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In These Times features award-winning investigative reporting about corporate malfeasance and government wrongdoing.
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The Never-Ending Nakba

May 18, 2018 - 3:26pm

Two weeks ago in Old Hebron, a once-bustling Palestinian city in the West Bank, I saw a ghost town. The streets were empty except for dozens of Israeli soldiers, on patrol with automatic weapons and flak vests, and a handful of young Israelis from illegal settlements. The occasional Israeli military vehicle rolled by slowly, towering over us.

I was in Palestine with a group of mostly black and brown activists and lawyers from across the United States. We were on a one-week “Justice Delegation,” organized by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Eye Witness Palestine, to see with our own eyes the dire human rights situation 70 years after the founding of Israel, what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or "catastrophe," when up to one million Palestinians were expelled from their homes. Since March 30, thousands of Palestinians have demonstrated in Gaza to demand their right of return, with Israel killing at least 108 and wounding more than 10,000 since the mobilizations began.

As Gazans risked their lives to protest, what we saw across Israel and the West Bank was an ongoing Nakba.

In Hebron, the group of young settlers, no more than eight years old, were not happy we were there. They followed us, screaming “Arab dogs” and other racist slurs while throwing bottles at us. The hatred in their young eyes is something I’ll never forget.

Though the streets were lined with Palestinian homes, the Israeli military had “sterilized” (the military’s term for “free of Palestinians”) the neighborhood. The Israeli military forbids Palestinians from walking or driving on their own streets, even welding shut the front doors of Palestinian homes.

In my little black journal, I wrote down my observations: “Ghettos. People in cages. Checkpoints. Stones thrown at Palestinian windows. Sterilization. Palestinian-free zones/streets. [Settler] youth indoctrination and anger.”

At Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Sunday, before boarding my flight back to the United States, Israeli airport officials confiscated my journal. I was both angry and sad when they told me they were keeping it. “On what grounds?” I asked, but they refused to answer. I pleaded, telling them it included my personal, private thoughts. In addition to 28 pages of notes from the trip, the journal contained entries about my relationship with my boyfriend, written long before traveling to Palestine. “The book stays with us. Have a nice flight,” said one of the half-dozen airport security officers who were poring over my journal.

Why would Israel want my journal?

Was it my notes about our meeting with Bassem Tamimi, a Palestinian activist who organizes weekly protests against illegal Israeli settlements and colonization in his West Bank village of Nabi Saleh? Tamimi told us about his wife, Nariman, and his young daughter, Ahed, both of whom are in Israeli military prison. His daughter was arrested and sentenced in Israeli military court for slapping a heavily armed Israeli solider outside her home after soldiers shot her fifteen-year-old cousin in the head at close range. Tamimi’s wife was arrested for filming the incident and charged with “incitement.” In my journal I wrote down Tamimi’s words to us: “Strong and free women make a strong and free generation.”

Maybe Israel confiscated my journal because of what legendary human rights lawyer Raji Sourani told us, via skype, about the situation in Gaza. In recent weeks, Israel has responded to mass Palestinian protests along the Gaza border with grotesque violence, killing dozens of Palestinians protesting peacefully for basic rights, including the right to return to their homes, and wounding thousands more. Sourani said, “We want the opportunity to end the siege [on Gaza] and to end the occupation and to be human beings in dignity. They are doing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”

Or maybe it was my notes from Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in the Naqab desert. Since Israel’s founding in 1948, this Bedouin community has struggled to preserve its traditional, semi-nomadic way of life, despite Israel’s efforts to take their land. But their struggle seems to be coming to an end. Israel will soon force them off their land, demolish their homes and their way of life, and replace it with a Jewish-only colony.

In my journal, I wrote down what one of the Bedouin activists told us: “Visiting and solidarity is not enough. … What’s more important is to speak of our plight back home in Congress, [in the] media, and take it to the streets.”

As an attorney at Palestine Legal, I am not surprised that Israel doesn’t want these stories to be told. I am well-versed in the suppression of speech supportive of Palestinian rights. Israel and its proxies spend tens – if not hundreds – of millions of dollars to censor speech critical of Israeli government policies and to punish those who speak out for Palestinian freedom. Israeli officials know they are on the losing end of any debate about their violations of Palestinian rights and international law. Their strategy is to stop the debate from happening.

When it comes to suppressing speech critical of Israeli policies, Israeli authorities have powerful allies in the United States. Last year, my colleagues and I at Palestine Legal responded to 308 incidents of suppression of US-based advocacy for Palestinian rights, likely just the tip of the iceberg. From 2014 to the end of 2017, we responded to 958 such incidents.

For example, when students at Fordham University wanted to start a Students for Justice in Palestine club, Fordham banned the club, an unprecedented move. When Israel advocacy groups pressured University of California at Berkeley, the birthplace of the free speech movement, to cancel a course about Palestine, the university relented.

In recent years Israel’s supporters have pressured 24 states to enact laws aimed at punishing companies, organizations and individuals who support political boycotts for Palestinian rights, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has long held such boycotts are protected by the First Amendment. Legislation in Congress that would criminalize boycotts for Palestinian rights tied to actions by the European Union or United Nations enjoys broad bipartisan support, including from leading Democrats like Chuck Schumer (N.Y.).

These efforts are aimed at shielding Israel from accountability for its inexcusable treatment of Palestinians. In doing so, Israel's supporters trample on our First Amendment rights. None of this compares to Israel’s violent responses to Palestinians who advocate for their basic rights.

Last week, as the Justice Delegation prepared to return to the United States, I was assured by several lawyers and activists that Israel, which markets itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, would not confiscate my private journal. But over the course of our week there, we had met with numerous Israelis and Palestinians who raised alarms over the rapid rise of far-right authoritarianism in Israel. Four members of our delegation, including prominent human rights attorneys, had been denied entry into Israel. As Ayman Odeh, a member of the Knesset who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, told us: “Only a state with something to hide would prevent people from coming to see.”

On our way to Ben Gurion Airport on May 6, I had a pit in my stomach. I had a feeling that airport officials would go through my belongings, read my journal, and confiscate it. As our bus approached the airport, I took photos of all twenty-eight pages of notes I had taken over the course of our week there. I may never see my journal again, but at least I can tell the stories that Israel doesn’t want us to hear.

Categories: Newswire

Inside the Closed Facebook Groups Where the Teacher Strikes Began

May 17, 2018 - 9:52pm

When Detroit teachers organized their January 2016 “sickout” to protest “abominable” neglect of their schools and classrooms, they created a Facebook group to organize. Teachers have done the same throughout the wave of protests and strikes that have swept West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona, providing needed advice, support and encouragement in trying to change their national and local unions.

With Facebook’s privacy violations and fake news in the headlines, the impetus to #DeleteFacebook is easy to understand. But this strategy is an individualistic, consumerist response to a political problem—lack of stringent government regulation—and ignores how invaluable Facebook has been to teachers and school employees organizing their walkouts. Facebook’s ease of use and accessibility have encouraged the explosive growth of movements across geographical distances that make in-person meetings impractical, and across the boundaries of school districts that often reflect social and economic stratification. 

As an academic and activist in education and labor, I’ve been invited into several Facebook groups as a friend and, often, adviser. How do they form? A relatively small number of teachers and school employees, frustrated about their union’s (in)action, create a Facebook group, choosing to make it “open” (the public can see and participate), “closed” (the public can see the group but only approved members can read and make posts), or “secret” (participation is limited to those invited privately). 

In these groups, teachers and school workers often express outrage at the lack of respect shown them and their students, as reflected in salaries that don’t provide a living wage, insufficient pensions, and deteriorating conditions in classrooms and schools. Facebook groups become the forum and organizing space most state teachers unions have refused to provide. Disillusionment with unions punctuates these conversations, the reasons familiar to anyone who has taught in the past 20 years: The unions are “irrelevant” to what matters in their workday; the union doesn’t “advocate” for them. This is not to dismiss the role of local union activists on the county or city level, who are often key in coordinating the Facebook pages.

For the most part, discussion and decision-making are extraordinarily democratic, in contrast to the secretive functioning of the state teachers unions. Within minutes, even seconds, after someone posts a concern—like, “Where is the money coming from to pay for what we’re demanding?”—replies follow with ideas that range across the political and social spectrum. Some teachers self-identify as “conservative” and Republican, mostly as background to explain their outrage and disappointment in Republican officials. Others post progressive comments and links with background analysis about the Koch brothused its survey function to gauge and build consensus. Before deciding on an action, administrators posted one or two questions, like, “Are you willing to walk out on X if we have not been given Y?” Everyone in the group could vote, and the outcome was tallied and reported. 

In contrast, when the Oklahoma Education Association announced survey results indicating their members wanted to return to work, angry members objected that the poll had been misleading and unrepresentative.

Facebook is not without downsides. The people who create and administer pages are self-appointed, often maintaining leadership by force of personality and ideas. One administrator unilaterally shut down a page for hours because she detected “noise,” meaning discussion that diverged from her strategy and challenged her control. In Arizona, however, the page is essentially administered by a steering committee, a form of collective leadership that is more democratic.

Another limitation of closed pages is that they shut out allies who could share strategies and tactics or offer critical on-theground support. For instance, the savvy involvement of Save Our Schools Kentucky, which counts parent, community and teacher activists as members, has been essential to opposing vouchers and charter schools. But Save Our Schools Kentucky’s non-teacher members, as well as its network of civic allies, could only communicate indirectly with the school employees’ Facebook page.

Facebook is ultimately a business, making it a flawed organizing tool for workers. An independent platform hosted by unions would be ideal. But in the meantime, I’ll be helping teachers on Facebook.

Categories: Newswire

The Only Explanation for Why the NRA Has Chosen Oliver North as its New President

May 17, 2018 - 12:17am

It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for the National Rifle Association (NRA). Rattled by the outpouring of student activism that followed the February Parkland school shooting, the organization has floundered for a response to grassroots anger, and has seen its popularity plummet to the lowest point in decades. It’s hard to see how it could sink any lower.

Or at least it was until last week, when the NRA announced that Oliver North of Iran-Contra fame would join the organization as its new president.

Although having worked as a radio host and television news contributor for the past twenty years, North is and likely forever will be most associated with the three-decade-old political scandal that shot him to infamy.

But far from the PR gaffe it seems at first sight, the decision to place him at the helm of the NRA may portend something else entirely: that the NRA is jettisoning mainstream acceptability entirely to instead serve as the new vanguard of the conservative movement.

A known criminal

The NRA must have known its choice of North was going to ruffle some feathers. North was serving on Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council in 1986 when he was catapulted to notoriety over his involvement in the Iran-Contra scheme. In short, North was the point man for the Reagan administration’s convoluted plan to bypass the Democrat-controlled Congress’ ban on financial aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, a paramilitary force that killed, raped, kidnapped and tortured all in the name of anti-communism.

North arranged and oversaw a clandestine effort to smuggle arms and money to the Contras, which involved secretly providing weapons to Iran, partly in return for the (unsuccessful) release of American hostages in Beirut, and partly for money. That money in turn was then squirrelled away into the Swiss bank accounts of individuals involved in the plot and used to illegally buy weapons for the Contras. North bought 158 tons of assault rifles and ammunition from one drug and arms trafficker alone: Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian who would later be sentenced to 30 years in prison for trying to sell weapons to the FARC in Colombia that would be explicitly used against Americans.

This wasn’t all North did, however. He also received $98,000 in traveler’s checks from the leader of the Contras, which he proceeded to cash at restaurants, hotels, gas stations, cleaners, a hosiery retailer and other stores around the DC area. He even gave $1,000 in traveler’s checks to his “courier” in the scheme as a wedding present. Meanwhile, North was gifted a $13,800 home security system from Richard Secord, a retired Air Force Major-General whose firm served as the conduit for the arms. North in turn urged the CIA to pay Secord $1.2 million for the use of a ship he had bought for a quarter of that price.

When the whole thing began to unravel, North began shredding evidence—in one case, a few feet away from investigators from the attorney general’s office who were poring over documents in his office—and altering memos to obscure the role of his superiors. All the while, nearly $8 million from the Iranian arms sales remained in the Swiss bank accounts of Secord and his business partner, with only $4 million having been spent on the Contras.

When called before Congress, North relentlessly lied and obfuscated, refusing to implicate any of his higher-ups in the scheme, winning him much kudos from his superiors. Later, he shifted to deploying the Nuremberg defense that he was simply following orders, and happily began naming names, including ex-CIA Director William Casey, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and former Vice President George H. W. Bush, who by that point had been elected president. Unsurprisingly, when North went on trial, the newly elected Bush had tried unsuccessfully to have the whole thing scrapped.

North was finally convicted of three felonies, all of which were related to peripheral crimes like his obstruction of justice, and none of which concerned the chief crime at hand. He received a lenient sentence with no prison time, and ultimately had his convictions overturned over a technicality: his Congressional testimony years earlier was deemed to have contaminated the jury.

The NRA isn’t going to be winning any PR battles by choosing as president a man who not only violated U.S. law and tried to cover it up, but also personally enriched himself and his associates through the scheme while working with people designated by the U.S. government as terrorists. This is especially the case given that North’s crime—smuggling weapons in order to continue a campaign of mass murder—is an image one would think the NRA desperately wants not to be associated with.

But there’s another part of North’s story that is equally important—that of North as a conservative movement hero.

North star

North has long been a hugely popular icon to movement conservatism. While the liberal-left viewed him as an unrepentant criminal, for conservatives, he was a valiant, persecuted warrior who held loyalty to a higher power.

Far from tarnishing his reputation, North’s congressional testimony—in which he criticized Congress and unapologetically defended both his crime and cover-up—turned him into a national sensation. The hearings were a ratings bonanza and North received thousands of messages of support and greeted adoring crowds. His hometown held an “Oliver North Day,” in which 2,000 people marched. Even his barber became a minor celebrity.

An entire cottage industry of Oliver North products popped up, everything from t-shirts and videos to buttons and dolls. While not all who sympathized with him viewed him as a hero, doubtless many agreed with Reagan’s White House communications director when he compared North to members of the Underground Railroad, who broke the law in service of a higher ethical calling. The Wall Street Journal asked a handful of CEOs if they would hire him. “North's the kind of guy that executives look for, the employee of their dreams,” was one response.

This explosion in popularity was short-lived—particularly once it was revealed how he used the scheme to personally profit—but North remained white hot among conservatives.

He parlayed this popularity into a lucrative career as one of the most sought-after speakers in the United States, criss-crossing the country to speak to conservative audiences for up to $25,000 a pop. Local Republicans, police chiefs, lawyers and religious leaders paid hundreds of dollars each to see him speak and shake his hand. One GOP candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia paid him $20,000 to participate in a fundraiser. In the course of one year, 1998, North was reported to have made more than he had during all his years in the military.

North also began campaigning for conservative candidates, such as Indiana congressman Dan Burton, and delivering boilerplate right-wing patter about free enterprise and family values. Not that it was for show—North was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who later campaigned against homosexuals in the military, railed against gun control, got in trouble for racist remarks at a Virginia Republican banquet and complained about an “arrogant army of ultrafeminists” dominating U.S. politics in the Clinton years.

North’s embrace by evangelicals and movement conservatives continued even after his criminal convictions. In 1991, the Southern Baptist Convention invited him to speak in Atlanta, where he told a rapturous crowd that politics needed more Christian involvement and called for prayer in schools. He started Freedom Alliance, a 100,000-member group lobbying for things like school prayer, as well as Guardian Technologies, a firm founded with fellow Iran-Contra figure Joseph Fernandez that sold bulletproof vests. His radio show, “Freedom Report,” was broadcast by 280 stations by 1991.

Through his various ventures, North paid off his millions of dollars of legal bills and became a bestselling author. He also became fabulously wealthy, making an estimated $1.7 million a year off speaking alone. He never entirely lost mainstream acceptability either. In 1992, he cameoed on the NBC sitcom Wings, in which he explicitly plugged his book. This came on the heels of a 1989 TV movie about North in which the director, trying to make the film more critical of North, tussled with the actor playing him, who considered himself “a North American” and regarded the former general as a personal hero.

This on-set polarization mirrored the nationwide split in opinion on North, who in 1994 became something like the Roy Moore—or Donald Trump—of his time. North decided to run for a seat in Congress—the institution he regularly assailed on the speaking circuit, apparently deciding he liked the sound of the “veritable Sodom and Gomorrah on the banks of the Potomac” that he spent years railing against. North ran as a Republican for the Virginia Senate seat occupied by Charles Robb, son in law of the late former President Lyndon Johnson, who admitted to vague charges of infidelity shortly before the campaign, and who had earlier been in trouble for attending parties where cocaine was in free flow (not that he ever saw or used it, of course).

Over the course of five years, North built up a total of $20 million through a direct-mail campaign that reached around 65,000 people across the country each month, as well as generated goodwill among the GOP establishment through V-PAC, a political action committee that doled out $540,000 to Republican candidates in Virginia.

As much as Trump and Moore would create a rift among the Republican party while inspiring zealous loyalty from evangelicals, North’s Senate campaign roiled the GOP establishment at the time. He received the enthusiastic backing of the Christian Right and movement conservatives like Richard Viguerie, who put his direct mail empire behind North.

At the same time, he was pilloried by a parade of former Reagan officials and establishment Republicans, including Ronald Reagan himself. This was no doubt motivated by the fact that North had thrown them all under the bus in the course of defending himself, but it reflected a real unease among establishment Republicans, some of whom refused to support North at the nominating convention. “There's a major rift within the party,” political scientist Mark Rozell said at the time. “It is in the party's interest to be open, diverse, inclusive. But with North as the party's candidate, it will appear to be beholden to an ideological faction, unable to broaden its base.”

North ultimately won the nomination, a sign of broader political developments. As the London Observer noted at the time, the GOP was “being taken over by a crusading right-wing arc made up of purist economic libertarians and evangelical Christians like Pat Robertson, backed by the gun lobby and other interest groups.” Establishment Republicans worried that North was “divisive,” while Virginia Senator John Warner threatened to quit the party.

But just as they would later do with Trump, the GOP establishment soon fell into line. Former Reagan officials like James Baker and prominent Republicans like Bob Dole and Dan Quayle all campaigned for North, believing he could unseat the scandal-ridden Robb. And thanks to the $20 million he spent on the campaign, North came close, ultimately falling just short thanks to voters motivated not by enthusiasm for his opponent, but concern over North.

The Right’s man

North’s 1994 Senate campaign was the high watermark of his post Iran-Contra career, but he’s remained visible in conservative circles ever since. In 1997, a who’s who of conservatives numbering 450, including numerous members of Congress like Orrin Hatch, celebrated the ten-year anniversary of North’s testimony at a banquet in his hated D.C., paying $150 per plate. His radio show remained popular, and North was given his own place on TV, first with MSNBC, then Fox, where he quite literally cheered on the Iraq War. He’s remained a talking head on the channel since.

North’s appointment doesn’t make much sense from a public relations standpoint. But it does make sense as an expression of politics.

The NRA was long ago transformed from a bipartisan organization focused on hunting to a partisan arm of the conservative movement, only becoming more ideologically extreme over time. Last year, it released a recruitment video explicitly tailored to the Right, presenting NRA membership as a bulwark against the encroaching power of the Left and liberals, drawing outrage for its apparent encouragement of political violence.

The choice of North—a polarizing figure beloved by the Right, disliked by the center and loathed by the Left, who presaged the Republican fissures of the Trump era—is yet another overture to the NRA’s true constituency: not gun owners, but specifically right-wing gun owners and movement conservatives more generally. As political scientist Robert Spitzer recently explained: “He won’t do anything to help broaden the NRA’s appeal, but rather to try and bring in people already sympathetic who may be susceptible to an appeal.”

The polls all suggest the NRA is losing the mainstream. But for the organization, that ’s apparently fine—the NRA has decided it can live without it.

Categories: Newswire

We’re All Zucked

May 16, 2018 - 9:50pm

Thanks to colliding scandals surrounding fake news and the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, Facebook is dealing with the greatest crisis in its history. But it remains to be seen whether the social platform will suffer a mass user exodus—Google searches for how to delete Facebook spiked enormously in March— or face onerous regulations. The company has been pursuing a strategy of cagey cooperation, approving of possible new regulatory measures without being overly enthusiastic about them. Stock prices proved resilient even during Mark Zuckerberg’s frequently awkward congressional testimony, and overall the company seems unshaken.

These latest events signal Facebook’s political and social maturation—years too late, of course, for a company with such profound influence over more than 2 billion lives. As part of its growing up, Facebook has promised to respect the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which the European Union is adopting in May. Widely considered the frontline of personal data privacy law, the GDPR will provide more rights for European consumers to manage and delete their own data, learn immediately about data breaches and easily port their data to competing services. But it is less an overthrow of the status quo than a sanding down of its sharper edges.

As long as Facebook is faced with this kind of relatively mild state intervention, its power— for good and ill—will remain mostly unchallenged.

Rather than being emancipatory, regulatory measures such as the GDPR institutionalize surveillance capitalism, corralling it into familiar systems of bureaucratic management and regulatory capture. Larger structural reform—socializing data and its profits on behalf of a common public—is never considered. Personal data becomes cemented in the marketplace as the great commodity of the age, the engine for elaborate analytical systems that allow Facebook to predict and shape consumer behavior on behalf of advertisers.

If we truly controlled our data, we would have more mechanisms by which to withhold it from Facebook’s surveillance machine. Zuckerberg likes to emphasize the granular privacy controls attached to each Facebook post, but he says far less about efforts to track web activity en masse (including every site with a “Like” button), nor does he comment on the company’s reported deals with data brokers to procure information about users’ offline habits. Were Zuckerberg to be more open, users might begin to ask why surveillance has to be the price of modern communication. 

Having established its sovereignty over our data, we shouldn’t expect Facebook to give it up easily. The company’s outlook is at once strong and perilous. It is a well-established monopoly, with a canny capacity to buy up would-be rivals. And yet Facebook could still find itself suddenly “disrupted” by a rival network that users trust more—perhaps one that doesn’t rely on the monetization of personal data through advertising. (Such platforms, including Mastodon, Ello and Diaspora, have failed in the past but may find a more amenable audience now.) The company could suffer more embarrassing leaks and breaches. Spurred on by angry constituents, the patience of politicians and regulators (in both parties) might run out, forcing an antitrust investigation that would sit alongside investigations already underway in Europe, Australia and several U.S. states. These investigations could in turn lead to breakup efforts or painful fines.

The company faces other serious problems. Hijacked by fake news bots and other forms of manipulation, Facebook’s platform has been accused of contributing to political violence, even genocide, in Myanmar, India and the Philippines. Illicit businesses fester on the site, as Facebook is used for everything from selling opioids—for which several congressmen hammered Zuckerberg—to trading in stolen credit cards. Facebook’s moderation capabilities are woefully behind, even as the company has promised to hire thousands more moderators—usually low-wage workers in overseas cubicle farms who become traumatized after screening hundreds of graphic images per day. Zuckerberg touts the company’s forthcoming AI efforts but admits that truly automated solutions might be five years away. To some AI experts, even that is a fantasy. 

As it is, Facebook retains an empire’s global reach with a colonizer’s rough touch. There may not be another product so widely used and so deeply disliked. To many of its customers, Facebook is essential and useless, indispensable and annoying, addictive and numbing. To quit is too difficult—easier to give in to a weary cynicism. After all, if we have learned anything from Facebook’s proliferating scandals, it’s that the company’s surveillance machine is indifferent to us. It cares not what we do. 

Categories: Newswire

Socialists and Progressives Just Trounced the Democratic Establishment

May 16, 2018 - 8:50pm

If members of the Democratic Party establishment weren’t already worried, after Tuesday night, they should be. In primaries across the country, at least eight candidates running on explicitly progressive platforms won out, including open socialists and political newcomers who took out longtime incumbents.

These victories are proof that the recent successes of left challengers are no fluke. Rather, the wins show that voters who are tired of the type of milquetoast, means-tested policies pushed by centrist Democrats are willing to embrace candidates running on bold, redistributive policies. And far from being too far left to win, these candidates have the political winds at their backs.

In the Pittsburgh area, two members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato, won hotly contested races for the Pennsylvania statehouse. Lee and Innamorato, running in Districts 34 and 21, both won out against incumbent Democrats—Reps. Paul Costa and Dom Costa. (Full disclosure: The author is a DSA member but did not work on any of these campaigns.)

The Costas are cousins and members of a powerful political family in the region, and have been representing their districts for many election cycles. Their defeat reveals profound changes in the political landscape over recent years, as well as the growing power of the movement to elect challengers like Lee and Innamorato.

That movement was powered in large part of by the DSA, which endorsed both Lee and Innamorato—each first-time candidates—and helped organize large-scale volunteer efforts to support their campaigns.

Lee, running against Paul Costa, centered her campaign around policies that would protect low-income residents in her district, many of them people of color. In addition to supporting universal healthcare, free public education, and a $15 minimum wage, Lee also put her weight behind revitalizing blighted neighborhoods, stemming the tide of mass incarceration and protecting long-term residents from being pushed out by the forces of gentrification—forces she claims Costa helped to propel.

At her victory party on Tuesday night, Lee eagerly summed up the spirit of political transformation that fueled her campaign: “If your politicians are not serving you, get rid of them." As she faces no Republican opponent in the fall, Lee is poised to become the first African-American woman to represent Western Pennsylvania at the state level.

Innamorato was similarly buoyant following her win, telling supporters: "We accomplished the impossible.” Her opponent Dom Costa was widely considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the state legislature, and even asked Republican voters in the district to write in his name on their ballots.

Where Costa had previously backed restrictive bills around immigration and reproductive rights, Innamorato voiced support for a swath of progressive policies around these and other issues critical to Pittsburgh area voters. She also faces no GOP opponent, and is assured victory in November. Both Lee and Innamorato trounced their opponents, winning with over 60 percent of the vote.

In a statement, Pittsburgh DSA co-chair Adam Shuck writes that “These wins indicate that a renewed, vibrant left in America is not an aberration, but instead that working people are ready for real change, progressive policies and a society that works for all of us, not a select few.”

In the Philadelphia region, Elizabeth Fiedler and Kristin Seale won their primaries for the statehouse in Districts 184 and 168. Fiedler and Seale were also both endorsed by the DSA, and their victories marked a sweep for the socialist organization in Pennsylvania, where all four of their endorsed candidates—all women—won out over male opponents.

Since Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run, the DSA has stepped up its electoral operations and has recently scored a number of high-profile victories, including Lee Carter’s election to the Virginia House of Delegates and Seema Singh-Perez’s election to the Knoxville City Council. Last year alone, 21 candidates endorsed by the DSA, many of them members themselves, won elections across the country. Tuesday’s Pennsylvania sweep adds to this wave.  

Also in the Pittsburgh area, Braddock mayor and outspoken progressive John Fetterman—who had been endorsed by Sanders—won an upset victory over incumbent Mike Stack in his race for Lieutenant Governor, meaning he will run alongside Gov. Tom Wolf in November. 

In Lancaster County, progressive candidate Jess King—also endorsed by Sanders—easily won her primary after her opponent Christina Hartman dropped out of the race to run in a different district (which she then failed to qualify for). King will face incumbent Republican Rep. Lloyd Smucker in November.

And Tuesday’s progressive victories are not confined to Pennsylvania. In Nebraska, Kara Eastman won a shocking victory over former Rep. Brad Ashford in the Democratic House primary.

Eastman set herself apart from Ashford, a moderate “Blue Dog” Democrat who had the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), by running on a broad left agenda including Medicare for all—a policy that is becoming increasingly mainstream in Democratic Party politics but which many moderates remain unwilling to support. Ashford had been widely expected to prevail, and his loss comes as a blow to centrist forces in the Democratic Party who had hoped to run the one-time Republican in the fall.   

Eastman had the backing from a number of national progressive groups including the Justice Democrats and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC).

Following the victory, PCCC co-founder Stephanie Taylor said in a statement: "Kara Eastman taught the Democratic establishment a lesson: The way to inspire voters in 2018 is to campaign on a bold progressive agenda of Medicare for All, higher wages for workers, and other economic populist ideas that help working families and challenge corporate power."

In Idaho, Native American state legislator Paulette Jordan won the Democratic nomination in the state’s gubernatorial race, beating out businessman A.J. Balukoff, who had been the party’s nominee in 2014. Jordan ran on such progressive policies as enacting universal healthcare, fighting climate change and raising the minimum wage. She will face Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little in November, and if she wins she will become the first Native American governor in U.S. history.

Far from being isolated events, these victories are emblematic of a vast left electoral insurgency that has been sweeping the country since the 2016 presidential election. While Democratic Party insiders have mounted campaigns to keep out progressive challengers—most visibly in the rejection of Rep. Keith Ellison as DNC chair—voters continue to elevate candidates running on resolute left platforms.

Rather than shying away from the types of policies that would upend the status quo and challenge the corporate interests that dominate both major parties, these candidates are embracing them. And they are willing to take on entrenched powers within the Democratic Party in the process.

At a time when voters are seeking an alternative to President Trump and his GOP cabal, as well as the types of policies that have led to wage stagnation, rising healthcare costs, mass incarceration and climate devastation, Tuesday’s victories point a way forward.

As DSA’s National Electoral Committee co-chair Tascha Van Auken says of the election results: “A political revolution is coming, and establishment politicians can get on board or be swept away.” 

Categories: Newswire

Palestinians Are Forcing the World to See Their Humanity

May 16, 2018 - 8:48pm

We watch a split screen. On one side: celebrations of the new U.S. embassy opening in Jerusalem. The president's daughter, son-in-law, cabinet officials, Congress members, all smiling, proud. The U.S. ambassador, longtime settlement financier David Friedman, joins Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, his family, cabinet officials, Knesset members—all waiting for President Trump to join their festivities.

The other screen: solemn faces, tears, teenagers splayed across makeshift stretchers carried by other teenagers to waiting ambulances. Tear gas so thick one can't see through it even on a television or computer screen. Sharpshooters, with live fire coming so fast that casualty counters can't keep up. It's 38 dead—just in one day. No, it's 40. And then it turns out it's nearly 60. Another 1,500 injured, no it's more than 2,000 already. Twenty-four hours later it turns out to be more than 2,400. Not a single Israeli has been killed—the dead are all Palestinians. The killers, the maimers, the shooters, the gassers, are all Israeli soldiers.

And Jared Kushner says that the Palestinian protesters, whom he defines as "those who provoke violence," are "part of the problem, not part of the solution."

But the split screen is an illusion: There is only one screen, framing both the embassy carnival and the Gaza massacre. The same screen includes Netanyahu and Trump, as well as people like Sheldon Adelson and the rest of their joint backers across the United States. And the same screen includes Palestinians. Some appear as they are killed in unprecedented numbers, shot by Israeli sharpshooters who claim their commanders approve every bullet's target. And the others, the living, continue to remind the world that they are here. They are human. They are a nation, and they have human rights.

Some of the embassy backers, like the evangelical Christian Zionists John Hagee and Robert Jeffress who offered prayers and praise of Israel and racist hatred towards Palestinians, claim to speak in the word of God. They celebrate U.S. collaboration with the Israeli government to the tune of 3.8 billion American tax dollars that Washington sends directly to the Israeli military every year.

Trump says the United States will always be a friend to Israel "and" support a lasting peace, only one of many such lies. The Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is about reminding the world that Israel is the strategic ally of the United States, and that Palestinians are not. This U.S. maneuver is not about protecting Jews: This is about Israel's claim to the land of the Palestinians. Israel’s mass killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza is part of that message: Palestinian land belongs to Israel, and Palestinian lives don't matter.

There is little question that the U.S. decision to schedule the embassy opening for May 14 was designed to be a major provocation. Of course, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and moving the embassy to Jerusalem in violation of international law and a host of UN Security Council resolutions, constituted major acts of aggression to begin with. Trump said the festivities were timed to celebrate Israel's 70th birthday—citing the declaration of the state on May 14, 1948. But Israelis' own celebration was based on the Hebrew lunar calendar, which placed the anniversary back in April. The United States chose May 14 because the day after is the Palestinians' annual commemoration of the Nakba: the catastrophe of dispossession from their land, the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, and Israel's continuing denial of those Palestinians and their descendants to exercise their internationally guaranteed right to return to their homes. And Nakba Day, as it is widely known, was to be the culmination of the Great March of Return.

But plans for the Gaza protests were underway before the embassy opening was announced. Palestinians were continuing to protest the devastation of their lives in Gaza caused by Israeli wars against the impoverished, crowded strip of land. They were protesting the 11-year-old siege that has kept 2 million Gazans locked into an open-air prison, denied food, clean water, electricity and contact with the outside world, as well as air, the right to breathe, to travel, to leave and to return. Their demands started with the right to return, guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions and specifically guaranteed to Palestinians by UN resolution 194. So the protests on Monday were not primarily about the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Now, among the thousands of Palestinian casualties, among the scores of Palestinians dead, have been many children. They were shot by Israeli sharpshooters, whose targets were approved by Israeli commanders. Israeli Brigadier General Zvika Fogel defended the practice. In a radio interview last Saturday, he was asked specifically about the killing of children, and answered that "anyone who could be a future threat to the border of the State of Israel and its residents, should bear a price for that violation." The interviewer says, “Then his punishment is death?” And the general responds, “His punishment is death.”

It is a familiar refrain. In another settler-colony, a couple of hundred years earlier, another high-ranking military officer, Col. John Chivington, commanded his Colorado militia to attack Chief Black Kettle's Cheyenne encampment at Sand Creek. It was November 29, 1864, in the middle of the Indian Wars raging against indigenous people across the United States. Chivington ordered his soldiers to attack the families camped in the pre-dawn morning. Some soldiers resisted, saying that it would violate the military's promise of protection to the peaceful village. Chivington, a Methodist minister, was having none of it. "I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians. ... Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice," he said. An estimated 200 Cheyenne, most of them women and children, were killed in the Sand Creek Massacre.

The Gaza massacre is a war crime. And the United States is complicit alongside Israel. U.S. funding of the Israeli military, U.S. protection of Israel in the UN so that Israeli military and political leaders are never held accountable in the International Criminal Court, U.S. provision of its own most advanced weapons systems to Israel—all of these actions make the United States a partner in crime and responsible for the slaughter of children, teenagers, women and men, journalists and medics.

Challenging that U.S. support, demanding accountability for both Israeli and U.S. officials, remains a critical task, however distant its completion. People in the United States should be demanding an end to U.S. aid to Israel, petitions to congress, vigils outside the White House, sit-ins at the offices of Congress members determined to back Israel's most extreme violations of human rights. All are needed, but none are sufficient. The legacy of Sand Creek, the legacy of Gaza, remain the legacies of massacres. It remains our obligation to respond.

Categories: Newswire

Watch This Palestinian-American Woman Crush Every Media Trope About the Gaza Protests

May 15, 2018 - 6:26pm

Since Palestinians in Gaza launched the Great Return March on March 30, Israel has killed at least 109 Palestinian protesters and wounded 12,300 others, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. Instead of probing the Israeli government and its U.S. backers about this mass atrocity, American media outlets are far-too-often implying that Palestinian protesters are responsible for their own deaths—falsely portraying the massacre, in which zero Israelis have died, as “clashes,” and painting Palestinian protesters as pawns of Hamas, rather than legitimate civil society activists.

Noura Erakat, a Palestinian-American human rights attorney, activist and assistant professor at George Mason University, tells In These Times that widespread dehumanization in the U.S. media stems from the fact that “we don't turn our gaze to Palestinians unless there’s something happening to Israelis or in regard to U.S. relations. Palestinians appear as shadows. This is a decades-long siege of Gaza, 50-year occupation and 70-year exile, and the only time Palestinians matter is when they're being killed or appearing as a threat to Israel.”

Erakat is in a position to know. Amid the constant stream of misinformation, she was featured on CBS on May 14 to give the “Palestinian” reaction to the ongoing protests in Gaza and the Trump administration’s inauguration of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. During the interview, Erakat was hit with nearly every trope about the conflict currently circulating in the U.S. media—and she crushed them on by one:

“They had me on their program and literally asked me about Hamas amid civil mass protests. On March 30 when at least 14 Palestinians were gunned down, Israel explicitly said it would not investigate itself nor allow for an international probe, meaning that they defend their lethal use of force. Six weeks later, when they escalated, the questions should be about Israel’s violation of international law. The fact that they asked me about Hamas shows that they are either willfully misleading their audience, or they just aren't doing the work. Both are horribly irresponsible.”

Tens of thousands of protesters in Gaza are calling for an end to Israel’s military siege, which has led to severe gas and water shortages, as well as economic devastation, for the roughly 2 million people living in the strip. Demonstrators are also demanding the right to return to the land Israel evicted them from 70 years ago during the mass-expulsion known to Palestinians as the "Nakba," or catastrophe.

Amid these protests, Erakat says, American journalists are missing critical opportunities to ask hard questions. “Journalists should be asking Israel, ‘Do you think Palestinians are a people with the right to exist and to self-determination?' They should be asking Israel, ‘What is the problem with allowing Palestinian refugees to return?’ They should be asking U.S. senators why they are not enforcing the Arms Export Control Act, [which conditions arms exports on human rights standards].”

Instead, U.S. press coverage of these protests is so dismal that, according to Erakat, “By the time they bring me on, I'm having to serve as a corrective.”

Categories: Newswire

Serfdom in the Magic Kingdom: Disney Workers Rise Up Against Poverty Wages

May 15, 2018 - 4:21pm
HOUSTON—In early March, Denise Anderson, a Disneyland employee of 31 years and Disney stockholder, went to her very first shareholder meeting. Security was intense: A squadron of guards flanked the doors, complete with a bomb-sniffing dog. After a meet and greet with Disney characters, the small crowd—a few hundred people—was ushered into an auditorium.   The workers weren’t there to hear about box office receipts or Disneyland’s new Star Wars expansion. They came to ask Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger why a company whose parks and resorts brought in $18 billion in 2017 pays its employees so little that many live in their cars or skip meals.   They didn’t get a chance. When executives finished their reports and the question period began, employee-stockholders weren’t among the chosen few who were called on. The most substantial question was about Iger’s exercise routine.   Then, Iger announced the meeting was over. The stage lights went down, the house lights went up, and the executives fled the scene. Annual shareholder meetings often last hours; this one wrapped in one. “As a stockholder, I should have a right to ask my question,” Anderson says. “They’re so high above us, they can’t even hear our questions.”   Several dozen workers outside were determined to be heard anyway. The protesters represented a 17,000-member coalition of workers from 11 union locals who make the world-famous theme park in Anaheim, Calif., run, as well as UNITE HERE! and Teamsters union workers from Disney World in Orlando, Fla. They included the hair and makeup professionals who style the characters, the people who operate the rides, the food service workers who ensure visitors are fed and the janitors who keep everything clean. (Missing were the character actors, who aren’t unionized at Disneyland and face a greater risk of retaliation.)   The signs they struggled to hold in the wind lamented some recently published statistics: “11% Recently Homeless ... 68% Food Insecure.”   Some shareholders, at least, did stop to talk and take copies of a recent survey of union Disneyland employees, published by the Economic Roundtable, a research nonprofit. It found that average hourly pay fell from $15.80 in 2000 to $13.36 in 2017. Nearly three-quarters of workers can’t cover their basic monthly expenses, more than two-thirds don’t have enough food, and 11 percent have experienced homelessness or have not had a place of their own in the last two years.   The February report galvanized workers to protest their low pay after years of sacrificing to make Disney theme parks “the happiest place on Earth.”   When Anderson first started in the costuming department in 1987, it seemed like a good use for her newly minted theater degree. Pay was $7.50 an hour when the state’s minimum was $3.35. There were decent benefits and job security. “Most people would stay there their entire lives, raise their families, buy a house, go on a vacation once in a while,” she recalls. Today there are perhaps 10 workers in her 200-person department who have been there over 20 years, she estimates; most leave within months.   Now Anderson lives paycheck to paycheck. “There’s never any security that I’m going to be able to save a little bit in case something happens,” she says. She is still paying off an unexpected medical expense from a year ago.   “I like what I do here,” she says, but the low pay is “getting harder and harder” to accept. “You put on a smile and be happy all day for other folks, and then you get in your car and you’re not even sure if you’re going to be able to have dinner.”   Worker unrest grew when the company waff led in late February on doling out the $1,000 bonuses it promised after tax reform passed in Congress. Workers who aren’t in union contract negotiations got a check for $250, with a promise of $750 in the fall. The Disneyland and Disney World workers in bargaining, which began April 17, received nothing.   In the meantime, workers and advocates are pushing for a City of Anaheim ballot measure that would require any large business subsidized by the city to pay at least $18 an hour by 2022. (Disneyland has received incentives worth more than $1 billion from Anaheim in the last two decades.)   Even without a chance to talk to Iger, Anderson is happy she went to Houston: “I think they got the message that they’re going to have to fight this time.”
Categories: Newswire

These Statistics Show Why Gazans Are Risking Their Lives To Protest Israel

May 14, 2018 - 9:29pm

Since March 30, mass protests have engulfed the areas along the Israel-Gaza security barrier. Ten thousand or more Palestinian protesters have gathered each Friday to call for an end to the 11-year blockade by Israel and Egypt. The protests, dubbed the Great March of Return, are scheduled to last until May 15, to mark the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Independence Day. Palestinians refer to the day as al-Nakba (The Catastrophe), signifying the displacement of 750,000 people from their homeland in 1948.

Gaza has long been stained by death and violence, and the protests have been no exception. Israeli Security Forces (ISF) have unleashed tear gas, sniper fire and rubber bullets on Palestinian protesters. May 14 was the most violent day to date, with Israeli forces killing more than 50 Gazans and wounding thousands. The Israeli government has justified its violence by tying the protests to Hamas, but experts like Palestinian-American human-rights lawyer Noura Erakat say the protests are a grassroots effort—and argue that political affiliations do not justify Israel's armed attacks against a civilian population.

Thanks to the blockade, a humanitarian crisis has ravaged Gaza. Two million Palestinians are trapped with little access to food, clean water or services. Seventy percent of the population relies on outside humanitarian aid, which dwindled when the Trump Administration cut $65 million in funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and then withheld $45 million in promised food aid to both Gaza and the West Bank.

Below is a statistical snapshot of Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and the violent crackdown on protesters.

Gaza by the Numbers
  • 2007 Year Israel imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Gaza

 

  • 76% Reduction in Gazan imports after the blockade

 

  • 151 Import items, including cement and pipes, prohibited because of “dual use” for military purposes

 

  • 84% Portion of supplies for water, health and sanitation infrastructure denied by Israel, according to Oxfam

 

  • 97% Portion of drinking water in Gaza that is unsafe

 

 

 

 

  • 35,000 Palestinians who rallied in Gaza March 30, the first day of mass action against the blockade

 

  • 101 Protesters killed in Gaza by Israeli security forces since March 30, as of May 14

 

  • 8,400 Gazans wounded in the protests since March 30, as of May 14

 

  • 52 protesters killed and 2,400 wounded in a single day, May 14, when Gazans protested the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv

 

  • 2 Journalists killed in the protests; 29 injured, according to reports by the Committee to Protect Journalists. All were Palestinian.

 

  • 0 Israeli security forces killed in the protests
Categories: Newswire

As Israel Kills Dozens, Gazans Continue to Protest. A Palestinian Woman Explains Why.

May 14, 2018 - 3:35pm

For almost seven weeks, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have gone to the “Great Return March” protest encampment to raise their voices and call attention to the plight of the 1.8 million people living in the coastal enclave. Israeli soldiers have responded to the protests with deadly force, killing at least 90 Palestinians and wounding more than 10,000 since March 30, according to Gaza's Ministry of Health.

Braving Israeli sniper fire and tear gas, these Palestinians have forced Gaza into the international headlines. Protesters are demanding the right to return to lands Israel expelled them from in 1948—and calling for an end to Israel’s land, air and sea blockade of Gaza, which has ruined Gaza’s economy. 

Meanwhile, as Palestinians in Gaza continued to protest on May 14, American officials were celebrating President Trump's decision to move the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem—a move Palestinians say will embolden Israeli policies aimed at pushing Palestinians out of the city.

One of the protesters participating in the “Great Return March” is Intimaa Alsdudi, a Palestinian activist and researcher in Gaza who focuses on gender issues and Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

In These Times talked with Alsdudi over the phone to hear a first-hand perspective on what it’s like at the protest encampment near the militarized barrier separating the strip from Israel, why Palestinians continue to demonstrate in the face of a deadly crackdown, and why Jerusalem is important to Palestinians in Gaza. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Alex Kane: Do you think the “Great Return March” has been a success?

Intimaa Alsdudi: To some extent, yeah. Everyone can participate, and it is peaceful.

We have been waiting for 70 years [since Israeli forces expelled more than 200,000 Palestinians into Gaza], waiting for the international community to do something, for UN Resolution 194 [guaranteeing Palestinians’ right to return to lands they were expelled from] to be implemented. And nobody's doing anything. So, this is a revolution of refugees in Gaza—two thirds of us in Gaza are refugees. It is peaceful and popular.

We have had a siege imposed on us for more than a decade. There is hardly any electricity and water. And at the same time, you can see your land from Gaza and you're not allowed to go to your land. And it is ridiculous. You must do something. So, it is a rebellion against Israeli practices against us and its violations of international law and not respecting the UN resolutions.

Alex: As someone who has gone to the Great Return March a lot, could you describe what it is like there, who is participating and some of the cultural activities going on?

Intimaa: It is so interesting. This is my first time seeing the whole community in the “buffer zone,” [the area near the militarized fence separating Gaza from Israel], doing random things. Women are making food and making traditional dishes. Kids play football and do traditional “dabke” dancing. Teenagers go to play cards, fly kites and sleep there. It’s a gathering of the people. You have tents and camping, and the most beautiful thing is that you can see your land. You can see what is behind the wall.

I remember during the Second Intifada, lots of women participated and threw stones at them. After, women's participation decreased. But now, there are women everywhere in the “buffer zone.”

Alex: And why do you think the role of Palestinian women in these marches is important?

Intimaa: As a woman, I'm taking care of my sisters and my brothers, because I'm the oldest child in the family, and my Dad died during the last war [in 2014] because he wasn't allowed to travel for treatment. I teach my siblings their history and their rights, and lessons about the difference between occupation, settler-colonialism, apartheid and all the Israeli practices against us, and that they have the right to revolt and rebel against that. So, this is the main role of women: They teach kids, the new generation, that you don’t have to forget your rights and your country.

It is something beautiful when you see women and men and girls there. Woman are always on the frontlines. They're not following the men, but are preceding them, because they're asking for their rights.

Alex: Are you worried about your siblings being at the protest and getting hurt?

Intimaa: Yeah, definitely. All of us are worried about ourselves and our kids because Israeli snipers don't differentiate between kids and old people and young people. I told them, “You have to stay a bit far away. Don't approach the fence, and you can raise the Palestinian flag, dance, do whatever you want.” And sometimes we take books with us and start reading sessions.

Alex: Are Palestinians in Gaza watching what's going on with Jerusalem, with the U.S. embassy being moved there?

Intimaa: People in Gaza are angry about Trump’s decision to relocate the embassy. Lots of them are talking about it, and we will not allow it to happen. It is against international law, and I think on May 14 and 15, lots of people will be at the “buffer zone” protesting the relocation of the American embassy.

Alex: Why is Jerusalem so important to people in Gaza?

Intimaa: Jerusalem is a dream. My dream is to visit Jerusalem. It is our capital, and it is not only for Palestinians. It is for all Arab countries. It is part of our religious identity and political identity. It is the center of our cause.

Alex: And have you ever been to Jerusalem?

Intimaa: Never. It is my dream. And now with moving the embassy there, it is the end of the dream. How can they negotiate Jerusalem? It is not allowed. This is a red line they cannot pass.

Alex: You studied at Rutgers University in New Jersey, so you've been around people in the United States. What do you think people in the United States right now should be doing to support protesters in Gaza?

Intimaa: I spent two years in the United States, and I know that the American community is—and I’m sorry for this word—ignorant. They don't know what is happening.

With social media, everything is clear, and they can Google to see what is happening in Palestine. And I'm sure they can find the truth. The American people should not stay silent.

Americans can do workshops about Gaza, go to demonstrations and support the indigenous community in Gaza. Now we have Israeli apartheid, and we need exactly what happened in South Africa to happen here, with the support of the international community, especially the American community. The people must rebel against their government, and to say no. The taxes they pay go directly to Israel to buy weapons to kill innocent kids.

Alex: My last question is: Do you think that the protest will continue after May 15?

Intimaa: I think so, because until now we didn't see any concrete changes. Israel is still killing, shooting randomly at people, and the siege is getting horrible, and the injured people who were hurt in the demonstrations are not allowed to cross Erez checkpoint to go for treatment in the West Bank.

Categories: Newswire

A Democratic Spring: 12 Left Challengers Taking On the Party Establishment in 2018

May 14, 2018 - 12:03pm

The shock of Donald Trump's election inspired an organized, determined resistance on many fronts and in many forms. One could be called a “democratic spring”: a long-germinating rebellion within the Democratic Party that gained strength with Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid and might just save the withered institution from itself.

The Left has sprouted an independent electoral infrastructure, including the formation of new groups like Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, Indivisible and Brand New Congress; the invigoration of existing political organizations like the Working Families Party; and a shift toward greater electoral engagement by groups like People’s Action and the Democratic Socialists of America.

Another trend, propelled by Trump’s grotesque misogyny and the emergence of the #MeToo movement, is a surge in the number of women running for office. As of mid-April, 331 women had filed to run, easily beating the old record of 298, set in 2012. Of those, Democrats outnumber Republicans 248 to 83.

Yet another is the galvanization of young people. A March survey by Harvard’s Institute of Politics found that 37 percent of people under 30 definitely plan to vote this fall, the most interest ever recorded in the poll, with Democrats driving the surge. In 2014, only 23 percent of respondents under 30 had definite plans to vote.

Removing Trump from office, whether through the impeachment process or the next presidential election, is a high priority for progressives. But when Trump is finally gone, an even more daunting challenge will remain: creating a political system that represents the people and the public interest.

This goal will not be achieved overnight, to say the least. It’s worth remembering that the current incarnation of the GOP began to take shape in the mid-1970s, with the fusion of corporate interests and a resurgent Christian Right. At the time, the Republican vision of breaking unions, redistributing wealth to the wealthiest, slashing corporate taxes, gutting the public sphere and privatizing public education must have seemed an impossible mountain to climb. Reforming the Democratic Party into a vehicle for a progressive agenda is no less daunting, given the way corporate money has swamped and deformed our democracy.

But a key lesson of the GOP’s radical shift to the right is that party transformation is possible, and primaries, more than general elections or conventions, are the soil in which party transformation takes root. Primary candidates often offer competing visions for the future, and challengers to an incumbent must either affirm or deny the party’s status quo.

Sanders’ 2016 bid is a case study on the effect a serious challenger can have. His relatively narrow loss to an icon of establishment politics, Hillary Clinton, suggests the depth of anger and desperation for reform within a broad segment of the party. The implications of the Sanders campaign will unfold for many years, but one clear effect is the spread of policy ideas pushing the party left, including Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, tuition-free college, free or subsidized child care, criminal justice and campaign finance reform, progressive taxation, and policies addressing economic inequality.

The 2016 Democratic Party platform at least nodded to many of these ideas, largely because of Sanders’ influence. Over the past 18 months, in a series of state party conventions and special elections, these ideas have been the distinguishing mark between progressives and establishment Democrats. The current midterm contests are the most forceful and comprehensive expression of this ongoing challenge and will set the stage for epic battles to define the party in 2020 and far beyond.

The national news media have spotlighted and obsessed over a few races, most notably Marie Newman in Illinois, Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Randy Bryce in Wisconsin, Cynthia Nixon in New York and Ben Jealous in Maryland. All merit the attention, but the focus on a few high-profile candidates obscures the passion for change and the range of issues inspiring a plethora of progressives to run—in defiance of Trump, surely, but also in response to the failures of the Democratic Party.

The dozen candidates for state and federal offices profiled in the following pages have attracted relatively little national press, but they offer a wide window on the multi-dimensional movement to transform the party. In a U.S. House race, for example, Sarah Smith prioritizes an antiwar stance. In state legislature races, Jovanka Beckles focuses on affordable housing and Alessandra Biaggi calls out campaign finance corruption. Some will win and some will lose, but all are aiming to help grow organizations, coalitions and a grassroots base that have the power to fundamentally change the status quo—beginning inside the Democratic Party and radiating out.

Whether this momentum will amount to a political revolution is unknowable. One painful truth underscored by the Trump era is that, though the arc of history is long, it doesn’t bend toward any definite conclusion. And yet, primary by primary, issue by issue, perhaps progressives can bend it ever so slightly toward justice once again.

Categories: Newswire

This Mother’s Day, Mexican Moms Marched for Their Disappeared Children

May 13, 2018 - 2:16pm

It’s been two months since Margarita Castillo Fuentes has hugged her son.

She’s joining, for the first time, the hundreds of mothers marching in Mexico City on Mother’s Day to demand the return of their missing children. Twenty minutes before 10:00 a.m., Margarita lines up holding a banner with an image of her son, Ángel de Jesús González Castillo, with a big question on top: “Have you seen him?”

On March 8 of this year, Ángel de Jesús González Castillo, a 20 year old with dark eyes, brown hair and a small scar on his right cheek, went out for dinner with his friend, Rubén González, in Xicotepec in Puebla state. According to Margarita, they were driving a black SUV, and suddenly they vanished.

“We haven’t had any response from the authorities,” says Rubén’s mother, Guadalupe Rangel. “In fact, we’ve asked to check the town’s CCTV cameras, the cellphones, but nothing. Nothing has happened.”

Margarita and Guadalupe are aware of the worrying security situation in Puebla, where, according to official figures, at least 1,852 people have been disappeared.

“We know many parents, many families, who are like us. Many young people are disappearing, young women too,” says Margarita. “We’ve just started organizing to gather the parents to create the collective. I am visiting them.”

Marchers say that disappearances are not isolated cases, but stem from deliberate and systemic actions by federal and state security forces, as well as members of organized crime. In its 2017/2018 report on Mexico, Amnesty International concluded, “Enforced disappearances with the involvement of the state and disappearances committed by non-state actors continued to be common and those responsible enjoyed almost absolute impunity.”

Unlike the political disappearances of the 1960s and 1970s, a period known as the Dirty War in which authorities forcibly disappeared more than 1,200 people under the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the current wave of disappearances was initially attributed to organized crime. However, as security forces were sent to confront these groups as part of the war on drugs strategy in 2006, the violence intensified and disappearances increased significantly as both sides battled for control of the territory, and authorities at every level colluded with organized crime. Earlier this year, for instance, prosecutors in the state of Veracruz affirmed that police used death squad tactics to disappear at least 15 people.

More than 34,000 people have been disappeared since the Mexican government declared the war on drug cartels, backed by the United States. The figures, however, could be higher considering that many people are still afraid of reporting the cases, and the government has repeatedly failed to investigate and properly document many cases.

Thousands of mothers whose children are missing have now become a symbol of resistance, claiming their right to know where their daughters and sons are, and defying the stereotype of mothers as passive victims. May 10, when Mexicans celebrate Mother’s Day, has become a call for justice. For the seventh consecutive year, has been marked with the March for National Dignity, and similar demonstrations held in other cities, led by hundreds of mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers.

These women have been at the helm of efforts to break the culture of silence around enforced disappearances by organizing into search collectives to exhume bodies and collect burnt human remains.

Lucy López Castruita has become an expert in finding search sites in Torreón, in the northern state of Coahuila, while her husband, Jesús Lamas, has roamed thousands of kilometers searching. They travelled more than 12 hours to walk along Paseo de la Reforma, the central boulevard in downtown Mexico City, to demand the return of their daughter, Irma Claribel Lamas, who disappeared on 2008 on her way to a party in a nearby city.

“I came because, then in my house, I’m alone,” says Lucy, leader of Asociación Internacional de Búsqueda de Desaparecidos en México (International Association of the Search for the Disappeared in Mexico), which has organized three caravans to search for the disappeared alive in hospitals and prisons, among other places.

“It hurts, the pain never goes away, but it’s good to see that we are not alone, that more people are supporting us”, she adds.

Many of the mothers and relatives have been forced to become forensic experts, lawyers and investigators due to government inaction and high levels of impunity. This puts women on the front line as advocates for truth and justice, calling to the plight of their children with courage and resilience.

Sometimes, however, this comes at great personal risk. Last year, Miriam Rodríguez Martínez, who found the remains of her missing daughter and organized families, was shot dead on Mother’s Day when gunmen burst into her home in Tamaulipas, a state on the Texas border with the highest number of disappearances registering over 5,000 missing.

Zaida Fernanda Guerra Medina, from Tamaulipas, marched with her two small children to the chant of “Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos,” or “Alive, they took them. Alive, we want them!” This scream has become the slogan of the families’ movement. The 24-year-old says she was forced to leave her home two years ago with her family after the two police officers investigating the disappearance of her brother, then 29-year-old Aldo Oliver, were killed.

“This is my first time,” Zaida says. “My mother is in Tamaulipas participating in some exhumations so I came to represent my family.”

The impact of disappearances on women is often not adequately addressed by governments. Besides the trauma of living in ambiguous loss due to the perpetual uncertainty, women face ongoing victimization after a disappearance due to the financial burden that comes with focusing extensive time and resources on the search of their loved ones. Family conflicts often arise when mothers abandon some parenting responsibilities to commit full time to their fight. Oftentimes, they even are blamed for the disappearance of their children.

As Mexico’s presidential election nears, the epidemic of disappearances and the plight of the mothers have received little attention from the candidates, whose proposed solutions are vague and null.

“What has the State done for them?” asked a manifest shared by the participant collectives. “Deny them and say that the disappearance is something of a few civilians who were involved with organized crime, denies that this tragedy is widespread and that in Mexico disappear not only men, but also women and children.”

Categories: Newswire

The GOP Wants To Open the American Dream to the Poor, By Taking Away Their Food

May 11, 2018 - 9:27pm

SNAP Out of It, GOP

Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue fears the poor are addicted to free food. “Long-term dependency has never been part of the American dream,” he wrote in an April 16 Fox News op-ed. “USDA’s goal is to help individuals and families move from SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps] back to the workforce as the best long-term solution to poverty.”

That is also the goal of the 2018 Farm Bill that GOP members of the House Agriculture Committee sent to the full House on April 12. The bill’s “Workforce Solutions” provision would mandate that millions of people on SNAP work for their benefits. In exchange for about $150 to $185 a month in SNAP dollars, recipients would be required to spend 20 hours a week working a paid job, undergoing job training or participating in a government work program, such as picking up trash along highways. People who are disabled, pregnant, under 18 or over 59, or caretakers of children under 6 or incapacitated adults would be exempted. All others who fail to get with the program would be banned from food aid.

The Congressional Budget Office calculates that from 2019 to 2028, the new bureaucracy to administer this work-to eat initiative will cost $7.7 billion, a figure offset by a projected $9.2 billion reduction in SNAP benefits.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the bill’s work requirements “would likely do substantially more harm than good, fueling increases in hunger and poverty” and “leave substantial numbers of low-income people with various barriers to employment—such as very limited skills or mental health issues like depression—with neither earnings nor food assistance.”

Republican members of the Agriculture Committee have delivered predictable tough-love sermons about how Workforce Solutions would benefit the 1 in 8 Americans who depend on SNAP. Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said the bill offers those “who struggle every week to put food on the table” an “opportunity for a better way of life.” Austin Scott (R-Ga.) said SNAP recipients will now be free to “achieve the American Dream.” Rick Allen (R-Ga.) couldn’t be happier: “The greatest joy of my life has been affording others with the opportunity to provide for their family, community and nation through gainful employment.” And Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) said the bill’s “focused accountability” sets a needed precedent: “It is imperative to require that able-bodied adults work in order to receive government assistance, not just in SNAP but all government programs.” (Indeed, on April 10, President Donald Trump signed “Reducing Poverty in America,” an executive order that gives people who get public aid, like Medicaid recipients, two choices: Work or lose your benefits.)

In addition to cutting SNAP by $9.2 billion (thereby helping the poor rise out of poverty), Reps. Conaway, Scott, Allen and Arrington are gung-ho about their farm bill for another reason. It addresses what Arrington calls an urgent “national security imperative”—America’s “fiber independence”—by filling “the gaping hole in the safety net for cotton” with $438 million in subsidies to owners of cotton plantations. Not coincidently, these congressmen represent four of the top cotton-producing congressional districts in the country. In the 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 election cycles, the four have so far filled their campaign chests with a total of $95,750 from the National Cotton Council and the Plains Cotton Growers.

Given that the Workforce Solutions program encourages public-private partnerships, it’s conceivable that, way down south in the land of cotton, SNAP beneficiaries may soon find themselves toiling in the fields of a lavishly subsidized industry with the grimmest historical associations.

Categories: Newswire

It’s Time for a Public Option in the Pharmaceutical Industry

May 11, 2018 - 8:37pm

Drug companies are among the most widely despised businesses in America. Infamous for generating incredible profits at the expense of the sick and dying while leveraging their enormous economic power to evade regulations (to say nothing of their role in the opioid epidemic), they are often seen as a textbook profiteer. Already, many Americans report not filling prescriptions, cutting pills in half or skipping doses due to costs. In the world’s most expensive healthcare system, more than 10 percent of total healthcare costs and 21 percent of employer healthcare benefits are attributed to pharmaceuticals. Research shows that “drug spending is growing faster than any other part of the health care dollar.”

During Friday’s long-awaited speech on drug prices, President Trump blamed “foreign freeloaders”, the drug lobby and “middlemen” for rising prices, promising once again to put American patients first. However, experts predict the plan—which focuses on private sector competition and negotiation—will have little effect on the industry or its practices.

In many cases, the profits extracted by drug companies represent a form of double-taxation, given that public funding underpins pharmaceutical research and development (R&D). For instance, publicly-funded research contributed to the development of the cholesterol-lowering medication Crestor. Yet, U.S. taxpayers spent billions more (either out of pocket, through rising insurance premiums or through Medicare or Medicaid) to take the drug at marked up prices while Pharma giant AstraZeneca pulled in over $16 billion in profits on Crestor alone over a three-year period.

And that’s not all. We pay a third time when we lose revenue through tax breaks and loopholes that allow pharmaceutical companies to market their drugs to us tax-free and operate vast networks of off-shore subsidiaries to avoid paying taxes.

In this context, and with increasing pressure to keep healthcare costs down as the population gets older, isn’t it time to consider a public option in the pharmaceutical sector? 

Why we need a public option

The pharmaceutical industry often defends the exorbitant and rising prices of drugs by citing the high cost of R&D. However, a 2017 study from the Institute for New Economic Thinking revealed that over the ten-year period studied, the top 18 U.S. pharmaceutical companies spent more on share buybacks and dividends than R&D. Drug marketing—which is outlawed in all but one other country in the world—also accounts for more pharmaceutical company spending than R&D. And pharmaceutical companies spend big on lobbying in Washington—more than any other industry in 2017—helping to assure victories like the 2003 Medicare Part D legislation which banned the government from negotiating drug prices for covered medications, resulting in billions of dollars in extra profit for the industry.

Research has shown that about 75 percent of new drugs (those that are not just variations of existing medications) are developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health. Other federal and state agencies also support critical research that leads to breakthrough drug developments. Examples include the Department of Defense’s contribution to the development of the prostate cancer drug Xtandi, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s investment in stem-cell research, and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Government-funded research is also heavily weighted towards the early, riskiest stages of drug development. A 2011 study, for instance, showed that almost two-thirds of the FDA’s “priority review drugs” (new drugs expected to have a particularly great impact on disease treatment) approved from 1988 to 2005 benefitted from such government-funded basic research. More recently, a National Academy of Sciences study showed that each and every one of the 210 drugs approved by the FDA between 2010 and 2016 benefitted from NIH-funded basic research.

The U.S. pharmaceutical industry is highly dependent on the government in other ways as well, through patent protection, restrictions on imports of lower-priced drugs and limits on drug resales. Without this degree of support, it is hard to imagine how drug companies could consistently rake in their record-breaking profits.

Free-marketeers often argue that if the government would just withdraw entirely, a perfectly functioning competitive market would emerge and drugs would be supplied by for-profit companies at a cost that consumers would be willing to pay. But in real-life, market allocation is not nearly as clean and straightforward as it is the minds of free-market economists. It is messy, gritty, and in a sector as critical to human existence as healthcare, has life and death implications. In addition to ample evidence of fraud, market manipulation, price fixing, cartels, consolidation, and anti-competitive behavior, the pharmaceutical industry already provides an excellent example of market failure.

If the industry achieved an efficient allocation of goods, one wouldn’t expect to see so many medications on the Food and Drug Administration’s drug shortage list which, as of this writing, includes 96 pharmaceuticals from pain relievers to antibiotics, anesthetics, and chemotherapy drugs.

There are more than 180 off-patent drugs with no generic equivalent on the market (as of March 2017). This often occurs only because no company ever applies for the rights to produce one, deeming the profit margins too low. As Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote in 2007: “It is a matter of simple economics: companies direct their research where the money is, regardless of the relative value to society. The poor can’t pay for drugs, so there is little research on their diseases.”

A Potemkin market

As a capital-intensive industry of strategic importance which has not been able to efficiently allocate goods to meet the needs of society, the pharmaceutical industry is a prime candidate for a public option. Simply put, there is an argument to be made that pharmaceuticals are a Potemkin (fake) market which only exists (or is profitable) due to massive public support—and for a variety or moral and economic reasons the development of life saving or critical drugs (at a minimum) should be taken out of “the market” completely.

Publicly owned pharmaceutical companies exist in several countries around the world including Sweden, Cuba, South Africa and Brazil. Sweden’s Apoteket AB (a pharmacy chain and drug producer), for instance, is a highly successful enterprise that in 2015 returned a dividend of approximately $133.5 million to its sole owner—the Swedish state. Cuba’s entirely public pharmaceutical industry is known for its innovations, including the world’s first cancer vaccine, currently in clinical trials for use in the United States. It holds over 1,200 international patents, supplies most of the medications needed internally and markets to more than 50 other countries, generating as much as $700 million in annual revenue.

Public ownership is already much more prevalent and widely accepted in the United States than most realize. Electric and water utilities, ports and airports, transit systems, land, broadband internet networks, and shares of thousands of companies through public pension and sovereign wealth funds are all under public control.

Pharmaceuticals are a profitable industry, but a more comprehensive measure of financial success would look beyond the balance sheet and take into account the direct and indirect economic and social benefits of providing cheaper, more widely accessible life-saving, life-improving, or life-extending drugs such as fewer long-term hospitalizations, a more healthy and productive work force and increased life expectancy. Given these indirect benefits, publicly owned pharmaceutical companies could even operate at or below cost. 

Drugs for the public good

As public entities, these pharmaceutical companies would be charged with serving the public good and could be tasked with developing drugs based on need, rather than projected profits. They could be intentionally linked to the existing network of publicly-funded research facilities and any profit they did make could be funneled back into R&D, used to off-set the cost of drugs that are more expensive to produce, or invested in “upstream” public health interventions and social services that have been proven to improve health outcomes.

They could focus on public-health related priorities like vaccines, medications that appear on the FDA’s drug shortage list and treatments for neglected diseases. They could also ensure that generic equivalents were available for off-patent drugs critical to public health. State or regional public companies could even be tasked to produce low cost drugs that match the unique health needs of area residents. For instance, areas with booming elderly populations could focus on producing drugs that are regularly used by seniors.

A public option in the pharmaceutical industry would undoubtedly be assailed by free-marketeers, but it actually represents something of a middle of the road approach between a complete government withdraw from the industry on the one hand and the crony capitalist approach of double taxation and the subsidization of corporate profits on the other. A public option would likely prove popular, given that for many Americans the prospect of lower costs and increased access is probably more important than the ownership structure of the companies providing the drugs. 

It is well-known that the United States has by far one of the most expensive health systems in the developed world yet delivers relatively poor outcomes across a host of indicators. While in recent years policy makers at all levels have begun to focus on our unique (and some would say irrational) method of providing and paying for healthcare, the role of the pharmaceutical industry is no less important.

Given the industry’s reliance on public support in a variety of forms, it is possible to begin to think through how that support can be directed into alternative approaches and designs that may deliver better long-term results for both consumers and society more broadly. The time has come for a public option for pharmaceuticals.

Categories: Newswire

Is Your Job Bullshit? David Graeber on Capitalism’s Endless Busywork

May 10, 2018 - 10:25pm

David Graeber had a hypothesis. The anthropologist grew up working-class in New York, and while his scholarship garnered accolades, he’s never felt at home in the world of academia. From his time as a professor at Yale (ended prematurely, he believes, due to his anarchist activism) to his current gig at the London School of Economics, he kept running into professional managers who didn’t seem to do much. Over drinks, some confessed they actually didn’t do much; they spent a few hours a week working and the rest browsing cat memes.

Graeber developed a suspicion that this was rather common and, in 2013, wrote an essay for Strike! magazine, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” It was just a hypothesis—halfway a joke—but the piece was translated into at least a dozen languages and reprinted all over the internet, where it elicited floods of comments from people saying: “I have a bullshit job.”

A subsequent YouGov survey found that 37 percent of British workers believe their job makes no “meaningful contribution to the world”—more than Graeber expected. So, he dug deeper, soliciting testimonials and researching the political, cultural and economic structures that encourage millions of people to effectively waste 40 hours a week. The result is Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, a playful and provocative take on what he calls “a scar across our collective soul.” In These Times spoke to Graeber about the jobs problem, its causes and the future of capitalism.

How did you determine what counts as a “bullshit job”?

DG: I’m not going to tell anyone who thinks their job is meaningful and important that it isn’t. People weren’t saying, “I market selfie sticks, selfie sticks are stupid, that’s a bullshit job.” They assumed that, if someone actually wants something, then it’s not bullshit. They weren’t judgmental about consumer taste.

A bullshit job is a job that the person doing it believes is pointless, and if the job didn’t exist it would either make no difference whatsoever or it would make the world a better place.

The existence of bullshit jobs seems to cut against the idea that capitalism is efficient and squeezes labor. 

DG: Capitalism treats blue-collar and white-collar wage earners differently than salary earners. Since the 1980s, anybody who has a non-bullshit job, who is doing actual work, has seen their work downsized, sped up and Taylorized.

Simultaneously, capitalism has produced endless bullshit white-collar jobs, which are designed to make you identify with the sensibilities of managers. I call this managerial feudalism, whereby they keep adding more and more and more levels of intermediary executives. If you’re an executive you need to have an assistant or else you’re not important, so they hire these flunkies. It has to do with power, really.

It screws up the creative industries. Movies have seven different levels of executives, who all have these complicated titles. They all fuck with the script and everything turns into mush. People point out this is why movies are so bad now.

In universities, you have this managerial class that’s taken over from the professors. They don’t know what the hell professors do. The more distant the managers are from what they’re managing, the more numbers they need because they don’t understand teaching themselves, and as a result we professors have to spend a larger and larger percentage of our time translating our activities into these quantitative terms that they set out.

You would think that somebody would raise an objection to this. It’s quite remarkable actually how you have something that’s such a glaring contradiction in the basic ideology of capitalism and nobody talks about it.

Why else have bullshit jobs been increasing? 

DG: There is this rise-of-the-robots logic, this fear that gradually technology is going to throw more and more people out of work. People say, “Look, it hasn’t happened.” 

I think it did happen, but they made up these imaginary jobs to keep us working anyway, because we have an irrational economy that makes people work eight hours whether or not there’s anything to do. Can you have a surer sign of a stupid economic system than one in which the prospect of getting rid of onerous labor is considered a problem? Any rational economic system would redistribute the necessary work in a reasonable way and everybody would work less.

It's striking how much people report hating their bullshit job. 

DG:  They’re miserable! Two or three people said they kind of like their bullshit jobs, but the overwhelming majority, they’re sick all the time. They talk about depression, they talk about complex illnesses, psychological and physical and immune problems that all clearly have to do with tension and anxiety and depression.

And also they’re mean to each other. They scream at each other. The more meaningless the work, the more people suffer doing it and the worse they treat each other.

Does this unhappiness indicate something more fundamental? 

DG: Psychologist Karl Groos used this phrase, and it always struck me, “the pleasure of being a cause.” When children first realize that when they knock something over, they can do it again in the same way and it will have the same result, there is a kind of pure joy and happiness. This becomes the basis of your sense of agency and sense of self for the rest of your life.

When you deprive children of that agency, they almost feel catatonic. That shows we are creatures who need projects of transforming the world around us. If we can’t do that, we hardly exist.

So this theory of human nature promulgated by economists and right-wing politicians that people basically want something for nothing—that if you just give them money they’re going to laze around and watch TV and get drunk all day—it’s not true.

What are some of the ways out?
DG: 
I’ve been working with people who’ve become big advocates for a universal basic income. It’s not the only solution, but it conforms with my political instincts. People think that is odd because I’m an anarchist. Why would I want a policy where the government would just give people money? Isn’t that giving power to the government? I say, no.

A basic income would be the perfect leftist antibureaucratic policy. It would not only reduce the number of bureaucrats, but it would get rid of the worst of them, the annoying ones who decide whether you’re really poor enough to deserve this, or whether you’re really married to that person or whether you really live in that room. 

Besides, they’re unhappy, those intrusive bureaucrats about whom you wonder, “How can they live with themselves?” Well a lot of them can’t. Those guys would be off the hook. They could go form a rock band or restore antique furniture or do something nice.

What drew you to explore bullshit jobs? 

DG: I have tended to focus on the ideological strong points of the other side. That’s what my book Debt: The First 5,000 Years came out of— most people think that people who owe money and don’t pay it back are bad. With bullshit jobs, there is the idea that if you’re not working hard at something you don’t enjoy, then you’re a bad person and don’t deserve public relief. Those deeply rooted beliefs are the strongest weapons capitalism has.

The anthropologist’s role is to take things that seem natural and point out that they’re not, that they’re social constructs and that we could easily do things another way. It’s inherently liberating.

Your explanation suggest capitalism is a less totalizing system than some might think. 

DG: It’s rapidly transforming into something that might not even be capitalism, though it might be just as bad. When we think of something as totalizing, we assume that to get from one totalizing thing to another you need some kind of fundamental break. But historical change tends to be somewhat gradual and complicated. At what point does the other stuff mixed in with capitalism mean it’s not even capitalism anymore?

I remember having this argument with conventional Marxists about the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Okay, say that capitalism started around 1500. And the Marxists insist that capitalism is organized around wage labor. But wage labor was marginal until the industrial revolution, around 1750. How can you say that wage labor is central to capitalism if, for 250 years, it was a tiny element? 

And of course the Marxist will say, “Well you’re not thinking dialectically. From 1500 to 1750, people were in a process that was going to lead to wage labor, they just didn’t realize it yet.” And I realized, wait a minute, if that’s the case, how do we know that we are even in capitalism now? Maybe we are already 100 years into a process leading us to something and we don’t even know what it is. By that logic, capitalism could have ended in like 1950, and we’ll only fully know what replaced it in 2175.

Categories: Newswire

How Russia-Obsessed Democrats Set the Stage for Trump’s Disastrous Violation of the Iran Deal

May 9, 2018 - 7:37pm

Leading Democrats have consistently pegged their anti-Trump “resistance” to a more confrontational stance toward Russia—and bundled this demand with a push for greater escalation against Iran. Now, the danger of this strategy is undeniable: These same Democrats helped set the stage for Trump’s disastrous "withdrawal" on Tuesday from the nuclear deal with Iran—and are playing a meaningful role in pushing U.S. foreign policy to the right.

Under the 2015 Iran deal, the United States ostensibly loosened sanctions in exchange for an agreement by Iran to roll back its nuclear program (Iran did not have an active nuclear weapons program). Trump’s withdrawal puts the United States and its allies on course for further military confrontation with Iran and its allies—and forces ordinary Iranians to suffer the consequences of devastating sanctions, including medicine shortages and food insecurity. 

Every single Democrat in Congress had a hand in creating the political climate for Tuesday’s developments. Last summer, nearly the entire House and Senate voted in favor of legislation that grouped together sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea. The final version of the bipartisan legislation materialized after sanctions against Russia were tacked onto an existing Iran bill in a measure introduced by Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Steny Hoyer (D-N.Y.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). 

The only “no” votes on the House version—H.R. 3364: Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act—came from the isolationist Libertarian-leaning Republican wing: Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). An anti-war front rooted in solidarity with the people of Iran, Russia and North Korea was nowhere to be found. Even Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who built her name on her courageous stand against war in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, voted for the bill.

Days later, on July 27, the Senate passed the same bill in a 98-2 vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was the only lawmaker in Congress who caucuses with the Democrats to issue a “no” vote. Democrats showed they were willing to risk destroying the Iran agreement in an attempt to punish Moscow.

Obama’s former Secretary of State John Kerry warned at the time that the new sanctions ran the risk of upending the Iran deal. At a fundraiser in San Francisco last June, Kerry said, “If we become super provocative in ways that show the Iranian people there has been no advantage to this, that there is no gain, and our bellicosity is pushing them into a corner, that’s dangerous and that could bring a very different result.”

Democrats explicitly cited Russia when supporting the bill. Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Intercept reporters Alex Emmons and Ryan Grim last July: “I just looked at the sanctions, and it’s very hard, in view of what we know just happened in this last election, not to move ahead with [sanctions].”

At the time, Sanders was harshly criticized for his “no” vote. Adam Parkhomenko, who served as a former aide to Hillary Clinton and founded the Ready for Hillary PAC, said on Twitter last July: “Feel the Bern? Bernie Sanders voted against Russian sanctions today. 98 Senators voted for Russian sanctions today. Sanders voted the same way anyone with the last name Trump would vote if they were in the Senate. No excuses ― stop making them for him.”

With near unanimous support from Congress, Trump signed the sanctions bill into law in August. 

After Trump announced on Tuesday that the United States would pull out from the Iran deal, the same leading Democrats who voted for sanctions in 2017 immediately criticized his decision. Pelosi called it a “sad day” and ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Bob Menendez—who authored the sanctions bill—called withdrawal a “huge mistake.” Sen. Dick Durbin took Menendez’ assessment one step further, declaring it a "mistake of historic proportions." Even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—who voted to block the Iran deal—said there wasn’t any reason for the United States to violate the agreement. "There are no reports that Iran has violated the agreement,” Schumer told reporters.

Schumer is correct about Iran not violating the agreement, but—according to Iran—the United States had already effectively violated it last summer when Schumer and the vast majority of congress voted for the new sanctions. “In our view the nuclear deal has been violated and we will show an appropriate and proportional reaction to this issue,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said in an interview after the sanctions passed.

While most Democrats claim they support the Iran deal despite their reckless pro-sanctions votes, Schumer is among the four Senate Democrats who voted in favor of a Republican-backed bill that would have blocked the deal, along withJoe Manchin (D-W.V.), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). In the House, 25 Democrats opposed the agreement in 2015.

"I have looked into my own soul and my devotion to principle may once again lead me to an unpopular course, but if Iran is to acquire a nuclear bomb, it will not have my name on it,” said Sen. Menendez at the time. “It is for these reasons that I will vote to disapprove the agreement and, if called upon, would vote to override a veto."

Now, Democrats who voted for sanctions—or outright opposed the Iran deal—are loudly condemning Trump for withdrawing from the accord. Missing from this discussion is a sober assessment of how Democrats’ push for sanctions and escalation—emboldened by the myopic focus on Russiagate—undermined the Iran deal and created political momentum for Trump’s disastrous decision. Regardless of what one thinks about the motives and scope of Russian influence operations—or their leverage over the Trump administration—the net effect of Democrats’ overwhelming focus on Russia for two years is undeniable: an increase of tensions with Russia and, by extension, its biggest strategic ally in the Middle East—Iran.

There is reason to be concerned that, by killing the deal, the Trump administration is paving the way for military conflict with Iran. Shortly after the president’s press conference on Tuesday, National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters that such speculation was a mistake. However just last year, Bolton told members of the militant Iranian-exile cult the MEK that they will overthrow Iran’s government and celebrate in Tehran “before 2019.

If this push for war grows louder, it’s hard to envision Democrats doing much resisting.

Categories: Newswire

What the Deployment of Green Berets to the Saudi-Yemen Border Tells Us About America’s Dirty War

May 7, 2018 - 6:33pm

The U.S. government has long sought to distance itself from the morally inexcusable war on Yemen—but this public relations effort is even more difficult after The New York Times reported on May 3 that, in December of last year, U.S. Special Forces (commonly known as the Green Berets) deployed to Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen. Though Saudi Arabia and the UAE are occupying parts of Yemen, the countries rely on YemeniLatin AmericanSudaneseBlackwater and even al-Qaeda mercenaries to fight on the ground. Mercenaries also include former U.S. Military officer Stephen Toumajan, who commands the UAE’s military helicopter branch. The Saudi-Yemeni border, on the other hand, represents the only front where Yemeni and Saudi soldiers are engaged in direct on-the-ground combat. By placing American special forces at the Saudi-Yemeni border, the United States is engaged in direct combat with Yemen’s Houthis.

Not only does this reality contradict the Pentagon’s previous statements about its involvement in Yemen, it also brings into question the U.S. government’s intended goals. Is the U.S. military so committed to achieving Saudi Arabia’s mission to regain control of Yemen that it is willing to risk American lives? Alternatively, if the U.S. is advising and training soldiers, repairing and refueling aircraft, patrolling Yemeni waters alongside Saudi Arabia and now fighting Yemenis on the ground, is it really just Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen?

Following the latest revelations of the increased U.S. role in Yemen, Sen. Bernie Sanders announced he would seek “further clarification on these activities,” while Rep. Mark Pocan urged Congress to “stop this secret, unconstitutional war.” Yet members of Congress ought to consider that this has always been America’s war—from the very beginning.

Under the pretense of restoring Yemen’s United Nations-recognized president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power and curtailing Iran’s supposed influence in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition—including the United States—launched a brutal military campaign on March 26, 2015. Arms dealers across the world rushed to capitalize on a golden opportunity: customers with deep pockets. 

Despite purchasing the latest “smart” bombs that, in theory, should minimize civilian casualties, the Saudi-led coalition continues to kill staggering numbers of civilians in Yemen. These include indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure that have led to the collapse of the health, economic and educational sectors in Yemen. Recently, airstrikes targeted a wedding party that left the bride and 32 others dead, while the injured endured an hour-long journey to the nearest Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital using donkeys. Saudi Arabia and its allies are also using starvation as a weapon by imposing a land air and sea blockade that keeps food and medicines out, while trapping people in. Despite committing apparent war crimes in Yemen, they continue to be assisted militarily by members of the international community.

Countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States continue to sell billions of dollars' worth of arms to the Saudi-led coalition despite warnings from human rights groups about their use against Yemeni civilians. But immoral as they are, selling weapons to warring parties does not in itself constitute the seller’s military entanglement in the buyer’s war. In this regard, however, the United States distinguishes itself from most countries not officially in the Saudi-led coalition. As we enter the fourth year of the war on Yemen, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the United States is, in fact, at war with Yemen. 

Without first seeking congressional approval, the United States launched into action alongside the Saudis, offering logistical support and training to the Saudi military. Specifically, the U.S. Army trains Saudi soldiers, advises military personnel, and helps maintain, repair and update vehicles and aircraft sold to the Saudis. The U.S. Army also refuels Saudi aircraft mid-air in Yemeni airspace. This support is not without compensation: The U.S. Army boasts123 contracts in Saudi Arabia totaling more than $120 million per month. 

This level of involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen prompted members of Congress to invoke the War Powers Resolution twice since October 2017—once in the House and once more in the Senate—to challenge the unauthorized U.S. role in Yemen. The House measure (H.Con.Res.81) was stripped of its privileged status and was therefore not granted a vote in Congress. The Senate bill (S.J.Res.54), introduced by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), fared better in that it was not stripped of its status. However, rather than voting to extricate the United States from hostilities in Yemen, Senators instead voted to table the bill. The extent of U.S. support to the Saudi-led Coalition, however, continues to be uncovered.

As the U.S. Congress fails to take responsibility for withdrawing U.S. support from the Saudi-led war, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis continues to unfold in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. With more than 80 percent of the population in need of humanitarian aid, most Yemenis are unable to find food, water, medicine, fuel and other basic necessities of life. While some reports indicate at least 10,000 civilians have been killed in the war, a less-reported figure is the death of 113,000 children—63,000 in 2016 and another 50,000 in 2017—whose lives were cut short due to malnutrition and preventable diseases such as cholera. The crisis in Yemen is the direct result of a three-year bombing campaign and blockade imposed on Yemen by U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. As Yemen’s wealthiest neighbors continue to destroy it, the United States has responded by secretly increasing its military role.

U.S. lawmakers—and the American people—must not ignore this role any longer.

Categories: Newswire

Say It Ain’t Joe: Why Anointing Biden for 2020 Is a Terrible Idea

May 7, 2018 - 3:00pm

The Democrats lost about 1,000 seats in state legislatures over the course of the Obama years. In 2016, they lost the presidency to a cartoonishly racist and widely despised reality television personality. Something hasn’t been working for the brand. This appears lost on the sector of the party that hopes to woo voters in 2020 with the same old centrist agenda. This time, it’s dressed up in the down-home package of Joe Biden— “Middle-Class Joe,” as he calls himself.

At The Democratic Strategist (a website managed by Ed Kilgore, former vice president for policy at the corporate-oriented Democratic Leadership Council), a post argues that Biden’s March visit to Pennsylvania, in which he stumped for House Democratic candidate Conor Lamb, “amped up the buzz for Biden’s possible 2020 campaign, and provided Democrats with an eloquent, heartfelt rhetorical template for appealing to white working–class voters.”

“I think he should run,” said MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in November 2017. “The blue-collar roots are key. … [The Democrats have] lost the working-class whites … and they’ve got to get them back.”

But is “Middle-Class Joe” the candidate on which Dems should hitch their wagon? Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden presided over Clarence Thomas’ 1991 Senate confirmation hearing. He and the 14 other white men on that committee treated Anita Hill’s testimony about sexual harassment with skepticism and hostility. In a 2014 interview with the Huffington Post, Hill said Biden did “a disservice to [her, and] a disservice, more importantly, to the public” by failing to call three corroborating witnesses. Biden has since expressed belated regret.

Biden was the principal author of the 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act. Yes, the law temporarily banned assault weapons and included the Violence Against Women Act, but it also introduced the “Three Strikes, You’re Out” provision into federal law, allocated billions toward prisons, created dozens of new death penalty offenses and barred people in prison from receiving Pell Grants to pursue a college degree. In October 2014, Bill Clinton admitted the law was too harsh. But Biden, in April 2016, said he’s “not at all” ashamed of the bill.

Biden voted for NAFTA in 1993 and the Iraq War in 2003. In 2007, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in Iowa, he called the Iraq vote “a mistake.” Oops.

Biden championed the oxymoronic Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. This law stripped consumers of bankruptcy protections while deregulating credit card issuers. At the time, the largest such company was MBNA—also one of Biden’s largest donors.

An indication of what a Biden White House might look like can be gleaned from looking at the 30 members on the advisory board of the Biden Institute, a policy outfit established last year at the University of Delaware. They include four people who have worked for hedge funds, three as bank executives, two as corporate consultants and one as the former CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council.

It is little wonder, then, that of the six people considered the most likely 2020 Democratic presidential contenders—Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Biden—only “Middle-Class Joe” does not support single-payer healthcare.

At long last, the Democrats are poised to make big gains in the coming electoral cycles. Will they allow for a healthy, open, contested presidential primary process, or will the establishment close ranks around the insiders’ 2020 favorite? Will they take advantage of the favorable political winds, or will they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and nominate Joe Biden?

Categories: Newswire

Howard Zinn on How Karl Marx Predicted Our World Today

May 4, 2018 - 6:29pm

In the September 2000 issue of In These Times, Howard Zinn wrote this review of a book about the life of Karl Marx by Francis Wheen. On the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth, we present Zinn’s review in full, in which he discusses how “Marx predicted the world of today, with ever increasing concentrations of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, with capitalism roaming the globe in search of profits, with a deepening contradiction between the colossal growth of production and the failure to distribute its fruits justly.”

It takes some courage to write still another biography of Karl Marx, especially if the writer has dared to go through the 40 volumes of his writings and his correspondence. Francis Wheen seems to have done that research scrupulously, open to both colorful stories and thunderous ideas.

The time is right for a new appraisal of Marx because ignoramuses and shitheads (the spellcheck on my computer rejected this, suggesting instead "hotheads, catheads, whiteheads, skinheads") on all parts of the ideological spectrum have distorted his ideas in ridiculous ways. Forgive me, but I want to give you the flavor of Marx's personality, which included frequent insults directed at those, whether bourgeois or left intellectuals, who drove him to distraction by disagreeing with him—not, I agree, an admirable trait, but we must be honest about people we otherwise admire.

Marx has been stupidly (there, I've caught the virus of virulence again) linked with Stalin, by both Stalinists and apologists for capitalism. So this is a good time to set the record straight. The reviewer of Wheen's book in the New York Times Book Review seemed to think that the lack of Marxists in departments of economics, history and philosophy is somehow proof of the inadequacy of Marx's theories and, absurdly, wonders "why the rest of us should bother with Marx's ideas now that the Berlin Wall has fallen."

Wheen lets you know immediately where he stands on this matter: "Only a fool could hold Marx responsible for the Gulag; but there is, alas, a ready supply of fools." Marx "would have been appalled by the crimes committed in his name." He has been "calamitously misinterpreted." And the misinterpretation has been bipartisan, as "all these bloody blemishes on the history of the 20th century were justified in the name of Marxism or anti-Marxism."

This is a worthy enterprise, to distinguish Marx himself from the actions of the so-called Marxists (who led an exasperated Marx at one time to say: "I am not a Marxist."), as well as to keep alive his still-accurate critique of capitalism.

Wheen provides a colorful romp through Marx's life. Marx grew up in a middle-class German family, with rabbi ancestors on both sides, but his father converted to Christianity for practical reasons. (Karl in fact was baptized at the age of six.) At 18 he was engaged to the beautiful Jenny von Westphalen, whose aristocratic family admired the young Karl for his remarkable intellect, and whose father took long walks with him, reciting Homer and Shakespeare.

Marx studied first at the University of Bonn and then the University of Berlin, as a rather wild and fun-loving student even while seriously pursuing the teachings of Hegel and writing a doctoral dissertation on Greek philosophy. His thesis, comparing the ideas of Democritus and Epicurus, is a ringing declaration of freedom from false authority, insisting that the true purpose of philosophy was to deny "all gods of heaven and earth who do not recognize man's self-consciousness was the highest divinity."

Hegel also saw the historical development of man's self-consciousness as the human march toward freedom. But Marx was soon to go beyond that, to turn Hegel "on his head," to see freedom as requiring, not simply a change in consciousness, but a revolutionary change in the material conditions of life. Early on, Marx's extraordinary intellectual power was evident. His friend Moses Hess said that Marx "combines the deepest philosophical seriousness with the most biting wit. Imagine Rousseau, Voltaire, Holbach, Lessing, Heine and Hegel fused into one man, and you have Dr. Marx."

Marx was 24 when he moved to Cologne, as editor of the Rheinische Zeitung. He soon began challenging the sacred laws of private property, denouncing the arrest of peasants who were using firewood from private forests, and writing editorials against the Prussian censors. What can be more infuriating to censors than to rail against censorship? They castigated the Zeitung for "impudent and disrespectful criticism of the existing government institutions." And proved it right by shutting it down.

Wheen enjoys showing the inanity of Marx's detractors, as when they reduce his complex view of religion to unconditional hostility, quoting repeatedly his statement that religion is "the opium of the people." The full quotation, from his 1843 essay, "Toward a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right," shows a more nuanced and sympathetic understanding of the social role of religion: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions, it is the opium of the people."

Driven from Germany, Marx went to Paris, where he and Jenny found a little flat on the Left Bank, and where their first child, Jennichen, was born in 1844. It was in the cafes of Paris that Marx met an extraordinary group of other young radicals: Proudhon ("property is theft"); Heine, the brilliant poet; Bakunin, the wild man of anarchism and spontaneous revolution; Stirner, the supreme individualist; and, most important of all, Frederick Engels.

Engels was two years younger than Marx, but already more aware of class oppression and class struggle, having witnessed a general strike in Manchester, England, where his father owned textile mills. In 1845, at 25, Engels would write eloquently and powerfully of working-class lives in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England. He described one Manchester slum as follows: "Masses of refuse, offal and sickening filth lie among standing pools in all directions; the atmosphere is poisoned by the effluvia from these, and laden and darkened by the smoke of a dozen tall factory chimneys. A horde of ragged women and children swarm about here."

Marx and Engels, meeting for the first time in August of 1844 in the Cafe de la Regence (Voltaire, Diderot and Benjamin Franklin were among its famous patrons), hit it off from the start, intellectually and personally. Engels then visited Marx's flat, and there followed 10 days of intense and wide-ranging discussion, which Wheen, seeing this as the beginning of an extraordinary relationship, with immense historical significance, calls "ten days that shook the world."

It was in Paris, at the age of 26, that Marx wrote his famous "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts," which remained unpublished until the 1930s, but which contain some of his most profound ideas. The central concept was alienation, but Marx saw the source of this alienation not as a problem of consciousness, as Hegel put it, but in the material conditions of capitalist society. Under capitalism, human beings led a nonhuman existence, being alienated from their work, from the product of their labor, from one another, from nature, from their own true selves. The solution was not in the realm of ideas, but in action to overturn these conditions.

Driven from Paris, Marx met Engels again in Brussels, and, commissioned by the Communist League of London, they (mostly Marx, it seems) fashioned one of the most influential documents of modern history, The Communist Manifesto. It appeared in French just before the 1848 revolution. The first English edition, in 1850, started with the sentence: "A frightful hobgoblin stalks through Europe." In the 1888 translation that became: "A spectre is haunting Europe— the spectre of Communism."

The Manifesto demolished the idea that capitalism was a natural and eternal condition. It was a stage in history, which came out of feudalism and would give way to a more humane society. Capitalism brought about an enormous development in technology and production: "The bourgeoisie has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together." But workers were now nothing more than commodities, their lives subject to the domination of the market. And as capitalism becomes more and more obviously inadequate to control its own enormous growth, the working class will become the instrument for its replacement.

As workers become "a ruling class," representing the vast majority of the nation, they will sweep away the conditions for the existence of all classes, "and will therefore have abolished its own supremacy as a class." The climactic sentence of the first part of the Manifesto is profoundly important, repudiating any notion of a police state, and insisting on the ultimate goal of individual freedom: "In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."

Expelled from the continent and finding refuge finally in London, Marx labored for years in the library of the British Museum on his epic work, Capital. All this, while living with Jenny in the miserable conditions of Soho, and grieving as three of their children, two boys and a girl, died in the first years of life. Two girls, their first-born Jennichen and Laura, had survived, and a third, Eleanor, was born in London. (Eleanor was a remarkable child, politically precocious at the age of 8; Yvonne Kapp's two-volume biography of Eleanor Marx is a wonderful description of the life of the Marx family in London.)

Wheen is unsparing in his depiction of Marx's nastiness, directed against Ferdinand Lassalle (including anti-Semitic barbs, although anti-Semitism was not part of Marx's philosophy or political behavior), Proudhon and other intellectuals of the left. He was unmoved by Proudhon's plea that they should not become "the leaders of a new intolerance" and responded caustically to Proudhon's The Philosophy of Poverty with his own diatribe, The Poverty of Philosophy. He referred to another refugee from the 1848 revolution in Germany, one August Willich, as "an uneducated, four times-cuckolded jackass." Willich challenged him to a duel, which he wisely declined.

Yet Wheen also recognizes that Marx was a loving husband and deeply affectionate father who, despite being unable to pay bills and depending on Engels for financial support, bought a piano for his daughters and sent them to the seashore to get them away from the rancid air of Soho. He read Dante, Shakespeare and Cervantes to Eleanor, whose love and devotion to him were expressed throughout her life. His enemies may have seen him differently, but her father, Eleanor said, was "the cheeriest, gayest soul that ever breathed, a man brimming over with humor."

It is to Wheen's credit that, despite his sometimes obsessive attention to the comic elements in Marx's life, he treats the man's ideas with great respect. He doesn't insist that Marx's analysis in Capital is flawless, but sees it as "a work of the imagination," its purpose "an ironic one, juxtaposed with grim, well-documented portraits of the misery and filth which capitalist laws create in practice."

He points out how Marx predicted the world of today, with ever increasing concentrations of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, with capitalism roaming the globe in search of profits, with a deepening contradiction between the colossal growth of production and the failure to distribute its fruits justly. Wheen says that "the more I studied Marx, the more astoundingly topical he seemed to be."

Those who would doubt Marx's commitment to a truly democratic society should study his eloquent (second in literary brilliance only to his The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte) description of the 1871 Paris Commune. The Commune abolished rents and debts, equalized wages, hailed culture and education, made leaders subject to immediate recall by the people, destroyed the guillotine. Women played a crucial role in all of its activities (see Gay Gullickson, The Unruly Women of Paris). It was, Marx said, "the most glorious achievement of our time."

Categories: Newswire

Congress Wants to Give Trump a Bipartisan Blank Check for Declaring War

May 3, 2018 - 6:49pm

It may be too late. The president of the United States is now a veritable autocrat in the realm of foreign policy. He has been since at least 1945, when the last congressionally declared war finally ended. Wars in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen (among other places) were all waged via executive fiat or feeble, open-ended congressional authorizations for the use of military force, aka AUMFs. So it has been with increasing intensity for 73 years and so, most likely, it will remain.

Along with many others, this military officer has repeatedly decried the no-longer-new normal of congressional acquiescence to presidential power to no avail. When, in September 2017, Republican Senator Rand Paul sought to repeal (and replace within six months) the existing 2001 AUMF, which had authorized the president to use force against the perpetrators and enablers of the 9/11 attacks, he could barely muster 35 votes. Given that any president, Republican or Democrat, would veto such a curtailment of the essentially unlimited executive prerogative to make war, that’s still some 32 votes short of a Senate override. In hopelessly divided Washington, that’s the definition of impossibility.

Fear not, two brave “centrist” senators, Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Tim Kaine, are riding to the rescue. Their recently announced bill to repeal and replace the existing AUMF promises to right seven decades of wrong and “establish rigorous congressional oversight,” “improve transparency,” and ensure “regular congressional review and debate.”

In reality, it would do none of those things. Though Senator Kaine gave a resounding speech in which he admitted that “for too long Congress has given presidents a blank check to wage war,” his bill would not stanch that power. Were it ever to pass, it would prove to be just another blank check for the war-making acts of Donald Trump and his successors.

Though there have certainly been many critiques of their piece of legislation, most miss the larger point: the Corker-Kaine bill would put a final congressional stamp of approval on the inversion of the war-making process that, over the last three-quarters of a century, has become a de facto constitutional reality. The men who wrote the Constitution meant to make the declaration of war a supremely difficult act, since both houses of Congress needed to agree and, in case of presidential disagreement, to be able to muster a supermajority to override a veto.

The Corker-Kaine bill would institutionalize the inverse of that. It would essentially rubber stamp the president’s authority, for instance, to continue the ongoing shooting wars in at least seven countries where the U.S. is currently dropping bombs or firing off other munitions. Worse yet, it provides a mechanism for the president to declare nearly any future group an “associated force” or “successor force” linked to one of America’s current foes and so ensure that Washington’s nearly 17-year-old set of forever wars can go on into eternity without further congressional approval.

By transferring the invocation of war powers to the executive branch, Congress would, in fact, make it even more difficult to stop a hawkish president from deploying U.S. soldiers ever more expansively. In other words, the onus for war would then be officially shifted from a president needing to make a case to a skeptical Congress to an unfettered executive sanctioned to wage expansive warfare as he and his advisers or “his” generals please.

How to Make War on Any Group, Any Time

Should the Corker-Kaine bill miraculously pass, it would not stop even one of the present ongoing U.S. conflicts in the Greater Middle East or Africa. Instead, it would belatedly put a congressional stamp of approval on a worldwide counter-terror campaign which isn’t working, while politely requesting that the president ask nicely before adding new enemies to a list of “associated” or “successor” forces; that is, groups that are usually Arab and nominally Muslim and essentially have little or no connection to the 9/11 attacks that produced the 2001 AUMF.

So let’s take a look at just some of the forces that would be preemptively authorized to receive new American bombs and missiles, Special Operations forces raids, or whatever else the president chose under the proposed legislation, while raising a question rarely asked: Are these groups actually threats to the homeland or worthy of such American military efforts?

Al-Qaeda (AQ) proper naturally makes the list. Then, of course, there’s the Afghan Taliban, which once upon a time sheltered AQ. As nearly 17 years of effort have shown, however, they are militarily unbeatable in a war in their own homeland that is never going well for Washington. In addition, there are no significant al-Qaeda forces left in Afghanistan for the Taliban to potentially shelter. AQ long ago dispersed across the region. The age of plots drawn up in the caves of the Hindu-Kush is long over. In addition, the focus of the Taliban remains (as it always was) highly local. I fought those guys for 12 months and, let me tell you, we never found any transnational fighters or al-Qaeda vets. The vast majority of the enemies Washington mislabels as “Taliban” are poor, illiterate, unemployed farm boys interested, at best, in local power struggles and drug running. They rarely know what’s happening just one valley over, let alone in Milwaukee.

Then there’s al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a particularly vicious AQ franchise in Yemen. These are genuine bad actors and, for a while during the Obama administration, were considered the top terror threat to the U.S. Still, that’s not who the American military actually fights in Yemen most of the time. U.S. Air Force fuelers provide in-flight service, U.S. analysts provide updated targeting intelligence, and U.S. megacorporations sell guided bombs to the Saudis, who mostly bomb Shia Houthi rebels (and often civilians) unaffiliated with -- in fact, opposed to -- AQAP. Worse still, the U.S.-backed campaign against the Houthis actually empowers AQAP by sowing chaos and creating vast ungoverned spaces for it to move into. The Houthis aren’t on the Corker-Kaine list yet, but no doubt (amid increasing military tensions with Iran) Mr. Trump would have little trouble adding them as “associated forces.” Are they brown? Yes. Do they worship Allah? Sure. Throw ‘em on the list.

Al-Shabaab in Somalia is also included. Its nasty militiamen do make life miserable in Somalia and have occasionally called for attacks on U.S. targets. There’s no evidence, however, that U.S. military operations there have ever stabilized the region or improved long-term security. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab tries to radicalize young Somali-American youth in immigrant communities like cities like Minneapolis. Their main gripe: the U.S. military presence and drone strikes in East Africa. And on and on the cycle goes.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), which operates in North Africa, is another “associated force” that’s taken on the AQ moniker, though with a distinctly local flavor. AQIM operates in several countries. Does the Corker-Kaine bill then imply that the U.S. military may conduct strikes and raids anywhere in North Africa? Odds are that it does. Again, though AQIM is violent and problematic for local African security forces, they’ve never successfully attacked the United States. As professor and Africa expert Nathaniel Powell has shown, more often than not U.S. military operations in the Maghreb or the Sahel (just south of the Sahara desert) tend only to exacerbate existing conditions, motivate yet more Islamists, and tangle Washington up in what are essentially local problems and grievances.

Finally, there’s al-Qaeda in Syria, as the bill labels them. This is the crew that used to be known as the al-Nusra Front. The Islamic State, or ISIS, eventually brokeoff from AQ and has even fought al-Nusra Front militants on occasion. No doubt, U.S. interests are never served when any al-Qaeda franchise gains power and influence. Still, there’s little evidence that the former al-Nusra Front, which is losing the civil war inside Syria, has either the staying power or capacity to attack the U.S. homeland.

Add in this: the U.S. military in Syria has rarely attacked al-Nusra, focusing instead on ISIS or occasional strikes at the regime of Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad. In addition, in the past, America’s Saudi allies have supported and funded this and other radical Islamist groups and some U.S. aid has even inadvertently fallen into the hands of al-Nusra Front fighters in the mess that passes for the Syrian civil war.

And don’t let me get started on those “successor forces” -- think ISIS and its brands around the world -- a term so vague as to ensure that any Islamist organization or country, including Iran, could, by a stretch of the imagination, be defined as a target of the U.S. military.

Lumping these various groups under the umbrella of “associated” or “successor” forces ignores the agency and specificity of each of them and so provides any president with a blank check to fight anyone he deems loosely Islamist the world over. And if he cares to, he can just add any new gang he chooses onto the list and dare the Senate to muster 67 votes to stop him.

Consider it a remarkable formula for forever war.

The Dangerous Evolution of Article II of the Constitution

When you get right down to itall the debate over AUMFs is little more than a charade. It hardly matters whether Congress ever updates that post-9/11 document. When, for instance, President Trump recently sent missiles soaring against the Assad regime in response to an alleged chemical attack on a suburb of Damascus, neither he nor his advisers even bothered to suggest that the strike fell under that AUMF. Instead, they simply claimed that Trump was exercising his presidential prerogative under Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which makes him commander-in-chief.

In such moments, right-wing presidents and their advisers have no compunctions about turning the standard liberal argument about the Constitution on its head -- that it’s a “living document” subject to the exigencies of changing times. Of course, it’s not exactly an obscure fact of history that the framers of that document never meant to grant the chief executive unilateral authority to start new conflicts -- and “strictly constructionist” conservatives know it. The Founders were terrified of standing armies and imperial overreach. After all, when they wrote the document they’d only recently brought their own revolt against imperial England and its vaunted army of redcoats to a successful conclusion. So, to construe the Constitution’s commander-in-chief clause, which gave the president the authority to oversee the generals in an ongoing war, as letting him declare wars or even expand them qualifies as absurd. Nonetheless, that’s just what recent presidents have claimed.

What they like to say is that times have changed, that warfare is now too swift for an eighteenth-century recipe involving Congress, and that, in such abbreviated circumstances, presidents need the authority to apply military force at will on a global scale. The thing is, Congress has already recognized this potential reality and codified it into law in the 1973 War Powers Act. This fairly sensible, though generally ignored, piece of legislation requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of a military deployment and remove the troops after 60 days unless legislation officially sanctions the escalation. Presidents tend to be meticulous about the first requirement and then -- like Congress itself -- pay no attention to the second.

Obviously, Bashar al-Assad’s regime had nothing to do with 9/11 and so falls under no imaginable interpretation of that 2001 AUMF. Therefore, President Trump has on his own essentially launched a new conflict, with a new enemy, in western Syria. He’s “notified” Congress of the latest missile strikes, of course, and that’s that.

Salvation Will Not Come From the “Bipartisan” Center

Early indications are that the Corker-Kaine bill is unlikely to pass the Senate (no less the House) and, if it did, wouldn’t have a hope in hell of outlasting a presidential veto. You know that the system is broken, possibly beyond repair, when the secretary of defense -- one “Mad Dog” Mattis -- is reportedly the only figure around Donald Trump to have argued for getting a congressional stamp of approval before launching those missiles against the Assad regime. Think of it this way: a retired general, the official top dog of destruction in this administration, was overruled by the civilian leadership in the White House when it came to an act of imperial war-making.

In other words, we’re through the looking glass, folks!

As a thought experiment: What would it actually take for a supermajority of both houses of Congress to curtail a president’s unilateral war-making power? Liberals might have thought that the election of a boorish, uninformed executive would embolden moderates on both sides of the aisle to reclaim some authority over the lives and deaths of America’s soldiers. It didn’t, nor did such passivity start with Donald Trump. Mainstream liberals certainly treated the presidency of George W. Bush as if it were the worst disaster since Richard Nixon, Watergate, and Vietnam. Even so, they never had the guts to cut off funds for the obvious, ongoing folly in Iraq. Mostly, in fact, they first voted for a resolution supporting that invasion and then heckled pointlessly from the sidelines as Bush waged a dubiously legal, unwinnable war to his heart’s content.

Conservatives absolutely hated Obama. They questioned his very legitimacy and even his citizenship (as did Citizen Trump, of course) -- or at least stayed conveniently silent while the far right of the GOP caucus did so. Still, Republicans then essentially did nothing to curtail his unilateral decision to expand drone attacks to a kind of frenzy across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa and oversee a special operations bonanza. Rarely, for example, in the bazillion hearings the Republicans sponsored on the deaths of an American ambassador and others in Benghazi, Libya, did anyone call for a serious reappraisal of executive war-making authority.

Despite the paltry Corker-Kaine bill, expect no respite or salvation from Congress, which is, in truth, at the heart of the problem. To move the needle on war-making would take grassroots pressure similar to that applied by the Vietnam-era antiwar movement. But such a movement looks highly unlikelywith the draft long gone, few citizens engaged in foreign policy issues, and even fewer seeming to notice that this country has now been involved in still-spreading wars for almost 17 years.

To recapture military authority from an imperial president and inject sanity into the system, “We the People” would have to break out the pink pussy caps, gather the young and their social media skills -- Parkland-style -- and bring the sort of energy now going into domestic crises to issues of war and peace. Suffice it to say, I’m not hopeful.

Whether noticed or not, whether attended to or not, there is, however, a grave question before the American people: Is the United States to remain a democracy (of sorts) within its borders, but a war-making empire beyond its shores? Certainly, it’s most of the way to such a state already with its “all volunteer” imperial military and unrestrained war presidency.

Just about everything is in place for an (elected) executive emperor to move his imperial chess pieces wherever he pleases. Nothing in the Corker-Kaine cop-out of a bill can or will change that. In truth, it doesn’t even pretend to.

When it comes to war, the president reigns supreme -- and so, it seems, he shall remain.

Hail, Caesar!

This post first appeared at Tom Dispatch

Categories: Newswire