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Illegal Wars: The New American Way

By Maj. Danny Sjursen/ Truthdig/ March 21, 2018

[T]he 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. …
S.J. Res. 23 (107th): Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), Sept. 18, 2001

The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary … in order to … defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq. …
H. J. Res 114 (107th): Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq, Oct. 18, 2002

It’s all so obvious to a detached observer. Nonetheless, it remains unspoken. The United States of America is waging several wars with dubious legal sanction in domestic or international law.

The U.S. military stands astride the Greater Mideast region on behalf of an increasingly rogue-like regime in Washington, D.C. Worse still, this isn’t a Donald Trump problem, per se. No, three successive administrations—Democratic and Republican—have widened the scope of a global “war” on a tactic (terror), on the basis of two at best vague, and at worst extralegal, congressional authorizations for the use of force (AUMF). Indeed, the U.S. is veritably addicted to waging undeclared, unwinnable wars with unconvincing legal sanction.

Despite 17 years of fighting, dying and killing, there have been no specific declarations of war. Instead, one president after another, and hundreds of derelict-in-their-duty congress members, have simply decided on their ownthat a vague resolution, rubber-stamped while the rubble in New York was still smoking, authorizes each and every conflict in which America’s soldiers—and many more civilians—continue to die. This AUMF authorized the president to kill or capture those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, but, well, few of America’s current adversaries had anything to do with that.

If that doesn’t seem sufficient, Washington points to the only other congressional framework for perpetual war, the long-ago discredited war resolution, which sanctioned George W. Bush’s deceitful conquest of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But Saddam is dead and his regime gone, replaced by a U.S.-imposed chauvinist Shiite government which is now (tenuously) sovereign in Baghdad.

The specific circumstances surrounding that war resolution have passed.

So, you ask, how can, for example, war in Yemen or Somalia, be justified on the resolution’s account? Because the policy elites don’t care about logic or rational deduction, that’s why. It’s a convenient ruse, and they assume we’re not paying attention.

And the rest of us, well, we stay mostly silent, wrapped up with trying to earn a living in America’s new Gilded Age, its vastly unequal economy, and remain distracted by fancy handheld computer technology. They, the ones who act in our name—liberal and conservative policymakers alike—count on your apathy. They don’t want you to scratch off the veneer of legality and question the basis of each individual forever war in the Mideast. That would be inconvenient, but it is exactly what true citizens must do.

Let’s take a quick regional tour of some of America’s various shooting wars, and critically examine their legal sanction as it relates to the two existing AUMFs.

● How about we begin with the next massive quagmire awaiting the U.S. military in the Mideast: Syria. Almost no one realizes that the U.S. is now the proud owner of approximately one-third of Syria. Sure, we rent it out to various allied, mostly Kurdish militias, but it’s U.S. air power and a few thousand ground troops which make that possible. America got into Syria, ostensibly, to combat Islamic State—a truly brutal group.

Still, strictly speaking, there was no Islamic State in 2001, and there weren’t any Syrians among the 9/11 hijackers. Now, one might argue that Islamic State is a spinoff of al-Qaida, which did attack the United States. Careful though—by 2014, Islamic State had split from the local al-Qaida franchise (the Nusra Front), and the two had become warring rivals. More confusing still, while one could argue the 2001 AUMF covers al-Nusra, the U.S. has rarely attacked it and, indeed, sometimes armed and supplied Islamist elements affiliated with the group. What a twisted legal web Washington has spun.

Still, there the U.S. military now stands, responsible for the hopes, dreams, sustenance and well-being of millions of Syrians. Its troops aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, either. Before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was canned, he announced that U.S. “troops will remain in Syria”—essentially indefinitely—“to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will take over [these] areas.”

That’s strange. Assad is a brutal monster, sure, but he remains the sovereign ruler of Syria, and, well, technically he didn’t invite the U.S. military into his country. That means, in a certain sense, that only Russia and Iran—purported American adversaries—have any legal sanction in Syria. So, to review, the U.S. military occupies the east of Syria, facing down and one mistake away from a war with Assad, Iran, Russia and Turkey. That sounds risky. Oh, and one more question, do the 2001 or 2002 AUMFs cover the U.S. killing of scores of Russian mercenaries? Because that happened, too, just last month.

● The world’s worst humanitarian disaster zone today is in the Arab world’s poorest country: Yemen. Here, U.S.-backed Saudi planes drop American bombs on Yemeni Houthi rebels from planes fueled in midair by the U.S. Air Force. Though the official count of civilian deaths seemed to stop at 10,000 in 2016, journalist and Yemen specialist Iona Craig, of The Intercept, told me this week on my podcast that the real number probably approaches 50,000.

That’s just the direct, war-related deaths. The bombing and Saudi—and arguably U.S. Navy—blockade also has kicked off a record-breaking cholera epidemic and a worsening famine. Children literally starve to death in Yemen. The Houthis, a Shiite sect from northwest Yemen, had nothing to do with 9/11 and hardly collaborated with Saddam’s Iraq. How, then, can we square U.S. complicity in Saudi terror-bombing with international or domestic law? Short answer: We can’t.

● In Somalia, where the U.S. military has maintained an on-again, off-again presence since 1993, the Air Force bombs and Navy SEAL commandos raid the native al-Shabab militants. A particularly nasty bunch ensconced in a nastier neighborhood, al-Shabab didn’t even exist in its current form in 2001, and certainly had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. With no known relationship to Saddam Hussein, it’s hard to see how these Islamist militiamen fall under either AUMF.

Niger hit the headlines in a big way last year when four Army Green Berets died in a vicious ambush. No one, it seemed, not even superhawk Sen. Lindsay Graham, knew we had any troops there. Apparently, that’s no longer a requirement for the places America sends its soldiers to kill and die. Heck, most Americans had to look up the country’s pronunciation and scramble to find the joint on a map.

Despite 17 years of fighting, dying and killing, there have been no specific declarations of war. Instead, one president after another, and hundreds of derelict-in-their-duty congress members, have simply decided on their ownthat a vague resolution, rubber-stamped while the rubble in New York was still smoking, authorizes each and every conflict in which America’s soldiers—and many more civilians—continue to die. This AUMF authorized the president to kill or capture those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, but, well, few of America’s current adversaries had anything to do with that.

If that doesn’t seem sufficient, Washington points to the only other congressional framework for perpetual war, the long-ago discredited war resolution, which sanctioned George W. Bush’s deceitful conquest of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But Saddam is dead and his regime gone, replaced by a U.S.-imposed chauvinist Shiite government which is now (tenuously) sovereign in Baghdad.

The specific circumstances surrounding that war resolution have passed.

So, you ask, how can, for example, war in Yemen or Somalia, be justified on the resolution’s account? Because the policy elites don’t care about logic or rational deduction, that’s why. It’s a convenient ruse, and they assume we’re not paying attention.

And the rest of us, well, we stay mostly silent, wrapped up with trying to earn a living in America’s new Gilded Age, its vastly unequal economy, and remain distracted by fancy handheld computer technology. They, the ones who act in our name—liberal and conservative policymakers alike—count on your apathy. They don’t want you to scratch off the veneer of legality and question the basis of each individual forever war in the Mideast. That would be inconvenient, but it is exactly what true citizens must do.

Let’s take a quick regional tour of some of America’s various shooting wars, and critically examine their legal sanction as it relates to the two existing AUMFs.

● How about we begin with the next massive quagmire awaiting the U.S. military in the Mideast: Syria. Almost no one realizes that the U.S. is now the proud owner of approximately one-third of Syria. Sure, we rent it out to various allied, mostly Kurdish militias, but it’s U.S. air power and a few thousand ground troops which make that possible. America got into Syria, ostensibly, to combat Islamic State—a truly brutal group.

Still, strictly speaking, there was no Islamic State in 2001, and there weren’t any Syrians among the 9/11 hijackers. Now, one might argue that Islamic State is a spinoff of al-Qaida, which did attack the United States. Careful though—by 2014, Islamic State had split from the local al-Qaida franchise (the Nusra Front), and the two had become warring rivals. More confusing still, while one could argue the 2001 AUMF covers al-Nusra, the U.S. has rarely attacked it and, indeed, sometimes armed and supplied Islamist elements affiliated with the group. What a twisted legal web Washington has spun.

Still, there the U.S. military now stands, responsible for the hopes, dreams, sustenance and well-being of millions of Syrians. Its troops aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, either. Before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was canned, he announced that U.S. “troops will remain in Syria”—essentially indefinitely—“to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will take over [these] areas.”

That’s strange. Assad is a brutal monster, sure, but he remains the sovereign ruler of Syria, and, well, technically he didn’t invite the U.S. military into his country. That means, in a certain sense, that only Russia and Iran—purported American adversaries—have any legal sanction in Syria. So, to review, the U.S. military occupies the east of Syria, facing down and one mistake away from a war with Assad, Iran, Russia and Turkey. That sounds risky. Oh, and one more question, do the 2001 or 2002 AUMFs cover the U.S. killing of scores of Russian mercenaries? Because that happened, too, just last month.

● The world’s worst humanitarian disaster zone today is in the Arab world’s poorest country: Yemen. Here, U.S.-backed Saudi planes drop American bombs on Yemeni Houthi rebels from planes fueled in midair by the U.S. Air Force. Though the official count of civilian deaths seemed to stop at 10,000 in 2016, journalist and Yemen specialist Iona Craig, of The Intercept, told me this week on my podcast that the real number probably approaches 50,000.

That’s just the direct, war-related deaths. The bombing and Saudi—and arguably U.S. Navy—blockade also has kicked off a record-breaking cholera epidemic and a worsening famine. Children literally starve to death in Yemen. The Houthis, a Shiite sect from northwest Yemen, had nothing to do with 9/11 and hardly collaborated with Saddam’s Iraq. How, then, can we square U.S. complicity in Saudi terror-bombing with international or domestic law? Short answer: We can’t.

● In Somalia, where the U.S. military has maintained an on-again, off-again presence since 1993, the Air Force bombs and Navy SEAL commandos raid the native al-Shabab militants. A particularly nasty bunch ensconced in a nastier neighborhood, al-Shabab didn’t even exist in its current form in 2001, and certainly had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. With no known relationship to Saddam Hussein, it’s hard to see how these Islamist militiamen fall under either AUMF.

Niger hit the headlines in a big way last year when four Army Green Berets died in a vicious ambush. No one, it seemed, not even superhawk Sen. Lindsay Graham, knew we had any troops there. Apparently, that’s no longer a requirement for the places America sends its soldiers to kill and die. Heck, most Americans had to look up the country’s pronunciation and scramble to find the joint on a map.

Here, as in most foreign interventions in the African Sahel, the U.S. (and France) are being sucked into essentially local tribal, resource or ethnic conflicts that masquerade as transnational Islamism. These desert fighters had nothing to do with 9/11, the local Islamic State affiliate didn’t exist in 2001, and Niger is 3,000 miles or so from Saddam’s old haunt in Iraq.

On the bright side, the U.S. military was kind enough to grant retroactive “imminent danger” pay—a whopping $225 a month—for all the troops in Niger and Cameroon. You see, sometimes Washington doesn’t even know it’s in a barely sanctioned “imminent danger” situation, what used to be called a war, until after the fact.

● Finally, the boondoggle of all boondoggles, the original unwinnable war: Afghanistan. In this case, al-Qaida did once operate there and the broad contours of 9/11 were planned in Afghanistan. That was 2001. By 2002, al-Qaida was all but finished in Afghanistan and had fled to Pakistan and other regional locales. The war didn’t end though, not by a long shot. Seventeen years on, and the U.S. is again ramping up its longest war. Why? Because the stubborn Taliban that once harbored Osama bin Laden won’t surrender.

Honestly, though, let’s call it like it is: America’s chosen nemesis there—the Taliban—is, and essentially always was, a local actor with aspirations confined to landlocked Afghanistan. Most of these illiterate, destitute farm boys have never met any al-Qaida. Truth is, negotiations with the Taliban might convince these folks not to harbor al-Qaida-classic in the future. That wouldn’t serve the Taliban’s local interests, after all, and would bring on the continued wrath of U.S. bombers and commandos. To give a sense of how far off the rails U.S. policy has gone in Afghanistan, American planes started bombing ethnically Uighur Chinese militants last month. Tell me how that crew relates to either of our vague AUMFs? The whole notion is absurd.

On the bright side, the U.S. military was kind enough to grant retroactive “imminent danger” pay—a whopping $225 a month—for all the troops in Niger and Cameroon. You see, sometimes Washington doesn’t even know it’s in a barely sanctioned “imminent danger” situation, what used to be called a war, until after the fact.

war 2

● Finally, the boondoggle of all boondoggles, the original unwinnable war: Afghanistan. In this case, al-Qaida did once operate there and the broad contours of 9/11 were planned in Afghanistan. That was 2001. By 2002, al-Qaida was all but finished in Afghanistan and had fled to Pakistan and other regional locales. The war didn’t end though, not by a long shot. Seventeen years on, and the U.S. is again ramping up its longest war. Why? Because the stubborn Taliban that once harbored Osama bin Laden won’t surrender.

Honestly, though, let’s call it like it is: America’s chosen nemesis there—the Taliban—is, and essentially always was, a local actor with aspirations confined to landlocked Afghanistan. Most of these illiterate, destitute farm boys have never met any al-Qaida. Truth is, negotiations with the Taliban might convince these folks not to harbor al-Qaida-classic in the future. That wouldn’t serve the Taliban’s local interests, after all, and would bring on the continued wrath of U.S. bombers and commandos. To give a sense of how far off the rails U.S. policy has gone in Afghanistan, American planes started bombing ethnically Uighur Chinese militants last month. Tell me how that crew relates to either of our vague AUMFs? The whole notion is absurd.

* * *Across the Greater Mideast today, the U.S. is bogged down in a growing number of dubiously legal wars it can’t seem to win. One look at the strategic map tells a gloomy tale: The U.S. military, ensnared in country upon country, is unable to achieve victory and unwilling to prudently withdraw. The U.S. position in Syria and Iraq is tenuous as ever. American soldiers are surrounded by hostile adversaries and unreliable frenemies on all sides: Iran, Russia, Turkey, Assad and Hezbollah.Matters are even worse than they appear. There’s no discernible strategy, folks. The U.S. holds a bad hand and is playing it badly. The American people hardly care, media coverage these days is all Russia, all the time, and Congress has these wars on autopilot. Furthermore, seen through foreign eyes—which matter, by the way—there’s a distinct gap between U.S. public pronouncements about liberty and sovereignty and America’s adherence to the international laws governing such ideals.

Behind the standard American-freedom rhetoric, and beneath the surface lies an unspoken truth: The USA flouts international law when it suits American interests and stretches domestic authorizations to their breaking point in the name of perpetual, doomed warfare. We the people are all complicit, until, that is, we demand that Congress do its constitutional duty and specifically approve (or shut down) the forever wars.

Democracy dies in the darkness exuded by the clouds of foreign wars. The fate of the republic—what remains of it—hangs in the balance.

The U.S. may be a republic or an empire. It may not be both. Now is the time for choosing.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Maj. Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan…
Posted in Afghanistan, America, foreign policy, government, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, military, politics, Syria, war, Yemen | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Unraveling of a President

By Arlen Grossman

The pressure is building up around Donald Trump. As I write this, today was full of disturbing news for the president (as well as most of us). The Dow plummeted over 700 points, his lead lawyer stepped down, he is being sued by several women, as well as by attorneys general for two states over violations of the emoluments clause in the Constitution.

Events are moving swiftly, and Trump surely feels it. Robert Mueller might be near interviewing the president and finishing his investigation, Meanwhile, White House personnel are dropping like flies. His modest approval ratings are at risk.

Dave Granlund / politicalcartoons.com

So what is a beleaguered president to do? For Donald Trump, it means getting rid of any of his remaining moderate, experienced staff, and replacing them with extremist nutcases that he admires from watching cable news shows, especially on Fox News. Ultra conservative Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State, Torture Queen Gina Haspel for CIA, and warmonger John Bolton for National Security Advisor are recent presidential picks. As Mueller moves forward, Trump keeps shuffling his lawyers, and brings in Fox TV conspiracy wacko Joseph diGenova, 

Maybe bombing North Korea and/or Iran will boost his popularity, he probably thinks. Saner heads know it will lead to disaster. His tweets are compulsive, mistake-filled rantings of a deranged leader. His paranoia and persecution complex is escalating.

Fasten your seat belts, America, a very bumpy ride is ahead.

 

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Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country

By Sinan Antoon/ New York Times/ March 19, 2018

Iraq 2

When I was 12, Saddam Hussein, vice president of Iraq at the time, carried out a huge purge and officially usurped total power. I was living in Baghdad then, and I developed an intuitive, visceral hatred of the dictator early on. That feeling only intensified and matured as I did. In the late 1990s, I wrote my first novel, “I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody,” about daily life under Saddam’s authoritarian regime. Furat, the narrator, was a young college student studying English literature at Baghdad University, as I had. He ends up in prison for cracking a joke about the dictator. Furat hallucinates and imagines Saddam’s fall, just as I often did. I hoped I would witness that moment, whether in Iraq or from afar.

I left Iraq a few months after the 1991 Gulf War and went to graduate school in the United States, where I’ve been ever since. In 2002, when the cheerleading for the Iraq war started, I was vehemently against the proposed invasion. The United States had consistently supported dictators in the Arab world and was not in the business of exporting democracy, irrespective of the Bush administration’s slogans. I recalled sitting in my family’s living room with my aunt when I was a teenager, watching Iraqi television and seeing Donald Rumsfeld visiting Baghdad as an emissary from Ronald Reagan and shaking hands with Saddam. That memory made Mr. Rumsfeld’s words in 2002 about freedom and democracy for Iraqis seem hollow. Moreover, having lived through two previous wars (the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 and the Gulf War of 1991), I knew that the actual objectives of war were always camouflaged by well-designed lies that exploit collective fear and perpetuate national myths.

I was one of about 500 Iraqis in the diaspora — of various ethnic and political backgrounds, many of whom were dissidents and victims of Saddam’s regime — who signed a petition: “No to war on Iraq. No to dictatorship.” While condemning Saddam’s reign of terror, we were against a “war that would cause more death and suffering” for innocent Iraqis and one that threatened to push the entire region into violent chaos. Our voices were not welcomed in mainstream media in the United States, which preferred the pro-war Iraqi-American who promised cheering crowds that would welcome invaders with “sweets and flowers.” There were none.

The petition didn’t make much of an impact. Fifteen years ago today, the invasion of Iraq began.

Three months later, I returned to Iraq for the first time since 1991 as part of a collective to film a documentary about Iraqis in a post-Saddam Iraq. We wanted to show my countrymen as three-dimensional beings, beyond the binary of Saddam versus the United States. In American media, Iraqis had been reduced to either victims of Saddam who longed for occupation or supporters and defenders of dictatorship who opposed the war. We wanted Iraqis to speak for themselves. For two weeks, we drove around Baghdad and spoke to many of its residents. Some were still hopeful, despite being drained by years of sanctions and dictatorship. But many were furious and worried about what was to come. The signs were already there: the typical arrogance and violence of a colonial occupying power.

My short visit only confirmed my conviction and fear that the invasion would spell disaster for Iraqis. Removing Saddam was just a byproduct of another objective: dismantling the Iraqi state and its institutions. That state was replaced with a dysfunctional and corrupt semi-state. We were still filming in Baghdad when L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, announced the formation of the so-called Governing Council in July 2003. The names of its members were each followed by their sect and ethnicity. Many of the Iraqis we spoke to on that day were upset with institutionalization of an ethno-sectarian quota system. Ethnic and sectarian tensions already existed, but their translation into political currency was toxic. Those unsavory characters on the governing council, most of whom were allies of the United States from the preceding decade, went on to loot the country, making it one of the most corrupt in the world.

We were fortunate to have been able to shoot our film in that brief period during which there was relative public security. Shortly after our visit, Iraq descended into violence; suicide bombings became the norm. The invasion made my country a magnet for terrorists (“We’ll fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here,” President George W. Bush had said), and Iraq later descended into a sectarian civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands more, irrevocably changing the country’s demography.

The next time I returned to Baghdad was in 2013. The American tanks were gone, but the effects of the occupation were everywhere. I had low expectations, but I was still disheartened by the ugliness of the city where I had grown up and horrified by how dysfunctional, difficult and dangerous daily life had become for the great majority of Iraqis.

Iraq

My last visit was in April 2017. I flew from New York, where I now live, to Kuwait, where I was giving a lecture. An Iraqi friend and I crossed the border by land. I was going to the city of Basra, in the south of Iraq. Basra was the only major Iraqi city I had not visited before. I was going to sign my books at the Friday book market of al-Farahidi Street, a weekly gathering for bibliophiles modeled after the famous Mutanabbi Street book market in Baghdad. I was driven around by friends. I didn’t expect the beautiful Basra I’d seen on 1970s postcards. That city had long disappeared. But the Basra I saw was so exhausted and polluted. The city had suffered a great deal during the Iran-Iraq war, and its decline accelerated after 2003. Basra was pale, dilapidated and chaotic thanks to the rampant corruption. Its rivers are polluted and ebbing. Nonetheless, I made a pilgrimage to the famous statue of Iraq’s greatest poet, Badr Shakir al-Sayyab.

One of the few sources of joy for me during these short visits were the encounters with Iraqis who had read my novels and were moved by them. These were novels I had written from afar, and through them, I tried to grapple with the painful disintegration of an entire country and the destruction of its social fabric. These texts are haunted by the ghosts of the dead, just as their author is.

No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than one million. You can read that sentence again. The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a “blunder,” or even a “colossal mistake.” It was a crime. Those who perpetrated it are still at large. Some of them have even been rehabilitated thanks to the horrors of Trumpism and a mostly amnesiac citizenry. (A year ago, I watched Mr. Bush on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” dancing and talking about his paintings.) The pundits and “experts” who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign, but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis.

Posted in foreign policy, government, Iraq, Iraq war, politics, war | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

IGNORANCE ISN’T BLISS

The corporate media ignores the rise of oligarchy. The rest of us shouldn’t

By Bernie Sanders/ The Guardian/ March 16, 2018

The rapid rise of oligarchy and wealth and income inequality is the great moral, economic, and political issue of our time. Yet, it gets almost no coverage from the corporate media.

How often do network newscasts report on the 40 million Americans living in poverty, or that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major nation on earth? How often does the media discuss the reality that our society today is more unequal than at any time since the 1920s with the top 0.1% now owning almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%? How often have you heard the media report the stories of millions of people who today are working longer hours for lower wages than was the case some 40 years ago?

How often has ABC, CBS or NBC discussed the role that the Koch brothers and other billionaires play in creating a political system which allows the rich and the powerful to significantly control elections and the legislative process in Congress?

Sadly, the answer to these questions is: almost never. The corporate media has failed to let the American people fully understand the economic forces shaping their lives and causing many of them to work two or three jobs, while CEOs make hundreds of times more than they do. Instead, day after day, 24/7, we’re inundated with the relentless dramas of the Trump White House, Stormy Daniels, and the latest piece of political gossip.

We urgently need to discuss the reality of today’s economy and political system, and fight to create an economy that works for everyone and not just the one percent.

We need to ask the hard questions that the corporate media fails to ask: who owns America, and who has the political power? Why, in the richest country in the history of the world are so many Americans living in poverty? What are the forces that have caused the American middle class, once the envy of the world, to decline precipitously? What can we learn from countries that have succeeded in reducing income and wealth inequality, creating a strong and vibrant middle class, and providing basic human services to everyone?

Bernie

Until we understand that the rightwing Koch brothers are more politically powerful than the Republican National Committee, and that big banks, pharmaceutical companies, and multinational corporations are spending unlimited sums of money to rig the political process, we won’t be able to overturn the disastrous US supreme court decision on Citizens United, move to the public funding of elections and end corporate greed.

Until we understand that the US federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage and that people cannot make it on $9 or $10 an hour, we’re not going to be able to pass a living wage of at least $15 an hour.

Until we understand that we live in a highly competitive global economy and that it is counterproductive that millions of our people cannot afford a higher education or leave school deeply in debt, we will not be able to make public colleges and universities tuition free.

Until we understand that we are the only major country on earth not to guarantee healthcare to all and that we spend far more per capita on healthcare than does any other country, we’re not going to be able to pass a Medicare for all, single-payer program.

Until we understand that the US pays, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs because pharmaceutical companies can charge whatever price they want for life-saving medicine, we’re not going to be able to lower the outrageous price of these drugs.

Until we understand that climate change is real, caused by humans, and causing devastating problems around the world, especially for poor people, we’re not going to be able to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into sustainable forms of energy.

We need to raise political consciousness in America and help us move forward with a progressive agenda that meets the needs of our working families. It’s up to us all to join the conversation – it’s just the beginning.

 
Posted in Economics, government, inequality, labor, media, politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Time to Give Socialism a Try

By Elizabeth Bruenig/ Washington Post/ March 6, 2017

 

In the United States, we’ve arrived at a pair of mutually exclusive convictions: that liberal, capitalist democracies are guaranteed by their nature to succeed and that in our Trumpist moment they seem to be failing in deeply unsettling ways. For liberals — and by this I mean inheritors of the long liberal tradition, not specifically those who might also be called progressives — efforts to square these two notions have typically combined expressions of high anxiety with reassurances that, if we only have the right attitude, everything will set itself aright.

Hanging on and hoping for the best is certainly one approach to rescuing the best of liberalism from its discontents, but my answer is admittedly more ambitious: It’s time to give socialism a try.

Contemporary supporters of liberalism are often subject, I think, to what I call “everyday Fukuyama-ism” — the idea, explicitly stated or not, that the end of the Cold War really signaled the end of history, and that we can only look forward to the unceasing rise of Western-style liberal-democratic capitalism. (As the leftist scholar Mark Fisher recounted: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”) This assumption is reflected in the blindsided, startled unease of liberals in the era of President Trump: “There are moments when everything I have come to believe in — reasoned deliberation, mutual toleration, liberal democracy, free speech, honesty, decency, and moderation — seem as if they are in eclipse,” Andrew Sullivan recently lamented in New York magazine. “For the foreseeable future, nationalism is likely to remain a defining political force,” Yascha Mounk fretted this weekend in the New York Times; “liberals should strive to make nationalism as inclusive as possible,” he warned. 

Against this backdrop of liberal disquietude, the notion that everything either will be or already is all right, granted the correct attitude —  that “we’re better than this,” as Joe Biden confidently declares on his newly launched political action committee’s website — appears particularly frail. It’s hard to square the late-Obama-era insistence that “America is already great” with the palpable sense that something — in the climate, in the economy, in society, in politics, in the wellspring of American ideas — is going badly wrong. What to do? Sullivan’s solution to liberalism’s peril is contemplative “self-doubt and self-knowledge”; Mounk’s is to “domesticate [nationalism] as best we can.”

But my sense is that while Sullivan, Mounk and all the other concerned liberal observers are right that something is wrong with the state of American liberalism, the problem is much deeper than they allow. I don’t think business-as-usual but better is enough to fix what’s broken here. I think the problem lies at the root of the thing, with capitalism itself.

In fact, both Sullivan’s and Mounk’s complaints — that Americans appear to be isolated, viciously competitive, suspicious of one another and spiritually shallow; and that we are anxiously looking for some kind of attachment to something real and profound in an age of decreasing trust and regard — seem to be emblematic of capitalism, which encourages and requires fierce individualism, self-interested disregard for the other, and resentment of arrangements into which one deposits more than he or she withdraws. (As a business-savvy friend once remarked: Nobody gets rich off of bilateral transactions where everybody knows what they’re doing.) Capitalism is an ideology that is far more encompassing than it admits, and one that turns every relationship into a calculable exchange. Bodies, time, energy, creativity, love — all become commodities to be priced and sold. Alienation reigns. There is no room for sustained contemplation and little interest in public morality; everything collapses down to the level of the atomized individual. 

That capitalism is inimical to the best of liberalism isn’t a new concern: It’s a long-standing critique, present in early socialist thought. That both capitalism and liberal governance have changed since those days without displacing the criticism suggests that it’s true in a foundational way.  

Not to be confused for a totalitarian nostalgist, I would support a kind of socialism that would be democratic and aimed primarily at decommodifying labor, reducing the vast inequality brought about by capitalism, and breaking capital’s stranglehold over politics and culture.

I don’t think that every problem can be traced back to capitalism: There were calamities and injustices long before capital, and I’ll venture to say there will be after. But it seems to me that it’s time for those who expected to enjoy the end of history to accept that, though they’re linked in certain respects, capitalism seems to be at odds with the harmonious, peaceful, stable liberalism of midcentury dreams. I don’t think we’ve reached the end of history yet, which means we still have the chance to shape the future we want. I suggest we take it. 

 
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It’s Time to Give Socialism a Try

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Foreign Meddling: We Do It, Too

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Our Lowest Priority: People

By Arlen Grossman

There is one important reason this country has so many mass shootings, as well as so much suicide, opioid addiction, depression, anxiety, child abuse and a litany of other indicators of a dysfunctional, troubled society.

It comes down to this: the culture of the United States doesn’t care about people. This society mostly cares about money, profits, greed, power, consumerism, wars, and similar non-humanitarian values.

Here’s an example: we know our schools are inadequate. We clearly need smaller classes, art and music programs, counseling services, maintenance, etc. yet our political leaders (and sometimes, taxpayers) aren’t willing to make improving schools a priority. In contrast, there always seems to be substantial amounts of money available for an already bloated military, or tax cuts for the wealthy.

It’s the same for health care, retirement benefits, infrastructure, mental health services and many other people-benefiting expenditures. We’re not willing to spend the money needed to fix these human needs, but over a trillion dollars for modernization of our nuclear weapons program–not a problem.

It comes down to this. Our society reflects our values. Our priorities appear to be profits over people. No wonder we are in so much trouble.

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Has It Gotten This Bad?

 

  • Trump’s Divide-and-Conquer Strategy

    By Robert Reich/ robertreich.org/ February 4, 2018

    If Robert Mueller finds that Trump colluded with Russia to fix the 2016 election, or even if Trump fires Mueller before he makes such a finding, Trump’s supporters will protect Trump from any political fallout.  

    Trump’s base will stand by him not because they believe Trump is on their side, but because they define themselves as being on his side.

    Trump has intentionally cleaved America into two warring camps: pro-Trump and anti-Trump. And he has convinced the pro-Trumps that his enemy is their enemy.

    Most Americans are not passionate conservatives or liberals, Republicans or Democrats. But they have become impassioned Trump supporters or Trump haters.

    Polls say 37 percent of Americans approve of him, and most disapprove. These numbers are the tips of two vast icebergs of intensity.

    Trump has forced all of us to take sides, and to despise those on the other. There’s no middle ground.

    The Republican Party used to stand for fiscal responsibility, state’s rights, free trade, and a hard line against Russian aggression. Now it just stands for Trump.

    Pro-Trump Republicans remain the majority in the GOP. As long as Trump can keep them riled up, and as long as Republicans remain in control of at least one chamber of Congress, he’s safe.

    trump cartoon big

     

    “Try to impeach him, just try it,” Roger Stone, Trump’s former campaign adviser, warned last summer. “You will have a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen.”

    That’s probably an exaggeration, but Trump (with the assistance of his enablers in Congress) has convinced his followers that the Russian investigation is part of a giant conspiracy to unseat him, and that his enemies want to replace him with someone who will allow dangerous forces to overrun America.

    Sure, this paranoia is based on the same racism and xenophobia that has smoldered in America since its inception. Trump’s strategy is to stoke it daily.  

    Sure, American politics had polarized before Trump. Trump’s strategy is to exploit and enlarge these divisions.

    A few months ago I traveled to Kentucky and talked with a number of Trump supporters.

    They looked and sounded nothing like traditional conservative Republicans. Most were working class. Several were members of labor unions. All were passionate about Trump.

    Why do you support him? I asked. “He’s shaking Washington up,” was the typical response.

    I mentioned his lies. “He’s telling it like it is,” several told me. “He speaks his mind.”

    I talked about his attacks on democracy. “Every other politician is on the take,” they said. “He isn’t. He doesn’t need their money.”

    I asked about his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. They told me they didn’t believe a word of it. “It’s a plot to get rid of him.”

    By making himself the center of an intensifying conflict, Trump grabs all the attention and fuels even greater passions on both sides.

    It’s what he did in the 2016 election, but on a far larger scale. Then, he sucked all the oxygen out of the race by making himself its biggest story. Now, he’s sucking all the oxygen out of America by making himself our national obsession.

    Trump received more coverage in the 2016 election than any presidential candidate in American history. Hillary Clinton got far less, and what she got was almost all about her emails.

    Schooled in reality television and New York tabloids, Trump knows how to keep both sides stirred up: Vilify, disparage, denounce, defame, and accuse the other side of conspiring against America. Do it continuously. Dominate every news cycle.

    Fox News is his propaganda arm, magnifying his tweets, rallies, and lies. The rest of the media also plays into Trump’s strategy by making him the defining controversy of America. Every particular dispute – DACA, the “wall,” North Korea, Mueller’s investigation, and so on – becomes another aspect of the larger national war over Trump.  

    It’s the divide-and-conquer strategy of a tyrant.

    Democracies require sufficient social trust that citizens regard the views of those they disagree with as worthy of equal consideration to their own. That way, they’ll accept political outcomes they dislike.

    Trump’s divide-and-conquer strategy is to destroy that trust.

    So if Mueller finds Trump colluded with Russia, or Trump fires Mueller before Mueller makes such a finding, the pro-Trumps will block any consequential challenge to his authority.

    Nothing could be more dangerous to our democracy and society.

 

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