Our Poor, Defenseless Military Industrial Complex Media decry ‘inadequate’ US military
budget that rivals rest of world combined Alan MacLeod / Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
(December 20, 2018) — It is a sign of our times that our media attempt to decipher future government policy by analyzing the president’s tweets, like some bizarre game of telephone. Throughout November, there was speculation of a coming reduction in military spending, and when Donald Trump took to Twitter (12/3/18) to describe the $716 billion budget as “crazy,” media took this as confirmation.
The prospect of a cut to the military elicited a storm of condemnation across the media landscape. The National Review (11/17/18) wrote that “cutting the resources available to the Pentagon is a bad idea,” noting that, “for decades, America has short-changed defense” meaning “America’s ability to defend its allies, its partners, and its own vital interests is increasingly in doubt.”
In an article headlined “Don’t Cut Military Spending Mr. President” (Wall Street Journal, 11/29/18), Senate and House Armed Services committee chairs James Inhofe and Mac Thornberry claimed the military is in “crisis” after “inadequate budgets for nearly a decade,” and that “any cut in the Defense budget would be a senseless step backward.”
More centrist outlets concurred. Forbes Magazine (11/26/18) began its article with the words, “The security and well-being of the United States are at greater risk than at any time in decades,” recommending a “sensible and consistent increase” to the budget. Bloomberg (19/11/18) recommended a consistent increase in military spending of 3 percent above inflation for five to ten years, while Reuters (12/4/18) noted the increased “risk” of a lower military budget.
What exactly was this “risk” that media were so worried about? Max Boot, neo-con fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations — who apparently still supports the Iraq War and demanded ones in Syria and Libya, while arguing that America should become a world empire — articulated the risk in the Washington Post (12/12/18).
Describing a reduction in military spending as “suicide,” and claiming the US is in a “full-blown national security crisis,” he cited the work of a blue-ribbon panel that called for continuous hikes in military spending:
“If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat,” the report warns.
“These two nations possess precision-strike capabilities, integrated air defenses, cruise and ballistic missiles, advanced cyberwarfare and anti-satellite capabilities, significant air and naval forces, and nuclear weapons — a suite of advanced capabilities heretofore possessed only by the United States.”. . . So we’re in deep trouble. We are losing the military edge that has underpinned our security and prosperity since 1945.
Thus, the crisis is that the US could not be assured of destroying the Russian military in a Baltic war or the Chinese in the South China Sea. It is important to note that these necessary wars of defense would not be happening in Maine or California, but thousands of miles away, on the doorsteps of our geopolitical rivals.
Boot presents these wars on the other side of the world as impossible to avoid — “if the US had to fight” — continuing a tradition of presenting the US as stumbling or being reluctantly dragged into wars against its will, that we at FAIR (6/22/17) have cataloged.
In reality, more than half of all US discretionary spending goes to the military, and its war-related spending is a much larger percentage of its budget than in comparable countries — 3â€“5 times as much as Canada, Germany or Japan.
In fact, the US spends almost as much on its military as all other countries in the world put together, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and has around 800 (official) foreign military bases, placed on every inhabited continent of the world.
Even these figures do not include military pensions and veterans’ healthcare, or nuclear weapons, and therefore the true total is possibly greater than all other countries combined. Military spending is approaching the highest in recorded history of any country, and the increase in military spending Trump approved last year alone would be enough to make public colleges and universities across the US free to all.
Considering the problems of unemployment, poverty, climate change and infrastructure in the US, perhaps tooling up for an intercontinental war against two nuclear-armed superpowers is not the most effective use of trillions of dollars.
That reducing a $716 billion war budget can be presented as a threat to the nation, and that “defense” can refer to wars in Taiwan or the Baltic, illustrates the depth of the media’s imperial mindset, and goes to show President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the power of the military industrial complex went unheeded.
The media needn’t have worried, as the military industrial complex usually gets its way. President Trump, “with the help of Senator Inhofe and Chairman Thornberry,” according to the Defense Department (London Independent, 12/10/18), agreed to increase the military budget after all, to $750 billion.
A lot of people are going to get rich — not least of all Senator Inhofe, who quietly purchased tens of thousands of dollars in Raytheon stock after he met with Trump (CNN, 12/13/18). Raytheon is the world’s largest producer of guided missiles, and is sure to reap a huge windfall from the spending boom.
This whole affair illustrates the important and worrying links between the media, “defense” contractors and politicians. But at least the terrible risk to the United States has been avoided. Those defenseless Air Force Generals and Defense contractors can finally sleep easy at night.
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Corrupt Spineless Iraqi Legislators Are Right David Swanson / David Swanson.org & World BEYOND War
(December 28, 2018) — You’ve got 5,000 armed foreign troops stationed in your country. You don’t say a word until the idiot foreign emperor stages a surprise visit. Then you’re outraged principally because he didn’t notify you or meet with you or put up any pretense that your country belonged to you in any way. At that point you demand that the US occupation of Iraq finally be brought to a bitter better-late-than-never end. And you’re damn right.
The US has been helping Iraq into ever-worsening catastrophe for longer than almost anyone can remember, supporting European imperialists, backing both sides in a war with Iran, propping up a horrendous dictator, bombing Baghdad in the First Gulf War, slaughtering civilians and retreating troops, imposing starvation sanctions, bombing routinely, shock-and-aweing a horrific sociocide, killing millions, throwing millions out of their homes, creating disease epidemics, demolishing infrastructure, training death squads, stirring up terrorism, flooding the region with weapons, fueling regional rivalries, attacking neighboring countries.
If, after all that, a photo-op by an orange-haired buffoon becomes grounds for finally ending it, that’s more than fine with me.
Just the latest installment of the assault on the birthplace of doomed Western civilization began 16 years ago this coming March. The annual protests of the war in the US and other NATO countries have long since (disgracefully and inexcusably) ended.
People now legally driving cars were not even born when the US government came up with the clever name “Shock and Awe” for the criminal and terrorist strategy of so devastating a city with death and destruction as to thrill the most sadistic warmongers while allowing them to pretend to believe the result would be surrender or — somehow — friendly, grateful welcoming and thanks.
People not yet alive for that are now being recruited by the US military, taught that they can either gripe or vote(!!!), and hitting 30,000 hours of television viewed — don’t even ask about video games.
At around $1 trillion per year in military spending by the US government, justified principally by the need to destroy Iraq, we’re now looking at $16 trillion or so, an amount which almost certainly could have saved the earth’s environment for human life had it been spent on that instead of on an operation that, at its height, put the US military higher than almost all entire nations on earth in a ranking of petroleum consumption per year.
Through the course of this barbaric crime — no mistake, no error, no misjudgment, no strategically flawed noble operation, but crime in the ranks of the greatest crimes ever — US politicians have proven as principle-free and opportunistic as any of their Iraqi counterparts.
We’ve been told to support the war, to oppose it, to pretend that escalating it would end it, to pretend that deescalating it was ending it, to blame Obama for the agreement Bush signed to end it, to credit Trump for not ending it, to blame Iraqis for not appreciating it, to honor Americans for participating in it, and generally to load up our skulls with so much bullshit you could plant us upside down in a desert and grow a rainforest.
Basta! End it! Remove every troop, every mercenary, every contractor, every base, every weapon, every flag. Load up the planes, lift them off the ground, and get the Fallujah out. If you want to do good rather than harm, send actual aid, send reparations, send apologies, promise never to do it again, join the International Criminal Court and send top guilty parties over for indictment and trial.
Democratize the United Nations and commit to obeying the law. Stop raising the planetary thermostat to the point that will make Iraq uninhabitable. That, along with ending the wars on Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria, seems like the least we could do. Let’s resolve to take that positive step in the coming year if not the coming week.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs atDavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Swanson was awarded the 2018 Peace Prize by the US Peace Memorial Foundation.
Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record Gareth Porter / The American Conservative
(December 28, 2018) â€“ The mainstream media has attacked President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria as impulsive, blindsiding his own national security team. But detailed, published accounts of the policy process over the course of the year tell a very different story. They show that senior national security officials and self-interested institutions have been playing a complicated political game for months aimed at keeping Trump from wavering on our indefinite presence on the ground in Syria.
The entire episode thus represents a new variant of a familiar pattern dating back to Vietnam in which national security advisors put pressure on reluctant presidents to go along with existing or proposed military deployments in a war zone. The difference here is that Trump, by publicly choosing a different policy, has blown up their transparent schemes and offered the country a new course, one that does not involve a permanent war state.
The relationship between Trump and his national security team has been tense since the beginning of his administration. By mid-summer 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford had become so alarmed at Trump’s negative responses to their briefings justifying global US military deployments that they decided to do a formal briefing in “the tank,” used by the Joint Chiefs for meetings at the Pentagon.
But when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.
By the end of that year, however, Mattis, Dunford, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believed they’d succeeded in getting Trump to use US troops not only to defeat Islamic State but to “stabilize” the entire northeast sector of Syria and balance Russian and Iranian-sponsored forces. Yet they ignored warning signs of Trump’s continuing displeasure with their vision of a more or less permanent American military presence in Syria.
In a March rally in Ohio ostensibly about health care reform, Trump suddenly blurted out, “We’re coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon — very soon we’re coming out.”
Then in early April 2018, Trump’s impatience with his advisors on Syria boiled over into a major confrontation at a National Security Council meeting,  where he ordered them unequivocally to accept a fundamentally different Syria deployment policy.
Trump opened the meeting with his public stance that the United States must end its intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly. He argued repeatedly that the US had gotten “nothing” for its efforts, according to an account published by the Associated Press, based on interviews with administration officials who had been briefed on the meeting. When Dunford asked him to state exactly what he wanted, Trump answered that he favored an immediate withdrawal of US forces and an end to the “stabilization” program in Syria.
Mattis responded that an immediate withdrawal from Syria was impossible to carry out responsibly, would risk the return of Islamic State, and would play into the hands of Russia, Iran, and Turkey, whose interests ran counter to those of the United States.
Trump reportedly then relented and said they have could five or six months to destroy the Islamic State. But he also made it clear that he did not want them to come back to him in October and say that they had been unable to defeat ISIS and had to remain in Syria. When his advisors reiterated that they didn’t think America could withdraw responsibly, Trump told them to “just get it done.”
Trump’s national security team had prepared carefully for the meeting in order to steer him away from an explicit timetable for withdrawal. They had brought papers that omitted any specific options for withdrawal timetables. Instead, as the detailed AP account shows, they framed the options as a binary choice — either an immediate pullout or an indefinite presence in order to ensure the complete and permanent defeat of Islamic State. The leave option was described as risking a return of ISIS and leaving a power vacuum for Russia and Iran to fill.
Such a binary strategy had worked in the past, according to administration sources. That would account for Trump’s long public silence on Syria during the early months of 2018 while then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Mattis were articulating detailed arguments for a long-term military commitment.
Another reason the approach had been so successful, however, was that Trump had made such a big issue out of Barack Obama giving the Pentagon a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. As a result, he was hesitant to go public with a similar request for a Syria timetable.
As CNN reported, a DoD official who had been briefed on the meeting “rejected that any sort of timeline was discussed.” Furthermore the official asserted that Mattis “was not asked to draw up withdrawal options . . . .” Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Chiefs, also told reporters, “the president has actually been very good in not giving us a specific timeline.”
Nevertheless, without referring to a timeline, the White House issued a short statement saying that the US role in Syria was coming to a “rapid end.”
Mattis and Dunford were consciously exploiting Trump’s defensiveness about a timeline to press ahead with their own strategy unless and until Trump publicly called them on it. That is what finally happened some weeks after Trump’s six-month deadline had passed. The claim by Trump advisors that they were taken by surprise was indeed disingenuous. What happened last week was that Trump followed up on the clear policy he had laid down in April.
The Syria withdrawal affair is a dramatic illustration of the fundamental quandary of the Trump presidency in regard to ending the state of permanent war that previous administrations created. Although a solid majority of Americans want to rein in US military deployments in the Middle East and Africa, Trump’s national security team is committed to doing the opposite.
Trump is now well aware that it is virtually impossible to carry out the foreign policy that he wants without advisors who are committed to the same objective. That means that he must find people who have remained outside the system during the permanent war years while being highly critical of its whole ideology and culture.
If he can fill key positions with truly dissident figures, the last two years of this term in office could decisively clip the wings of the bureaucrats and generals who have created the permanent war state we find ourselves in today.
Gareth Porter is an investigative reporter and regular contributor to The American Conservative. He is also the author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
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Dems Vow to Curb President’s Post-9/11 War Powers Congress expected to rethink authority granted by AUMF Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(December 27, 2018) — The post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda offered American presidents broad war-making powers. 17 years and umpteen wars later, it’s safe to say the presidents have been using that. The incoming Democratic House of Representatives is looking at changing that.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) says one of his biggest concerns is the blank check war-making power presidents have had since the AUMF. He said that when he voted for it “I never would’ve imagined that the president could use it as a sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) concurred, saying it is “constitutionally absurd” that US wars are still operating on the 9/” AUMF, saying that the Constitution gives presidents wide latitude, but that “it is long past time” for Congress to revisit the issue.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) was quick to note he’d been trying to offer amendments to limit the wars for years, and that the Republican-dominated Rules Committee “has routinely denied” them. McGovern is going to be the new chair of the Rules Committee in January, and says he expects there will be efforts to force a new AUMF with more constraints and well-defined authorizations.
That’s an issue many in Congress have talked about for years. The 2001 AUMF is incredibly vague, and when President Obama proposed a replacement late in his second term, he bragged the replacement was itself so vague that it would leave him unconstrained. That admission killed the Obama proposal, but Congress never got around to an alternative, real AUMF.
Any AUMF would be a highly contentious issue, as presidents have consistently resisted anything limiting them at all, and there have historically been enough hawks in the leadership to kill the issue.
This may be an optimum time, with the Democrat leadership eager to contest Trump, and the 2020 election far enough away now that there will be fewer calls to defer the issue until after the next vote, something that’s killed previous proposals throughout the decade.
(December 24, 2018) — Key House Democrats plan to use their newfound power to force a debate about the war-making authority that Congress approved after 9/11 — after years of being stifled by the chamber’s Republican leaders.
Democrats will still face a tough fight to impose greater oversight on the US military deployments that have mushroomed during the past 17 years. But prospects will be much brighter for the lawmakers who have spent years pushing Congress to weigh in on the use of American forces in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia and, most recently, Yemen.
If they succeed, the result could be legislation restricting President Donald Trump’s ability to send combat troops to new countries, or at least setting a time limit for the executive branch to seek new authorization. That would at least guarantee more frequent public debate about where American troops are engaged and why.
Trump has begun moving unilaterally to scale back some of those engagements, ordering a withdrawal of troops from Syria and pushing to downsize the US military commitment in Afghanistan. But war skeptics say it’s still imperative for lawmakers to revisit the so-called Authorization for Use of Military Force that provided congressional backing for President George W. Bush’s global war on terrorism after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“One of the things that I’m most concerned with is this blank check any president has based on the 2001 AUMF,” Rep. Eliot Engel, the New York Democrat in line to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview. “I voted for it, it was necessary at the time, but I never would’ve imagined that any president could use it as sort of a get-out-of-jail-free card. A card to do whatever you want to do.”
Since the 2001 vote, three presidents have used the authorization to justify open-ended hostilities in countries across Asia and Africa, including against terror groups like the Islamic State that didn’t exist when al-Qaida struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Congress has spurned several opportunities to revisit the authorization, even during the two years of unified Democratic control of Washington in Barack Obama’s early presidency.
Some House Republicans agree that it’s long since time to revisit the 2001 war approval.
“I do think it is constitutionally absurd that we’re still operating largely on the 9/11 AUMF,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican and Marine veteran of the war in Iraq.
Gallagher, who as an aide to outgoing Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee helped draft a new war authorization, contends that the Constitution gave the commander in chief wide latitude to use the military to repel sudden attacks. It was “not to sort of go all around the world to kill people that weren’t born on 9/11 or to conduct strikes against facilities controlled by a regime in the Middle East,” he said.
“I think Congress has been derelict in its duty, and it is long past time for us to revisit this issue,” he added in an interview.
Engel says he plans to see “if we can come up with a . . . bill that can encompass all the concerns that we have. I believe we’re going to do it and we will do it.”
He may find new allies in the GOP, including in the Senate, which in mid-December passed a rare bipartisan resolution urging a halt to US military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war with Yemenâ€™s Houthi rebels. Senators of both parties have pushed in recent years for greater oversight of myriad other conflicts.
The GOP-led House has gone the opposite direction, including passing a rule this month that barred resolutions limiting US military assistance for the Saudis in Yemen.
But when Democrats take over in January, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts will chair the Rules Committee, which has a big say in what the House debates and votes on. He has offered numerous bill amendments in recent years aimed at revisiting the 2001 authorization.
The Rules Committee “has routinely denied” McGovern’s amendments, he recalled in an interview.
“I would like to think that now that I’m chair I won’t deny my own amendments and we will be able to have a vote,” he added. “I hope we’re going to see movements by the new chairs. If not, I fully expect that people will be offering amendments to try to force a new AUMF.”
Congress’ war powers have long been a source of heated debate, with wide disagreement between the executive and legislative branches over where the president’s constitutional role as commander in chief ends and Congress’ authority to declare wars begins.
The 1973 War Powers Resolution — approved over the veto of then-President Richard Nixon, who deemed it unconstitutional — requires the president to report to Congress when deploying troops in combat. It also mandates they be withdrawn if Congress does not grant approval within 60 days.
But Congress has rarely invoked the law, giving presidents wide latitude on questions of war and peace.
“In the post-Cold War world, Presidents have continued to commit US Armed Forces into potential hostilities, sometimes without a specific authorization from Congress,” according to a new assessment published by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the research arm of Congress.
Congress passed the 2001 war authorization overwhelmingly, with just one dissenting vote in the House. (Lawmakers approved 2003’s US-led invasion of Iraq under a separate war authorization that Congress has also not revisited and has also been cited as justification for US military operations in neighboring Syria.)
The 2001 resolution has come under greater scrutiny as presidents have used it as legal justification to insert troops in a host of other nations.
But efforts in Congress to revisit the issue have foundered. Those include a proposal adopted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2014 and a proposal by Obama in 2015.
There remain wide disagreements over how restrictive a new authorization should be, including whether it should mandate where troops should operate or how long it should last before Congress needs to weigh in again.
But House Armed Services member Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a Marine veteran of the Iraq War, argues that congressional debate on the newer conflicts is important — and that the lack of it has contributed to “mission creep . . . in places like Yemen, with errant American contractors we have no accountability over, whatsoever.”
Moulton acknowledged that changing course won’t be easy, faulting the GOP for its role in the long-running stalemate.
“It’s going to be hard,” he said. “Republicans don’t seem to want to live up to their constitutional responsibility to determine when and how we go to war.”
Gallagher, the Wisconsin Republican, said he still worries that Democrats could go too far and “load an AUMF with all sort of tactical or geographic restrictions, which I think would be unwise.”
Instead, he’s pushing for an authorization that’s similarly as broad as the original one but with a set time limit, such as “five to seven years, that would force Congress to look at this again.” He would also favor “robust reporting” from the White House on the progress of all the disparate operations.
That may not be enough for some Democrats, like McGovern, who believe a new and similarly broad authorization isn’t enough.
“I can’t promise you than an AUMF that comes out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is something I would support,” he said. “But this is the right debate to be having. At a minimum we should be reviewing this. That would certainly be an improvement on what is happening right now.”
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Could This Be Our Best Hope of Removing Trump From Office? Paul Street / TruthDig
(December 27, 20180 — The dog whistle couldn’t have been any clearer. When Donald Trump said two weeks ago that “the people would revolt” if he were impeached, his extremist base of neo-Nazis, Klan members, right-wing militias and sympathetic service members likely heard the following: “Feel free to attack Democrats, liberals, leftists and progressives if the coming Democratic Party-run House of Representatives acts on its constitutional right to impeach me.”
Impeachment alone probably wouldn’t trigger a right-wing uprising. But impeachment followed by the unlikely prospect of removal, which requires 67 votes in the Republican-majority US Senate, might well make it happen. So too could invoking the 25th Amendment on the grounds that Trump is incapable of performing his presidential duties.
Officially, the Democratic Party — led by corporate allies like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi — isn’t interested in moving ahead with either of these constitutionally available processes. That could change, however, if and when the report from special counsel Robert Mueller directly implicates Trump. But even if the party’s efforts proved successful, America would be left with President Mike Pence — an honest-to-goodness Christian fascist.
The case for Trump’s ouster grows stronger by the week. Beyond his possible obstruction of justice, criminal acceptance of foreign emoluments while in office and felonious campaign finance violations — any one of which could provide grounds for legal proceedings against him — the president has routinely embraced authoritarian rulers around the world and engaged in obvious appeals to violence. He has, at every turn, revealed himself to be entirely unfit for office.
Ironically, the most effective means of achieving his removal may be to revolt, albeit in a fashion radically different from the one the president has envisioned. America must instead engage in civil unrest that targets not just the current inhabitant of the Oval Office but the entire bipartisan ruling class that birthed his monstrous presidency. Forget Watergate; think sit-down strikes and the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
The gilets jaunes (yellow vests) in France have given us a taste of what’s required. Among their list of demands is a real and functioning democracy — popular self-rule. Further to that, they have called for a referendum whereby 700,000 citizen signatories would force the French Parliament to debate and vote on a given law within one year.
Evoking the French Revolution of 1789, there have even been calls for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution meant to create a new French government — a Sixth Republic based on popular sovereignty and majority rule rather than the demands of a de facto corporo-financial dictatorship. Imagine!
That Trump has never had a functioning democracy to overthrow is evidence enough that this kind of activism is long overdue. Released in the early spring of 2008, Sheldon Wolin’s classic study “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” revealed that the US was no longer a “democracy,” if it ever had been.
gggfbbbAmerica, Wolin found, had mutated into a new sort of totalitarian regime wherein economic power and state power were conjoined and virtually unchecked by a demobilized, atomized and politically disinterested populace, conditioned to stay that way. “At best,” Wolin determined, “the nation has become a ‘managed democracy’ where the public is shepherded, not sovereign.”
“Should Democrats somehow be elected,” he prophesied, they would do nothing to “alter significantly the direction of society” or “substantially revers[e] the drift rightwards. . . . The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class and anti-corporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf.”
Sure enough, a nominal Democrat was elected president along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008. What followed under Barack Obama (as under the prior Democratic administration of Bill Clinton) was standard-issue neoliberal rule in the service of big-money bankrollers and their global empire.
The nation’s first black president implemented the preferred policies of Wall Street and the Pentagon more effectively than wealthy white Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney could have ever hoped to. America’s “inverted totalitarianism” was rebranded, to deadly effect.
Fed by a widespread and easily exploited sense of abandonment and betrayal, the country’s rightward shift grew more pronounced, as the Democrats depressed and demobilized their purported base. Over a period of eight years, the party lost more than 1,000 elected offices nationwide, including the US presidency.
Along the way, its power brokers managed to stamp out a progressive insurgency from Bernie Sanders through dubious means, clearing the field for a deeply unpopular candidate in Hillary Clinton. And in so doing, they handed the populist torch to a far-right reactionary in a change election.
We should expect a similar outcome from the Democrats’ presidential nomination process in 2020. The smart money is on anti-populist Joe Biden or the telegenic faux-progressive Beto O’Rourke — this despite the continued popularity of Sanders and his progressive agenda.
One year after Hillary’s ignominious defeat, the distinguished liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Marin Gilens (Princeton) published their expertly researched book Democracy in America? The volume’s key finding: “The best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups — especially business corporations — have had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless. . . .”
Whether we vote or not, Mammon reigns in the United States, where, as Page and Gilens note, “government policy . . . reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office” (emphasis added). Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. (“The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”)
Perhaps our only hope is a mass movement for “the radical reconstruction of society itself” — what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the real issue to be faced” — and the replacement of the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of capital and empire by popular sovereignty and workers’ control. As Chris Hedges wrote earlier this year:
“The Trump administration did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count. We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience. . . . If we do not stand up, we will enter a new dark age.” (Emphasis added.)
“A new dark age” may ultimately prove euphemistic. The original Dark Ages concluded with the planet still habitable. Humanity now faces the near-term historical threat of extinction thanks to the grave “ecological rifts” generated by a global profit system upheld by both ruling parties that is turning earth into a great, big Greenhouse Gas Chamber. “The uncomfortable truth,” philosopher Istvan Meszaros rightly argued 17 years ago, “is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself.”
Sustained civil disobedience in the United States could provoke a response far bloodier than anything seen in France. But while the human costs of revolution are great, none can compare with the ecocidal rule of capital.
Paul Street holds a doctorate in US history from Binghamton University. He is former vice president for research and planning of the Chicago Urban League. Street is also the author of numerous books.
Comment Frank Ellsworth Lockwood:
Removing Trump is a waste of mobilization unless it also removes the current reliance on big money in our electoral system and addresses the endless rut we are in with regard to third parties, which are presently blocked from our national debates and more.
Get rid of private funding for elections, overturn Citizens United, pass Move to Amend: These are projects worthy of major mobilization. Had we done this ten years ago there would have been no President Trump, and if we don’t do it now, there will always be another crazy politician in the wings, be that person Democrat or Republican.
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Trump Ignores Climate Change, Offers Handouts
To Timber Industry in Wildfire Executive Order Mark Hand / ThinkProgress
(December 26, 2018) — Nowhere in an 1,800-word executive order to address forest management and wildfires — quietly issued on Friday — does President Donald Trump draw a connection between climate change and increased wildfire risk. Instead, critics say it looks like a potential handout to the logging industry.
Extreme heat and years of ongoing drought, both linked to climate change, are contributing to the frequency and severity of wildfires across the western United States. But in his executive order, Trump instead cites concerns about regulatory obstacles to fighting wildfires and the value of logging to prevent future fires.
The executive order, titled “Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk,” calls on the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to reduce “regulatory barriers” to getting rid of “hazardous fuels” that contribute to wildfires.
As part of his wildfire fuel reduction plan, the president ordered the easing of regulations in order to allow for the harvest of least 3.8 billion board feet of timber â€“a measure of volume of lumber — from lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and another 600 million board feet of timber on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property.
The timber industry stands to come out a big winner if Trump’s executive order is implemented. The figures in the executive order represent a large increase in the amount of timber harvested on federal lands in recent years. In 2017, the Forest Service harvested more than 2.9 billion board feet of timber. And in 2016, the BLM harvested more than 233.2 million board feet of timber for sale.
But experts contend boosting the level of logging on federal lands will not help the growing wildfire threat. In fact, commercial logging and road building have been found to increase wildfire risk.
And ignoring the impact of climate change on more dangerous wildfires, along with actively working to undermine efforts to tackle greenhouse gases, won’t help matters either environmentalists and scientists say.
“Instead of promoting divisive legislation to weaken environmental laws, the administration should work with the new Congress to give the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior the funding they need to reduce fire risks and properly manage the national forests and public lands,” Mike Anderson, senior policy analyst for the Wilderness Society, said Sunday in a statement.
An open letter signed by scientists and land managers in late August stated that Trump administration proposals to remove environmental protections to increase logging in response to wildfire concerns are “misinformed.”
“The recent increase in wildfire acres burning is due to a complex interplay involving human-caused climate change coupled with expansion of homes and roads into fire-adapted ecosystems and decades of industrial-scale logging practices,” the experts wrote in their letter.
Denise Boggs, director of the California environmental group Conservation Congress, criticized Trump’s executive order for ignoring the role of climate change. She also attacked the call for more logging as a remedy for worsening wildfires
“All the fire ecologists are saying the same thing: You can’t log your way out of this situation,” Boggs told the Sacramento Bee. “Logging in the back country is just a gift to the timber industry.”
The absence of climate change references in Friday’s executive order is reminiscent of Trump’s visit to Northern California in November following the catastrophic wildfire known as the Camp Fire where the president ignored the role of climate change in the growing intensity of wildfires.
Rather, Trump recalled Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto telling him that his country doesn’t have the same problem with fires because it spends “a lot of time on raking and cleaning.”
Trump was referring to the practice of thinning forests that become overgrown after decades of fire suppression. But equating Finland and California, many critics said, was a bit of a stretch.
Many of the wildfires in California don’t occur in forests, but in chaparral, or shrub land. Months of drought has turned such brush into easily ignited kindling.
Three months earlier, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited California to tour the devastation from another wildfire. During his tour, Zinke also dismissed the role played by climate change in the growing wildfire threat. The Interior secretary was visiting areas near Redding, California that were devastated by August’s Carr Fire, which killed several people and forced tens of thousands to evacuate.
“I’ve heard the climate change argument back and forth. This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management,” Zinke told reporters.
The Carr Fire was the sixth most destructive on record in California. It burned more than 200,000 acres and killed seven people. And the Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history, killing at least 85 people and destroying nearly 14,000 homes.
Elsewhere in the executive order, Trump calls for a reduction in the time required to comply with the Endangered Species Act in order to allow for more logging and other efforts the administration contends will reduce wildfires.
The president ordered his administration to identify methods “to more effectively and efficiently streamline consultation under the Endangered Species Act.”
Trump’s order to work around the Endangered Species Act followed a directive sent out by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fishery division in August to use California’s water supply for firefighting instead of for other uses, like protecting endangered marine species.
With Trump and Ross prioritizing firefighting needs above the water allocation requirements under the Endangered Species Act, there is concern from scientists and environmental law experts that the Trump administration is seeking to favor agricultural interests over protecting endangered species.
“Secretary Ross’ directive is forcing NOAA to sideline scientifically-sound water management procedures for endangered species, thereby setting a chilling precedent,” the Union of Concerned Scientists stated in a September blog post.
According to Boggs, environmental groups are expected to file lawsuits against the Trump administration if it allows an increase in logging on federal lands.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
How Corporate Democrats Aim to Stifle Criticism Norman Solomon / Reader Supported News
(December 26, 2018) — Well-informed public discussion is a major hazard for Democratic Party elites now eager to prevent Bernie Sanders from winning the 2020 presidential nomination. A clear focus on key issues can bring to light the big political differences between Sanders and the party’s corporate-friendly candidates. One way to muddy the waters is to condemn people for pointing out facts that make those candidates look bad.
National polling shows that the US public strongly favors bold policy proposals that Sanders has been championing for a long time. On issues ranging from climate change to Medicare for All to tuition-free public college to Wall Street power, the party’s base has been moving leftward, largely propelled by an upsurge of engagement from progressive young people. This momentum is a threat to the forces accustomed to dominating the Democratic Party.
In recent weeks, Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke has become a lightning rod in a gathering political storm — largely because of the vast hype about him from mass media and Democratic power brokers. At such times, when spin goes into overdrive, we need incisive factual information.
Investigative journalist David Sirota provided it in a deeply researched December 20 article, which The Guardian published under the headline “Beto O’Rourke Frequently Voted for Republican Legislation, Analysis Reveals.”
Originating from the nonprofit Capital & Main news organization, the piece reported that “even as O’Rourke represented one of the most solidly Democratic congressional districts in the United States, he has frequently voted against the majority of House Democrats in support of Republican bills and Trump administration priorities.”
Progressives have good reasons to like some of O’Rourke’s positions. But Sirota’s reporting drilled down into his voting record, reviewing “the 167 votes O’Rourke has cast in the House in opposition to the majority of his own party during his six-year tenure in Congress. Many of those votes were not progressive dissents alongside other left-leaning lawmakers, but instead votes to help pass Republican-sponsored legislation.”
The meticulous and in-depth reporting by Sirota was a public service, but some angry reactions were classic instances of blaming the messenger for the unfavorable news. At times vitriolic, the denunciations of Sirota came from people who apparently would have preferred that Congressman O’Rourke’s actual voting record remain shrouded in a hagiographic haze.
But it’s better to learn revealing political facts sooner rather than later. Thanks to Sirota’s coverage, for instance, we now know “O’Rourke has voted for GOP bills that his fellow Democratic lawmakers said reinforced Republicans’ anti-tax ideology, chipped away at the Affordable Care Act (ACA), weakened Wall Street regulations, boosted the fossil fuel industry and bolstered Donald Trump’s immigration policy.”
The backlash to Sirota’s news article was in keeping with a tweet two weeks earlier from Neera Tanden, the president of the influential and lavishly funded Center for American Progress, who has long been a major ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
On December 6, Tanden went over-the-top in response to a tweet from Sirota simply mentioning the fact that O’Rourke “is the #2 recipient of oil/gas industry campaign cash in the entire Congress.”
Tanden lashed out via Twitter, writing: “Oh look. A supporter of Bernie Sanders attacking a Democrat. This is seriously dangerous. We know Trump is in the White House and attacking Dems is doing Trump’s bidding. I hope Senator Sanders repudiates these attacks in 2019.”
Such calculated nonsense indicates just how panicky some powerful corporate Democrats are about Bernie’s likely presidential campaign — and just how anxious they are to protect corporate-oriented candidates from public scrutiny. The quest is to smother meaningful discussions of vital issues that should be center stage during the presidential campaign.
Corporate Democrats are gearing up to equate principled, fact-based critiques of their favored candidates with — in Tanden’s words — “seriously dangerous” attacks that are “doing Trump’s bidding.” Such demagogic rhetoric should be thrown in the political trashcan where it belongs.
This is not only about Beto O’Rourke — it’s about the parade of Democratic contenders lined up to run for president. Should the candidates that mass media and party elites put forward as “progressive” be quickly embraced or carefully scrutinized? The question must be asked and answered.
Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
22-day-long “Cast Lead-Plus 10” Campaign Starts December 27 Helena Cobban / Just World Educational
(December 26, 2018) — Tomorrow, our 22-day-long project #CastLeadPlus10 launches! Outreach Director Joe Catron and I have worked hard to pull together lots of great resources for the campaign. They include this 29-minute podcast I recorded recently with Richard Falk, in which he recaps the main events of Operation Cast Lead. (You can see a digest of highlights from the episode here and see below)
We’ve pulled together a dedicated Resource Page on our website, which offers a “one-stop” portal to a collection of great resources on Cast Lead. We hope many of you can use that Resource Page to help educate (or remind) yourselves and your networks/communities about the main features of that brutal, 22-day Israeli assault on Gaza — as well as its after-effects, in terms of inflicting lasting damage on Gazan Palestinians and establishing a defiant Israeli stance of impunity from international accountability that has continued to this day.
We will also, for each of the 22 days corresponding to Cast Lead, be releasing a special slide on the @JustWorldEd Twitter account, that highlights the main developments of that day, ten years ago. So do follow us on Twitter if you can, RT those slides, and find other ways to contribute to the #CastLeadPlus10hashtag!
On the Resource Page:
Among the highlights we’re offering on our new Cast Lead Resource Page are links to the following outstanding resources:
* A 46-minute video from Journeyman Pictures: “Israel/Palestine: The Gaza War from Ground Level”, which also has coverage from southern Israel. This is the best video record we know of, of Cast Lead from inside Gaza. Israel had banned international media from entering the Strip. This was shot almost wholly by videographers from inside it.
* Access to the whole of Issue 151 of the Journal of Palestine Studies, published in Winter 2009. It included a rich special section on Cast Lead. The journal’s publisher, the Institute for Palestine Studies has agreed to take down the paywall from that whole issue, December 27 through the end of January, as a great way to mark the tenth anniversary.
We hope you can think of creative ways to use these or some of the other resources listed on our Resource Page in your hometown, social network, congregation, or college classroom. If you do use these resources by, for example, organizing a showing of the 46-minute video along with a discussion of Gaza bolstered by some of our other background materials . . . . be sure to send us photos of the event, or tag us on Twitter!
Miko Peled from London . . .
Here’s news of some other great content we published on our website a couple of days ago: An informative blog post from Miko Peled, tracking the encouraging development of the Palestinian-rights movement in the United Kingdom. [You can read Peled’s dispatch below — EAW.]
Peled has been spending quite a lot of time in the UK in recent years, interacting with various strands of the Palestinian-rights movement there. (In the photo here, he was with a group of British rights activists when they went to visit the Shaikh of the threatened Palestinian community of Al-Araqeeb.) I think many of you will find his blogged report on his latest visit to London very interesting.
A Reminder . . .
Finally, just one reminder here that everything we do requires resources . . . Our#CastLeadPlus10 campaign is just one of numerous projects we’re planning for the year ahead. So especially if you haven’t given to us recently — or if you have, but you’d like to increase your giving — here is the information on how to do so:
One of the main goals of our #CastLeadPlus10 campaign is to build the informed public, especially here in the United States, that understands the heavy costs that Israeli policies like holding Gaza in a tight siege and in so many other ways denying Palestinians their most basic rights inflict on the Palestinians . . . so that we can build up the pressure on our leaders to change those policies.
I hope you find the campaign useful. Do send us any feedback you have! Warmest wishes (especially for a more peaceful and happier year in 2019) to friends and colleagues everywhere.
Richard Falk Recalls Israel’s “Cruelty and Excessive Violence”
During Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 Just World Educational
(December 26, 2018) — In the first episode of our special mini-series of podcasts on Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” assault Gaza ten years ago, the distinguished international jurist Richard Falk discussed the “cruelty and excessive violence” of that assault with JWE President Helena Cobban. That cruelty and violence were, he said, “used to really terrorize the Palestinian population in Gaza”, and to persuade them to repudiate the Hamas authorities who were governing Gaza then, as now.
This podcast mini-series is part of JWE’s #CastLeadPlus10information campaign, in which we are exploring the record, the many legacies, and possible lessons of that Israeli attack on Gaza, ten years later.
At the time of “Cast Lead”, Falk was the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Though Israel wouldn’t let him into Palestine, he watched closely from afar as, for 22 days, Israeli forces pounded the extremely densely populated Gaza Strip from air, sea, and land.
In the course of those 22 days they killed around 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza, fewer than 300 of whom were combatants. Palestinian fighters inside Gaza killed nine Israelis, of whom six were combatants.
Three Israeli soldiers were also killed by “friendly fire.” The summary of casualties and losses recorded by Wikipedia is at right. (In the initial two columns, Israeli losses are on the left and Palestinian ones on the right.)
Assessing the imbalance in these casualty figures, Falk said they “do remind one of colonial wars or the wars between early American settlers and the Native Americans.” Israel’s behavior during Cast Lead was, he noted, “characteristic of Israeli reliance on force for suppression of the Palestinian people as a whole since 1948.”
Regarding the use by Hamas and its allies of rockets and mortars against targets inside Israel, Falk said, “Hamas [and its allies] used the weapons they had, which were primitive and not targetable. They were indiscriminate, which was problematic, but they were not targeting civilians.”
He referred to question of the right to resist foreign occupation. He also noted that the UN’s relatively recently adopted “Responsibility To Protect” (R2P), which was later invoked by Western powers regarding Libya in 2011, could perhaps have been invoked to protect the people of Gaza during the 2008-09 assault on them — “But the United States would have vetoed that.”
In a discussion of the use of violence by the Palestinian and the Israeli fighters, Falk and Cobban agreed that it looked as if the Palestinian fighters were doing more than the Israeli fighters to target combatants on the opposing side. Falk noted the proportion of civilians to combatants in the Palestinian casualty toll and said this raised the question of “who was the terrorist?”
This episode of the podcast was a fairly in-depth consideration of what actually occurred during Operation Cast lead. In a subsequent episode, to be released December 30, Falk and Cobban discuss such legacies of Cast Lead as the Goldstone Report and the mobilization of global civil society spurred by Cast Lead — a mobilization that led to the organizing of several international aid flotillas to Gaza and the strengthening of the worldwide BDS movement.
If you’re on Twitter, please follow (and retweet!) our #CastLeadPlus10 campaign by following the #CastLeadPlus10hashtag there.
Copyright 2018 Just World Educational, All rights reserved.
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Palestine and UK Politics Miko Peled / Just World Educational
We’re pleased to publish this report, the first of two on this subject, by Israeli-American peace activist Miko Peled, author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine and Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five. Peled is currently at work on a book about the sizeable anti-Zionist current in the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jewish community.
London, UK (December 2018) — Recently, sitting in a London pub with friends who are members of the UK Labour party, we were recalling how on a recent visit to Palestine (see photo above), almost every person we met there reminded them that the mess in Palestine today is their country’s fault. While this claim is largely true, it may well be that the Brits — and particularly British Labour — will be the saviours of Palestine.
Decades of hard work by Palestine solidarity activists in the UK have created an environment ripe for change — so much so, that at the UK Labour Party conference held in September in Liverpool, a motion was passed calling to review the sales of British arms to Israel.
Furthermore, in his speech on the final day of the conference, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a long time supporter of Palestinian rights, said what no other Western leader would dare to say, namely that: “Our party is united in condemning the shooting of hundreds of unarmed protesters in Gaza by Israeli forces and the passing of Israel’s discriminatory Nation State Law. The continuing occupation, expansion of illegal settlements, and the imprisonment of Palestinian children are an outrage.”
He made those comments in front of a cheering crowd of some 12,000 members. Throughout the entire conference one could see members carrying the Palestinian flag and in many ways it seemed like a rally for Palestinian rights.
Decades of Activism
George Galloway has been fighting for justice for over four only stood firm but acted with great commitment against Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and against the sanctions and the war on Iraq. He is one of the most prominent voices for justice in Palestine and not surprisingly, he is also a firm supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
He told me of his initiation into the issue of Palestine in the early 1970’s and today, he remains committed to the cause of freedom and justice in Palestine more than ever.
Galloway was kind enough to invite me to a recent dinner, held on a very cold and rainy evening at the lovely “Beirut Nights” restaurant. (It was actually a family gathering where I was able to meet his lovely family .) I held an enlightening conversation with him on Palestine, the solidarity movement in the UK — and the virtues of debating openly with representatives of Zionist organizations, something I had just done a few days before our meeting.
“The state of the pro-Palestine camp in the UK is far better and stronger than it ever was,” Galloway told me, and of course what took place at the Labour conference was a testament to that. With regular events in support of Palestinian rights, protests when Zionist representatives come to present their case, and divestment votes, activism on UK campuses is robust.
Indeed, on a recent tour of UK campuses, the Israeli ambassador to London was met with numerous protests and in some cases was blocked from entering. At City, University of London the ambassador was forced to cancel the event.
The Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, or BDS, has changed the discussion on Palestine everywhere and has been particularly significant here n the UK. One recent and very significant development was the announcement by the British Quakers that they will not invest in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation.
Their exact statement was, “the church will not invest any of its centrally-held funds in companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine.” And, they added, “While Quakers in Britain is not a member of the full Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and does not advocate for BDS, we do support the right of organisations and citizens to engage in such democratic and legitimate means of nonviolent protest.”
According to a lengthy piece by Nathan Thrall in the Guardian, “Israel sees the international boycott campaign as an existential threat to the Jewish state. Palestinians regard it as their last resort.” Both claims may be true. The article continued by noting, “In the UK, BDS has brought turmoil to courts and local councils, embroiling them in disputes over the legality of local boycotts of settlement goods.”
To me, this “turmoil” means that there is a robust debate, and an opportunity to challenge the Zionists in the public sphere.
As may have been expected, all this created a reaction. In one recent court case which did not end well for the Palestinian cause, the British government was initially found to be in the wrong for banning public bodies from joining the Palestinian call for BDS — but then, a higher court later ruled for the government upon appeal.
According to Middle East Monitor, this legal battle was over guidance released by the British government in 2016 that stated that, “using pension policies to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defence industries are inappropriate, other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the government.”
In another legal attack on BDS, in the London Borough of Barnet Conservative Councillor Brian Gordon filed a motion with the borough council to criminalize BDS. The motion used the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism to support its claim that BDS is anti-Semitic.
Middle East Eyereported in 2017 that “British university staff are being advised to ‘risk-assess and manage’ events on campus relating to ‘contentious’ issues including Palestine and criticism of Western foreign policy in the Middle East in order to demonstrate their compliance with the government’s Prevent counter-extremism strategy.”
The creators of “Safe Campus Communities”, who include the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), told Middle East Eye the list was intended to promote free speech by encouraging universities to ensure that “topics that may be seen as controversial” could be “debated in a safe environment”.
Elsewhere in the training material, the topics are described as a “list of views that may be regarded as extremist but are not illegal”. Accompanying notes state that holding such views “may be legitimate provided they are not expressed or furthered by statements, deeds or actions which result in the harassment, intimidation or threats of violence against individuals or society itself”. The training material included slides such as this, below:
It has been my experience that this quest for an allegedly “safe environment” (which is part of the UK government’s “Prevent” initiative) has in some cases been used to prevent a robust debate and to prevent people from coming to events on Palestine.
For example, at Westminster University in London people had to register for the event I was speaking at, some 48 hours prior, or they were not allowed to attend.
At other universities only students and faculty were permitted to attend and those wishing to do so had to register in advance. In one case there were suspicions that a Zionist organization booked the entire event by registering fake names and while organizers thought the event was “sold out” very few people were actually in attendance.
The UK Haredi Community
Another intriguing part of the Palestinian-rights movement in the UK (as elsewhere) is the ultra-orthodox (Haredi) Jewish community.
One notable leader in this community is Rabbi Moshe Dov Beck, shown with me at right. He left Jerusalem after the 1967 war and today lives in Monsey, NY where he has been an outspoken anti-Zionist for decades. His son, Rabbi Elhanan Beck lives in London and he too is an anti-Zionist activist.
(I asked the elder Rabbi Beck once why he had left Jerusalem. His reply was, “I do not want the Zionists to crown their state with my beard, my peyot and my kaftan.” The peyote are the side-curls orthodox Jews grow and the kaftan is the unique coat Haredi Jews wear — all symbols of their devotion.)
In London, Rabbi Elhanan Beck (shown below) said to me, “I have lived in the UK for more than 30 years and I do not know what a British soldier looks like. In Jerusalem every child knows what a soldier looks like and what guns they carry. How can they (the Zionists) claim that Israel is a safe place for Jews?”
He also says that there is no foundation to the claims of growing anti-Semitism in the UK. “Look at me, I obviously look like a Jew and I have never had any problem here.”
Zionist organizations in the UK claim that the vast majority of UK’s 260,000 Jews are Zionist. But the Haredi community, which numbers close to 40,000, stands firmly against Zionism. “I will give you 100 pounds for every Israeli flag you find in our community,” Rabbi Beck says with a smile, “one hundred pounds!”
Rabbi Aharon Cohen lives in Manchester and he too is an active and outspoken anti-Zionist. He and I gave a presentation together at an event on the sidelines of September’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool. (See a post-meeting photo of us, below.)
In a conversation we had in December of 2018, Rabbi Cohen asked me why I do not mention the anti-Zionist work of the Haredi community. I had to admit to him that until recently I was in complete ignorance about their work.
This community has done significant anti-Zionist work for over a century and many within it are committed to boycotting Israel and Israeli goods. In fact, according to Rabbi Beck, thousands of Haredi Jews leave Israel and immigrate to the UK because they do not want to live under a Zionist regime. “Every bottle of milk you buy over there, part of the money goes to the state,” he says.
How Will It End?
While the common wisdom is that the question of Palestine will never be resolved as long as the US continues to support Israel, it may in fact be the UK government that brings about the most significant change. If the Labour Party headed by Jeremy Corbyn wins the next elections and is able to remain steadfast in its support for Palestinian rights, change for the better in Palestine may be closer than one thinks.
Bring the Troops Home, But Also Stop the Bombing Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies / AntiWar.com
(December 26, 2018) — As our nation debates the merits of President Donald Trump’s call for withdrawing US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, absent from the debate is the more pernicious aspect of US military involvement overseas: its air wars.
Trump’s announcement and General James Mattis’ resignation should unleash a national discussion about US involvement in overseas conflicts, but no evaluation can be meaningful without a clear understanding of the violence that US air wars have unleashed on the rest of the world for the past 17 years.
By our calculations, in this “war on terror,” the US and its allies have dropped a staggering 291,880 bombs and missiles on other countries — and that is just a minimum number of confirmed strikes.
As we contemplate that overwhelming number, let’s keep in mind that these strikes represent lives snuffed out, people maimed for life, families torn apart, homes and infrastructure demolished, taxpayer money squandered, and resentment that only engenders more violence.
After the horrific crimes of September 11, 2001, Congress was quick to pass a sweeping Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). While three presidents have claimed that the 2001 AUMF legally justifies these endless wars as a response to the crimes of 9/11, no serious reading of the authorization could interpret it that way.
What it actually says is: That the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
As former Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz told NPR a week after 9/11: “It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done . . . We must make a distinction between punishing the guilty and punishing others. If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t believe in what has happened, who don’t approve of what has happened.”
And yet here we are, 17 years later, mired in wars in which we are bombing ever more “nations, organizations, (and) persons” who had absolutely nothing to do with the crimes committed on September 11. We don’t have a single real or lasting success we can point to in 17 years of war in 7 countries and “counterinsurgency” operations in a dozen more. Every country the US has attacked or invaded remains trapped in intractable violence and chaos.
Please look at this chart, and take a few moments to reflect on the mass destruction it represents:
Number of Bombs and Missiles Dropped on Other Countries by the US & Its Allies Since 2001
**Other Countries: Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, and Yemen
These figures are an absolute minimum of confirmed strikes, based on US Airpower Summaries for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s count of confirmed drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen; the Yemen Data Project’s count of Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen; and other published statistics. Figures for 2018 are through October for Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan; through November for Yemen; and incomplete for other countries.
There are several categories of airstrikes that are not included on this chart, so the real total is certainly much higher. These are:
* Helicopter strikes: Military Times published an article in February 2017 titled, “The US military’s stats on deadly airstrikes are wrong. Thousands have gone unreported.” The largest pool of airstrikes not included in US Airpower Summaries are strikes by attack helicopters. The US Army told the authors its helicopters had conducted 456 otherwise unreported airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2016. The authors explained that the non-reporting of helicopter strikes runs throughout the post-9/11 wars, and they still did not know how many actual missiles were used in those 456 attacks in Afghanistan in 2016.
* AC-130 gunships: The airstrike that destroyed the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in 2015 was not conducted with bombs or missiles, but by a Lockheed-Boeing AC-130 gunship. These machines of mass destruction, usually flown by US Air Force special operations forces, are designed to circle a target on the ground, pouring howitzer shells and cannon fire into it, often until it is completely destroyed. The US has used AC-130s in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Syria.
* Strafing runs: US Airpower Summaries for 2004-2007 include a note that their tally of “strikes with munitions dropped . . . does not include 20mm and 30mm cannon or rockets.” But the 30mm cannons on A-10 Warthogs and other ground attack planes are powerful weapons, originally designed to destroy Soviet tanks. They fire up to 65 shells per second and can blanket a large area with deadly and indiscriminate fire, but that does not count as a “weapons release” in US Airpower Summaries.
* Yemen: Journalist Iona Craig, who has reported from Yemen for many years and manages the Yemen Data Project (YDP), told us she doesn’t know what proportion of actual airstrikes its data represents, and that the number of bombs or missiles recorded in each “air raid” in the YDP’s data is only a minimum confirmed number. Whatever fraction of total air raids YDP’s data represents, the actual number of bombs dropped on Yemen is certainly higher than these figures. YDP just doesn’t know how much higher.
* The US and allies conducting “counterinsurgency” operations in West Africa and other regions.
The US public soon lost its appetite for sending our own sons and daughters to fight and die in all these wars. So, like Nixon with Vietnam, our leaders reverted to bombing, bombing, and more bombing, while small deployments of US special operations forces and larger numbers of foreign proxies do most of the real fighting on the ground.
Our enemies call us cowards, especially when we use drones to kill by remote control, but more importantly, we are behaving like arrogant fools. Our country is acting as an aggressor and a bull in a china shop at a critical moment in history when neither we, nor the rest of the world, can afford such dangerous and destabilizing behavior from a hyper-militarized, aggressive imperial power.
After US-led bombing, artillery, and rocket fire destroyed two major cities in 2017, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, the US and its allies conducted fewer airstrikes in 2018, but actually increased the number of strikes in Afghanistan.
We are heading into 2019 with new initiatives to reduce US military involvement overseas. In Yemen, that initiative is the result of massive grassroots pressure on Congress, and is being done in opposition to Trump’s continued support for Saudi aggression in Yemen. In the case of Syria and Afghanistan, it is coming from Trump himself, with broad popular support but bipartisan opposition from Congress and D.C. elites.
Those who are part of the bipartisan war consensus should reflect on the growing public awareness of the murderous futility of US overseas wars. A survey by the Committee for a Responsible Foreign Policy revealed “a national voter population that is largely skeptical of the practicality or benefits of military intervention overseas.” Donald Trump seems to realize this public disdain for endless war, but we shouldn’t let him get away with reducing US troop presence but continuing — and in some cases escalating — the devastating air wars.
A good New Year’s resolution for the United States would be to put an end to the wars we have been engaged in for the past 17 years, and to make sure we do not allow the same military madness that got us into this mess to sucker us into new wars on North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, or other countries. Yes, let’s bring the troops home, but let’s also stop the bombing. Sustained advocacy toward the Trump administration and the new Congress by peace-loving Americans will be critical if we are to fulfill this resolution.
Medea Benjamin is the founder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange and the author of nine books, including the recently released Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. Her new book is Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Good Riddance to General Mattis
And the Rest of Washington’s Mad Dogs of War David Stockman / AntiWar.com
(December 26, 2018) — From the wailing and gnashing of teeth among the mainstream media and officialdom over General Mattis’ (welcome) departure, you would think that the Rapture had come and Washington’s ruling class was being unjustly left behind to eternal perdition. And if not that, then the Mattis Affair is alleged to be at least its secular equivalent — an unwarranted and unforgivable affront to the good and the brave of the Imperial City.
Then again, exactly what was so existentially harmful to America’s security about Trump’s decision to get out of Syria — the apparent reason for Mattis’ ballyhooed resignation?
The fact is, you can’t find a trace of threat to America on the map. Syria is now a tiny, broken country of ruin and rubble with a vastly diminished religiously and ethnically fractured population of 18 million; GDP of barely $60 billion; per capita income of only $3,000; a trickle of oil production (25k barrel/day); and a depleted and battle-ravaged military that cannot possibly operate outside of its own borders and barely controls the lands inside them.
In short, Syria has no economic, strategic or military relevance whatsoever to the safety and security of the American homeland. And that’s as in none, nada, nichts and nugatory.
If you are not looking through the distorted lens of Imperial Washington’s group think, in fact, the whole brouhaha over getting out of Syria is not even a close call; it’s inexplicable.
Except . . . except for Washington’s imperial dictate that Russia and Iran are not allowed to have any role there — even though both have been invited by the country’s duly established government in Damascus. Moreover, the derivative postulate from that high-handed writ is even more absurd.
In the first place, neither the pipsqueak nation of Iran with a GDP of $450 billion or the pint-seized nation of Russia with a GDP of $1.5 trillion have ever threatened to attack America. Nor do they have the military means to do so — since their combined defense budgets of $75 billion amount to about one month of Pentagon spending.
Besides, attacking America would be an act of abject national suicide if they tried, which their perfectly rational leaders understand fully well and have no intention of attempting.
So Washington’s fulminating and harrumphing chorus never explains how the modest economic and military presence of Russia and Iran in the godforsaken remnant of Syria would suddenly magnify their already nonexistent threat to America’s security. The War Party just assumes that any diminution of the Empire — even 220o US troops in what amounts to the empty desert quarter of Syria’s northeast — cannot be tolerated.
In fact, a look at the current “who controls what” map of Syria makes perfectly clear that Trump’s withdrawal order has no bearing at all on US national security. Now that the Washington’s abortive, illegal and counterproductive attempt at “regime change” in Damascus has completely failed and Assad and his allies control most of the territory and overwhelming share of the population and economy, America’s military presence Syria serves only the demented anti-Iranian policy of Bibi Netanyahu and the neocon branch of the War Party.
As shown in the map below, the northeast of Syria is now controlled by the Kurdish YPG (yellow), but most of that territory is desert or consists of impoverished Arab towns and villages east of the Euphrates. The true Kurdish communities occupy far less territory and hug tightly along the Turkish border.
So the only reason northeast Syria is controlled by the Kurds is that the US military armed, trained and gave massive air-support during the period in which the YPG successfully dislodged ISIS from its occupation of these bedraggled lands. But the YPG’s current area of control will drastically shrink and in a heartbeat — once its U.S. military sponsors deport.
Surely, it is not America’s job to promote and defend the detachment of a rump Kurdish state (yellow area) from the existing territory of Syria. And if the American forces leave and the YPG retreats to its own historic corridor along the Turkish border (which it would do of necessity) does that mean that ISIS will recover these territories?
Not at all. With the Syrian state restored and the fighting forces of the Iranians and Russians in support, any attempted revival of the Islamic State would be crushed by Assad and his allies.
Since eliminating the Islamic State was the ostensible reason for Washington’s military intervention in Syria in the first place, of course, a follow-on question necessarily recurs. To wit, what’s wrong with allowing the sovereign government of Syria and its chosen allies and friends to finish the job and keep the only significant non-government controlled area of Syria ISIS-free?
Needless to say, the skunk in the woodpile is self-evident. The only reason American forces are needed in the yellow area of the map below, and also at the Al-Tanf border crossing in the south (light green area) is to keep the Iranians from having a land-bridge from Iraq across Syria to its allies in the Hezbollah controlled regions of south Lebanon.
In a word, the true mission of the small contingent of US forces in Syria is to contain Iran, not fight ISIS. Like the case of the YPG occupied territory to the north, the light green area around Al-Tanf , which is currently occupied by the CIA recruited, trained and paid for New Syrian Army, would revert to government control immediately upon the US exit.
Again, so what?
It is abundantly clear that the small remaining salient of ISIS controlled territory (black area) east of Palmyra will be expunged by the Syrian government — with no help needed from the New Syrian Army. And when the US military leaves Al-Tanf this uninvited rebel militia will forthwith sell its American weapons for what can be had on the black market, abandon its uniforms and disappear across the border.
Beyond that, the government now controls all of the major population centers including Aleppo (4 million), Damascus (3.8 million), Homs (1.5 million) Hama (1.4 million) and Del Az Zor (1.0 million). At the same time, the remnant of the Nusra Front/al-Qaeda around Idlib (light green area) is now thoroughly encircled by the alliance of Turkish forces (light blue) and Syrian/Russian/Iranian/Hezbollah forces (darker green) per the so-called Astana Group arrangement to stabilize the country and eliminate the last vestiges of rebel control around Idlib in an orderly manner without the bloodbath feared earlier this year.
Indeed, the Astana Group (Russia, Turkey and Iran) has also just agreed upon a 150-strong committee representing all legitimate Syrian factions to write a new constitution next year, which would then pave the way for UN-supervised elections and a peace and reconciliation process that would encourage millions of refugees to return to their homeland.
From a purely humanitarian prospective, you really couldn’t ask for a better scenario than that for the long-suffering people of Syria, who became the victims of a vicious civil war and a murderous ISIS caliphate — neither of which would have happened save for the billions of arms that the Washington and Riyadh have poured into the country in quest of Regime Change and in contravention of all international law and norms of noninterference.
Yet the dead-end “remainers” of official Washington insist on jeopardizing a return to order and economic recovery in Syria in order to keep the government-invited and ISIS-fighting Iranians and Russians out of the country.
Indeed, we just heard a numbskull host on the once and former “progressive” MSNBC network argue that Washington is properly horrified at Trump’s action because it “ceded control” of Syria to the Iranians, Russians and . . . wait for it . . . the Syrians!
Yet that’s how Imperial Washington rolls. Its official group think has become so poisoned by an utterly false demonization of Russia and Iran that it would sacrifice American blood and treasure in order to protect Syrian from the Syrians!
Actually, the situation is even more absurd. A quick perusal of the map does remind that Iran doesn’t actually border Syria and that Iraq is juxtapositioned in-between. Since Iraq was supposedly liberated by Washington at the expense of massive cost in American blood and treasure, you would think that if the Iranian land bridge to Lebanon needed to be cutoff, the Iraq would be just the place to seal it off tighter than a drum.
Alas, you would be wrong. That’s because the Shiite government in Baghdad — allegedly Washington’s bought and paid for puppet — won’t or can’t do it.
Yet does that dispositive fact of life give the Imperial City cause for reflection?
Nope. Just deploy troops next door in Syria where they are unwanted and are bivouacked in violation of both international and domestic law because that’s they way the Empire rolls.
And if an untutored outlaw, who was put into the Oval Office by the American people, not cotton to the rules of Empire — why then demonizing him for selling out America’s security in outright McCarthyite fashion.
Not surprisingly, the straightforward reality depicted by the map above — which dramatically underscores that the Washington campaign for Regime Change has failed — is being obfuscated by endless red herrings offered up by Washington remainers, and especially the deplorable ranks of ex-Generals who come on cable TV to emit War Party agit prop.
The first of these — that ISIS will stage a comeback and Washington will be forced to come back to Syria — is complete tommyrot. The horrific Islamic State flickered briefly mainly due to the billions of American weapons it captured in Iraq and from the US supported rebels in Syria and from the modest cash flow from the eastern oilfields. But both of those resources have tried up.
The reality now is that the Syrian and Russian air forces control the air space, and the SAA (Syrian Arab Army) and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies are capable of suppressing any residual ISIS resistance on the ground.
The only reason the Islamic State even briefly established its benighted caliphate on Syrian soil during 2014-2016 is that Assad was on his backfoot militarily owing to the massive flow of US/Saudi weapons and money to the mainly sectarian Sunni and jihadist opposition.
Likewise, the related canard that ISIS arose because Obama pulled out of Iraq too soon is truly laughable. ISIS arose because Washington destroyed the tolerable peace between the Sunni, Shiite and Kurds which Saddam Hussein had established under the banner of Baathist nationalism; and then got itself lethally armed because Washington foolishly turned over billions worth of state of the art American weapons to a nonexistent Iraqi national army — weapons which ended-up, instead, in the hands of ISIS when Mosul and Anbar province were abandoned by the Shiite government in Baghdad.
The other big red herring — the claim that Washington can’t abandon its YPG/Kurdish allies — is especially mendacious. Decades of Turkey’s civil war against its large Kurdish minority, and the fact that half of the 30 million Kurdish population lives across the Turkish borders in northern Syria, Iraq and Iran, meant that hiring a Kurdish mercenary army to fight ISIS was a known hazard from the get-go.
Erdogan warned vociferously against it, and became nearly apoplectic when the US army backed YPG — which Turkey considers a terrorist organization, rightly or wrongly — nearly established a continuous span of control from Afrin in the northwest (see map above) to the Iraq border in the east.
So by the lights of the perpetual war advocates in Washington, a tactical decision to arm the opportunistic, anti-Turkish Kurds to fight ISIS is supposed to become a permanent obligation to protect them from Turkey to the north and the sovereign government of Syria in Damascus to the south.
That’s Imperial Rome all over again.
Besides, the alleged massacre of the Kurds in the event of Washington’s withdrawal is mainly a scary bedtime story circulated within the beltway to smear any one with the common sense to say Washington should get the hell out of a country it has no business occupying or meddling in.
With ISIS’ defeat in Syria and Turkey’s pivoting to a friendly relationship with Russia, in fact, the Turks have no need to invade eastern Syria and drive out the Kurds as they did last year in Afrin.
Owing to their participation in the Astana Group, and therefore defacto rapprochement with Assad, they are more than well-positioned to get an agreed four-party settlement which ends up with the YPG largely disarmed and its ambitions for a separate state nullified. As Tom Luongo astutely observed,
Turkey was one of the major partners in the mission to destroy Syria. And now they have joined with Russia, Iran and China in negotiating the peace process.
They have gone from “Assad must go!” to “Assad can stay.” It is an admission that the US plan for balkanization of Syria will eventually fail . . . .
The truth is, there will be no revival of ISIS or massacre of the Kurds under the Donald’s long overdue decision to do in Syria what the dovish GOP statesman from Vermont, Senator George Aiken, advised LBJ to do about Vietnam back in 1968: Namely, to declare victory and bring the troops home — a wise course of action that still rings with truth 50 years later.
And that gets us to General Mattis and his grandstanding resignation. Contrary to the mainstream media narrative, the man was far from the “adult” in the room. He is actually a short guy with a big mouth and an institutionally-instilled affinity for Empire and all its works.
As to the former attribute, his endless series of nasty quotes is hardly reflective of the wise civilian leadership that is supposed to govern our military forces. Instead, it just the smart-mouthed rhetoric of a guy who spent 40-years in a Marine barracks fighting wholly unnecessary wars against crudely armed insurgents who didn’t cotton to foreign legions bombing, droning, burning, demolishing and occupying their native towns, villages and farms across the middle east.
I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I am pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me I’ll kill you.
The only thing you can say about Mattis — notwithstanding his 7,000 book library and ostentatious carrying of the Mediations of Marcus Aurelius to battle — is that he was an unthinking warrior for the Empire who proved to be adept at inflicting the massive technological violence of the American war machine on the inhabitants of Kuwait in Gulf War 1.0, and then the same on the beleaguered lands and populations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Needless to say, there was nothing especially “adult” about any of that unnecessary mayhem. Instead, it was just dutiful implantation of the wholly misguided and destructive projects of Imperial Washington.
Thank heavens Mattis has now been fired from the Oval Office twice — first by Obama for his virulent antipathy to Iran and then by Trump for his ceaseless resistance to the withdrawal from Syria which the Donald announced way back on March 30.
On Christmas Eve, there could be no better gift to the American people — or the long-suffering populations of the middle east who have been subjected to Mattis style we’ll-kill-you-if-even-look-cross-eye at our occupation of your lands — than the Donald’s tweet of good riddance to Mattis and hopefully more of Washington’s Mad Dogs of War to come.
David Stockman was a two-term Congressman from Michigan. He was also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. After leaving the White House, Stockman had a 20-year career on Wall Street. He’s the author of three books, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America and TRUMPED! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin . . . And How to Bring It Back. He also is founder of David Stockman’s Contra Corner and David Stockman’s Bubble Finance Trader.
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