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Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

Ban Treaty on Track to Enter into Force

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 2, 2018 at 9:56 am

By Lydia Wood on Apr 30, 2018

Last week, I had the privilege of attending, on behalf of NuclearBan.US, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) campaigners’ meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting brought together over 130 ICAN campaigners from around the world to discuss campaign progress and strategy for making the United Nations Nuclear Ban Treaty successful.

Since 122 nations adopted the treaty at the United Nations on July 7, 2017, 58 countries have already signed and 7 countries have ratified the treaty. Once 50 countries have ratified the treaty it will enter into legal force, becoming binding under international law. Many countries across the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia are working through their governmental process of officially ratifying the treaty. This exciting progress means we are on track to have the treaty enter into force sometime over the next two years!

I met energized and creative campaigners from Kenya, Costa Rica, Nepal, The United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, and The United States among many other countries who are bridging generational, national, religious, gender, and ethnic differences to build a thriving coalition against nuclear weapons. They talked about their efforts to lobby governments, politicians, faith organizations, and people and institutions at the grassroots level to take a stand against nuclear weapons.

The biggest challenge moving forward is getting the nine nuclear weapons countries and their NATO allies to support the treaty and eliminate their weapons. ICAN’s approach is to focus on consistent and clear messaging highlighting the humanitarian and existential risk that nuclear weapons pose to humanity. It’s a risk that we all share regardless of our national, political, or ethnic affiliations.

Here in the United States, it is a challenge to get people to think more internationally, but that is specifically what is needed for the Nuclear Ban Treaty to be successful. Grassroots mobilizing will be vital for turning the tides from nuclear posturing towards nuclear disarmament and nuclear abolition. By working in our communities to educate others on nuclear risk, and by personally and collectively divesting from, and boycotting, the 26 companies making nuclear weapons we can help chip away at their legitimacy.

Cities, institutions, businesses, schools, faith organizations, and individuals across the US and abroad have already started committing themselves to divesting and boycotting from nuclear weapons, and many more are in the process of doing so. The treaty compliance campaign that is the centerpiece of NuclearBan.US is one way individuals and communities large and small can take on the nuclear threat and contribute to the success of the Nuclear Ban Treaty. It’s also offers a scalable strategy that other nuclear weapon and NATO countries can adopt to mobilize their citizenry. Furthermore, by mobilizing public support for the treaty we also signal to the international community that there is grassroots support for the Nuclear Ban in the US, further encouraging other countries to ratify the treaty.

After attending the ICAN campaigners’ meeting I am more convinced than ever that this movement will be successful. As we saw with the historic agreement that made vital progress towards ending the Korean War and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, diplomacy is good foreign policy. We need not wait for morality and rationality to creep into our political systems. As ICAN’s success to date reminds us, change starts within ourselves and our communities. It is possible to alter the course of history.

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Accusing Russia – Listening to History

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on April 26, 2018 at 6:52 am

by Ted Snider
https://original.antiwar.com/Ted_Snider/2018/04/19/accusing-russia-listening-to-history/

The prophet Cassandra’s curse was that when she told the future, no one listened; history’s curse is that when it tells the past, no one does.

The West has no shortage of charges it hurls against Russia, but most of them can be grouped into one of three categories: that Russia intervened in the American elections, that Russia is dragging the world into a new cold war, and that Russia is becoming increasingly aggressive and expansionist. Sometimes when charges are brought against you, the best witness you can call to your defense is history.

Election Intervention

This history of Russia, America and political intervention begins right at the beginning of the history of the Soviet Union. But, it was not the Soviet Union doing the interfering.

The story of America and the West’s interference in the birth of the Soviet Union is not well-known. It began with propaganda but metastasized well beyond words. By mid 1918, 13,000 American troops were on Soviet soil. They would remain there for two years, killing and injuring thousands. Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev would later remind America of “the time you sent your troops to quell the revolution.” Churchill would record for history that the West “shot Soviet Russians on sight,” that they were “invaders on Russian soil,” that “[t]hey armed the enemies of the Soviet government,” that “[t]hey blockaded its ports, and sunk its battleships. They earnestly desired and schemed for its downfall.”

America would interfere more specifically in Russian elections upon the death of the Soviet Union. In late 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin won a year of special powers from the Russian Parliament: for one year, he was to be, in effect, the dictator of Russia to facilitate the midwifery of the birth of a democratic Russia. In March of 1992, under pressure from a discontented population, parliament repealed the dictatorial powers it had granted him. Yeltsin responded by declaring a state of emergency, re-bestowing upon himself the repealed dictatorial powers. Russia’s Constitutional Court ruled that Yeltsin was acting outside the constitution. But the US sided – against the Russian people and against the Russian Constitutional Court – with Yeltsin.

Intoxicated with American support, Yeltsin dissolved the parliament that had rescinded his powers and abolished the constitution of which he was in violation. In a 636-2 vote, the Russian parliament impeached Yeltsin. But, President Clinton again sided with Yeltsin against the Russian people and the Russian law, backed him and gave him $2.5 billion in aid. Clinton was interfering in the Russian people’s choice of leaders.

Yeltsin took the money and sent police officers and elite paratroopers to surround the parliament building. Clinton “praised the Russian President has (sic) having done ‘quite well’ in managing the standoff with the Russian Parliament,” as The New York Times reported at the time. Clinton added that he thought “the United States and the free world ought to hang in there” with their support of Yeltsin against his people, their constitution and their courts, and judged Yeltsin to be “on the right side of history.”

On the right side of history and armed with machine guns, Yeltsin’s troops opened fire on the crowd of protesters, killing about 100 people before setting the Russian parliament building on fire. By the time the day was over, Yeltsin’s troops had killed approximately 500 people and wounded nearly 1,000. Still, Clinton stood with Yeltsin. He provided ludicrous cover for Yeltsin’s massacre, claiming that “I don’t see that he had any choice…. If such a thing happened in the United States, you would have expected me to take tough action against it.” Clinton’s Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said that the US supported Yeltsin’s suspension of parliament in these “extraordinary times.”

In 1996, America would interfere yet again. With elections looming, Yeltsin’s popularity was nonexistent, and his approval rating was at about 6 percent. According to Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton, Stephen Cohen, Clinton’s interference in Russian politics, his “crusade” to “reform Russia,” had by now become official policy. And, so, America boldly interfered directly in Russian elections. Three American political consultants, receiving “direct assistance from Bill Clinton’s White House,” secretly ran Yeltsin’s re-election campaign. As Time magazine broke the story, “For four months, a group of American political consultants clandestinely participated in guiding Yeltsin’s campaign.”

“Funded by the U.S. government,” Cohen reports, Americans “gave money to favored Russian politicians, instructed ministers, drafted legislation and presidential decrees, underwrote textbooks, and served at Yeltsin’s reelection headquarters in 1996.”

More incriminating is that Richard Dresner, one of the three American consultants, maintained a direct line to Clinton’s Chief Strategist, Dick Morris. According to reporting by Sean Guillory, in his book, Behind the Oval Office, Morris says that, with Clinton’s approval, he received weekly briefings from Dresner that he would give to Clinton. Based on those briefings, Clinton would then provide recommendations to Dresner through Morris.

Then ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering, even pressured an opposing candidate to drop out of the election to improve Yeltsin’s odds of winning.

The US not only helped run Yeltsin’s campaign, they helped pay for it. The US backed a $10.2 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan for Russia, the second-biggest loan the IMF had ever given. The New York Times reported that the loan was “expected to be helpful to President Boris N. Yeltsin in the presidential election in June.” The Times explained that the loan was “a vote of confidence” for Yeltsin who “has been lagging well behind … in opinion polls” and added that the US Treasury Secretary “welcomed the fund’s decision.”

Yeltsin won the election by 13 percent, and Time magazine’s cover declared: “Yanks to the rescue: The secret story of how American advisers helped Yeltsin win”. Cohen reports that the US ambassador to Russia boasted that “without our leadership … we would see a considerably different Russia today.” That’s a confession of election interference.

Fifteen years later, Russia would accuse America of meddling still. When protests broke out over flawed parliamentary elections in December 2011, Putin said that Hillary Clinton “set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal.” He accused the State Department of supporting the protesters. The accusation could be dismissed if the State Department hadn’t declared its intention to “establish a direct relationship with the Russian people over the Kremlin’s head.”

A New Cold War

Western political discourse and the Western media constantly repeat the charge that Russia is pulling the world back into the Cold War. But, it was America that put the Cold War on life support when Russia wanted to let it go. In his new book Russia Against the Rest, Russian expert and Professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent, Richard Sakwa, argues that, at the close of the Cold War, Russia wanted to transcends the blocs and divisions, but America insisted on preserving them. Russia wanted to join a transformed international community freed of blocs and made up of equal partners who cooperated with each other; America offered Russia only an invitation to join an enlarged American led community as a defeated and subordinate member. Russia wanted to end the Cold War and transcend blocs; America wanted to maintain the Cold War and simply enlarge its bloc. Russia sought to end the Cold War. If was America that couldn’t imagine a new paradigm and continued it.

Gorbachev offered the world Russia, but Bush could still only see the Soviet Union. But Gorbachev had brought about what Sakwa calls a “self-willed disintegration of the Soviet bloc” in favor of transcending blocs and ending the Cold War. Sakwa says that “it was not Western pressure that forced the Soviet leadership to end the Cold War but a decision of the Soviet leadership . . . that accepted the possibility of a stable and enduring cooperative relationship . . ..”

Gorbachev’s vision preceded the end of the Cold War: it was not a concession that came after. It was the Soviet Union, and not the United States that ended the Cold War. James Matlock, the US ambassador to the Soviet Union at the time, complains that American politicians were only able to see “the end of the Cold War as if it were a quasi-military victory rather than a negotiated outcome that benefited both sides.” Matlock tries to remind the West that “it was Gorbachev’s initiatives and not Western military pressure that ‘defeated communism’.” Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton, says that Gorbachev ended the Cold War “well before the disintegration of the Soviet Union.” But the US was unable to recognize the Soviet invitation to exit the Cold War world structure and refused to reciprocate: “the Cold War [had] ended in Moscow,” Cohen says, “but not in Washington.” It was the West, and not Russia, that resumed the Cold War after disintegration of the Soviet Union. The Warsaw Pact voluntarily dissolved on March 31, 1991. NATO never did.

As recently as 2000, Putin was still answering the question of whether Russia would join NATO with “Why not?” He saw Russia as part of a transformed community where Russia was “part of European culture . . . part of the ‘civilized world,’” where “seeing NATO as an enemy is destructive for Russia.” Sakwa says that in the early 2000s, Putin entered seriously into informal talks about NATO membership until the US vetoed the idea.

Sakwa says that Putin continued to engage the West and to attempt to forge a post Cold War partnership. Immediately after 9/11, Putin offered America logistical and intelligence support and helped take out the Taliban. Sakwa quotes an American official who rated Russian support after 9/11 as “as important as that of any NATO ally.” Rather than taking the hand Russia was offering in partnership, America slapped it by pulling out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and announcing that it would now welcome the Baltic States into NATO.

Despite Russian attempts to integrate Europe and the international community into a world order that transcended Cold War divisions, pacts and rivalries, Europe and the West continued to maintain and expand those divisions. 2008 saw the creation of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). Sakwa explains that the aim of the EaP was to draw Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia into the Western sphere. WikiLeaks has exposed a US cable that confesses that the aim of the EaP was to “counter Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe,” and admits to looking “for ways to enhance western influence beyond NATO’s eastern border.” Russia was trying to end, to transcend, the Cold War; America kept trying to push it.

Gorbachev and Putin always hoped the West would reciprocate Moscow’s voluntary dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact and the ending of the Cold War. George Keenan, the American diplomat and father of the “policy of containment” of the Soviet Union, mourned the missed opportunity in a 1998 interview: “Don’t people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.”

When Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union, he hoped to dissolve it into a transformed world that was no longer separated into rival blocs. It was Washington and the West that lacked the vision to leave the Cold War behind and that continuously failed to seize that transformative vision because they were ossified in a Cold War way of seeing the world.

Aggression and Expansionism

Russian interventions, especially in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, have repeatedly been offered in evidence of the Western charge that Putin’s Russia is becoming increasingly aggressive and expansionist. But Russia’s interventions have never been expressions of policy. Instead, they have been isolated responses to a larger systemic Western policy of expansionism.

The West wasn’t supposed to expand. At a February 9, 1990 meeting, George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, promised Gorbachev that if NATO got Germany and Russia pulled its troops out of East Germany “there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction one inch to the east.” But according to Sakwa, this promise meant only that NATO would not spill over from West Germany into East Germany. The promise of not “one inch to the east,” meant only that NATO wouldn’t militarize East Germany.

But the logic of the specific assurance implies the larger assurance. Russia wouldn’t have it as a security concern that East Germany not be home to NATO forces if there were NATO forces in all the Soviet Republics between East Germany and the western border of the Soviet Union. The value of the promise not to militarize East Germany is contingent upon the understanding that NATO won’t militarize east of East Germany.

So the question of militarizing east of Germany never had to explicitly come up: it was implicitly understood. Sakwa says that “It was clear that [the promise] did not refer just to the former German Democratic Republic.”

The promise was made on two consecutive days: first by the Americans and then by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. According to West German foreign ministry documents, on February 10, 1990, the day after James Baker’s promise, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher told his Soviet counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze “‘For us . . . one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east.’ And because the conversation revolved mainly around East Germany, Genscher added explicitly: ‘As far as the non-expansion of NATO is concerned, this also applies in general.’”

Former CIA analyst and chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch Ray McGovern reports that the US ambassador to the USSR at the time of the promise, Jack Matlock – who was present at the talks – told him that “The language used was absolute, and the entire negotiation was in the framework of a general agreement that there would be no use of force by the Soviets and no ‘taking advantage’ by the US … I don’t see how anybody could view the subsequent expansion of NATO as anything but ‘taking advantage. . ..”

Mikhail Gorbachev certainly thinks there was a promise made. He says the promise was made not to expand NATO “as much as a thumb’s width further to the east.” Putin also says the promise was made. Putin has asked, “And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them.”

Putin then went on to remind his audience of the assurances by pointing out that the existence of the NATO promise is not just the perception of him and Gorbachev. It was also the view of the NATO General Secretary at the time: “But I will allow myself to remind this audience what was said. I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. [Manfred] Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: ‘the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.’ Where are those guarantees?”

Recent scholarship supports the Russian version of the story. Sakwa says that “[r]ecent studies demonstrate that the commitment not to enlarge NATO covered the whole former Soviet bloc and not just East Germany.”

The promise made to Gorbachev was shattered: NATO engulfed Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1999; Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004 and Albania and Croatia in 2009. It was the West, and not Russia, that was being expansionist.

When, in 2008, NATO promised Georgia and Ukraine eventual membership, Russia perceived the threat of NATO encroaching right to its borders. It is in Georgia and Ukraine that Russia felt it had to draw the line with NATO encroachment into its core sphere of influence.

Sakwa says that the war in Georgia was “the first war to stop NATO enlargement; Ukraine was the second.” The Georgian war was less an example of Russian expansionism than a defense against Western expansionism. And, even in the attempt to stop Western expansionism, Russia was not the initiator of aggression.

When Georgia declared independence from Russia in 1991, South Ossetia sought independence from Georgia. In August 2008, separatists responded to the massing of troops on the border of South Ossetia by attacking. Hours after a cease fire had been declared, Georgia launched a surprise attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. An estimated 160 South Ossetians were killed in the attack, as were 48 Russian soldiers.

Swarka says that Russian forces arrived and defeated the Georgian army “in response to the Georgian bombardment of Tskhinvali.” Russia was not the initiator. The EU’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission, headed by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini condemned the Georgian attack: “None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack” were legitimate. Nor, she found, was the bombardment “necessary and proportionate.” She concluded that, though, the conflict had long been simmering, the “full-scale” hostilities were started by Georgia.

Russia responded, it did not initiate. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers saw no evidence that South Ossetia attacked Georgia before Georgia attacked Tskhinvali in violation of the cease fire.

Ukraine was the second Russian intervention to stop NATO enlargement and encroachment. The catalyst seized upon for the Western backed coup in Ukraine was President Yanukovych’s abandonment of an economic alliance with the European Union in favor of an economic alliance with Russia.

But, the economic alliance with the EU was not the benign one presented to the Western pubic. It was not just an economic offer. According to Stephen Cohen, the EU proposal also “included ‘security policy’ provisions . . . that would apparently subordinate Ukraine to NATO.” The provisions compelled Ukraine to “adhere to Europe’s ‘military and security’ policies.” So, the proposal was not a benign economic agreement: it was a security threat to Russia in economic sheep’s clothing.

Russia had no problem with EU expansion. Sakwa says that “there was no external resistance at this point to EU enlargement. On its own it posed no security threat to Russia, and it was only later, when allied with NATO enlargement . . . that enlargement encountered resistance.” And that is why the E.U. offer to Ukraine is an example of Western expansionism: it was allied with NATO.

Sakwa says “EU enlargement paves the way to NATO membership” and points out that, since 1989, every new member of the EU has become a member of NATO. It’s not only that the EU package subordinated Ukraine to NATO, since the EU Treaty of Lisbon went into effect in 2009 all new members of the EU are required to align their defense and security policies with NATO.

The EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine was no simple economic agreement. Article 4 says the Agreement will “promote gradual convergence on foreign and security matters with the aim of Ukraine’s ever-deeper involvement in the European security area.” Article 7 speaks of the convergence of security and defense, and Article 10 says that “the parties shall explore the potential of military and technological cooperation.”

So, the annexation of Crimea was not part of a larger, consistent policy of Russian expansionism. It was a defensive reaction to Western encroachment deep into its sphere of influence and right up to its borders. It was a specific response to a threat, not a general hunger for expansion. That may be why when the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine tried to follow Crimea back to Russia, Putin tried to prevent their referendums, while accepting Crimea’s. When they went ahead with their referendums anyway, Putin refused to accept or be bound by their results. Crimea wasn’t Russian expansionism. It was a specific response that Russia felt was forced upon it by a Western coup that was intended to escort Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence and into an expanded NATO that stretched right to Russia’s door step.

The two cases offered by the West in evidence of its claim that Russia is increasingly aggressive and expansionist were really specific defensive responses forced on Russia by Western expansionism that had taken earlier NATO expansionism too far.

Like the charges against Russia of election interference and aggressive expansionism, the charge of inciting a new cold war requires a blinding dose of hypocrisy and a strong case of historical amnesia. The witness that gives the defense the best chance of answering the charges is history itself. But, only if we listen.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.

Tree sitters protesting construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline through their property in West Virginia

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Politics, Public Health on April 23, 2018 at 7:35 am

Hello hello Fellow Satyagrahis,

I was wondering if you could help me. Hopefully, this is a good way to contact everyone.

This is an update from Virginia, about a non-violent action that is occurring just a couple of hours away from Ali and me. As you may or may not know, there are tree sits (eight that I know of!) occurring in VA and West VA at this moment. The tree sitters are protesting the Mountain Valley Pipeline/MVP; a natural gas pipeline proposed to go through West Virginia, Virginia, and into North Carolina. I believe they recently proposed 70 extra miles of pipeline into North Carolina.

Recently, I have been able to get down to the Bent Mountain area to visit Red, a 61 year old woman tree sitting on her own property. She is standing up to the MVP.

I grew up in Roanoke, VA and spent a lot of time on Bent Mountain. So for me this is a place I consider home.

At this point, they are clearing the land, often against the desires of people within the community. Curiously, there was a statement that MVP is not supposed to be clearing trees during this time, because of migratory bird safety rules in the states of West Virginia and Virginia. As of last week, they began to clear the land around the tree sitters on Bent Mountain: Red and her daughter Miner. Red and Miner have been restricted from receiving food and water by local police. They are being slowly forced out of the trees. This also includes the monopod and tree sitters along the VA and West Virginia border.

The reason I am sending this email is because I believe it would be helpful if more people outside of Virginia and the surrounding area were posting about this issue in their media spaces. Yes, I am definitely talking fb. The tree sits are slowly getting coverage, and more people need to know, as these pipelines have yet to be built. They are beginning the process of clearing land, but it has not been put down. There is so much possibility to stop this, and it could be your help that makes it happen.

I am sending links to provide more information, and I am hopeful that you will find information that calls to you to post.

This is a video that just came out about Red and Miner:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/local/trespassing-on-their-own-land-to-stop-a-pipeline/2018/04/21/3df56a08-458a-11e8-b2dc-b0a403e4720a_video.html?utm_term=.738d4f1774be

This is a general fb support page for RED, the tree sitter on Bent Mountain:

https://www.facebook.com/Stand-With-Red-142804873230596/

This is a recent Roanoke Times article about the tree sits. The Roanoke Times has several articles that you can find online:

http://www.roanoke.com/news/local/tree-sit-protests-of-the-mountain-valley-pipeline-pose-a/article_45f93b63-fe78-557c-b3f4-0cbed58889ad.html

Lastly, this is a podcast out of Richmond, VA that gives information about both pipelines that are currently being pushed in the area. If you only have time to listen to a bit; Episode 15 covers Red:

http://pipelinepodcast.org/

What Happens When a Few Volunteer and the Rest Just Watch: The American Military System Dissected

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 12, 2018 at 9:35 am

By Andrew J. Bacevich

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176409/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich%2C_creating_a_perpetual_war_machine/#more

The purpose of all wars, is peace. So observed St. Augustine early in the first millennium A.D. Far be it from me to disagree with the esteemed Bishop of Hippo, but his crisply formulated aphorism just might require a bit of updating.

I’m not a saint or even a bishop, merely an interested observer of this nation’s ongoing military misadventures early in the third millennium A.D. From my vantage point, I might suggest the following amendment to Augustine’s dictum: Any war failing to yield peace is purposeless and, if purposeless, both wrong and stupid.

War is evil. Large-scale, state-sanctioned violence is justified only when all other means of achieving genuinely essential objectives have been exhausted or are otherwise unavailable. A nation should go to war only when it has to — and even then, ending the conflict as expeditiously as possible should be an imperative.

Some might take issue with these propositions, President Trump’s latest national security adviser doubtless among them. Yet most observers — even, I’m guessing, most high-ranking U.S. military officers — would endorse them. How is it then that peace has essentially vanished as a U.S. policy objective? Why has war joined death and taxes in that select category of things that Americans have come to accept as unavoidable?

The United States has taken Thucydides’s famed Melian Dialogue and turned it inside out. Centuries before Augustine, the great Athenian historian wrote, “The strong do what they will, while the weak suffer what they must.” Strength confers choice; weakness restricts it. That’s the way the world works, so at least Thucydides believed. Yet the inverted Melian Dialogue that prevails in present-day Washington seemingly goes like this: strength imposes obligations and limits choice. In other words, we gotta keep doing what we’ve been doing, no matter what.

Making such a situation all the more puzzling is the might and majesty of America’s armed forces. By common consent, the United States today has the world’s best military. By some estimates, it may be the best in recorded history. It’s certainly the most expensive and hardest working on the planet.

Yet in the post-Cold War era when the relative strength of U.S. forces reached its zenith, our well-endowed, well-trained, well-equipped, and highly disciplined troops have proven unable to accomplish any of the core tasks to which they’ve been assigned. This has been especially true since 9/11.

We send the troops off to war, but they don’t achieve peace. Instead, America’s wars and skirmishes simply drag on, seemingly without end. We just keep doing what we’ve been doing, a circumstance that both Augustine and Thucydides would undoubtedly have found baffling.

Prosecuting War, Averting Peace

How to explain this paradox of a superb military that never gets the job done? Let me suggest that the problem lies with the present-day American military system, the principles to which the nation adheres in raising, organizing, supporting, and employing its armed forces. By its very existence, a military system expresses an implicit contract between the state, the people, and the military itself.

Here, as I see it, are the principles — seven in all — that define the prevailing military system of the United States.

First, we define military service as entirely voluntary. In the U.S., there is no link between citizenship and military service. It’s up to you as an individual to decide if you want to take up arms in the service of your country.

If you choose to do so, that’s okay. If you choose otherwise, that’s okay, too. Either way, your decision is of no more significance than whether you root for the Yankees or the Mets.

Second, while non-serving citizens are encouraged to “support the troops,” we avoid stipulating how this civic function is to be performed.

In practice, there are many ways of doing so, some substantive, others merely symbolic. Most citizens opt for the latter. This means that they cheer when invited to do so. Cheering is easy and painless. It can even make you feel good about yourself.

Third, when it comes to providing the troops with actual support, we expect Congress to do the heavy lifting. Our elected representatives fulfill that role by routinely ponying up vast sums of money for what is misleadingly called a defense budget. In some instances, Congress appropriates even more money than the Pentagon asks for, as was the case this year.

Meanwhile, under the terms of our military system, attention to how this money actually gets spent by our yet-to-be-audited Pentagon tends to be — to put the matter politely — spotty. Only rarely does the Congress insert itself forcefully into matters relating to what U.S. forces scattered around the world are actually doing.

Yes, there are periodic hearings, with questions posed and testimony offered. But unless there is some partisan advantage to be gained, oversight tends to be, at best, pro forma. As a result, those charged with implementing national security policy — another Orwellian phrase — enjoy very considerable latitude.

Fourth, under the terms of our military system, this latitude applies in spades to the chief executive. The commander-in-chief occupies the apex of our military system. The president may bring to office very little expertise pertinent to war or the art of statecraft, yet his authority regarding such matters is essentially unlimited.

Consider, if you will, the sobering fact that our military system empowers the president to order a nuclear attack, should he see the need — or feel the impulse — to do so. He need not obtain congressional consent. He certainly doesn’t need to check with the American people.

Since Harry Truman ordered the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, presidents have not exercised this option, for which we should all be grateful. Yet on more occasions than you can count, they have ordered military actions, large and small, on their own authority or after only the most perfunctory consultation with Congress. When Donald Trump, for instance, threatened North Korea’s Kim Jong-un with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen,” he gave no hint that he would even consider asking for prior congressional authorization to do so. Trump’s words were certainly inflammatory. Yet were he to act on those words, he would merely be exercising a prerogative enjoyed by his predecessors going back to Truman himself.

The Constitution invests in Congress the authority to declare war. The relevant language is unambiguous. In practice, as countless commentators have noted, that provision has long been a dead letter. This, too, forms an essential part of our present military system.

Fifth, under the terms of that system, there’s no need to defray the costs of military actions undertaken in our name. Supporting the troops does not require citizens to pay anything extra for what the U.S. military is doing out there wherever it may be. The troops are asked to sacrifice; for the rest of us, sacrifice is anathema.

Indeed, in recent years, presidents who take the nation to war or perpetuate wars they inherit never even consider pressing Congress to increase our taxes accordingly. On the contrary, they advocate tax cuts, especially for the wealthiest among us, which lead directly to massive deficits.

Sixth, pursuant to the terms of our military system, the armed services have been designed not to defend the country but to project military power on a global basis. For the Department of Defense actually defending the United States qualifies as an afterthought, trailing well behind other priorities such as trying to pacify Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province or jousting with militant groups in Somalia. The United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps are all designed to fight elsewhere, relying on a constellation of perhaps 800 bases around the world to facilitate the conduct of military campaigns “out there,” wherever “there” may happen to be. They are, in other words, expeditionary forces.

Reflect for a moment on the way the Pentagon divvies the world up into gigantic swathes of territory and then assigns a military command to exercise jurisdiction over each of them: European Command, Africa Command, Central Command, Southern Command, Northern Command, and Pacific Command. With the polar icecap continuing to melt, a U.S. Arctic Command is almost surely next on the docket. Nor is the Pentagon’s mania for creating new headquarters confined to terra firma. We already have U.S. Cyber Command. Can U.S. Galactic Command be far behind?

No other nation adheres to this practice. Nor would the United States permit any nation to do so. Imagine the outcry in Washington if President Xi Jinping had the temerity to create a “PRC Latin America Command,” headed by a four-star Chinese general charged with maintaining order and stability from Mexico to Argentina.

Seventh (and last), our military system invests great confidence in something called the military profession.

The legal profession exists to implement the rule of law. We hope that the result is some approximation of justice. The medical profession exists to repair our bodily ailments. We hope that health and longevity will result. The military profession exists to master war. With military professionals in charge, it’s our hope that America’s wars will conclude quickly and successfully with peace the result.

To put it another way, we look to the military profession to avert the danger of long, costly, and inconclusive wars. History suggests that these sap the collective strength of a nation and can bring about its premature decline. We count on military professionals to forestall that prospect.

Our military system assigns the immediate direction of war to our most senior professionals, individuals who have ascended step by step to the very top of the military hierarchy. We expect three- and four-star generals and admirals to possess the skills needed to make war politically purposeful. This expectation provides the rationale for the status they enjoy and the many entitlements they are accorded.

America, the (Formerly) Indispensable

Now, the nation that has created this military system is not some “shithole country,” to use a phrase made famous by President Trump. We are, or at least claim to be, a democratic republic in which all power ultimately derives from the people. We believe in — indeed, are certain that we exemplify — freedom, even as we continually modify the meaning of that term.

In the aggregate, we are very rich. Since the latter part of the nineteenth century we have taken it for granted that the United States ought to be the richest country on the planet, notwithstanding the fact that large numbers of ordinary Americans are themselves anything but rich. Indeed, as a corollary to our military system, we count on these less affluent Americans to volunteer for military service in disproportionate numbers. Offered sufficient incentives, they do so.

Finally, since 1945 the United States has occupied the preeminent place in the global order, a position affirmed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1991. Indeed, we have come to believe that American primacy reflects the will of God or of some cosmic authority.

From the early years of the Cold War, we have come to believe that the freedom, material abundance, and primacy we cherish all depend upon the exercise of “global leadership.” In practice, that seemingly benign term has been a euphemism for unquestioned military superiority and the self-assigned right to put our military to work as we please wherever we please. Back in the 1990s, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it best: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

Other countries might design their military establishments to protect certain vital interests. As Albright’s remark suggests, American designs have been far more ambitious.

Here, then, is a question: How do the principles and attitudes that undergird our military system actually suit twenty-first-century America? And if they don’t, what are the implications of clinging to such a system? Finally, what alternative principles might form a more reasonable basis for raising, organizing, supporting, and employing our armed forces?

Spoiler alert: Let me acknowledge right now that I consider our present-day military system irredeemably flawed and deeply harmful. For proof we need look no further than the conduct of our post-9/11 wars, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

These myriad undertakings of the last nearly 17 years have subjected our military system to a comprehensive real-world examination. Collectively, they have rendered a judgment on that system. And the judgment is negative. Put to the test, the American military system has failed.

And the cost so far? Trillions of dollars expended (with trillions more to come), thousands of American lives lost, tens of thousands of Americans grievously damaged, and even greater numbers of non-Americans killed, injured, and displaced.

One thing is certain: our wars have not brought about peace by even the loosest definition of the word.

A Military Report Card

There are many possible explanations for why our recent military record has been so dismal. One crucial explanation — perhaps the most important of all — relates to those seven principles that undergird our military system.

Let me review them in reverse order.

Principle 7, the military profession: Tally up the number of three- and four-star generals who have commanded the Afghan War since 2001. It’s roughly a dozen. None of them has succeeded in bringing it to a successful conclusion. Nor does any such happy ending seem likely to be in the offing anytime soon. The senior officers we expect to master war have demonstrated no such mastery.

The generals who followed one another in presiding over that war are undoubtedly estimable, well-intentioned men, but they have not accomplished the job for which they were hired. Imagine if you contracted with a dozen different plumbers — each highly regarded — to fix a leaking sink in your kitchen and you ended up with a flooded basement. You might begin to think that there’s something amiss in the way that plumbers are trained and licensed. Similarly, perhaps it’s time to reexamine our approach to identifying and developing very senior military officers.

Or alternatively, consider this possibility: Perhaps our theory of war as an enterprise where superior generalship determines the outcome is flawed. Perhaps war cannot be fully mastered, by generals or anyone else.

It might just be that war is inherently unmanageable. Take it from Winston Churchill, America’s favorite confronter of evil. “The statesman who yields to war fever,” Churchill wrote, “must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

If Churchill is right, perhaps our expectations that senior military professionals will tame war — control the uncontrollable — are misplaced. Perhaps our military system should put greater emphasis on avoiding war altogether or at least classifying it as an option to be exercised with great trepidation, rather than as the political equivalent of a handy-dandy, multi-functional Swiss Army knife.

Principle 6, organizing our forces to emphasize global power projection: Reflect for a moment on the emerging security issues of our time. The rise of China is one example. A petulant and over-armed Russia offers a second. Throw in climate change and mushrooming cyber-threats and you have a daunting set of problems. It’s by no means impertinent to wonder about the relevance of the current military establishment to these challenges.

Every year the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain and enhance the lethality of a force configured for conventional power projection and to sustain the global network of bases that goes with it. For almost two decades, that force has been engaged in a futile war of attrition with radical Islamists that has now spread across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa.

I don’t know about you, but I worry more about the implications of China’s rise and Russian misbehavior than I do about Islamic terrorism. And I worry more about changing weather patterns here in New England or somebody shutting down the electrical grid in my home town than I do about what Beijing and Moscow may be cooking up. Bluntly put, our existing military system finds us focused on the wrong problem set.

We need a military system that accurately prioritizes actual and emerging threats. The existing system does not. This suggests the need for radically reconfigured armed services, with the hallowed traditions of George Patton, John Paul Jones, Billy Mitchell, and Chesty Puller honorably but permanently retired.

Principle 5, paying — or not paying — for America’s wars: If you want it, you should be willing to pay for it. That hoary axiom ought to guide our military system as much as it should our personal lives. Saddling Millennials or members of Generation Z with the cost of paying for wars mostly conceived and mismanaged by my fellow Baby Boomers strikes me as downright unseemly.

One might expect the young to raise quite a ruckus over such an obvious injustice. In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed their righteous anger over the absence of effective gun controls in this country. That they aren’t comparably incensed about the misuse of guns by their own contemporaries deployed to distant lands represents a real puzzle, especially since they’re the ones who will ultimately be stuck with the bill.

Principles 4 and 3, the role of Congress and the authority of the commander-in-chief: Whatever rationale may once have existed for allowing the commander-in-chief to circumvent the Constitution’s plainly specified allocation of war powers to Congress should long since have lapsed. Well before Donald Trump became president, a responsible Congress would have reasserted its authority to declare war. That Trump sits in the Oval Office and now takes advice from the likes of John Bolton invests this matter with great urgency.

Surely President Trump’s bellicose volatility drives home the point that it’s past time for Congress to assert itself in providing responsible oversight regarding all aspects of U.S. military policy. Were it to do so, the chances of fixing the defects permeating our present military system would improve appreciably.

Of course, the likelihood of that happening is nil until the money changers are expelled from the temple. And that won’t occur until Americans who are not beholden to the military-industrial complex and its various subsidiaries rise up, purge the Congress of its own set of complexes, and install in office people willing to do their duty. And that brings us back to…

Principles 2 and 1, the existing relationship between the American people and their military and our reliance on a so-called all-volunteer force: Here we come to the heart of the matter.

I submit that the relationship between the American people and their military is shot through with hypocrisy. It is, in fact, nothing short of fraudulent. Worse still, most of us know it, even if we are loath to fess up. In practice, the informal mandate to “support the troops” has produced an elaborate charade. It’s theater, as phony as Donald Trump’s professed love for DACA recipients.

If Americans were genuinely committed to supporting the troops, they would pay a great deal more attention to what President Trump and his twenty-first-century predecessors have tasked those troops to accomplish — with what results and at what cost. Of course, that would imply doing more than cheering and waving the flag on cue. Ultimately, the existence of the all-volunteer force obviates any need for such an effort. It provides Americans with an ample excuse for ignoring our endless wars and allowing our flawed military system to escape serious scrutiny.

Having outsourced responsibility for defending the country to people few of us actually know, we’ve ended up with a military system that is unfair, undemocratic, hugely expensive, and largely ineffective, not to mention increasingly irrelevant to the threats coming our way. The perpetuation of that system finds us mired in precisely the sort of long, costly, inconclusive wars that sap the collective strength of a nation and may bring about its premature decline.

The root cause of our predicament is the all-volunteer force. Only when we ordinary citizens conclude that we have an obligation to contribute to the country’s defense will it become possible to devise a set of principles for raising, organizing, supporting, and employing U.S. forces that align with our professed values and our actual security requirements.

If Stormy Daniels can figure out when an existing contract has outlived its purpose, so can the rest of us.

How Memphis Gave Up on Dr. King’s Dream

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Race on April 6, 2018 at 6:43 am

By Wendi C. Thomas, New York Times, March 30, 2018
MEMPHIS — The 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4 should have been an opportunity for the nation — and especially those who live in the city where he was killed — to reckon with the issue that he died fighting for: the right of workers to earn a living wage.

But for that reckoning to happen, we must acknowledge that the economic system and political structures that perpetuated poverty then are still in force now. And that the people who keep workers poor still too often get a pass.

In the last years of his life, with Jim Crow in retreat, Dr. King turned to what he labeled the three evils — poverty, militarism and racism — that kept black people in bondage. In 1968, he was planning the Poor People’s Campaign when black ministers invited him to Memphis to show support for about 1,300 black sanitation workers who had gone on strike after years of low wages and poor working conditions.

Henry Loeb III, anti-union and pro-segregation, was the city’s mayor. Born in 1920 in Memphis, he graduated from Phillips Academy and Brown, then served in the military during World War II before returning to Memphis to join his family’s laundry business, which was founded in 1887.

According to the historian Mantri Sivananda, whose 2002 Ph.D. dissertation focused on Loeb, the company’s records from 1900 to 1925 showed that wages “were not revised according to the increasing cost of living.” Loeb’s Laundry, which fought off a 1945 strike, continued to keep the wages of its hundreds of workers — most of whom were black women — low. By 1968, the company boasted that it was the South’s oldest and largest laundry business, with more than 60 locations.

Henry Loeb, who was sworn in for his second term as Memphis mayor shortly before sanitation workers went on strike.CreditGrey Villet/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty ImagesA 1961 federal wage survey of the laundry industry noted that of four regions nationwide, wages were lowest in the South. And of the 27 metropolitan areas surveyed, average hourly wages were lowest in Memphis. Over the years, the Loebs bought out much of their competition, and their policies most likely played a role in depressing the entire region’s wages in the laundry industry.

In 1956, before Loeb became mayor, he was a city commissioner, where he ran the Public Works division. When it came to fixing sidewalks and paving roads in white neighborhoods, Loeb spent liberally. But he skimped on the Sanitation Department, forcing the garbagemen to work with obsolete, dangerous machinery.

Loeb served two nonconsecutive terms as mayor, between which his brother bought his share of the laundry business. He ran as a fiscal conservative, promising to balance the city’s budget even if it cost workers their jobs. He balked at appointing blacks to any important city government jobs and resisted attempts to integrate public schools. But it was in Loeb’s second term that he set in motion events that still stain the city’s psyche. On Feb. 1, 1968, just a month after he took the oath of office, a dilapidated garbage truck malfunctioned, crushing two sanitation workers to death.

Angry about their co-workers’ needless deaths, fed up with the poor pay and demanding union recognition, black sanitation workers went on strike on Feb. 12. On March 18, Dr. King came to Memphis to encourage the strikers and their supporters, preaching to a full house at Mason Temple. Ten days later, Dr. King tried to lead a march to City Hall. But it deteriorated into looting and police violence. Then on April 4, during Dr. King’s third trip to Memphis on behalf of the workers, he was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

Because Loeb refused to negotiate with the strikers or recognize their union, Time magazine blamed him for creating the conditions that brought Dr. King to town to meet his death. The strike would be settled on April 16, with an agreement that acknowledged the workers’ union and raised their wages.
Image

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, right, leading a march in Memphis for the sanitation workers on March 28.CreditSam Melhorn, The Commercial Appeal, via Associated Press
Just eight months later, Mayor Loeb’s brother, William, continued the family’s antagonism toward organized labor. When laundry plant workers scheduled a vote on joining the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s Laundry and Dry Cleaning International Union, William Loeb gathered them in the cafeteria. If they brought in a union, he told them, he’d close the plant and get out of the laundry business altogether.

That threat, the National Labor Relations Board later ruled, constituted an unfair labor practice. The board ordered the laundry to post a notice that read, in part: “We will respect the rights of our employees to self-organization, to form, join or assist any labor organization.”

By then, the Loebs owned dozens of laundries, often paired with convenience stores and barbecue restaurants on the same site, all reliant on low-wage labor. Over the next 20 years, as the family closed those businesses, they sold the properties and used the proceeds to upgrade to better lots. Today, Loeb Properties — run by two of Mayor Loeb’s nephews, Robert and Louis Loeb — is an empire, managing more than two million square feet of commercial, retail, industrial and residential property in and around Memphis, much of it in the city’s most expensive shopping strips. The company’s management team consists of 13 employees, all of them white.

Today, the city of Memphis is 64 percent black and 30 percent white. Memphis is the poorest large metropolitan area in the country, yet business leaders manage to spin underpaid workers as a plus, not a shame. As recently as last year, the Chamber of Commerce website noted that Memphis offers a “work force at wage rates that are lower than most other parts of the country.” Since 1968, high school and college graduation rates have soared for black residents, but median black household income remains stubbornly half that of white households.

Capitalism, Dr. King said in Chicago in 1967, was “built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor.” The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice, he continued, “cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”

Police officers confronted striking sanitation workers in downtown Memphis.CreditBettmann Archive, via Getty Images
In a statement, Robert Loeb claimed that his father, William, had put black entrepreneurs in business as franchisees of Loeb’s Barbecue restaurants, something he called “unheard-of in Memphis at that time.” His father, he said, had “endeavored to be part of the solution,” while his brother, the mayor, “steadfastly remained part of the problem.”

Yet Memphis today is a stark reminder of how much of Dr. King’s dream we’ve ignored. And in a way, Loeb Properties is an example of how little has changed. Instead of radical redistribution, we have yet another generation of Loebs poised to profit from low-wage labor. And local government is helping them do just that: Last year, Loeb Properties received a $6.1 million tax incentive to build a boutique hotel.

The project will create 65 jobs, 45 of which will be in housekeeping and food service and will have an average base pay of less than $20,000 a year. Economic vitality for the Loebs means hardship for these hotel workers, most of whom are likely to be African-American, since the city is nearly two-thirds black. Every time I see a Loeb Properties “For Lease” sign — and there are dozens across the city — I remember those underpaid black laundresses. And I am angry for the hotel workers who will be underpaid.

Is it any wonder that the black-white wealth gap has only widened since the Great Recession? Or that the income gap in the Memphis region has barely budged? Or that campaigns such as Fight for $15, which has raised wages for millions of workers but has stalled in many places, are necessary? Or that the new Poor People’s Campaign is as urgently needed today as the one Dr. King was planning just before he was killed?

It was Dr. King who said: “Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice.” What have we done with Dr. King’s sacrifice? Too little.

Inequality is created and maintained by those who benefit from the labor of underpaid workers. Those people have names. Their names should be known.

Wendi C. Thomas, a former columnist for The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, is the editor and publisher of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a news project focused on economic justice.

What is socialism?

In Climate change, Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Peace, Politics, Public Health, Race on March 27, 2018 at 10:12 am

By Tom Mayer, Peace Train Column for Friday March 23, 2018

Many people understand that socialism is a possible alternative to capitalism in the modern world, but few know what socialism really means. The nature of an economic system depends upon which social class controls the means of production. Power over the means of production enables the controlling class to govern the entire economic system.

Three basic economic systems (each with many variations) are possible in a modern technologically advanced society: capitalism, state collectivism, and socialism. Under capitalism the owners of productive property (i.e. capitalists) control the means of production. Capitalism is the economic system that currently exists in most parts of the world. Under state collectivism the government bureaucracy controls the means of production. State collectivism was the economic system of Communist countries like the Soviet Union and is often mistaken for socialism. Under socialism working people collectively control the means of production. Although some societies have adopted a few socialist institutions (e.g. economic planning, free health care, cooperative banks) there has never been a full-fledged socialist society in the modern world.

Socialism has five principal goals. (1) Sustainability: the economic system must be organized to sustain human life on our planet for the indefinite future. (2) Equality: the economic system must move towards complete economic equality. All forms of work are equally valued. Complete equality is the long term goal, but limited inequality based upon differential contributions to the economy exists initially. (3) Comprehensive Democracy: all major economic and political decisions are made through genuine democratic processes. (4) Personal Security: all fundamental personal needs are guaranteed by society. This guarantee includes food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, child care, elder care, etc. The levels at which personal needs are guaranteed increase as the socialist economic system matures. (5) Solidarity: a spirit of mutual support, cooperation, and friendship is created among all people. Socialist solidarity contrasts with the egoism and competitiveness fostered by capitalism.

What social institutions can achieve these five socialist goals? Socialists have different views on this subject, particularly on the issue of whether socialism should use markets. Here are some of the institutions proposed by socialists: (a) a democratic state that invites maximum participation and frequent circulation of political officials; (b) democratic and self-governing councils of workers and consumers; (c) jobs balanced for difficulty and desirability by workers councils (hazardous and unpleasant work being divided among all competent adults); (d) compensation according to effort as determined by fellow workers; (e) democratic and participatory economic planning in which workers councils have a major part; (f) use of computers and extensive feedback to reach a feasible and sustainable economic plan.

Building socialism in the context of a capitalist society involves a three prong strategy: (i) consciousness raising – developing socialist consciousness within the capitalist public; (ii) institution building – creating socialist institutions based upon cooperation, equality, and rational planning within capitalist society (e.g. workers cooperatives, strong labor unions, environmental regulation); (iii) political organizing – establishing an effective political party committed to socialism that contests for power within the capitalist political system.

Gang of Four: Senators Call for Tillerson to Enter into Arms Control Talks with the Kremlin

In Democracy, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on March 24, 2018 at 9:57 pm

By Gilbert Doctorow and Ray McGovern

In a sad commentary on the parlous state of the U.S. media, a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from four United States Senators dated March 8 calling for opening arms control talks with the Kremlin ASAP is nowhere to be found in mainstream newspapers a day after its release on the Senate home page of one of the authors, Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). Nothing in the New York Times. Nothing in the Washington Post. And so, it is left to alternative media to bring to the attention of its readership a major development in domestic politics, a significant change in what its own senior politicians are saying should be done about Russia that was brought to our attention by …..the Russian mainstream media including the agency RIA Novosti, RBK, Tass within hours of initial posting.

What we have is, first, a genuine man bites dog story. Two of the senators who penned the letter, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), have in recent months been among the most vociferous promoters of the unproven allegations of Trump collusion with the Russians. Now they are putting aside for the moment their attacks on Trump and members of his entourage who dared shake hands or share a joke with a Russian ambassador. They are openly calling upon the Secretary of State to send U.S. personnel to negotiate with Putin’s minions over our survival on this planet.

The authors were in a tough spot explaining their new marching orders for State. And they have done their best to impose consistency on what is patently a new policy direction holding great promise for sanity to be restored in U.S.-Russian relations.

First, they cover their backsides by the lengthy recitation of Russia’s bad deeds, including alleged election meddling in the 2016 presidential election, violation of international law in Ukraine and the like.

Secondly, they make the proposed arms talks look like a walk down the Rose Garden, with the Russians being told what to do from a position of strength. The objective is focused on inserting two of Russia’s latest weapons systems described by Vladimir Putin in his March 1 speech into the framework of the START treaty as it comes up for renewal. That and to resolve issues over alleged Russian violation of the Intermediate Range Missiles convention.

However, buried in this mumbo jumbo is that reference to Putin’s speech and the new weapons systems he described, which actually numbered six among them several never heard about before inside the Beltway and looking pretty ominous. So, one may conclude that Putin’s intended “shock and awe” speech did have some effect in DC, even if so far no one is saying so, and even if so far, our leading newspapers have called time out till they can decide how to deal with the unwelcome news.

Wittingly or not, the Gang of Four has just opened a breach in the wall of contempt and loathing for Putin and Russia that has been building in Washington for months if not years now. The immediate task is for word of this development to go out to the broad public and for the relics of our once formidable arms negotiations teams to be brought out of mothballs to face Russian counterparts who have been waiting keenly for this moment.

Democratic Fissures

The unusual way in which the letter was made public — and the evident uncertainty on the part of the mainstream media as to how to play it — reflects widening fissures among Democrats.

Even among the most rabid fans of Hillary Clinton (and haters of President Trump) there is a growing sense that, for example, Congressman Adam “trust-me-the-Russians-hacked-our election” Schiff (D-Calif.) may not be able to deliver anything beyond the “trust me.” And many are beginning to question whether the sainted Special Counsel, Robert Mueller may not be able to come up with much more than click-bait farms in St. Petersburg and dirt to put dubious characters like Paul Manafort in jail on charges unrelated to Russiagate. (After all, Mueller has already been at it a very long time.)

And what would that mean for the re-election prospects of candidates like the superannuated Democratic-machine product Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose prospects are already waning?

Not to be ruled out is the possibility that the four senators may also be motivated by a new appreciation of the dangers of blaming everything on Russia, with the possible result of U.S.-Russia relations falling into a state of complete disrepair. The key question is whether President Putin can be de-demonized. That will depend on the mainstream media, which, alas, is not accustomed to reassessing and silencing the bellicose drums — even in the face of new realities like the petering out of Russiagate and Putin’s entirely credible declaration of strategic parity.

Gang of Four Letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

As posted on the website of Senator Merkley

March 8, 2018

The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

We write to urge the State Department to convene the next U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue as soon as possible.

A U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue is more urgent following President Putin’s public address on March 1st when he referred to several new nuclear weapons Russia is reportedly developing including a cruise missile and a nuclear underwater drone, which are not currently limited by the New START treaty, and would be destabilizing if deployed. There is no doubt we have significant disagreements with Russia, including Russia’s brazen interference in the 2016 U.S. elections; continued violation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF); invasion of Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea; and destabilizing actions in Syria. However, it is due to these policy rifts, not in spite of them, that the United States should urgently engage with Russia to avoid miscalculation and reduce the likelihood of conflict.

First, we encourage the administration to propose alternative solutions to address Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov admitted to the existence of this ground launched cruise missile (GLCM), but contended that the system was INF Treaty compliant.

Senior officials from the United States and Russia have said that the INF Treaty plays an “important role in the existing system of international security.” As such, we urge the State Department to resolve Russia’s violation through existing INF Treaty provisions or new mutually acceptable means.

Second, we urge the United States to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The Trump administration’s own 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) references Russia’s robust nuclear modernization program as a main justification behind the U.S. need to recapitalize its three legs of the nuclear triad. An extension of New START would verifiably lock-in the Treaty’s Central Limits – and with it – the reductions in strategic forces Russia has made.

The New START Treaty, which entered into force in 2011, provides transparency and predictability into the size and location of Russia’s strategic nuclear delivery systems, warheads, and facilities. New START’s robust verification architecture involves thousands of data exchanges and regular on-site inspections.The United States confirmed in February that Russia met New START’s Central Treaty Limits and it stated that “implementation of the New START Treaty enhances the safety and security of the United States.” These same Central Treaty Limits could also govern two of the new types of nuclear weapons referenced by President Putin on March 1st – a case the United States can argue through the Treaty’s Biannual Consultative Commission (BCC).

Lastly, as the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review notes, Russia maintains a numerical advantage to the United States in the number of non-strategic nuclear weapons. The Senate, in its Resolution of Ratification on New START in 2010, took stock of this imbalance and called upon the United States to commence negotiations that would “secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.” Attempts by the Obama administration to negotiate an agreement on this class of weapons met resistance from Russia. However, even absent the political space for a formal agreement or binding treaty with Russia, we urge the State Department to discuss ways to enhance transparency on non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Extending New START, resolving Russia’s INF violation, and enhancing transparency measures relating to non-strategic nuclear weapons will also help quiet growing calls from many countries that the United States is not upholding its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations. The Treaty’s three mutually reinforcing pillars: non-proliferation, peaceful uses of the atom, and disarmament can only be advanced through U.S. leadership on all three.

There is no guarantee that we can make progress with Russia on these issues. However, even at the height of Cold War tensions, the United States and the Soviet Union were able to engage on matters of strategic stability. Leaders from both countries believed, as we should today, that the incredible destructive force of nuclear weapons is reason enough to make any and all efforts to lessen the chance that they can never be used again.

Sincerely,

Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future?was published in October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on http://www.amazon.com and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served in Army and CIA intelligence analysis for 30 years and, after retiring, co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

 

On Seeing America’s Wars Whole: Six Questions for A.G. Sulzberger of NY Times

In Cost, Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on March 22, 2018 at 9:00 am

By Andrew J. Bacevich

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176400/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich%2C_a_memo_to_the_publisher_of_the_new_york_times/#more

March 20, 2018

Dear Mr. Sulzberger:

Congratulations on assuming the reins of this nation’s — and arguably, the world’s — most influential publication. It’s the family business, of course, so your appointment to succeed your father doesn’t exactly qualify as a surprise. Even so, the responsibility for guiding the fortunes of a great institution must weigh heavily on you, especially when the media landscape is changing so rapidly and radically.

Undoubtedly, you’re already getting plenty of advice on how to run the paper, probably more than you want or need. Still, with your indulgence, I’d like to offer an outsider’s perspective on “the news that’s fit to print.” The famous motto of the Times insists that the paper is committed to publishing “all” such news — an admirable aspiration even if an impossibility. In practice, what readers like me get on a daily basis is “all the news that Times editors deem worthy of print.”

Of course, within that somewhat more restrictive universe of news, not all stories are equal. Some appear on the front page above the fold. Others are consigned to page A17 on Saturday morning.

And some topics receive more attention than others. In recent years, comprehensive coverage of issues touching on diversity, sexuality, and the status of women has become a Times hallmark. When it comes to Donald Trump, “comprehensive” can’t do justice to the attention he receives. At the Times (and more than a few other media outlets), he has induced a form of mania, with his daily effusion of taunts, insults, preposterous assertions, bogus claims, and decisions made, then immediately renounced, all reported in masochistic detail. Throw in salacious revelations from Trump’s colorful past and leaks from the ongoing Mueller investigation of his campaign and our 45th president has become for the Times something akin to a Great White Whale, albeit with a comb-over and a preference for baggy suits.

In the meantime, other issues of equal or even greater importance — I would put climate change in this category — receive no more than sporadic or irregular coverage. And, of course, some topics simply don’t make the cut at all, like just about anything short of a school shooting that happens in that vast expanse west of the Hudson that Saul Steinberg years ago so memorably depicted for the New Yorker.

The point of this admittedly unsolicited memo is not to urge the Times to open a bureau in Terre Haute or in the rapidly melting Arctic. Nor am I implying that the paper should tone down its efforts to dismantle the hetero-normative order, empower women, and promote equality for transgender persons. Yet I do want to suggest that obsessing about this administration’s stupefying tomfoolery finds the Times overlooking one particular issue that predates and transcends the Trump Moment. That issue is the normalization of armed conflict, with your writers, editors, and editorial board having tacitly accepted that, for the United States, war has become a permanent condition.

Let me stipulate that the Times does devote an impressive number of column-inches to the myriad U.S. military activities around the planet. Stories about deployments, firefights, airstrikes, sieges, and casualties abound. Readers can count on the Times to convey the latest White House or Pentagon pronouncements about the briefly visible light at the end of some very long tunnel. And features describing the plight of veterans back from the war zone also appear with appropriate and commendable frequency.

So anyone reading the Times for a week or a month will have absorbed the essential facts of the case, including the following:

* Over 6,000 days after it began, America’s war in Afghanistan continues, with Times correspondents providing regular and regularly repetitive updates;

* In the seven-year-long civil war that has engulfed Syria, the ever-shifting cast of belligerents now includes at least 2,000 (some sources say 4,000) U.S. special operators, the rationale for their presence changing from week to week, even as plans to keep U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely take shape;

* In Iraq, now liberated from ISIS, itself a byproduct of U.S. invasion and occupation, U.S. troops are now poised to stay on, more or less as they did in West Germany in 1945 and in South Korea after 1953;

* On the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. forces have partnered with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud in brutalizing Yemen, thereby creating a vast humanitarian disaster despite the absence of discernible U.S. interests at stake;

* In the military equivalent of whacking self-sown weeds, American drones routinely attack Libyan militant groups that owe their existence to the chaos created in 2011 when the United States impulsively participated in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi;

* More than a quarter-century after American troops entered Somalia to feed the starving, the U.S. military mission continues, presently in the form of recurring airstrikes;

* Elsewhere in Africa, the latest theater to offer opportunities for road-testing the most recent counterterrorism techniques, the U.S. military footprint is rapidly expanding, all but devoid of congressional (or possibly any other kind of) oversight;

* From the Levant to South Asia, a flood of American-manufactured weaponry continues to flow unabated, to the delight of the military-industrial complex, but with little evidence that the arms we sell or give away are contributing to regional peace and stability;

*Amid this endless spiral of undeclared American wars and conflicts, Congress stands by passively, only rousing itself as needed to appropriate money that ensures the unimpeded continuation of all of the above;

*Meanwhile, President Trump, though assessing all of this military hyperactivity as misbegotten — “Seven trillion dollars. What a mistake.” — is effectively perpetuating and even ramping up the policies pioneered by his predecessors.

This conglomeration of circumstances, I submit, invites attention to several first-order questions to which the Times appears stubbornly oblivious. These questions are by no means original with me. Indeed, Mr. Sulzberger (may I call you A.G.?), if you’ve kept up with TomDispatch — if you haven’t, you really should — you will already have encountered several of them. Yet in the higher reaches of mainstream journalism they remain sadly neglected, with disastrous practical and moral implications.

The key point is that when it comes to recent American wars, the Times offers coverage without perspective. “All the news” is shallow and redundant. Lots of dots, few connections.

To put it another way, what’s missing is any sort of Big Picture. The Times would never depict Russian military actions in the Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria, along with its cyber-provocations, as somehow unrelated to one another. Yet it devotes remarkably little energy to identifying any links between what U.S. forces today are doing in Niger and what they are doing in Afghanistan; between U.S. drone attacks that target this group of “terrorists” and those that target some other group; or, more fundamentally, between what we thought we were doing as far back as the 1980s when Washington supported Saddam Hussein and what we imagine we’re doing today in the various Muslim-majority nations in which the U.S. military is present, whether welcome or not.

Crudely put, the central question that goes not only unanswered but unasked is this: What the hell is going on? Allow me to deconstruct that in ways that might resonate with Times correspondents:

What exactly should we call the enterprise in which U.S. forces have been engaged all these years? The term that George W. Bush introduced back in 2001, “Global War on Terrorism,” fell out of favor long ago. Nothing has appeared to replace it. A project that today finds U.S. forces mired in open-ended hostilities across a broad expanse of Muslim-majority nations does, I suggest, deserve a name, even if the commander-in-chief consigns most of those countries to “shithole” status. A while back, I proposed “War for the Greater Middle East,” but that didn’t catch on. Surely, the president or perhaps one of his many generals could come up with something better, some phrase that conveys a sense of purpose, scope, stakes, or location. The paper of record should insist that whatever it is the troops out there may be doing, their exertions ought to have a descriptive name.

What is our overall objective in waging that no-name war? After 9/11, George W. Bush vowed at various times to eliminate terrorism, liberate the oppressed, spread freedom and democracy, advance the cause of women’s rights across the Islamic world, and even end evil itself. Today, such aims seem like so many fantasies. So what is it we’re trying to accomplish? What will we settle for? Without a readily identifiable objective, how will anyone know when to raise that “Mission Accomplished” banner (again) and let the troops come home?

By extension, what exactly is the strategy for bringing our no-name war to a successful conclusion? A strategy is a kind of roadmap aimed at identifying resources, defining enemies (as well as friends), and describing a sequence of steps that will lead to some approximation of victory. It should offer a vision that gets us from where we are to where we want to be. Yet when it comes to waging its no-name war, Washington today has no strategy worthy of the name. This fact should outrage the American people and embarrass the national security establishment. It should also attract the curiosity of the New York Times.

Roughly speaking, in what year, decade, or century might this war end? Even if only approximately, it would help to know — and the American people deserve to know — when the front page of the Times might possibly carry a headline reading “Peace Secured” or “Hostilities Ended” or even merely “It’s Over.” On the other hand, if it’s unrealistic to expect the ever-morphing, ever-spreading no-name war to end at all, then shouldn’t someone say so, allowing citizens to chew on the implications of that prospect? Who better to reveal this secret hidden in plain sight than the newspaper over which you preside?

What can we expect the no-name war to cost? Although the president’s estimate of $7 trillion may be a trifle premature, it’s not wrong. It may even end up being on the low side. What that money might otherwise have paid for — including infrastructure, education, scientific and medical research, and possibly making amends for all the havoc wreaked by our ill-considered military endeavors — certainly merits detailed discussion. Here’s a way to start just such a discussion: Imagine a running tally of sunk and projected cumulative costs featured on the front page of the Times every morning. Just two numbers: the first a tabulation of what the Pentagon has already spent pursuant to all U.S. military interventions, large and small, since 9/11; the second, a projection of what the final bill might look like decades from now when the last of this generation’s war vets passes on.

Finally, what are the implications of saddling future generations with this financial burden? With the sole exception of the very brief Gulf War of 1990-1991, the no-name war is the only substantial armed conflict in American history where the generation in whose name it was waged resolutely refused to pay for it — indeed, happily accepted tax cuts when increases were very much in order. With astonishingly few exceptions, politicians endorsed this arrangement. One might think that enterprising reporters would want to investigate the various factors that foster such irresponsibility.

So that’s my take. I’m sure, A.G., that journalists in your employ could sharpen my questions and devise more of their own. But here’s a small proposition: just for a single day, confine Donald Trump to page A17 and give our no-name war the attention that the Times normally reserves for the president it loathes.

I’m not a newspaperman, but I’m reminded of that wonderful 1940 Hitchcock movie Foreign Correspondent. I expect you’ve seen it. Europe is stumbling toward war and Mr. Powers, head honcho at the fictitious New York Globe, is tired of getting the same-old same-old from the people he has on the scene. “I don’t want any more economists, sages, or oracles bombinating over our cables,” he rages. “I want a reporter. Somebody who doesn’t know the difference between an ism and a kangaroo.”

His rant requires deciphering. What Powers wants is someone with the combination of guts and naiveté to pose questions that more seasoned journalists trapped in a defective narrative of their own creation simply overlook.

So he pulls the decidedly unseasoned and spectacularly uninformed John Jones off the police beat, renames him Huntley Haverstock, sets him up with an expense account, and sends him off to take a fresh look at what gives in Europe. Haverstock proceeds to unearth the big truths to which his more sophisticated colleagues have become blind. Almost singlehandedly he alerts the American people to the dangers just ahead — and he also gets the girl. Terrific movie (even if, given Hitchcock’s well-documented mistreatment of women, it may be politically incorrect to say so).

Anyway, A.G., we need you to do something approximating what Mr. Powers did, but in real life. Good luck. I’m in your corner.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History and other books.

The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on March 19, 2018 at 11:13 am

by PAUL STREET
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/03/16/the-obama-presidency-gets-some-early-high-historiography/

Julian Zelizer, ed., The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, March 13, 2018).

The Old Over the New

Professional historians are a conservative crew (with a nice number of great exceptions) for the most part – in a “liberal” and Democratic Party kind of way. Part of this has to with their mental wiring. As the leading psychologists and “time perception” theorists Phillip Zimbrano and Rosemary Sword have written, “people who focus primarily on the past value the old over the new; the familiar over the novel, and the cautionary, conservative approach over the daring, more liberal or riskier one.”

No wonder, perhaps, that received the ringing endorsement of 227 U.S. historians, including (remarkably enough) a number who identified as leftists, who signed practically hero-worshipping “Historians for Obama” letter in the spring of 2008. The previous year, the New Yorker’s Larissa MacFarquhar penned a memorable portrait of Obama titled “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” “In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly,” MacFarquhar wrote after extensive interviews with the candidate: “Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean…It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good” (emphasis added).

MacFarquhar cited as an example of this reactionary sentiment Obama’s reluctance to embrace single-payer health insurance on the Canadian model, which he told her would “so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” Obama told MacFarquhar that “we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” So what if large popular majorities in the U.S. had long favored the single-payer model? So what if single payer would let people keep the doctors of their choice, only throwing away the protection pay off to the private insurance mafia? So what if “the legacy systems” Obama defended included corporate insurance and pharmaceutical oligopolies that regularly threw millions of American lives by the wayside of market calculation, causing enormous disruptive harm and death for the populace?

Left Warnings

The MacFarquhar piece was just one of numerous and widely available indications well before the 2008 election that an Obama presidency would never stray far, if at all, from the policy and political preferences of those atop the nation’s reigning corporate, financial, and imperial power structures – or from the nation’s attachment to objectively racist and white-supremacist social and institutional structures and practices. MacFarquhar’s findings were already very well understood by a number of writers and activists on the Left (the present writer included), who began warning pro-left-progressives and liberals about Obama’s basically wealth- and power-friendly, right-wing essence as early as June of 2003. The Black political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. caught the pseudo-progressive bourgeois-neoliberal essence of Obama as early as January of 1996, right after Obama first won election to the Illinois legislature:

“In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway.”

A decade later, progressive journalist Ken Silverstein wrote a retrospectively predictive report titled “Obama, Inc.” for Harpers’ Magazine. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” Silverstein observed, “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform…On condition of anonymity,” Silverstein added, “one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’”

That was precisely the centrist, Big Business-, Empire,- and white-friendly Barack Obama that I observed and occasionally even had to deal with as an anti-poverty and civil rights policy researcher and advocate in Chicago and Illinois during the late 1990s and early 21st century. By the time Obama emerged as a strong candidate to become what I fully expected to be the United States’ first technically Black president in 2007 and 2008, I, myself a onetime and future historian, had already gone through many of state (1996-2005) and U.S. (2005-2009) senator Obama’s speeches, talks, votes, campaign finance records, policy actions, and writings (key primary sources telling us what to expect from a President Obama) to produce a considerable number of critical essays and a book – bearing the over-neutral title Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics – warning liberals and progressives of just how painfully little they should expect from an Obama White House.

Obama’s past and coming service to Big Business was only one of the things I hopelessly asked intellectuals and activists to reflect upon. I also detailed and predicted (in a chapter titled “How ‘Antiwar’? Obama, Iraq, and the Audacity of Empire”) both Obama’s past and coming military imperialism and (in a chapter titled “How ‘Black’ is Obama? Color, Class, Generation and the Perverse Racial Politics of the Post-Civil Rights Era”) Obama’s ironic past and coming service to institutional racism, including racist mass incarceration.

Among my forewarnings was the prediction that a president Obama’s abject fealty to the nation’s reigning financial institutions and corporations and the military-industrial complex would combine with his skin color and party affiliation to spark an ugly white-nationalist and reactionary, capitalist-manipulated fake- populist upsurge that would fill the angry popular vacuum left by his cooptation of left, more genuinely populist progressive forces even while he governed in accord to the needs and values of the wealthy Few – the top 1 percent that Democratic contender John Edwards had railed against in Iowa and New Hampshire.

A Blunt Lesson About Power

With no small help from the Great Recession that broke out on the eve of the 2008 elections, my warnings were born out by Obama’s continuation and expansion of the extravagant federal bailouts of the financial parasites who recklessly caused the economic crisis and the rise of the Tea Party and the vicious, proto-fascistic white-nationalist Trump phenomenon. Obama’s “dollar value” would become abundantly clear in early 2009, when he told a frightened group of Wall Street executives that “I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you…I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger.” For the banking elite, who had destroyed untold millions of jobs, the Pulitzer Prize-winner author Ron Suskind wrote, there was “Nothing to worry about. Whereas [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had [during the Great Depression] pushed for tough, viciously opposed reforms of Wall Street and famously said ‘I welcome their hate,’ Obama was saying ‘How can I help?’” As one leading banker told Suskind, “The sense of everyone after the meeting was relief. The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t – he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”

It was a critical moment. With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and an angry, “pitchfork”-wielding populace at the gates, an actually progressive President Obama could have rallied the populace to push back against the nation’s concentrated wealth and power structures by moving ahead aggressively with a number of policies: a stimulus with major public works jobs programs; a real (single-payer) health insurance reform; the serious disciplining and even break-up or nationalization of the leading financial institutions; massive federal housing assistance and mortgage relief; and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have re-legalized union organizing in the U.S.

No such policy initiatives issued from the White House, which opted instead to give the U.S. populace what William Greider memorably called “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t.” Americans:

“watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces re-launched their campaign for ‘entitlement reform’ – a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Americans also watched as Obama moved on to pass a health insurance reform (the so-called Affordable Care Act) that only the big insurance and drug companies could love, kicking the popular alternative (single payer “Medicare for All”) to the curb while rushing to pass a program drafted by the Republican Heritage Foundation and first carried out in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney.

As Obama later explained to some of his rich friends at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council a month after trouncing Romney’s bid to unseat him: “When you go to other countries, the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.) You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. (Laughter.) I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.”

A year and a half before this tender ruling class moment, the American people watched Obama offer the Republicans bigger cuts in Social Security and Medicare than they asked for as part of his “Grand Bargain” offered during the elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis. It was at that point that hundreds of thousands of mostly younger Americans had received enough of Obama’s “blunt lesson about power” to join the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which sought progressive change through direct action and social movement-building rather than corporate-captive electoral politics.

We will never know how far Occupy might have gone since it was shut down by a federally coordinated campaign of repression that joined the Obama administration and hundreds of mostly Democratic city governments in the infiltration, surveillance, smearing, takedown and eviction of the short lived movement – this even as the Democrats stole some of Occupy’s rhetoric for use against Romney and the Republicans in 2012.

Then came Obama’s insistent but failed championing of the highly unpopular arch-global-corporatist and authoritarian Trans Pacific Partnership – so widely hated that even the uber-neoliberal Wall Street candidate Hillary Clinton had to pretend to be against it in 2016.

Along the way, Obama would continue his nasty bourgeois habit of lecturing poor Black people on their personal and cultural responsibility for their privation. He told young Black Americans to respect “law and order” as a newly exposed epidemic of racist police murders sparked mass civil rights protests and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Obama undertook no significant or major programs specifically targeting Black needs and racism, eliciting criticism even from petit-bourgeois centrist Obama fans like Ta-Nehesi Coates.

The great U.S.-American imperial military-machine stayed “set on kill” (Allan Nairn) under Obama, with disastrous consequences in Libya and across much of Africa (where Obama dramatically increased the Pentagon’s presence) and the Middle East. Obama’s dramatically expanded and personally directed drone war helped spread jihad across a much broader stretch of geography than had George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

A Professional Class Obama-JFK Love Letter

I was not the only Left writer to have raised alarms about Obama long before this dismal, dollar-drenched denouement. Warnings came from numerous other portsiders, including John Pilger, Bruce Dixon, Glen Ford, Pam Martens, Alexander Cockburn, Noam Chomsky, Doug Henwood, Arun Gupta, Juan Santos, and many others.

The “Historians for Obama” knew better than Left writers and activists working with real-time primary sources and experiences. The Obamanist historians’ April 2008 love letter was embarrassing. It dripped with ardor for Obama – a former Harvard Law Review Editor and “constitutional lawyer” (adjunct law professor, actually) – as an embodiment of academic and professional class “meritocracy.” It praised Obama for possessing an “acute awareness of the inequalities of race and class” and the means “to speak beyond them.” It childishly proclaimed that, as president, Obama would, “begin the process of healing what ails our society and ensuring that the U.S. plays a beneficial role in the world.” It was revealingly loaded with creepy historical lust for both Obama and his great historical likeness (the historians approvingly sensed) – the corporate-imperialist and reckless, Third World-attacking Cold Warrior John F. Kennedy:

“But it is his qualities of mind and temperament that really separate Obama from the rest of the pack. He is a gifted writer and orator who speaks forcefully but without animus. Not since John F. Kennedy has a Democrat candidate for president showed the same combination of charisma and thoughtfulness – or provided Americans with a symbolic opportunity to break with a tradition of bigotry older than the nation itself. Like Kennedy, he also inspires young people who see him as a great exception in a political world that seems mired in cynicism and corruption.”

“Tell it,” I wrote to one signatory at the time. “to the descendants of the victims of Kennedy’s military escalation in Vietnam, his terror attacks on Cuba, and the right-wing dictators he supported in Latin America.”

“The Most Impressive Resume Imaginable”

How interesting, now to read a new collection of essays written by elite U.S. historians under the editorship of Princeton historian Julius Zelizer: The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment (Princeton University Press. 2018). All but 3 of the volume’s 17 contributors are established historians at elite United States universities (the only exceptions are a Princeton sociologist, a University of Virginia law professor, and a Princeton-minted post-doctoral fellow). Five of the contributors are employed by Princeton University, the volume’s publisher.

The essayists range from slightly left-of-center to liberal centrist, consistent with the narrow but standard partisan and ideological profile of the liberal arts and social sciences professoriate. The volume’s editor, Princeton historian Julian Zelizer, reports that nearly all the contributors were in “a state of shock” when Trump triumphed over Hillary Clinton, who Zelizer revealingly calls (reflecting the meritocratic ideology of the professional class) “someone with one of the most impressive resume’s imaginable” – a curious description of a terrible and monstrous candidate who professor Reed quite rightly described in the summer of 2016 as a “lying neoliberal warmonger.” I would be somewhat surprised to learn that any of the contributors is not a registered Democrat.

Seven Thumbs Up and Three Neutral

Despite their shared political and upper-echelon academic ground, however, the top-drawer professors are not without differences on how to assess Obama’s presidential record and legacy. Seven of the essayists write about the Obama presidency with liberal and even in some cases leftish approval:

+ Princeton sociologist Paul Starr thinks that Obama can be shown to have “made significant progress in mitigating and reducing inequality” when tax policy, health care policy, and government transfer payments for the poor are factored in – an achievement for which Starr thinks Obama has not received proper “political credit.”

+ University of California at Davis historian Eric Rauchway says that Obama deserves admiration for “avert[ing] an economic crisis of comparable severity to the Great Depression.”

+ Princeton historian Meg Jacobs gives Obama lukewarm but nonetheless undeserved approval for “bold[ly]” using direct executive actions to “fight against global warming.”

+ Imperialist University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri foolishly hails Barack the Drone King and Libya-Wrecker Obama for advancing “a liberal internationalist agenda that resisted the use of military force.” Tell it to the people of Bola Bulk, professor Suri!

+ University of Cambridge historian Gary Gerstle lauds Obama for overcoming a “hostile political environment” to “superintend…an economic recovery much more robust than what Europe achieved.” Gerstle also hails Obama for bringing “a half-century campaign for national health insurance to successful conclusion” and (above all) for advancing “a vision of civic nationalism [that] inspired millions of young nonwhites to believe that they could find opportunity and liberty, and democracy, in America.” Gerstle reasonably and positively contrasts Obama’s multicultural and cross-racial “civic nationalism” with the GOP and Trump’s horrifying “racial nationalism,” rooted in the longstanding “belief that American is a land meant for whites, or Europeans, and their descendants.”

+ Georgetown historian and Dissent editor Michael Kazin offers ironic praise to president Obama for sparking a resurgence of “the Left” – with the curious exception of the antiwar movement – by failing to deliver on candidate Obama’s progressive-sounding campaign rhetoric and imagery. (The key developments Kazin mentions are the rise of the Occupy Movement, the emergence of Black Lives Matter, and the 2015-16 Bernie Sanders campaign.) At the same time, Kazin dismisses those who would “ignore, or quickly disparage, reforms that Obama and a Democratic Congress managed to enact during the first two years of his administration” – the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank “regulation of high finance.”

+ Rutgers historian Timothy Stewart-Winter acclaims Obama as “The Gay Rights President” for “major civil rights accomplishments on military service and marriage equality.”

Three of the essays are neutral on the Obama record:

+ Zelizer’s opening two contributions, which split the blame between Obama’s poor political strategy and a hostile political environment fueled by Republican intransigence in explaining Obama’s failure to turn policy victories into political gains for the Democratic Party. The title of Zelizer’s second essay tells much of the story: “Tea-Partied: President Obama’s Encounter with the Conservative-Industrial Complex.”

+ University of Virginia history and law professor Risa Goluboff and University of Virginia law professor Richard Schragger note commonsensically that the U.S. Supreme Court under Obama was not “Obama’s court.” They are relieved that the high court did not undertake a deep conservative transformation during Obama’s presidency. They rightly note that the Republican U.S. Senate’s “refusal to consider [Merrick] Garland [Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nominee] was unprecedented and a significant breach of constitutional norms.”

Seven Thumbs Down

The seven remaining contributors are more critical of Obama’s presidential record:

+ University of Pennsylvania history professor Jonathan Zimmerman properly criticizes Obama’s “Race to the Top” schools program for advancing the same neoliberal and teacher-bashing standardized test-based education agenda promoted by George W. Bush and embodied in the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.

+ University of California at Davis historian Kathryn Olmsted rightly assails Obama’s “surprising” program of “targeted kills of suspected terrorists” – just “one of several hardline Bush administration counterterrorism polices that Obama chose to continue.” Olmsted notes that Obama insidiously acted “to normalize his predecessor’s [criminal and terrorist ‘counterterrorism’] practices and make them legal…Under Obama’s leadership,” Olmsted reminds us, “American liberals embraced exactly the sort of national security policies that they had condemned in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.”

+ Princeton historian Jacob Dlamini criticizes Obama for violating African sovereignty and African wishes by joining England and France in recklessly pursuing regime change in Libya. Dlamini also notes that Obama deepened and expanded the United States’ lethal military presence in Africa while doing nothing to fulfill hopes that the president (famously the son of a Kenyan national) would develop a special and positive relationship with Africa.

+ New York University historian Thomas Sugrue notes that Obama’s “too cautious” urban policy left metropolitan America’s core inequalities and related harsh race-class segregation untouched thanks largely to the president’s excessive attachment to “market-based solutions.” Sugrue finds this unsurprising since Obama “was a product of the bipartisan neoliberalism of the 1990s, too enamored of market-based solutions and public-private partnerships to fight for a more vigorous public sector.” (Thank you, Thomas Sugrue).

+ University of Michigan historian Matthew Lassiter traces the “resilience of the [Nixon-Reagan] war on drugs” under Obama. Lassiter finds that Obama’s drug policies “reflec[ed] the bipartisan [and failed] consensus that the criminal justice system should ultimately regulate the illicit drug market and the parallel refusal to acknowledge that prohibition itself creates the context for violence and crime, whether by traffickers or law enforcement, both domestically and internationally.”

+ University of Texas historian Peniel Joseph concludes that “Obama’s election, with its lofty and inspiring rhetoric about hope and change, represents an opportunity found and frustratingly lost for advocates of criminal justice reform” – for people who hoped that the first Black president would undertake substantive steps to roll back racist mass incarceration and felony-marking. Joseph blames Obama’s “dream big but go slow” approach, which “contradict[ed] his audacious and successful presidential campaign.” Joseph thinks Obama’s weak performance on the “the new Jim Crow” (racist mass incarceration and criminal branding) was consistent with Obama’s famous March 2008 race speech in Philadelphia, where the future president alarmingly found “moral equivalency in black anger over slavery and white supremacy with white resentment against affirmative action and perceptions of black entitlement.”

+ Southern Methodist University U.S. History Fellow Sarah Coleman finds that Barack “Deporter-in-Chief” Obama “ended his two terms with few successes and a mixed legacy in immigration and refugee policy.”

Assessing the Assessment

The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment will not find very many readers outside “higher education.” It’s a smooth little vitae-booster unlikely to gather much attention beyond a small circle of incestuous and self-referential “experts.” A riveting page-turner it is not.

Zelizer really should have included a short contribution from a labor historian – Georgetown’s Joseph McCartin, for example – on the experience of American workers and unions under Obama. This conspicuous omission reflects, perhaps, he disfavor in which serious class analysis has fallen in the history profession. So does the absence of serious attention to the ruling-class composition (not to mention conduct) of Obama’s administration – a topic that was analyzed in brilliant historical and social science fashion in a remarkable book by the Dutch political scientists Bastiaan Van Apeldoorn and Nana de Graaff: American Grand Strategy and Corporate Elite Networks: The Open Door since the End of the Cold War (Routledge, 2015).

(Class isn’t sexy in higher education anymore. It gets dismissed far too quickly there these days.)

Neither the editor Zelizer nor any of his contributors show the slightest awareness that many writers on the Left (this reviewer included) predicted both the (not) “surprisingly” conservative” trajectory of the Obama presidency quite early on and the results of that presidency (including divergent insurgencies both left and right).

Goluboff and Schragger are wrong to see Obama in 2008 as a “Harvard-trained lawyer [who] thought social change [was] more likely to come from the grassroots.’’ Obama shed that belief before he went to Harvard. That abandonment was part of why he left community organizing and applied to the top law school in the first place. The primary sources are very clear on that.

Gerstle is wrong to see Obama’s Affordable Care Act as a successful culmination of “a half-century campaign for national health insurance.” The real U.S. national health insurance dream has always been for a single-payer system, Medicare for All, without corporate profiteering. Obama failed even to include a partial public option in his reform measure.

Olmsted would be less surprised by Obama’s murderous “counterterrorism” if she had closely read candidate Obama’s foreign policy writings and speeches – key primary sources that were absurdly ignored by Obama’s bamboozled progressive and antiwar fans in 2007 and 2008. We should think of Obama’s targeted assassination record as just plain terrorist, not counterterrorist, consistent with Noam Chomsky’s 2015 description of Obama’s drone program as “the most extreme global terrorist campaign the world has yet seen.”

Kazin is on flimsy ground to see a resurgent Left without an antiwar movement under Obama. No Left worth its salt can emerge without coming into conscious confrontation with the U.S. global military empire, a great source of inequality, authoritarianism, and oppression at home and abroad.

At the same time, Kazin owes an apology to the left business and political commentator Doug Henwood for not citing or perhaps even knowing about the silver lining Henwood attached to his warnings on Obama’s coming presidency in March of 2008. My June 2008 Obama book neared its conclusion with a brilliant quotation from Henwood on the ironic left potential of a neoliberal Obama presidency. Mass disillusionment with Obama’s ideologically foreordained failure to deliver on his lofty, expectation-raising promises of “a better world – more peaceful, egalitarian, and humane,” might help drive ordinary Americans to the left, Henwood wrote (“Would You Like Change with That?” Left Business Observer, no. 117, March 2008). It’s one thing to observe a phenomenon after it occurred; it’s another and more difficult thing to predict that phenomenon in advance.

Finally, Zelizer fails to understand that Obama’s Left-predicted (I again say) presidential neoliberalism is no small part of why the president got so effectively “Tea Partied.” If Obama had seized the moment provided by the Great Recession, the Iraq fiasco, and the Democratic Party takeover of Congress to pursue the progressive and even social-democratic agenda favored by most Americans, thing might well have proceeded in a different, more leftward and democratic direction.

The onetime and short-lived Obama backer Dr. Cornel West reflected years ago on how Obama “posed as a progressive and turned out to be a counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a national security presidency…a brown-faced Clinton: another opportunist.” Nobody in Zelizer’s collection seems to possess the elementary honesty to speak so plainly and honestly about what all-too predictably happened, with advance assistance from at least 227 American academic historians, under the Obama presidency, whose “blunt lesson about [ruling-class] power” is no small part of why Trump “shockingly” sits in the White House.

Credit is due, though, to Starr, for some instructive reflections on how inequality is mis-measured, to Gerstle for highly relevant reflections on the longstanding and living tension between “civic” and “racial” nationalism, and to the seven historians who had the courage to point out highly unpleasant facts about the presidency of Obama, whose legacy is being undeservedly enhanced by the almost unfathomable awfulness of Orange Satan – the Tangerine Caligula who fills the White House with a stench smelled around the world.

Congress Keeps Funding a War Machine That the Public Should Divest From — Both parties line their pockets with profits from the arms trade.

In Democracy, Environment, Peace, Politics, War on March 6, 2018 at 10:46 pm

March 5, 2018 Medea Benjamin and Elliot Swain ALTERNET
In recent budget negotiations, Senate Democrats agreed to a boost in military spending that exceeded the cap for fiscal 2018 by $70 billion, bringing the total request to an enormous $716 billion. Inevitably, this means more Pentagon contracts will be awarded to private corporations that use endless war to line their pockets. Democrats capitulated to this massive increase without so much as a scuffle. But the move hardly comes as a surprise, given how much money flows from weapons makers to the coffers of congressional campaigns for both parties.

While the majority of the weapons money goes to Republicans, Democratic Senators Tim Kaine and Bill Nelson appear in the top ten recipients of campaign contributions–in both chambers and parties–from military contractors in 2017 and 2018. Northrop Grumman gave$785,000 to Democratic candidates since 2017.Hillary Clinton took over $1 million from the industry in 2016. Even progressive darlings like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders take money from weapons manufacturers, and Sanders supported Boeing’s disastrous F-35 because his home state had a financial stake in the program.

If neither major political party will stand up to this status quo, what can be done?

One answer might be found in the recent push to divest from fossil fuel companies undertaken by, among others, Norway and New York City. By December of 2016, 688 institutions, representing over $5 trillion in assets, had divested from fossil fuels. In an interview with The Guardian, author Naomi Klein described the fossil fuel divestment effort as “a process of delegitimizing” the sector and of affirming that it yields “odious profits.”

An analogous campaign to delegitimize beneficiaries of war is long overdue. In addition to pressuring our members of Congress to refuse campaign donations from weapons manufacturers and war profiteers, we must mount a divestment effort at the institutional and municipal level. Investment in war must come at the cost of public disgrace.

University students can request holdings information from their schools. Often, investments in military corporations are bundled into more complex financial instruments whose investments are not publicly disclosed. The content of these instruments can be determined by contacting a university board of trustees or endowment manager. Then a divestment campaign can be launched, building campus coalitions, creating petitions, organizing direct actions and passing resolutions through student government bodies. A helpful guide for student activists can be found here.

Activists can launch municipal divestment efforts by determining the holdings of city pension, utility, or insurance funds. In 2017 the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the national association of cities with populations over 30,000, adopted a resolution acknowledging the need to transform funding priorities away from war-making and into local communities. Divestment campaigns can leverage this resolution in order to hold city leaders to their word. More information for activists at the city level is available here.

Divestment offers an alternate means of addressing the blight of war profiteering in an era in which traditional political routes have been closed by our craven representatives. It also brings the message into smaller communities–communities that crumble while defense contractors live in luxury.

A new coalition of about 70 groups across the country has formed to launch a Divest From the War Machine campaign. The coalition is inviting all those who are disgusted by the war profiteers to help galvanize university, city, pension and faith institutions to divest from war. Learn more at: //www.divestfromwarmachine.org/

In a 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress, the very Congress that is so beholden to the war machine, Pope Francis asked why deadly weapons were being sold to those who inflict untold suffering on society. The answer, he said, was money, “money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” Looking at a room full of congresspeople who benefit from what he called “merchants of death,” the Pope called for the elimination of the arms trade. One way to heed the Pope’s call is to eat away at the profits of those who make a killing on killing.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the peace group CodePink. Her latest book is Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection (OR Books, September 2016).

Elliot Swain is a Baltimore-based activist, public policy graduate student and researcher for CODEPINK.