Indeed, Karlberg observes that the Baha’i concept of unity implies that society must become the collective trustee of basic human rights. Individuals have the right to be secure, respected and safe. No missiles whistling into suburban areas in the darkness of night. No more knocks on the door at midnight. No more illegal invasions and destruction of lifeworld foundations of the good life.

This resilient concept of “trusteeship” establishes the moral foundation of the human rights that an increasingly interdependent humanity has struggled to articulate in recent generations. Baha’is envision a reciprocal relationship between the individual and human societies. “Within this relationship,” Karlberg points out, “individuals have a duty to sustain and enrich society with diverse and creative contributions, while society has a responsibility to preserve and promote those conditions within which individuals can do this” (p. 134). Thus, both diversity and individuality contain creative spiritual resources needed for the flourishing of all humanity and its shared world of creatures.

But these affirmations—perhaps shared by many humane citizens—can only be established by recognizing the unity and interdependence of all people. Herein lies Baha’i distinctiveness: a spiritually grounded “organic conception of society is a prerequisite for transcending the traditional, competitive expressions of power that have characterized many social relations throughout history and which underlie many human rights abuses” (p. 135).

Karlberg observes that violence against women is the yardstick to measure the violation of all human rights. Violence against women rests on explicit notions of the inferiority of women. They are not persons with equal rights and the full possibility of developing their capacities, with their knowledge, skills, sensibility and attitudes flowing into all rivers of the life of the world. A great shame shrouds the human species and many forms of civilization. Veils, bound feet, forbidden to enter the public domain, gagged and enchained; genitals mutilated to serve male interests: all attest to the degradation of the human spirit.

A faith born out of dark dungeons and brutal persecution

Baha’is reject complacent contemporary secular attitudes of cynicism and dreary pessimism. The Faith itself was born out of dark dungeons and brutal persecution. Through bitter suffering, many Baha’is (particularly in Iran and other countries in the Middle East, but not there alone) have not been robbed of their faith. But they know that the transformation of consciousness they advocate will “inevitably require cultivating new attitudes and values across successive generations” (ibid.). The Baha’i Faith contains immense spiritual power.

One can understand why, then, that Baha’is concentrate on reaching children and youth “who are still in the process of forming the values that will shape their lives. Instilling in our children respect for themselves and others, recognition of the oneness of humanity, appreciation of unity in diversity, and a sense of citizenship in a world community will be the best guarantee of improved protection of human rights in the years to come…” (Cited, fn. 35, p. 136). Baha’is consider that “human rights education could be considered basic education for life in the modern world” (ibid.).

We are in a dark and dangerous moment in the history of civilization. Kant’s cosmopolitan world-order of perpetual peace seems far from even an intimation of fulfilment. It is as if a great catastrophic earthquake has erupted beneath the earth’s surface, setting free mighty, dark and malevolent forces that challenge any deep-seated commitment to developing a spiritual civilization and deliberative democracy in our disputed multicultural and angry religiously pluralistic world. The malevolent forces breaking out from the depths refuse openness to the other. Rather, the other is demonized and the mass media bludgeons us to submit to the prevalent narrative of fear and the necessity of US hegemony.

Baha’is, however, work within an evolutionary model which posits that humanity is moving through natural stages of development as it grows towards maturity. Humanity is now in its adolescent stage: thus, turmoil, discontinuity and agitation characterize this stage. But if humanity is to “come of age,” it must move as a species into a new age “preparing for bigger tasks, assuming wider loyalties, adopting a more universal purpose and direction, cultivating collaboration and cooperation” (p. 137). This historical vision expresses a core dimension of Baha’i  utopianism. Both disintegrative and integrative forces are at work in our world.

If the world is a “single people”, and if justice is to be the ruling principle of social organization—then existing conceptions that were born out of ignorance of these emerging realities have to be recast” (ibid.). Foremost among these, Baha’is suggest, are the “competitive and aggressive models of power and authority” (ibid.). The human is being urged by the requirements of its own maturation to free itself from its inherited understanding and use of power.

In The Promise of World Peace (1985)—a remarkable open statement addressed to the peoples of the world in the dispirited and confused 1980s—Baha’is suggest that: “A candid acknowledgement that prejudice, war and exploitation have been the expression of immature stages in a vast historical process and that the human race is today experiencing the unavoidable tumult which marks its collective coming of age is not a reason for despair but a  prerequisite  to undertaking the stupendous enterprise of a building a peaceful world. That such an enterprise is possible, that the necessary constructive forces do exist, that unifying social structures can be erected, is the theme we urge you to examine” (Cited, p. 138).

 

Spanish government aims for January regional elections in Catalonia: PSOE

Top Reuters News - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:45
MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish government has agreed with the opposition Socialists (PSOE) to hold regional elections in January in Catalonia as part of the extraordinary package of measures to temporarily impose direct rule on the region, Socialist politician Carmen Calvo said in an interview on national television on Friday.

Kirkuk the Consolation Prize?

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:45

The Iraqi government has every right to assert control over Kirkuk and its environs. (One only wonders why it waited this long.) The city has never been a Kurdish stronghold under the protection of Peshmerga, that coddled and abetted accomplice for the US-UK-Israel plan for dividing Iraq. And no Kurdish force has ever had any legitimate presence there. So recent references by both NPR and BBC new hosts about Peshmerga fighters “allowing Iraqi forces in” and “withdrawing from the city” as if they represented Kurdish sovereignty in Kirkuk are misleading at best.

No one yet knows what the outcome will be of Baghdad’s belated move to affirm authority in the area with its sudden military presence in and around Kirkuk. Interested foreign parties from Turkey to Israel have remained silent, thus far. Meanwhile Kurdish spokespeople are making alarming claims in the international press about the deployment, even suggesting those Iraqi forces are ISIS-linked, also invoking the trope of Shia militants taking over their city, assertions left unchallenged by a totally acquiescent BBC and NPR.

Why is there so little willingness by US and British media to acknowledge the character and legal status of Kirkuk in Iraq? One hears no reference to the forced transformation of the city and its environs by nationalist-secessionist Kurdish interests from a majority Turkmen community to a Kurdish one starting in 1991 when the US and UK helped establish an inchoate Kurdish sovereign state in northern Iraq?

The day of the Kurdish referendum in September I noted the process by which Iraqi Kurdish leaders forcibly converted Kirkuk into a Kurdish city, with the intention of annexing it when the time came (last month) for their claim of independence.

It is mystifying why the Turkmen of Iraq, a fiercely Iraqi nationalist significant minority, has been so invisible in international press coverage of the region. Visiting Kirkuk on two occasions before American forces invaded Iraq in 2003, I saw the displacement of Turkmen families (begun in 1991) in progress and I’ve followed their growing fear of Kurdish dominance, all without threats of armed retaliation. Their population is at least three million and many Turkmen are well placed in Iraq’s government. Although that proved insufficient to thwart Kurdish ambitions over Kirkuk.

Turkmen’s marginalization in their homeland has won little sympathy outside; their identity and ethnic rights are completely overshadowed by Kurdish separatists and their foreign partners and lackeys, such as Peter Galbraith. Are we supposed to accept comments by BBC guest Nadhim Zahawi as a fair assessment (BBC World news 10.17.17)? Zahawi is a British-Kurdish millionaire, a UK member of parliament, also director of Gulf Keystone Petroleum GKP operating in Iraqi Kurdistan; he moreover chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group for Kurdistan. This in addition to his many controversial legal involvements.

The wider public, it seems is only permitted to know that Kirkuk sits on major oil deposits. (Of course that explains it being coveted by the Kurds in alliance with the West.) But what about the longtime Turkmen character and history of the city? What about the sustained opposition by Turkmen Iraqis and the Baghdad government to surreptitious tactics by the Kurds, to make it appear the city is Kurdish and lies within the three Kurdish-dominated governates (Erbil, Sulaimania and Duhok) that have enjoyed considerable autonomy since 1991. Kirkuk is no more a part of Kurdish Iraq than nearby Mosul is and Kurdish rights to Kirkuk has never been part of the semi-autonomous understanding between Iraqi Kurds and Baghdad.

Beyond Neo-Liberal Consumerism

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:40

Irrespective of nationality, religion, race, or gender; whether stinking rich, desperately poor, or somewhere in between, happiness is the one thing everyone is seeking.

The architects of the socio-economic system in which we live have devised a system that promises to satisfy this yearning. But instead of building a society at ease with itself, full of peaceful happy people, collective discontent is fed, resulting in a range of mental health issues and in some cases suicide.

Happiness, according to the duplicitous devotees of Neo-Liberalism is to be found in the homogenous shopping centers of the world, the sterile holiday resorts and brash casinos. In things, in products and services that stimulate and excite: Happiness in this perverse paradigm has been replaced by pleasure, love exchanged for desire, choice substituted for freedom.

Echoes of happiness

Happiness that lasts is what we yearn for, not a transient state in which one feels the tingle of happiness for a moment or so, only to see it evaporate as the source of our happiness loses its appeal, or is exhausted — the holiday comes to an end, a relationship breaks up, the gamble doesn’t pay off, a new I-Phone or handbag hits the high street making the old one redundant, etc., etc. We sense that a state of lasting happiness is possible but know not where it is or how to find it. The mistake commonly made, and one we are constantly encouraged to make, is to search for happiness within the sensory world where all experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, are facile and transient. The inevitable consequence of such shallow encounters with happiness is discontent and frustration.

Despite being repeatedly confronted with disappointment, instead of refraining from this never-ending quest, the searcher becomes increasingly desperate; a new relationship may be sought, a change of job or new home, more shopping outings, dinners planned, alcohol and drugs taken and so on into the darker reaches of sensory satisfaction and hedonistic indulgence.

Of course it is important to enjoy life, and yes, something resembling happiness is experienced on these excursions, but it is a happiness dependent on something, or someone, on certain elements being in place: take these away and the feeling very quickly evaporates. Such happiness is a mere echo of ‘True Happiness’, and one that carries with it conflict, fear and anxiety; this taste of happiness, functioning via the desire principle and the medium of the senses is relentlessly stoked by the exponents of neoliberal idealism.

The success of their divisive project, i.e., profitability, growth, development, progress, call it what you will, is totally contingent on consumerism, and the act of consuming relies on and is the result of perpetual desire. To their utter shame, despite having a responsibility to create the conditions in which ‘True Happiness’, can be experienced, most, if not all governments collude with corporate man/woman to promote the unhealthy, materialistic values that are the source of unhappiness as well as a range of social ills.

Desire is constantly agitated through advertising, television, film and print media; fantastical, sentimental, idealized images, of not just where happiness lies, but what love looks like, are pumped around the world every minute of every day. The aim of this extravagant pantomime is to manipulate people into believing they need the stuff that the corporate-state is selling in order to be happy. But happiness cannot be found within the world of sensations, pleasure yes, but not happiness, and pleasure will never fill the internal void that exists and is perpetuated through this movement into materiality. Pleasure is not happiness, nor does it bring lasting happiness, at best it creates a false sense of relief from unhappiness and inner conflict, a momentary escape before dissatisfaction and desire bubble up again.

Cycles of discontent

Nothing but discontent is to be found within this endless cycle of desire, temporary satisfaction, and continued longing. It is an insatiable, inherently painful pattern that moves the ‘Seeker of Happiness’ further and further away from the treasure he or she is searching for, creating disharmony and conflict, for the individual and society. Add to this polluted landscape competition and inequality and a cocktail of division and chaos emerges: Competition between individuals and nations separates and divides, working against humanity’s natural inclination towards cooperation, sharing and tolerance; qualities that were crucial in the survival of early man.

Competition operating in conjunction with conformity fosters ideas of superiority and inferiority; images of what ‘success’ and ‘failure’, of beauty, and what it means to be a man or a woman, particularly a young man or young woman are thrust into the minds of everyone virtually from birth. One of the effects of this is the tendency towards comparison, leading to personal dissatisfaction (with myriad symptoms from self-harming to addiction and depression), and the desire, or pressure, to conform to the presented ideal.

At the root of these interconnected patterns of discontent and misery, not to say disease, lies desire. Desire not just for pleasure, but desire for things to be other than they are; it is this constant movement of desire that creates unhappiness and deep dissatisfaction. If desire is the obstacle to happiness, then all desire needs to be negated, including the desire for happiness. Perhaps the question to be addressed then is not what will bring lasting happiness, but how to be free of unhappiness and discontent.

In ancient Greece, where life was hard and happiness was widely believed to be reserved for those rare individuals whom the Gods favoured, Socrates (470 BC – 399 BC) proposed that happiness could be attained by everyone by controlling their hedonistic desires, turning their attention towards the soul and by living a moral life. His view finds its root in the teachings of the Buddha, who, almost 100 years earlier had made clear in the Second Noble Truth, that far from bringing happiness, desire is in fact the cause of all suffering, and further, that freedom from suffering and unhappiness is brought about when desire is overcome.

‘True Happiness’ is an aspect of our natural self, it will not be found within the world of pleasure and material satisfaction, comfort and indulgence. It is an inherent part of who and what we are, and in principle at least, the possibility of unshakable happiness exists for everyone, everywhere, irrespective of circumstances.

Australia’s Citizenship Bill Fails

Counterpunch - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:40

This is a government that takes pride in its hard headedness and faux populism.  Knowing it would have to brave a sceptical, even baffled Senate, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, resembling a bit dictator struggling for traction, decided to ignore the signals.

What was required, claimed Dutton, were tougher citizenship laws to govern Australia, an ironic state of affairs given the number of Australian parliamentarians facing the High court over their eligibility to sit in the chambers of Canberra.

The proposed legislation, titled the Australian Citizenship Legislative Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill, would given a good serving against large swathes of the immigrant community.

It would have required the applicant for Australian citizenship to pass a stand-alone English test involving reading, writing, listening and speaking and show a minimum permanent residency requirement of four years.

Not feeling those measures to be suitably onerous, Dutton insisted on slipping a few other measures into the package: a limit, for instance, to the number of times the language test could be taken (three); and steps demonstrated by the applicant to show forms of integration into the Australian community.  (The fumes of charred meat on an Australian sausage sizzle come to mind.)

The reasons for these changes, outlined in the government’s shoddy paper Strengthening the Test for Australian Citizenship (April 2017), reads like a stream of propaganda consciousness.[1]  Platitudes spring up from the pages like fretful children: the idea of Australia being the country of “a ‘fair go’ for all”; “the most successful multicultural society in the world”; “shared values”.

Then comes the cutting and suspicious undertone, the irresistible resort to a security rationale that casts any doubt aside. This is a government that can’t trust prospective citizens.  Nor will it.  The weeds shall be found, the pretenders rooted out.  “The Australian Government places the highest priority on the safety and security of all Australians.”  Global terrorist concerns had “caused concern in the Australian community.”

This point has always had one glaring weakness: terrorist attacks across European capitals tend to take place from European-born citizens rather than applicants.  The point is conveniently missed for matters of rhetorical effect, dividing Australian residents into the anointed and the discarded.

Opponents to the changes, among them the Nick Xenophon Team, Labor, and the Greens, did give Dutton some breathing space: a Wednesday night deadline to reach some accord and soften the hammering blow. Desperate to keep matters harsh, Dutton’s fig leaf was a poorly eviscerated one: delay the citizenship changes to commence on July 2018, as opposed to making it retrospective, and reduce the level of English expected from “competent” to “modest”.

The response from NXT senator Stirling Griff made it clear that these were far from sufficient.  “Just amending the English language test and retrospectivity is not sufficient.  We will still be rejecting the bill.”[2]  The bill was effectively struck off the notice paper by the time Wednesday’s proceedings had concluded. No vote had taken place.

The champagne corks were duly popped.  Tasmanian Greens Senator Nick McKim called it “a huge victory for multicultural Australia”, whatever that problematic concept entails.[3]  Labor’s Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus filled the chorus with his own propaganda laced glee.  “The death of Dutton’s citizenship bill is a victory for Australia and all new arrivals who wish to become part of our great country.”[4]

Media stories were duly run to fluff the victory. Pakistan-born software developer Bushra Zainuddin featured in the ABC wishing “to be part of an Australian family.” (Her husband and child are both Australian citizens.) Her timing in terms of applying for citizenship was immaculately bad: April 20, when the Turnbull government announced its efforts to revise the citizenship rules.  “I’d just delivered a baby. He’s Australian.  We thought we’d become a whole family of Australians.”[5]

The killing off this bill doesn’t entail its vanishing.  The corpse has yet to be cremated and buried.  Dutton is the sort of individual who believes in authoritarian resurrections.  Only he can defend Australia against its aliens, local and foreign.  Most Australians, claimed the irritated minister, “would be shaking their heads” at the stance taken in the Senate.

Nor can Labor necessarily be taken at face value for such remarks as that made by its citizenship spokesman, Tony Burke, who did describe the failure of the bill as “a great victory for every person who wants to pledge allegiance to this country and make a commitment to Australia.”[6]

Burke had suggested that the bill was so extreme as to require a significant historical comparison.  Not since the White Australia policy, the first legislative act of Australia’s infant parliament in 1901, had politicians seen this.  They are bound to see more.

Notes.

[1] https://www.border.gov.au/ReportsandPublications/Documents/discussion-papers/citizenship-paper.pdf

[2] http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/peter-duttons-citizenship-crackdown-quietly-killed-off-by-the-senate-20171018-gz38zv.html

[3] https://twitter.com/NickMcKim/status/920532671482048513

[4] https://twitter.com/markdreyfusQCMP/status/920737119349256194

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-19/dutton-citizenship-changes-blocked-immigrant-family/9064600

[6] http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/peter-duttons-citizenship-crackdown-quietly-killed-off-by-the-senate-20171018-gz38zv.html

Moscow seeks support for Russia-Chinese roadmap on North Korea

Top Reuters News - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:39
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged world powers on Friday to get behind a joint Russian-Chinese roadmap for settling the crisis over North Korea's weapons program.

Stupid New Movie, Another One

LibertarianInstitute - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:35

I just saw a trailer for something called 12 Strong.  It’s about “the first team sent in after 9/11”.

A succession of quotes from the trailer shot strait from my ear to my funny bone.

“There’s a mine in every direction from all the wars fought here.”
“If we don’t take that city, then 9/11 is just the beginning.”
“We’re teaming with the general of the Northern Alliance.”

Okay, whatever guys.

Stupid New Movie, Another One was first posted on October 20, 2017 at 3:35 am.

Ending Iran nuclear deal would worsen North Korea situation: Kerry

Reuters US Politics - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:30
GENEVA (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump risks driving Iran towards nuclear proliferation and worsening a standoff with North Korea if Washington ends a nuclear deal with Tehran, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said late on Thursday.

HELP STOP WAR IN YEMEN

LibertarianInstitute - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 04:19

For continuing updates, please visit libertarianinstitute.org/Yemen

Support House Concurrent Resolution 81 (H.Con.Res. 81) directing the President pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution to remove United States Armed Forces from unauthorized hostilities in the Republic of Yemen.

This legislation currently has 30 cosponsors, led by Reps. Ro Khanna [D-CA-17], Thomas Massie [R-KY-4], Mark Pocan [D-WI-2], and Walter B. Jones, Jr. [R-NC-3].

H.Con.Res. 81 will receive a vote in the House on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

Libertarians have an opportunity to live up to our stated principles and save lives by working with a broad coalition to insist that the House pass H.Con.Res. 81 and end the war in Yemen.

This is a transpartisan effort to end the humanitarian catastrophe supported by U.S. Armed Forces in Yemen and we need your help!

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP END THE WAR IN YEMEN?

CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVE and insist that they support H.Con.Res. 81

  1. Call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121
  2. Ask to be connected with your representative
    (unsure who that is? Enter your zip code here)
  3. When you’re connected with your representative’s office, say:

    My name is [your name] and I live in [your town]. I would like Congressman/Congresswoman [your representative] to co-sponsor House Concurrent Resolution 81 to end U.S. military involvement in Yemen.

    America’s participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen is exacerbating a horrific humanitarian crisis. U.S. military intervention in Yemen is needlessly killing civilians, endangering American security, and continuing a failed, aggressive foreign policy that is not in the interest of Americans or Yemenis.

    I ask that Congressman/Congresswoman [your representative] co-sponsor House Concurrent Resolution 81 to end U.S. military involvement in Yemen.

More information about the war in Yemen:

Recent Scott Horton Show interviews about the war in Yemen:

  • 10/6/17 Gareth Porter on Congress’s potential role in ending the war in Yemen
  • 8/29/17 Nasser Arrabyee on the latest Saudi atrocities in Yemen
  • 8/28/17 MSF’s Clair Manera on the cholera epidemic in Yemen
  • 7/19/17 Kate Gould on the House’s surprising decision to defund the war in Yemen (but not completely)

For any questions or media inquiries, please contact:

Jared Labell
The Libertarian Institute, executive director
312-257-8525
jared@libertarianinstitute.org

Please share this information with friends, family, and on social media!
Find us @LibertarianInst

For continuing updates, please visit libertarianinstitute.org/Yemen

HELP STOP WAR IN YEMEN was first posted on October 20, 2017 at 3:19 am.

Giving a voice to the voiceless: The 'invisible' victims of Islamophobia

MiddleEasteye - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 03:58

A recent study on hate crime revealed an escalation of violence against non-Muslim British men when they are perceived to be looking 'like a Muslim'

Pages