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America: It’s Going to Be a Wild Ride

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on January 22, 2017 at 10:12 am

I watahed Donald Trump’s inaugural speech yesterday with three other housemates and none of us were impressed. He’s living in another age – I see Trump trying to hang on to the long passed time of American military supremacy and economic domination. One last gasp before the US empire crashes under the weight of its own hypocrisy and contradictions.

He said a few things that were decent but one must question them as pure political rhetoric as just a quick review of his cabinet appointments (full of corporate operatives) strongly undercuts his claims that he will return the power to the people that the ‘elites in Washington’ have unfairly taken from them.

Trump blames other nations (especially China) for ‘stealing our jobs’ but we all know that it was the absolute greed of the corporations that drove them to close production plants across America and move jobs to places overseas where labor was cheaper and environmental regulations were virtually non-existent. Just look at the air quality in India and China for example. Now in order to ‘bring those jobs home’ Trump, and the right-wing dominated Congress, want to finish turning the US into a third-world dictatorship where ‘regulations on the job creators’ are a thing of the past.

Trump will likely finish off what little good will might still exist toward America around the globe. The inevitable collapse of the US imperial project will now accelerate.

Obama often fooled many people overseas (and at home) with his slick talk and friendly demeanor – even while he was dropping bombs on Libya as he did just the day before Trump took his oath of office. Donald Trump won’t be able to pull off that magic trick so easily.

I believe the key organizing strategy in the coming four years on an international level will be to utterly reject US leadership on virtually every issue – from climate change to NATO and beyond. The world must isolate the US as a reactionary and undemocratic rogue state. Protests around the world should not just focus on Trump but on the US imperial project that is now totally committed to global domination for the benefit of corporate interests. Concern for the people of the world or the environment is off the table in Washington. Democracy is a meaningless word now.

The people of the world must demand that their leaders completely reject the US as a role model or a voice of reason.

This corporate take over of the US government runs far deeper than Trump. He is not an aberration from the norm – Trump represents the norm in Washington. We are now ruled by Christian fundamentalism (the American Taliban), an economic expansion ideology that has no concern for the planet, and a military ethic that carries with it strong Puritan evangelical strains. Greatness only means domination – of everything.

For those of us living here in America we must not restrict our protests to calling out Trump. We must recognize how the Democrats regularly collaborate with the right-wing reactionary corporate forces. Just days ago in the US Senate 12 Democrats joined with Republicans to kill a bill that would have allowed American citizens to purchase cheaper medicines from Canada. The Democrats support swung the vote to satisfy the interests
of big pharma. In the US we must see that we don’t have a legislative solution to our problems as the corporations have the government under lock down and they have the key$.

Public protest and non-violent civil resistance in the tradition of Gandhi, ML King, and Dorothy Day are where we must move now – collectively as a nation.

In Washington we now have the classic definition of fascism – the wedding of government and corporations. It would have been the same story if Hillary Clinton had been elected. She would have been more ‘sophisticated’ and not come across quite as brash and impolite as Trump does. That would have been enough for many Americans – to them it is no problem that we rule the world just as long as we do it with a reassuring smile. Trump has broken that mold.

Folks had better hang on because this is going to be a wild ride. Victory will not come to those who think that building support for their single-issue agenda is the way out of this dark moment. The old business model of every organization fending for itself won’t work any more.

Only by connecting all the dots and working to build a broad and unified movement across the nation – linked with our friends internationally – can we put the brakes on this fall over the cliff that the new corporate government in Washington is pushing us toward.

We need to create a unified positive vision such as converting the military industrial complex to build solar, wind turbines, commuter rail systems and more. This would serve the interests of labor, environmental groups, the unemployed, and the peace movement. A win-win for all.

Bruce K. Gagnon
Coordinator, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 0401,

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When Bill Clinton Put His Thumb on the Scale for Yeltsin: “Boris? Good Enough!”

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice on January 20, 2017 at 10:29 am

By Nick Alexandrov

http://store.counterpunch.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/vol-24-no-1.pdf

The veterinarian lives in a “region of rolling green hills, broad horizons and abysmal poverty,” where he chain-smokes “the cheapest brand of cigarettes,” unfiltered. His wife, a librarian by training, “works on a nearby cattle ranch” sometimes. “The Government does not care for simple people,” she laments. That’s why she backs the candidate who, if elected, might not herald a “return exactly to old times”—though “maybe something similar.” This is the north Caucasus, late spring, 1996, in Michael R. Gordon’s New York Times depiction.

In Russia’s presidential race that year, incumbent and eventual victor Boris Yeltsin “was floundering. Five candidates, led by Communist Gennadi Zyuganov”—the man the Caucasus couple liked—“were ahead of Yeltsin in some polls,” Andrew Felkay notes in Yeltsin’s Russia and the West. “The president was favored by only 6 percent of the electorate and was ‘trusted’ as a competent leader by an even smaller proportion,” he adds. “In the U.S.,” consultant Richard Dresner remarked, “you’d advise a pol with those kinds of numbers to get another occupation.”

Dresner was one of the “American ‘image-makers’” Yeltsin brought in “to help with the campaign.” The strategists got a quarter million dollars for four months’ work, “an unlimited budget for polling, focus groups and other research,” Felkay explains. Dresner had also been “gubernatorial campaign consultant to Bill Clinton,” but “denied any connections between the Russian campaign and the White House” despite this and other links, Gerald Sussman pointed out in Monthly Review (December 2006). “For Clinton,” regardless, “what mattered most was keeping Yeltsin in power,” writes Nicolas Bouchet in Democracy Promotion as US Foreign Policy.

“Indeed the West supported Yeltsin much more energetically in those elections than either the Russian political class or the public,” Lilia Shevtsova affirms in Lonely Power, stressing that Clinton “kept doing everything in his power to support Yeltsin.” “Under pressure from the White House,” she continues, “the IMF decided in 1996…to loan Russia $10.2 billion”—a move “designed to bolster Yeltsin’s chances,” Shevtsova and Angela Stent observed in Foreign Policy (Summer 1996). Michael Gordon concurred in the New York Times, calling the sum “a major election-year boost” for Yeltsin. And Boris Fyodorov, Russia’s finance minister from 1993-1994, allegedly “declared that no economic argument could be found to justify” the money, unless Washington “wanted to buy Yeltsin’s re-election.” So reported U.S. Lt. Gen William E. Odom, who further testified before the House Committee on International Relations that the loan “did…help buy” Yeltsin’s victory.

“At Clinton’s behest,” moreover, “the G8 held a summit on security issues in Moscow in early 1996,” Shevtsova reminds us. This was “not a regularly scheduled” meeting, but “was transparently a gambit to support Yeltsin’s campaign.” To the New York Times it appeared “primarily designed to burnish Boris Yeltsin’s prestige,” and Yeltsin himself called it “an inestimable moral support.”

So while Zyuganov “went into the campaign as the heavy favorite in virtually every poll;” “had a strong grassroots organization behind him;” and “was widely believed to be the favored candidate” two months before the vote, in the end his party’s “door-to-door campaign was obliterated by the heavily researched, well-financed, media-saturating, modern campaign waged by the Yeltsin team,” Sarah E. Mendelson summarized in International Security (Spring 2001). The European Institute for the Media determined this “media-saturating” facet of Yeltsin’s operation “marred the fairness of the democratic process,” in part because “the media received and accepted specific instructions on how to cover the campaign.”

And there were other problems. “The bias on the national television channels (a breach of the regulations), the pressure on editors and media outlets, the use of the administrative and financial levers”—all created a climate in which “voters were given less information of a professional and objective nature” than they’d received earlier that decade, just after the USSR’s collapse.

The 1996 contest, Shevtsova concludes, “marked the beginning of democracy’s discrediting in the eyes of Russian public opinion,” largely because Washington and its allies did “everything in [their] power to back their protégés in the Kremlin at the expense of free and fair elections.” The fact that “the United States pushed an electoral procedure in which it believed the only acceptable outcome had to be Yeltsin” made the event, as Peter J. Stavrakis put it to the House Committee on International Relations, “deeply disturbing to many Russians who saw in the electoral process much of the sham aspects that were present in the Soviet era.”

But U.S. goals went beyond warping Russian democracy. Washington’s “whole policy was…aimed,” at the time, “at the domestic transformation of Russia, both politically and economically,” Thomas Graham, Chief Political Analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1994–1997, explained. “The U.S. assistance program was driven by the desire to support reformers whose agenda was consistent with U.S. objectives,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) elaborated. Mendelson described the “virtual army of non- governmental organizations (NGOs) from the United States” swarming Russia in the early 1990s. “From fiscal year 1990 through December 31, 1994,” the GAO reported, the U.S. government threw $3.5 billion at Russian overhaul efforts, as “23 departments and independent agencies implemented 215 programs in the [former Soviet Union].”

Julie Nelson and Irina Y. Kuzes, in Radical Reform in Yeltsin’s Russia, break down the funding. For example, “the Washington, D.C., Sawyer/Miller Group received $7 million to develop a television advertising campaign to promote privatization,” and “an Arlington, Virginia, consulting firm, Haglar Bailly, received a $20 million contract to ‘help privatize Russian utilities and encourage them to install U.S.-made equipment[.]’”

Or consider the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID). It was Washington’s “operator for its program of aid for economic reform and privatization in Russia,” Shevtsova writes, with budgets of “$57.7 million for Russian economic reform and $20 million for legal reform.” HIID even “drafted many of the Kremlin decrees” pushing for privatization, according to Janine Wedel (Collision and Collusion). In 2000, Shevtsova continues, “a U.S. court found that economics professor and HIID adviser Andrei Schleifer and his assistant Jonathan Hay ‘used their position and substantial influence on Russian officials… to achieve their own financial interests and the interests of their spouses.’” In other words, “they enriched themselves exactly as their Russian colleagues were doing.”

With its vast corruption and sham elections, Yeltsin’s Russia had “no real democracy,” Dimitri K. Simes, President of the Center for the National Interest, concluded. He emphasized that, “because of the Clinton Administration’s embrace of the undemocratic Yeltsin regime and perceived U.S. support for radical and even brutal economic reforms of the 1990s that were rejected by the vast majority of the Russian people, the Russian public is not inclined to accept U.S. guidance on democracy today.” No wonder.

“In the early 1990s, Russia’s economic system collapsed,” David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu explain in The Body Economic. Unemployment “jumped to 22 percent by 1998,” while “one-quarter of the population were living in poverty” in 1995, as “men began to die at an increasing rate.” Stuckler and Basu blame austerity measures, mass privatization—the Russian metamorphosis U.S. power promoted. “Economic genocide,” Yeltsin’s vice president charged. How all this compares to claims [that] Russian hacking undermined the U.S. election, I leave for the reader to decide.

Nicholas Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC.

Backgrounder: 10 key quotes from Xi’s speech at UN Office at Geneva

In Climate change, Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health, War on January 20, 2017 at 3:53 am

GENEVA, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) — Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech here on Wednesday at the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Here are 10 key quotes from the 50-minute address, which elaborates on China’s solution to current global challenges: building a “community of shared future for mankind” that features all-win cooperation and sharing:

1. The essence of sovereign equality is that the sovereignty and dignity of all countries, whether big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, must be respected, their internal affairs allow no interference and they have the right to independently choose their social system and development path.

2. Nuclear weapons, the Sword of Damocles that hangs over mankind, should be completely prohibited and thoroughly destroyed over time to make the world free of nuclear weapons.

3. No country in the world can enjoy absolute security. A country cannot have security while others are in turmoil, as threats facing other countries may haunt itself also. When neighbors are in trouble, instead of tightening his own fences, one should extend a helping hand to them.

4. Fighting terrorism is the shared responsibility of all countries. In fighting terror, we should not just treat the symptoms, but remove its root causes.

5. China has decided to provide an additional 200 million yuan of humanitarian assistance for refugees and the displaced of Syria.

6. As terrorism and refugee crises are closely linked to geopolitical conflicts, resolving conflicts provides the fundamental solution to such problems. Parties directly involved should return to the negotiating table, and other parties should work to facilitate talks for peace, and we should all respect the role the U.N. plays as the main channel for mediation.

7. Trade protectionism and self-isolation will benefit no one.

8. The Paris Agreement is a milestone in the history of climate governance. We must ensure this endeavor is not derailed.

9. Swiss army knife embodies Swiss craftsmanship. When I first got one, I was amazed that it has so many functions. I cannot help thinking how wonderful it would be if an exquisite Swiss army knife could be made for our world. When there is a problem, we can use one of the tools on the knife to fix it. I believe that with unremitting efforts of the international community, such a knife can be made.

10. China’s development has been possible because of the world, and China has contributed to the world’s development. We will continue to pursue a win-win strategy of opening-up, share our development opportunities with other countries and welcome them aboard the fast train of China’s development.

Related:

Work Together to Build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind

Speech by H.E. Xi Jinping

President of the People’s Republic of China

At the United Nations Office at Geneva

Geneva, 18 January 2017

Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge – U.S. Fish & Wildlife: Save Money, Prevent Harm

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Public Health, Radiation Standards, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on January 16, 2017 at 2:58 am

By LeRoy Moore, PhD  Boulder Daily Camera, Friday, January 6, 2017

Perry Backus, writing in the November 5, 2016, Montana Standard, says that due to lack of funds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) “is proposing a dramatic reorganization of its National Wildlife Refuge system in Montana and seven other states that would result in significant staff and program cuts.” Colorado is among those states.

As things now stand a great deal of taxpayer money will be spent to open the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Not only will funds be spent now but also long into the future. FWS should not spend limited funds on trails, access gates, tour guides, a visitor center and parking areas. The Department of Energy (DOE) evidently intends to pay for the visitor center. But if it is not built, FWS will have no ongoing costs for staff and maintenance of the facility. On December 6 FWS invited the public to a meeting to discuss trails on the Refuge. They paid $76,000 to the person who led this meeting. But when we arrived, they did not allow the public to speak. They wasted their money and our time. They would save money if they canceled such meetings. Local governments have insisted that if trails are built at the Refuge, sampling must be done to show whether on not it would be safe for people to use them. Keeping the Refuge closed will curtail this expense. It will also protect the public health.

Of about 600 National Wildlife Refuges, Rocky Flats is the only one occupying the site of a former nuclear weapons plant. It is also the only Refuge that surrounds an active Superfund site, where exposure to radioactive plutonium-239 was – and is – the greatest danger. With a half-life of 24,110 years, it will be hazardous for a quarter-million years. Some plutonium in the environment of the DOE Superfund site will end up on the Refuge. FWS admitted in a 2003 letter to then-Rep. Bob Beauprez that it already had. The problem is ongoing. Burrowing animals that dig down to as much as 16 feet will bring particles to the surface where they can be blown onto the Refuge by wind and readily inhaled, the worst way to be exposed to plutonium. Once inside the body, the plutonium lodges in a specific location and for the rest of one’s life bombards nearby cells with radioactive particles. The result may be cancer, a compromised immune system, or genetic harm to offspring.

EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment know plutonium is in the soil on the Refuge, but they say it is “safe.” What they mean is that plutonium in Refuge soil is at levels that meet exposure standards set for the Rocky Flats cleanup. Unfortunately, these standards are not sufficiently protective. In the most extensive study to date of the health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, the National Academy of Sciences in 2006 concluded that any exposure may be damaging. In a 1997 study Columbia University scientists found that a single plutonium particle taken into the body can be harmful, possibly fatal.

Given this danger, if the Refuge is opened to the public some people will inevitably be harmed, especially children, of all creatures the most vulnerable. Even if the Wildlife Refuge remains closed to the public, wildlife may be harmed. The carcasses of deer roadkill around Rocky Flats have been found to contain plutonium, but we don’t know the actual effect of this exposure. In an article published in 1998, ecologist Shawn Smallwood said he “found it remarkable that no genetic studies of wildlife had been done at Rocky Flats or at other nuclear sites.” Genetic specialist Diethard Tautz says that genetic effects of radiation exposure on a given species of wildlife may not be readily apparent in the individuals of that species until the passage of several generations. He calls this a “genetic uncertainty problem.” FWS would perform a valuable service if it allowed researchers to study the genetic effects of exposure to toxins among wildlife at the Rocky Flats Refuge. Because of the need for such study, grants should be available to researchers.

Please join others in signing the petition, Keep the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Closed: Save Money, Prevent Harm. To sign the petition, go to: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/keep-rocky-flats-wildlife

 

LeRoy Moore is a consultant with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

Democratic Hysteria on Russia

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, War on January 13, 2017 at 11:00 am

by Dave Lindorff

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/11/democratic-hysteria-on-russia/
It felt like I had stumbled into some weird kind of time warp yesterday morning as I was making coffee and listening to NPR’s “Morning Edition.” There was Cokie Roberts being interviewed about the current mass media obsession — the alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee server by Russia, and President-elect Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the evidence-free claims of the Democratic political appointees heading the nation’s intel agencies that the the hack “definitely” happened.

Cokie bemoaned Trump’s dissing of the intel agencies and also his stated desire to develop friendly relations with Russia, saying, “This country has had a consistent policy for 70 years towards the Soviet Union and Russia, and Trump is trying to undo that.”

Think about that for a moment. On one level, the long-time NPR commentator is right: US policy towards the government in Moscow has been remarkably consistent — and hostile — for 70 years, albeit with a few brief periods of at least relative friendliness, as during the early and mid 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But that gets to the other point: There was, recall, a fundamental change that happened in 1989-90, when the Communist state founded in the Russian Revolution of 1917 collapsed, and the Soviet Union splintered into Russia and a bunch of smaller countries — former Soviets in the old empire — including Byelorussia, Ukraine, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and a bunch of stans in Central Asia.

The real question is, once the USSR ceased to exist and Russia, a rump country that, while geographically the largest in the world, is less than half the size of the US in population, found itself struggling to restructure it’s centralized state-owned economy into a modern capitalist one, shouldn’t the US have changed it’s “consistent policy” of hostility towards what remained of the old Soviet Union?

Instead of actively helping Russia recover, the US urged on President Boris Yeltsin a destructive “economic shock therapy” program of balanced budgets, open borders for imports and investment and, most importantly, a sell-off of state assets that quickly turned enabled corrupt former commissars into become insanely wealthy new capitalist oligarchs.

While Russians struggled to survive through a period of rampant inflation, economic collapse and epic corruption, the US, instead of lending a helping hand as it had to the collapsed countries of Europe and after World War II (including our former bitter enemies, Germany and also Japan in Asia,), Washington under the Clinton administration began a program of aggressively and threateningly expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (a Cold War relic of an outdated containment policy which should have, like the Warsaw Pact, been mercifully disbanded), forcing an economically strapped Russia to respond by still spending precious resources on restoring its hollowed out military.

Yes, there has been a 70-year consistent policy of hostility towards Russia, not to mention unremitting anti-Russian propaganda in the US, as Roberts says, but that’s because foreign policy in the US has been in the grip of a Republican-Democrat bi-partisan consensus that argues that the US must work to maintain absolute military superiority over all real and potential rivals, forever. And that consensus views Russia as a major potential threat to that superiority.

That’s why we have a military budget of $600 billion, nearly three times as much China ($215 billion, much of that for domestic control purposes), another country that poses no threat to the US, and as all the rest of the world spends, while Russia’s budget is just 11 percent of that amount at $66 billion, ranking it behind third-ranked Saudi Arabia ($87 billion).

While Obama Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and others in the Washington elite maintain that Russia poses an “existential threat” to the US, presumably because of the number of nuclear missiles it maintains, it’s important to note that Russia has those missiles because the US has a similar number, most of them pointed at Russia–the main difference being that the US has many of its nuclear-tipped missiles located just minutes away from Russia at sites in Eastern Europe, while Russia’s nukes are all on its own territory, thousands of miles and at least a half-hour’s flight away from the US mainland — a difference that means one country, the US, has the ability to launch a first strike and take out the other country’s ability to respond to an attack, while the other has no ability to make such a first-strike threat.

This is all by way of getting to a larger point. The hysteria about Russian hacking of the US election — an action which while it might have happened, is by no means proven — is a meaningless diversion, because there is no evidence at all that Russia is an aggressive nation. While the US is moving Abrams battle tanks and nuclear-capable mobil artillery up close to the Russian border in the waning days of the Obama administration, forcing Russia to respond by beefing up its own national border defenses, no one could argue seriously that Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin, have any interest whatsoever in invading any country of Europe, however small and weak.

What possible advantage could come to Russia from such an action? Even if Russia could succeed in invading Poland and grabbing a piece of that country, or invading one of the Baltic countries that were former Soviets, such an action would make developing trade relations with the rest of Europe impossible, and would force Russia to engage in a costly occupation which it can ill afford.

Why, one has to ask, would Russia be building, with up to $100 billion in Chinese financing, a bunch of super high-speed rail lines from eastern China and eastern Siberia all the way to rail hums in Germany and other European countries, to facilitate vastly expanded trade overland, if it were also secretly planning to conquer and occupy parts of Europe again, as it did in the pre-1990 era?

A cynic — or realist — might suspect that it is precisely this goal of economic integration of Europe and Asia, with Russia at the center, which lies at the root of US antipathy and hostility towards both Russia and China. If the US continues to cling to the insane, megalomaniacal idea of maintaining strategic dominance — military and economic — at all costs over all current and potential rivals around the globe, there is a certain logic to trying to ruin this grand plan for economic convergence on the Eurasian continent.

But let’s at least demand honesty about it.

Donald Trump has said, famously, that people who say the US should not be trying to develop friendly relations with Russia are “stupid.” He might not be eloquent, but he is absolutely correct.

Some of my liberal friends, who have drunk the Kool-Aid of anti-Russia hysteria, argue that the US should not even contemplate acting friendly towards Russia and its leader President Putin. As one put it, “We certainly at least must be in agreement that Putin’s cruel kelpto-capitalist-KGB rule has harmed tens of millions of innocents in the former USSR, no?”

Well, actually, no, we are not in agreement. Where do otherwise intelligent liberal-minded people get these tales of Putin evil? Nobody’s saying that he is a Jeffersonian democrat, but let’s at least get the history right. The “harm to tens of millions in the former USSR” and in Russia proper was done not during Putin’s tenure but during the first decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, between 1989 and 1999. That was when the entire Soviet Union was strip-mined by former Communist apparatchiks who enriched themselves by cutting deals to take over former state assets at fire-sale prices, or for nothing, robbing the Russian people, and the workers in those former state enterprises blind. The US encouraged this process, and Boris Yeltsin, a notorious drunk, oversaw it for two terms as Russia’s president. Vladimir Putin began his rise to power in 1999 when Yeltsin made him prime minister before suddenly resigning the presidency on New Year’s Day 1999.

GDP during Boris Yeltsin’s catastrophic first term as head of the new post Soviet Russian state collapsed by 40% between 1991 and 1996 — a worse disaster than the US Great Depression. By 1997, Russia, a huge agricultural producer, was importing one-third of its food. Nothing improved during Yeltsin’s second term, with GDP remaining flat through 1999. Remember, most of the ‘90s was a period of economic boom throughout the rest of the world, meaning that Russia, even standing still, was losing ground to everyone else.

As the British newspaper the Guardian, points out, in a way that you will be hard-pressed to find reported honestly in the US corporate media, Putin, during his decade and a half of running Russia, rebuilt the Russian economy, improved the lives of average Russians immensely, and equally importantly, restored a once great nation from the status of global basket case to a major international power again. Not surprisingly, he is now one of the world’s most popular leaders.

While wild swings in the exchange value of the Russian ruble vs. the US dollar make the figures a little squishy, Russian GDP in 1999, when Putin took over the government, was $196 billion, and rose to over $2 trillion in 2011, hitting a record $2.2 trillion in 2013. With oil and gas exports central to Russian international trade, the crash in oil prices in 2015 knocked Russia’s GDP back down to $1.3 billion, but it needs to be pointed out that for most Russians, who primarily buy goods from food to clothing to housing on the domestic market, unaffected by exchange rates, this has had little impact on their standard of living, only raising the cost of imported goods. Without question, in the view of most Russians, Putin has done a good job of managing the Russian economy.

That’s not to say he isn’t an autocrat. He is, and he’s got a nasty record on freedom of the press and on gay rights, but that begs the question: when has a country’s being headed by an autocratic leader or even a tyrant deterred the US from having friendly relations with it? There’s no room in this article to run a list, but let’s just mention the Shah of Iran, the Chilean military-dictator Augusto Pinochet, the Brazilian and Argentine juntas in 1964 and 1976, Salazar and Franco in Portugal and Spain, and then the dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and other countries of the Middle East. In comparison to these disturbing examples of American “friends,” Putin seems absolutely a paragon of democratic values.

In any event, let’s hope that the mostly liberal Democrats who are being taken in by the media-induced hysteria over an imagined Russian plot to destroy American democracy and to ensconce a Manchurian-candidate Donald Trump in the White House, will come to their senses soon. There are myriad reasons to organize resistance to Donald Trump as we head into a very challenging four years of reactionary Republican control of all the levers of power in Washington, but fear of Russian control over our next president isn’t one of them. In fact, let’s hope that he at least makes good on that one campaign promise to improve US relations with Russia!

Honestly, we just went through eight years of insane non-stop Republican paranoia claiming the Barack Obama was a secret Muslim plant in the White House, or a secret Communist, or, incredibly, both. Some even thought that he was a secret fascist too! We on the left, including liberal Dems, used to laugh at the naive inanity of it all. Yet now, how different are the liberal Democrats who are breathlessly claiming that this new president is a puppet, wittingly or unwittingly, of the evil Russian puppetmaster Vladimir Putin?
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

The Return of Civil Disobedience

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, War on January 12, 2017 at 8:05 am

By Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker

01 January 17

The sixties produced a conviction that “democracy is in the streets.” The Trump era may echo that.

n December 6th, less than a month after the election, Vice-President Joe Biden, who was in New York to receive the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award, for his decades of public service, used the occasion to urge Americans not to despair. “I remind people, ’68 was really a bad year,” he said, and “America didn’t break.” He added, “It’s as bad now, but I’m hopeful.” And bad it was. The man for whom Biden’s award was named was assassinated in 1968. So was Martin Luther King, Jr. Riots erupted in more than a hundred cities, and violence broke out at the Democratic National Convention, in Chicago. The year closed with the hairbreadth victory of a law-and-order Presidential nominee whose Southern strategy of racial politicking remade the electoral map. Whatever innocence had survived the tumult of the five years since the murder of John F. Kennedy was gone.

It was telling that Biden had to sift through nearly a half century of history to find a precedent for the current malaise among liberals and progressives, but the comparison was not entirely fitting. Throughout Richard Nixon’s Presidency, Democrats maintained majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The efforts of the antiwar movement to end American involvement in Vietnam had stalled, but Nixon’s first years in office saw the enactment of several progressive measures, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Clean Air Act, as well as the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2016, the Republicans won the White House, maintained control of both chambers of Congress, and secured the ability to create a conservative Supreme Court majority that could last a generation or more. Donald Trump, a man with minimal restraint, has been awarded maximal power.

Last summer, the A.C.L.U. issued a report highlighting the ways in which Trump’s proposals on a number of issues would violate the Bill of Rights. After his victory, the A.C.L.U.’s home page featured an image of him with the caption “See You in Court.” In November, Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote but for millions of illegal ballots cast. This was not just a window into the conspiratorial and fantasist mind-set of the President-elect but a looming threat to voting rights. Ten days after the election, the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund released a statement opposing the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, as Attorney General, based on his record of hostility to voting rights and on the fact that he’d once brought unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud against civil-rights activists. But, with a Republican majority that has mostly shown compliance with Trump, despite his contempt for the norms of democracy, the fear is that he will achieve much of what he wants. Even if he accomplishes only half, the landscape of American politics and policy will be radically altered. This prospect has recalled another phenomenon of the nineteen-sixties: the conviction that “democracy is in the streets.”

Movements are born in the moments when abstract principles become concrete concerns. MoveOn arose in response to what was perceived as the Republican congressional overreach that resulted in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. The Occupy movement was a backlash to the financial crisis. The message of Black Lives Matter was inspired by the death of Trayvon Martin and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Occupy’s version of anti-corporate populism helped to create the climate in which Senator Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaign could not only exist but essentially shape the Democratic Party platform. Black Lives Matter brought national attention to local instances of police brutality, prompting the Obama Administration to launch the Task Force on 21st Century Policing and helping defeat prosecutors in Chicago and Cleveland, who had sought reëlection after initially failing to bring charges against police officers accused of using excessive force.

Last July, when the Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval for the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, anxious that the pipeline would threaten their water supply, started an online petition and filed a lawsuit to halt construction. Thousands of activists, including members of Black Lives Matter, and two thousand military veterans went to Standing Rock, to protest on the Sioux’s behalf; last month, they endured rubber bullets and water hoses fired in freezing temperatures. On December 4th, the Army Corps announced that it would look for an alternate route. But, since Rick Perry, Trump’s choice for Energy Secretary, sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline (and in which Trump, until recently, owned stock), protesters are settling in for a long winter.

In that context, the waves of protests in Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., in the days after the election look less like spontaneous outrage and more like a preview of what the next four years may hold. Unlike the specific protests that emerged during the Obama Administration, the post-election demonstrations have been directed at the general state of American democracy. Two hundred thousand women are expected to assemble in front of the Capitol, on January 21st, the day after the Inauguration, for the Women’s March on Washington. Born of one woman’s invitation to forty friends, the event is meant as a rejoinder to the fact that a candidate with a troubling history regarding women’s rights—one who actually bragged about committing sexual assault—has made it to the White House.

The first Inauguration of George W. Bush, in 2001, saw mass protests driven by the sentiment that the election had been stolen. The protests that greet Trump will, in all probability, exceed them: some twenty other groups have also applied for march permits. Given his history with African-Americans, Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, unionized labor, environmentalists, and people with disabilities, it is not hard to imagine that there will be many more to come. The Congress is unlikely to check the new President, but democracy may thrive in the states, the courts, the next elections, and, lest the lessons of the sixties be forgotten, the streets.

Obama’s last chance to reduce the risk of nuclear disaster

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on January 11, 2017 at 11:01 pm

By Joe Cirincione, 1-10-17

It’s time to take our nuclear arsenal off high alert.

Before President Barack Obama leaves the White House, he could close a particularly dangerous door he left open – and fulfill a campaign pledge.

Obama will give his farewell address Tuesday and there is no indication that he will say anything of significance on nuclear policy. On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden will give a speech in Washington announcing some modest changes to our nuclear posture. Biden will almost certainly be drowned out by the surge of nomination hearings, Senate budget votes and President-elect Donald Trump’s expected press conference that same day.

Unlike Trump, neither man is prone to big statements and bold actions. In these last weeks, both are hesitant to do something on national security that would “box in” the new president.

Here’s why they should.

As soon as Trump is sworn into office on January 20, a military officer will start to follow him everywhere he goes. He will sit just outside the Oval Office while Trump works and just outside his bedroom while Trump sleeps and tweets. He will travel with him to Mar-a-Lago, and up to Trump Tower. When he gets into an elevator, the officer will squeeze in beside him.

This officer carries a briefcase with the command codes to America’s nuclear arsenal. It is the most efficient instrument of mass death ever invented.

The president is the only one allowed to use the commands in the briefcase, the only one with the unfettered ability to launch one or one thousand nuclear warheads whenever he pleases. Four minutes after he gives the order, the missiles will fly. No one can stop him, short of a full-scale mutiny. Once launched, the missiles cannot be recalled.

This nuclear posture is called high alert, or launch-on-warning, or, more commonly, hair-trigger alert. It is a vestige of the Cold War. Nuclear commanders wanted the ability to launch their land-based missiles before an enemy salvo could destroy them. For decades, experts have warned that this was a dangerous practice, subject to false alarms, mistakes, misunderstanding and human error.

Of the some 4,500 nuclear warheads in our active nuclear stockpile, about 1,000 are kept on hair-trigger alert. Each is many times the size of the bombs we dropped on Japan. Together, they can explode the equivalent of 22,000 Hiroshima’s on cities all over the planet. In just 30 minutes, they could destroy all that human civilization has created over the millennia.

There is no military reason for this overkill capability. The thousands of other nuclear weapons on our subs and bombers are not vulnerable to surprise attack. Even if all our silo-based missiles were destroyed or rendered inoperable, we would still have more than enough weapons to deter an attack or respond to one.

A previously classified study by the Department of Defense (DOD) concluded that even if Russia launched a “decapitating” first strike – a scenario DOD said “will most likely not occur” – we had the assured ability to retaliate against scores of high-value Russian targets, precisely because we have so many weapons securely based on submarines at sea.

Obama knows this system is crazy. While running for the presidency in 2008, he said this posture was “a dangerous relic of the Cold War” and promised to “address this dangerous situation.”

Bush, too, knew it was crazy. In 2000, he called it “another unnecessary vestige of Cold War confrontation” and pledged to end the “unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch.”

Once in office, however, Bush did not change this obsolete posture. Neither did Obama. Both ran into the formidable bureaucratic resistance that comes from the people with vested financial, political or institutional interest in keeping the force just the way it is. Many of the very people they appointed to implement needed reforms sided with the nuclear bureaucracy to stop them.

Here is the really bad news: Russia keeps an equally large force on high alert – and their early warning systems have deteriorated so badly that in 1995 they mistook a Norwegian weather rocket for a US submarine-launched nuclear missile and almost launched their weapons in response. We came within five minutes of the end of the world.

The entire system is insane. “These current alert levels…are sustained by a circular (though flawed) logic, whereby US nuclear forces are maintained on alert because Russian nuclear forces are on alert, and vice versa for Russian forces,” nuclear experts Hans Kristensen and Matthew McKinzie wrote several years ago. “Put another way, if nuclear forces were not on alert, there would be no requirement to keep nuclear forces on alert.”

This alert status is the main reason so many security and political leaders felt, as Sen. Marco Rubio said, we simply could not give “the nuclear codes of the United States to an erratic individual.” Obama, himself, has repeatedly and publically expressed his lack of confidence in Trump’s temperament and fitness for the presidency. POLITICO reported January 3, “President Barack Obama still doesn’t think Donald can handle the nuclear codes or safely protect America from attack – he just doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.”

He doesn’t have to talk about it. With the stroke of a pen, Obama can take our nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert before he leaves office. He can close the door to an impetuous, ill-considered nuclear war. Scores of leading nuclear scientists wrote to him last June asking him to do so. The foundation I lead, Ploughshares Fund, just launched a new public petition to do it now, before the end of his term. We will present the petition to the President on January 10.

Yes, Obama’s far-right critics will denounce him. Yes, Cold War hawks in both parties will criticize him. But the majority of the American public will cheer the news and many in the military will breath a sigh of relief.

Our petition has garnered almost 90,000 signatures within a few days. It is one of the most popular petitions about nuclear weapons on Change.org. The most popular is a plea to abolish nuclear weapons. But it took that group two years to get 200,000 signatures. We reached our goal in two weeks.

Still, why bother with an executive order, even if it would be popular? Trump could theoretically reverse it once in the Oval Office. But this will be hard to do politically. It would be seen as raising tensions; he would have to explain what justified putting our nuclear missiles on high alert.

More importantly, Trump may not approve of this nuclear posture at all.

One of the core issues in Trump’s foreign policy has been his desire for improved relations with Russia. If Obama doesn’t take nuclear missile off Cold War alert, Trump likely will. It would be a logical part of reducing tensions between the two nations, lowering global nuclear risks, and marking a dramatic beginning to the Trump Era. And it is completely within a president’s authority to do so. No Congressional approval is needed.

Trump could still launch nuclear weapons in an emergency, but it would take hours or days. This gives time for consultations, deliberation, time to check mistakes and blunt the impulses of the moment. More time doesn’t weaken our national security; it strengthens it.

As we argue in our petition, “Taking this critical step would bring profound security benefits for all Americans by reducing the risk of nuclear disaster.” While it won’t cut any weapons, it will make us all substantially safer.

When president, Trump will still get the keys to the arsenal, but Obama should at least lock the nuclear door before he leaves.

Joe Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.

Trump’s slim N Korea options: Diplomacy, sanctions, force

In Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on January 4, 2017 at 10:57 pm

BY MATTHEW PENNINGTON
Associated Press, January 3, 2017

WASHINGTON
Donald Trump says he is confident North Korea won’t develop a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the United States. But his options for stopping the reclusive communist country are slim: diplomacy that would reward Pyongyang, sanctions which haven’t worked, and military action that no one wants.

For more than two decades, Republican and Democratic administrations have tried carrots and sticks to steer North Korea away from nuclear weapons. Each has failed. And as Trump prepares to take office Jan. 20, the stakes are rising.

Pyongyang may already be able to arm short-range and mid-range missiles with atomic warheads, threatening U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, and American forces in each country. On Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said preparations for launching an intercontinental ballistic missile “reached the final stage.”
Trump tweeted the following day: “It won’t happen!”

Some experts believe the North is likely to have the capability to strike the U.S. mainland before Trump’s four-year term is up.

The president-elect has given conflicting signals about what he plans to do, while stressing that China, North Korea’s traditional ally, must exert greater pressure on its unpredictable neighbor.

Some of his options:

DIPLOMACY

In June, Trump called for dialogue with North Korea and suggested a talk with Kim over a hamburger.

If only talking with the secretive, hereditary rulers in Pyongyang were so simple. No sitting U.S. president has ever done so.

Diplomacy with the North is a delicate dance and agreements have proved temporary.

Three U.S. administrations, going back to President Bill Clinton, have persuaded the North to disarm in exchange for aid. Each effort eventually failed, and there is deep skepticism in Congress about trying again.

A 1994 deal would have given North Korea nuclear power reactors and normalized ties with Washington. North Korea’s plutonium production paused for several years. But after it emerged the North also was seeking to use uranium for weapons, the arrangement collapsed.

Six-nation nuclear negotiations hosted by China have been on ice since North Korea withdrew in 2009.

The Obama administration attempted to restart them in 2012, early in Kim’s rule, by offering food aid for a nuclear and missile freeze. Within weeks, the North tried to launch a long-range rocket. The effort was abandoned.

Since then, the U.S. has resorted to “strategic patience” — demanding North Korea recommit to denuclearization before holding talks. Pyongyang has refused, demanding the U.S. end military exercises with South Korea and negotiate a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.

American officials fear the North only would want talks to ease its isolation, and not to resolve the nuclear question.

SANCTIONS

International sanctions have tightened since North Korea conducted its first of five nuclear tests in 2006. But the country has adeptly circumvented restrictions on sensitive technology and money flows, and used its own capabilities to develop weapons.

Additional U.S. sanctions, beefed up last year, punish foreign companies and banks dealing with North Korea. They, too, haven’t been effective because the North’s international isolation makes it less susceptible to such pressure than a major economy like Iran, which curbed its nuclear program in 2015 after being battered by oil, trade and financial sanctions.

China’s role is critical. It dominates trade with the North and has resisted sanctions that could destabilize Pyongyang, fearing the possibility of a U.S.-allied, unified Korea emerging.

When the U.N. Security Council punished Pyongyang for another nuclear test in September, the primary goal was closing a loophole that enabled China to import North Korean coal at record levels.

The last several U.S. administrations entered office determined to break Beijing’s partnership with Pyongyang. None succeeded.

MILITARY

Using military force against North Korea is extremely risky.

Even before it developed nuclear weapons, the North maintained the ability to strike Seoul, South Korea’s capital, with a potentially devastating artillery barrage. Although doing so would invite a blistering U.S. response, it’s hardly a scenario any American commander-in-chief wants to contemplate.

The military option has been considered before.

Clinton considered a strike on the North’s nuclear facilities after it announced it would reprocess fuel from a nuclear reactor, providing it plutonium for bombs. Diplomacy appeared to win out that time with the 1994 agreement.

A military strike would be harder to pull off now. North Korea has expanded its nuclear and missile programs significantly, meaning more targets would have to be hit.

And regional support would be questionable.

In a recent paper, former U.S. negotiator Joel Wit said the escalation risk meant neither South Korea nor Japan would likely support a military strike. It could also draw into the conflict China, which fought on North Korea’s side against U.S.-led forces six decades ago.

 

How the GOP Flipped and Stripped Yet Another American Election

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Public Health, Race on January 3, 2017 at 11:10 pm

By Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, Reader Supported News 20 November 16

Hillary Clinton has won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election by well over a million votes.
But her impending defeat in the Electoral College comes with familiar signs that yet another American election has been stripped and flipped.

This article presents a comprehensive overview of how it was done, and a brief summary of how our electoral system needs to be changed to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The primary indicators of the massive election theft are by now familiar. They include the realities of pre- and post-election polling; the massive stripping of primarily black, Hispanic, Muslim and Asian-American voters from computer-generated registration rolls mostly maintained by private, partisan companies; unverifiable “black box” electronic voting machines and central tabulators, also mostly manufactured and maintained by private corporations; and much more.

Were this election held in any other country, the US State Department and independent monitors from around the world would denounce it as a fraud and contemplate international intervention.

What follows only begins to scratch the surface:

The Electoral College
Much is finally being said about the Electoral College, with new popular demands for its abolition. Clinton is about to become the sixth presidential candidate to win a legitimate majority but lose the presidency. It also happened in 1800, 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000. Nearly 15% of our 45 presidents have been “selected” with the denial of the public will through an institution established in large part to enhance the power of slaveowners.
In February, 2013, at progressive.org, we joined the multitudes throughout our history in calling for the Electoral College’s abolition:
It will take a Constitutional Amendment, and a hell of a lot of work, to abolish this corrupt anachronism. But unless we want to see an endless succession of George W. Bushes in the White House, something had better be done – and quick.
The consequences of inaction are all too clear.

Computerized Jim Crow Stripping of Voter Registration Rolls
US elections have been defined throughout history by a divide-and-conquer strategy of racial manipulation. As we outline in our new Strip & Flip Death of American Democracy(freepress.org/solartopia.org): chattel slavery, the Constitution’s “three-fifths bonus,” Jim Crow segregation, third world imperial conquest, and the Drug War have all played a role in denying African-American/Hispanic/Asian-American citizens their right to vote. From the foundation of the Republic, this disenfranchisement has defined the balance of power.
In recent years, the disenfranchisement has been most importantly done by the Republican Party, and by computer. As investigative reporter Greg Palast has shown in his book/movie The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (www.gregpalast.com), in 2000 Florida governor Jeb Bush used a program called ChoicePoint to strip more than 90,000 predominantly black and Hispanic citizens from the voter registration rolls in an election decided by 537 votes. The pretext was alleged felony convictions. The selection was “won” by Bush’s brother George W., although a full recount (which was stopped 5-4 by the US Supreme Court in its infamous Bush v. Gore decision) would have given Al Gore the majority in Florida, and in the Electoral College.
As we have reported from Columbus, in 2004 more than 300,000 predominantly urban citizens were stripped from the voter registration rolls in an election the GOP won by 118,775. A quarter of all voters in heavily Democratic Cleveland were de-registered. Ohio’s ill-gotten electoral votes gave George W. Bush a second term. This became the only time in US history an entire state’s Electoral College delegation was challenged on the floor of the US Congress.

This year, Palast has reported that a new program called Crosscheck has been used by some 30 GOP secretaries of state to strip more than 1.1 million predominantly black, Hispanic, Islamic, and Asian-American citizens from the voter rolls.

Originating with far-right Republican Kris Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, Crosscheck eliminated more than enough minority voters in at least three swing states to flip the entire presidential election.

Palast has reported that Ohio’s GOP secretary of state Jon Husted also used Crosscheck to eliminate some 497,000 mostly black, Latino, and African-American citizens from the voter rolls in Ohio, falsely accusing them of registering in more than one state. Such eliminations went on throughout the US.

According to Reuters, over the past five years Husted himself has stripped some two million citizens from the voter rolls in Ohio, even without Crosscheck, with Democratic areas twice as likely to be stripped as Republican ones. Reuters writers Andy Sullivan and Grant Smith point out that the neighborhoods that most heavily backed President Obama lost the most voters. In heavily Democratic Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, they report, Democrat-leaning areas were purged at twice the rate as Republican ones.
The mass disenfranchisement also impacted races for the US Senate. If not for the usual “irregularities,” at least four Democrats would likely have won seats (in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Missouri) that they officially lost. Similar results are evident from 2014 Senate races in North Carolina, Colorado and Alaska. Thus in the past two years, mass disenfranchisement and computerized vote stripping may well have flipped seven Upper House seats from the Democrats to the GOP.
Thus the electronic race-based stripping of voter rolls in the GOP’s favor has probably on its own taken to the far right the presidency, control of the US Senate, and ultimately the US Supreme Court.

It should be noted that out of disgust with Donald Trump, the GOP multi-billionaire Koch Brothers shifted much of their massive financial weight from the presidential race to Congressional and other “down-ballot contests,” where these key Senate seats and others in the US House and state governments were almost certainly impacted.

Traditional Jim Crow Stripping of Voter Registration Rolls
Alongside computerized techniques, the Republicans have effectively deployed still more traditional Jim Crow tactics to strip black/Hispanic/Asian-American/Muslim citizens of their ability to vote, many of which have been delineated in the New York Times.
In part these include: demands for photo ID, elimination of polling places, narrowing time frames in which citizens can vote, deliberate distribution of misinformation about voting requirements, non-counting of provisional ballots, failure to send out absentee ballots, intimidation and widespread confusion at polling places, and much more.
Throughout the corporate media, the obligatory hand-wringing about a drop in voter turnout invariably avoids the obvious cause of race-based restrictions that make it harder to vote, selective limitations on when citizens can vote, and targeted reductions in where they can vote.

In its 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder decision, the US Supreme Court gutted protections provided by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates for such Jim Crow abuse throughout the electoral system.
Numerous reports indicate that citizens were often confronted with photo ID requirements even where they were voided by the courts. As in Ohio 2004, reports indicate many citizens were directed by official websites to polling places that did not actually exist. This year Ohio secretary of state Jon Husted failed to distribute more than 1,050,000 absentee ballot applications to citizens entitled to them. Husted also waged a relentless war against early voting periods, such as “souls to the polls” Sundays, that encouraged African-Americans to vote. He also worked hard to strip out polling stations from urban areas.

In Wisconsin, which Trump allegedly carried by about 27,000 votes, some 300,000 registered voters lacked required photo ID. According to Ari Berman’s “Did the Republicans Rig the Election?” appearing in The Nation, Wisconsin’s turnout was the lowest in two decades. That includes a drop of 52,000 in heavily African-American Milwaukee, nearly twice Trump’s margin of victory in the entire state.
According to a report by Richard Hayes Philips, extremely high turnouts for Trump in rural areas of Wisconsin “are not credible.” Among other things, the vote counts in five Republican towns exceed the number of registered voters. (www.freepress.org)
On election day, media throughout the US reported the kinds of mass delays and confusion that defined the elections of 2000 and 2004. According to Berman, there were 868 fewer polling stations in Arizona, Texas, and North Carolina alone, accompanied by a notable drop in African-American turnouts. According to Berman, 14 states imposed new restrictions on voting. Three of them – Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio – were never before under federal Voting Rights Act supervision.

Said The New York Times: “Voters nationwide endured long waits in line, malfunctioning voting machines, ill-informed poll workers and a litany of lesser annoyances on Tuesday with scattered reports that some voters gave up trying to cast ballots.”

David Becker, the Executive Director of the Center for Election Innovation, told the Times, “There are scattered indications of machine breakdowns that are being addressed.”

A typical description has been provided by Steven Rosenfeld, writing at Alternet about the “Democratic epicenter” in Durham County, North Carolina:
the state’s voter registration database and e-poll books tied into it were down, prompting long lines, delays and necessitating people fill out provisional ballots. The data was also scrambled, with voter rolls in the wrong locations, people tagged as voting when they had not, and people not on lists even though they had their state registration cards.
In an editorial the day after the election, the Times lamented that in North Carolina “The state’s Republican Party issued a news release boasting that cutbacks in early voting hours reduced black turnout by 8.5% below 2012 levels, even as the numbers of white early voters increased by 22.5%.”

Throughout the US, voters with “problems” in their registration are routinely given provisional ballots, which are allegedly to be counted later. But the forms are often impossibly complex, with poll workers often failing to count them at the sight of a single minor error, such as writing below a line, omitting a middle initial, failing to include a birthday and much more. Ohio secretary of state Husted won the right from the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to not count provisional ballots that contain a minor mistake. Thus tens of thousands of provisional ballots have been routinely left uncounted, unbeknownst to the voters. More than 115,000 provisional and “spoiled” ballots from Ohio’s 2004 election remain uncounted.

Often absurd discrepancies have become normalized. In 2004 hundreds of mostly Democratic Native Americans allegedly cast ballots on their New Mexico reservations without signifying a choice for president. This year in North Carolina, Trump and the GOP’s US Senate candidate allegedly won by nearly 200,000 votes while the incumbent Republican governor was allegedly defeated (he’s demanding a recount). In Michigan, tens of thousands of voters allegedly filled out their entire ballots but somehow left the presidential choice vacant in a race essentially too close to call.

Polling Indicators
In the lead-up to November 8, pre-election polls strongly indicated a Clinton victory. Post-election exit polls showed her winning as well, most critically in the swing states whose Electoral College votes could have given her the presidency.

Exit polls are the accepted international standard for indications of election fraud and vote tampering. Eric Bjornlund and Glenn Cowan’s 2011 pamphlet “Vote Count Verification: a User’s Guide for Funders, Implementers and Stakeholders” was done under the auspices of Democracy International for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). It outlines how exit polling is used to ensure free and fair elections.

It adds that “U.S-funded organizations have sponsored exit polls as part of democracy assistance programs in Macedonia (2005), Afghanistan (2004), Ukraine (2004), Azerbaijan (2005), the West Bank and Gaza Strip (2005), Lebanon (2005), Kazakhstan (2005), Kenya (2005, 2007), and Bangladesh (2009), among other places.”

In countries like Germany and Switzerland, which use hand-counted paper ballots, exit polls are accurate to a margin error of less than 1%.

Here the 2016 exit polls were paid for by a major corporate media consortium, as has been standard practice for years. Here they are designed to reflect the actual vote count within a 2% margin of error nationally.

But in the US, if exit polls don’t agree with official vote counts, they are regularly “adjusted” to conform to official results, no matter how implausible. This makes fraudulent elections appear legitimate.

During this year’s Republican primaries, unadjusted exit polls confirmed official vote counts in all cases. In the Democratic primaries, unadjusted exit polls significantly varied from the official outcome in 12 of 26 primaries. All the errors went in Hillary Clinton’s favor in her race against Bernie Sanders. This is a virtual statistical impossibility and suggests a rigged vote count.

In the general election against Donald Trump, things went the other way. In 24 of 28 states, unadjusted exit polls also showed Clinton with vote counts significantly higher than the final official outcome. The likelihood of this happening in an election that is not rigged are in the realm of virtual statistical impossibility.

In fact, based on the exit polls, the odds against such an unexplained “Trump Shift” are one in 13,110 presidential elections.

For example, Ohio’s exit polls showed Trump and Clinton in a dead heat – 47 percent for Clinton to 47.1 for Trump. Officially, Trump won with 52.1 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 43.5 percent. This unexplained and unexpected 8.5 percent shift for Trump is mathematically impossible.

The exit polls also showed Clinton winning in Florida. But an unaccounted for 2.5 percent shift to Trump gave him a victory that was a virtual statistical impossibility. Similar numbers abide in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Given the prevalence of other Jim Crow tactics, it’s likely the exit polls were impacted by non-white voters in all the key swing states who were given provisional ballots (or they voted electronically) leading them to believe their votes were being counted, even though they were not.

In key Senate races in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Missouri, exit polls also showed Democratic candidates winning by statistically significant margins, but then losing the official vote count.

In 2014, Senate races in North Carolina, Colorado, and Alaska ended with exit polls also showing Democratic Senate candidates winning the popular vote, while ultimately losing the official vote count. The odds against this happening in two consecutive elections that are not rigged are also astronomical.

The tendency of such official outcomes to slide to the GOP after showing “blue” for Democrats in the exit polls is more fully documented by Jon Simon in his definitive book CODE RED. Simon coined the phrase “Red Shift” and discusses what has once again become a dominant factor in a presidential election claimed by the Republicans at OpEdNews.
Electronic Flipping
The vast majority of the popular votes in this election nationwide were cast on either computerized touch-screen electronic machines, or on Scantron ballots that are counted by computer. In neither case are there public monitoring capabilities or legal recourse for vote counts that are flipped.

In 2016, as in all previous US elections at least since 2000, the electronic vote count remains anyone’s guess. In states with a governor and secretary of state from the same party, the final tally can be whatever they want it to be.

Such techniques were used in Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 to strip voter rolls and flip George W. Bush into the White House. More than 90,000 black/Hispanic voters were disenfranchised by Gov. Jeb Bush (George’s brother) in a Florida election officially decided by 537 votes. More than 300,000 primarily black/Hispanic voters were stripped from voter rolls in an Ohio 2004 election officially decided by 118,775.

In Florida’s 2000 presidential election, 16,000 votes cast for Gore in Volusia County were electronically subtracted and 4,000 were credited to Bush, giving him a leg up on the evening’s vote count. This caused Fox News commentator John Ellis (Bush’s first cousin) to call the election for the GOP.

In Ohio 2004, John Kerry was shown winning the election by 4.2%, more than 200,000 votes, at12:20 a.m. Then the electronic vote count ceased. At 2 a.m.,a Bush lead began to emerge, somehow reaching 2.5%. The 6.7% flip is a virtual statistical impossibility.

All of this was done by private contractors working for the company SmarTech, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The key information technology specialist in charge of the vote count was Michael Connell, an Akron-based associate of the Bush family, who was hired by the Ohio secretary of state with a no-bid contract to supervise the state’s official vote count. Connell later died in a mysterious plane crash after being deposed in federal court.

The fact that electronic voting machines cannot be monitored was voted a Most Censored story in 2016, with a key interview with co-author Harvey Wasserman appearing on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!”
Computer “Black Box Voting” specialist Bev Harris, who uncovered the electronic vote flipping in Florida 2000, has warned this year that a method of “fractionated voting” could have been easily used to manipulate electronic vote counts. The manipulation could be done by secretaries of state in conjunction with partisan for-profit corporations in ways that are virtually impossible to detect, and simply not open to legal challenge. According to Harris, this “fraction magic,” used in counties’ central tabulators, could have flipped hundreds of thousands of votes.
In Ohio this year, a new generation of electronic vote scanning machines makes it possible to retrieve electronic images of ballots that have been cast on paper in the order that they were cast. These machines come with an audit log that would detect any illegitimate vote changes by central tabulators.

But Secretary of State Husted opted to allow local election boards to leave both security functions – the audit log and the image scanners – turned off. Co-author Bob Fitrakis sued in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to have the monitoring functions turned on. But Judge David Cain ruled on Election Day that the election officials need not turn on those security features, leaving the public with no way to monitor the outcome. (A similar lawsuit filed in Arizona by election protection activist John Brakey actually succeeded.)

Such problems are built into the system nationwide. In Pennsylvania, for example, Rosenfeld reports that “16 counties are still using aging countywide tabulators which” are easily hacked and “use old versions of Microsoft operating systems, which have security vulnerabilities that have never been fixed.”
Throughout the US, including the swing states that will decide the presidential outcome in the Electoral College and states that have increased the GOP margin in the US Senate, the entire vote count remains an electronic mystery.

VR Systems, based in Tallahassee, handles registration records in Florida and more than a dozen other states. It was hacked prior to the election, possibly by Russians. Indeed, much finger-pointing against alleged Russian electronic intruders still goes on. But there are more than enough open portals into our electronic voting system to let domestic hackers easily flip an election.

Sources cited by Rosenfeld say Clinton won only those Wisconsin counties with paper ballots, while losing those with a mix of paper and machine voting by 1-2%, and those with only machines only by 10-15%.

Those results echo outcomes in New Mexico 2004, where Kerry won all precincts with hand-counted paper ballots and lost all those with machines, a reality he personally noted in a post-election conference call.

Millions of dollars would be required to do meaningful recounts in states like Wisconsin, which may well have legitimately gone for Clinton and chosen a Democratic US Senator. Michigan’s 4,800 precincts could cost up to $125 each to recount. The impact of such recounts, even if they show Clinton winning, would then be up for grabs.

So did the GOP strip and flip the 2016 election?
Let’s count the ways:

There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton won America’s popular vote by more than a million votes.

That popular vote victory will be reversed in an Electoral College originally designed to enhance the power of slaveowners and now being used for the sixth time to deny the White House to the rightful winner.

There is no doubt that more than enough black, Hispanic, Islamic and Asian-Americans were electronically stripped from the voter registration rolls by Crosscheck and other means to have given Clinton victories in those swing states that would have swung the Electoral College in her favor.

There is no doubt additional Jim Crow tactics meant to further disenfranchise black/Hispanic/Asian-American voters – such as stripping away voting times and precincts, denial of absentee ballots, non-counting of provisional ballots, and much more – stripped Clinton of hundreds of thousands of additional legitimate votes.

There is no doubt exit polls showed her winning in more than enough states to have given her a victory in the Electoral College. They also indicated a seven-seat swing in the US Senate in 2014 and 2016, more than enough to give the GOP control of the US Supreme Court.

There is no doubt that the election was largely conducted on electronic machines, and with electronically-counted Scantron ballots that are completely beyond public accountability. These voting machines are run on secret, proprietary corporate software to which the public is not allowed access.

As in 2000 and 2004, the actual final vote count once again resides in black box machines controlled by private corporations, GOP governors, and secretaries of state, whose ability to easily hack and flip the official outcome cannot be monitored or brought to accountability. In at least one state (Ohio) the GOP took legal action to prevent the public from gaining potential access to the electronic vote count … and won!

There is also no doubt that had this election been conducted as it was in virtually any other country, the civilized world would have denounced it as completely unreliable and almost certainly false. Had it been in our “national interest” to do so, American troops would have poured in to “restore democracy” after such an obviously rigged charade.

Throughout the campaign, GOP candidate Trump cleverly complained of a “rigged election.” He continually warned of innumerable non-whites and Muslims voting multiple times for Hillary Clinton.

Of course the opposite happened. Hundreds of thousands of non-white citizens were systematically denied their right to vote. Since even that wasn’t enough to elect Donald Trump, the Electoral College will once again deny democracy. And thanks to the dark magic of electronic voting machines, we will never really know 2016’s true vote count.

Today’s most tangible tragedy is what may soon unfold in this country.

But the underlying nightmare is that this has been done before, that we’ve known about stripped and flipped elections for at least sixteen years, and that nothing has been done.

If anything, due to the spread of electronic voting machines, our electoral system is more corrupt and less accountable than it was in 2000, when the GOP first stripped and flipped George W. Bush into the White House.

We advocate universal automatic voter registration, transparent voter rolls, a four-day national holiday for voting, universal hand-counted paper ballots, abolition of the Electoral College, an end to gerrymandering, a ban on corporate money in politics.

There’s much more. But until we win those basics, democracy in America is an illusion … as is our chance to survive on this planet.
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of the upcoming The Strip & Flip Disaster of America’s Stolen Elections: Five Jim Crows & Electronic Election Theft. at http://www.freepress.organd http://www.solartopia.org, where Bob’s Fitrakis Files and Harvey’s Solartopia! Our Green-powered Earth are also available.