Showing posts with label us politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label us politics. Show all posts

3.25.2018

marching for their lives: the student activism around gun violence gives us reason to hope

In my continuing (and usually failing) goal of remembering to write about things here, instead of just posting to Facebook, I feel I should write something about the student organizing and activism around gun violence in the US.

This movement is the greatest thing to happen in the US in as long as I can remember. It stands with the Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter as the most important movements of our present time.

It has all the hallmarks of a true grassroots revolution.

- It is self-organized.

- Its spokespeople emerged organically.

- It built quickly, because it has tapped into longstanding anger, and it resonates both deeply and broadly.

- It is building on a local level to effect broad social change.

- It is being organized from the bottom up, as opposed to, for example, the organizing around the election of Barack Obama.

- It is using a variety of tools, and it appears to be fluid and agile around using different approaches as needed: walk-outs, public speaking, mainstream media engagement, social media, large-scale public demonstrations, letter writing, lobbying.

And perhaps most significantly, it is being built, grown, and led, by young people, the people most affected by gun violence. Students were on the cutting edge of the US civil rights movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Students provided the groundswell that ended the US war in Vietnam. Students led the anti-South African apartheid movement in the 1980s. We have reason to hope.

All power to these courageous, articulate, determined, beautiful young people. Let's support them in any way we can.




Emma Gonzalez, age 17




Naomi Wadler, age 11




Trevon Bosley, age 19, reminds us that gun violence is not only mass shootings.
For many, it is everyday life.

10.31.2017

the worst part of trump is not trump

The freak show that is the Donald Trump presidency gives us so many things to lament, and mourn, and goggle at. But for one organization, it is a singular gift, valuable beyond all measure: that is the Democratic National Committee.

For me, the worst part of the Trump presidency is not Trump. It is the enormous setback to -- maybe the death of, in my lifetime -- building a progressive alternative in the United States.

Four decades of deindustrialization, job loss, corporate welfare, and ever-widening income inequality has brought progressive economic ideas to the forefront in the US, and has rejuvenated the appetite for making them a reality. The evidence is plentiful, from the fight for a $15/hour minimum wage to the jubilant crowds that greeted Bernie Sanders at every campaign stop. People are hungry for change, and many people are hungry for change from the left.

Fill in the blanks. A vote for ____ is a vote for ____.

And now we have Trump.

Hillary Clinton supporters -- and of course Clinton herself -- blame Sanders and Sanders' supporters for the election of Donald Trump.

While not surprising, this is as misguided as those who blamed Ralph Nader and his supporters for George W. Bush's installation in the White House in 2004. It has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that both the 2000 and 2004 elections were riddled with fraud and vote-fixing. Florida alone was the product of massive fraud, and the Supreme Court (not the voters) decided the results, something at least one Supreme Court justice regrets. Yet loyal Democrat voters blame Nader -- and they vowed never to let it happen again.

This time, there is plenty of blame to go around, beginning with the corruption and arrogance of the DNC, insisting on running the candidate who was anointed by the party, rather than one who was chosen, you know, by the voters. They did everything they could do rig the results, and when that didn't work, invoked arcane rules that were designed to thwart democracy. When they were caught, the DNC defended their actions. (The lawsuit against the DNC was not dismissed because it lacked merit, but because the judge ruled it was not a matter for the judiciary.)

In the DNC's bubble of unchallenged power, they overlooked one crucial variable: people loathe Hillary Clinton. It doesn't matter why. It doesn't matter if it's based on fact or fiction or how much sexism is or isn't mixed in. Millions of people detest her and would never vote for her, no matter what the choices.

If Sanders supporters chose Trump over Clinton, that's not Sanders' fault. It's Clinton's, and it's the DNC's. But like Homer Simpson, the DNC cannot accept responsibility for any outcome. It's Sanders' fault. It's the fault of you people for wanting to build a movement for economic justice.

Learning all the wrong lessons

Now that we're witnessing the debacle of the Trump White House, the lesson could not be clearer: don't ever dare vote for a third party, or this is what will happen. You must vote Democrat, no matter what. If you dare to start building a viable party on the left, you will move the country even further to the right (even if only in appearance). Millions of anti-Trump voters now believe more strongly than ever that it is their sworn duty to Always Vote Democrat, no matter what. This must be an especially powerful lesson for the young voters who rallied around Sanders.

For decades, Allan and I have referred to "the circus coming to town" as a shorthand for the theatre of  US election campaigns, lending a thin (and getting ever thinner!) veneer of democracy to a corrupt, undemocratic system. This time, the circus never ended. The threat of real change on the left was more feasible than it had been in a long time, so the distraction had to be even bigger and more lurid.

As I was writing this, as if on cue, an Economist/YouGov poll found that 51 percent of Democrat voters now have a favourable opinion of George W. Bush. If Democrat voters feel that way about Bush, any Democrat candidate who can put a sentence together -- anyone who waves the words "woman's right to choose" and "the rights of all families" around -- will get their vote.

The worst part of Trump is not Trump.

The worst part of Trump is the lost hope of building a new party.

* Personal disclosure, to avoid assumptions. Although I am a dual citizen (Canada-US) and am eligible to vote with an absentee ballot, I do not vote in US elections. While I agree with Bernie Sanders' ideas and his platform, I did not support him. Sanders played the role historically assigned to the most left-leaning Democrat in the primaries, used by the party to bring in the progressive vote. There's one in every election. They do their job and are never heard from again. In Congress, Sanders voted with the Democrats 98% of the time.

1.30.2017

10 things you can do to fight trump-era nazism

Like all good people, I am horrified by recent developments in the US, and like everyone who has been paying attention, not surprised. I take hope from the immediate and powerful resistance that has been set in motion. But also at the resistance, I am angry, too. What took you so long? Let's hope it's not too late.

Here are a few things you can do to fight back.

1. Donate to the American Civil Liberties Union. For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been fighting for the civil rights of people marginalized or targeted by the dominant culture. These are the people best equipped to fight back -- the best and the brightest of the resistance. Even a small one-time or monthly donation can make a difference.

2. Canadians, sign a petition calling on Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen, demanding that they repeal the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, which would allow Canada to welcome people fleeing violence from Muslim-majority countries and/or deportation by the United States.

You've probably seen Trudeau's tweet saying that Canada welcomes those fleeing persecution "regardless of faith". Here's an opportunity for Trudeau to make good on that statement.

Currently, if an asylum seeker residing in the US tried to enter Canada to escape deportation, Canada would turn them away, based on the "Safe Third Country Agreement". คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019Read more about it here. Please sign the petition and ask your contacts to do the same.

3. Call or email your MP and ask them to support the above. Say it is a matter of great importance to you, because this is the Canada you want to live in. You can find your MP here by postal code.

4. Attend a demonstration against Trump's order and in solidarity with those it targets. In the Toronto area, it's this Saturday, February 4, 12:30-2:30 pm, outside the US Consulate on University Avenue. In cities across the US and Canada, it will not be difficult to find a demo. When you find this community, keep in touch.

5. Send a letter of support to a mosque or Islamic cultural group in your community. A simple act of solidarity goes a long way.

6. Share facts. I'm always surprised by what people know, and what they don't know. I've learned not to assume. Share what you learn with your faith group, your union, your spin class, your online community, your Facebook contacts. (This one comes with a caveat. Social media is great for many things, but it is not actually a form of protest. It can be the drug that keeps us docile and not protesting.)

Photo montage thanks to Dave Zirin
7. Write a letter to your local media outlet. These still matter. Keep it short and it's more likely to be published.

8. Pledge to register. If Muslims are ever required to register with the government, be prepared to register in solidarity. If you have doubts or fears about this, now is the time to discuss with your family and friends. Vow to yourself and to your community that you will do this. It would be very fitting if the first, say, 10,000 registrants were Jewish.

9. Delete Uber from your phone, and don't forget to tell them why in the "share details" box. On Saturday night, protesters streamed into airports around the US to protest Trump’s anti-Muslim executive order. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance posted this:


Uber did the opposite.


Lyft, Uber's principal competitor, has pledged to donate $1 million to the ACLU.

I heart NYC
I freely admit that this is another excuse to ask people to #DeleteUber and never use them again. Their abhorrent labour practises drag precarious work into new depths. More info here.

10. Check out Bustle. They're full of great ideas.

And a bonus: 11. Don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed. Each one, reach one. Take a small action. Then another. Eat, sleep, repeat.

1.18.2017

chelsea manning will be free!!!!

This is the best news I've seen in a long, long time.
Chelsea Manning, the US army soldier who became one of the most prominent whistleblowers of modern times when she exposed the nature of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who then went on to pay the price with a 35-year military prison sentence, is to be freed in May as a gift of outgoing president Barack Obama.

In the most audacious – and contentious – commutation decision to come from Obama yet, the sitting president used his constitutional power just three days before he leaves the White House to give Manning her freedom.

Manning, a transgender woman, will walk from a male military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on 17 May, almost seven years to the day since she was arrested at a base outside Baghdad for offenses relating to the leaking of a vast trove of US state secrets to the website WikiLeaks.

Nancy Hollander, Manning’s lawyer, spoke to the Guardian before she had even had the chance to pass on to the soldier the news of her release. “Oh my God!” was Hollander’s instant response to the news which she had just heard from the White House counsel. “I cannot believe it – in 120 days she will be free and it will all be over. It’s incredible.”

. . . Human rights groups welcomed Tuesday’s decision. Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said: “Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her own human rights have been violated by the US government for years.

“President Obama was right to commute her sentence, but it is long overdue. It is unconscionable that she languished in prison for years while those allegedly implicated by the information she revealed still haven’t been brought to justice.”
I could post about a million more links. I'm relieved and overjoyed that Chelsea Manning will finally be free.

11.12.2016

president trump: what didn't just happen

Since I'm making an effort to put more of my thoughts here, I'm gathering up a bunch of my Facebook posts and responses. If we know each other on Facebook, apologies for the repetition.

I find much of the analysis and commentary I've seen about the recent US election to be quite strange. Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. That happened. Here's what didn't happen.

1. "The United States is a democracy. The people chose Trump, end of story."

60,467,601 US voters chose Hillary Clinton.

60,072,551 US voters chose Donald Trump.

More than 100,000,000 Americans eligible to vote did not vote.

More than 5 million Americans cannot vote because they are either incarcerated or have been incarcerated, and thus have been disenfranchised.

There has been rampant voter suppression and vote fraud in both the primaries and the general election.

The United States is also a democracy if you close your eyes and stop up your ears.

Some views on winning the vote but losing the election from: The Guardian, The Independent, and The Atlantic.

2. "If only it had been Bernie!"

Bernie Sanders was never, for one moment, going to be the Democrat nominee. He was not leading a revolution, he was not even leading a movement. If he wanted to do those things, he would not have been running as a Democrat, and he would not have voted in line with the Democrats 98% of the time during his Congressional career. His role in the race was to bring in the left-of-liberal vote and that's what he did.

However, if Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, where would he have gotten more votes than Clinton? In Vermont, and possibly in New York and California -- i.e., states that went to the Democrats anyway. Because of the electoral college and the winner-take-all state-by-state system, recent presidential elections come down to a small number of swing states. I see no evidence that a more progressive candidate would have succeeded where Clinton failed in key swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina.

"If only it had been Bernie" assumes that a sizeable number of voters with strong progressive values opted to stay home in large numbers, rather than vote either Democrat or for a third-party candidate. This is possible, but not likely. Voters progressive enough to vote for Sanders likely would have voted to stop Trump.

"If only it had been Bernie" posits that a Jewish socialist born in New York City, a long-time representative of the liberal state of Vermont, would have carried the key swing states. Let's just say this strains credulity and leave it at that.

I do want, have always wanted, a progressive candidate to take on the Republicans, someone who actually offers a different vision of the country's future. By running as a Democrat, endorsing Clinton, and urging his supporters to vote for Clinton, Sanders demonstrated that he was not that candidate and never was.

3. Hillary Clinton is a good, strong, liberal woman of the people, and she deserved to win. She lost because of sexism and misogyny.

There's plenty of misogyny to go around, but the sexism smokescreen isn't big enough to hide Hillary Clinton's monstrous record.

Thomas Frank, writing in The Guardian:
She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. . . . And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. . . .

To try to put over such a nominee while screaming that the Republican is a rightwing monster is to court disbelief. If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they'd chosen because it was her turn. Choosing her indicated either that Democrats didn't mean what they said about Trump’s riskiness, that their opportunism took precedence over the country's well-being, or maybe both. . . .

Clinton’s supporters among the media didn’t help much, either. It always struck me as strange that such an unpopular candidate enjoyed such robust and unanimous endorsements from the editorial and opinion pages of the nation’s papers, but it was the quality of the media’s enthusiasm that really harmed her. With the same arguments repeated over and over, two or three times a day, with nuance and contrary views all deleted, the act of opening the newspaper started to feel like tuning in to a Cold War propaganda station. Here’s what it consisted of:
- Hillary was virtually without flaws. She was a peerless leader clad in saintly white, a super-lawyer, a caring benefactor of women and children, a warrior for social justice.
- Her scandals weren’t real.
- The economy was doing well / America was already great.
- Working-class people weren’t supporting Trump.
- And if they were, it was only because they were botched humans. Racism was the only conceivable reason for lining up with the Republican candidate. (See original for links.)

The even larger problem is that there is a kind of chronic complacency that has been rotting American liberalism for years, a hubris that tells Democrats they need do nothing different, they need deliver nothing really to anyone – except their friends on the Google jet and those nice people at Goldman. The rest of us are treated as though we have nowhere else to go and no role to play except to vote enthusiastically on the grounds that these Democrats are the "last thing standing" between us and the end of the world. It is a liberalism of the rich, it has failed the middle class, and now it has failed on its own terms of electability.
Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch:
The DNC spent more time conspiring to defeat Bernie Sanders, than they did the Republicans. They absorbed nothing from the Sanders campaign, from the issues that resonated with his followers: a corrupt system fueled by corporate cash and militarism, working class people demeaned and ridiculed, the American youth burdened by debt with no opportunity for advancement, blacks and Hispanics treated as political chattel, captives to a party that demands their loyalty yet does nothing for them. The Clinton team vanquished Sanders, paid him off and then marched on arrogantly toward their doom.

Clinton herself showed a singular lack of courage to the very end of her campaign. She couldn't even speak out against the brutalization of tribal people in North Dakota defending their water and burial grounds against the mercenaries of Big Oil. How could anyone look at her silence in the face of those ongoing atrocities and believe that she'd ever stand up for them?
Robert Scheer, Truth Dig:
What you have is a defeat of elitism. Clinton's arrogance was on full display with the revelation of her speeches cozying up to Goldman Sachs—the bank that caused this misery more than any other—and the irony of this is not lost on the people who are hurting and can't pay their bills.
4. People voted for Donald Trump because they are racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and ignorant.

Many Americans are indeed all of those things, and obviously Donald Trump appealed to voters on that level. But Trump was able to fashion those beliefs into a campaign because of the Democrats' abandonment of the American working class.

Sorry to Godwin here, but remember how we all learned how post-WWI Germany was in the throes of a gargantuan economic crisis, and that Hitler was able to blame all that on the Jews, by tapping into a hatred that was already there? Does this not ring a bell?

Do not underestimate the economic crisis in the United States. People are not just unemployed -- they are without hope. No party has been willing to change the laws that allowed corporations to move operations to countries without environmental and labour protections, with an ocean of cheap, surplus labour, and to pay no taxes while doing so. The election finance system ensures that any attempt to change this would result in political suicide. So what used to be the middle class tries to scrape by on sales commissions, retail and fast-food, and what used to be the working class is just plain poor.

For decades Americans have seen their prospects for a decent life evaporate, and the Democrats, once considered the party of the working class, did nothing but help that happen, caring more about its corporate masters than ordinary voters. The white working class was primed ready to see their bigotry legitimized, and their suffering answered with scapegoating. It's much easier to point a finger at "those people" than to do the hard work of rebuilding the manufacturing sector.

Donald Trump didn't invent that ugly stew of bigotry. We all know that. But the Democrats' abandonment of the working class created the anger and frustration, and the vacuum of hope, that paved the way for Trump.

People are suffering. They have been suffering a long time. The Democrats have been ignoring their suffering. And now they -- and the American people -- have paid a very high price.

Joshua Frank, Counterpunch:
...no matter what bullshit excuse Democrats come up with for Hillary's historic embarrassment, they have only themselves to blame. She lost because she deserved to lose. She ran an awful campaign, mired in controversy, and was unable to excite voters to the polls. She believed neoliberalism could carry the day, but she was wrong. The DNC was wrong. The establishment lost because the establishment deserved its fate.

By no means does this imply Trump will overthrow the status quo, it only means the outsider Trump was better able to exploit the boiling rage of middle America. All the workers who were undercut by Bill Clinton's NAFTA. The hundreds of thousands that never rebounded from the Bush recession. Trump provided an outlet of hope for these lost souls – a fabricated hope no doubt, but hope nonetheless – gift wrapped in rage. His mastery of social media, of vindictive and racist rhetoric, helped him gut the provincial electorate.
Richard Moser, Counterpunch:
The Democrats were oblivious to the deep discontent among the American people because that simply does not figure into their clever and cunning calculations. Why should it? Fear, lesser of two evils, scapegoating, palace politics — all these things worked in the past, didn't they?

So all the discontent and unhappiness from years of economic distress fed right into the only other choice. We have the "great two party system" don't we? Both Democrats and Republicans insist there is no alternative. ...

The Democrats run a candidate who spent eight years in the White House, crow about her experience, even when the experience included the fact that Bill Clinton was IMPEACHED and widely viewed as a bum. The Democrats embrace a family dynasty the includes one of the two presidents in all of American history impeached by the House of Representatives. Good choice!

This has to be one of the most amazing proofs that the Democratic Party echo chamber is truly deafening.
Robert Scheer again:
The people Hillary Clinton derided as a “basket of deplorables” have spoken. They have voted out of the pain of their economic misfortune, which Clinton’s branch of the Democratic Party helped engender.

. . . It’s a repudiation of the arrogant elitism of the Democratic Party machine as represented by the Clintons, whose radical deregulation of Wall Street created this mess. And instead of recognizing the error of their ways and standing up to the banks, Clinton’s campaign cozied up to them, and that did not give people who are hurting confidence that she would respond to their needs or that she gave a damn about their suffering. She’s terminally tone-deaf.

So too were the mainstream media, which treated the wreckage of the Great Recession as a minor inconvenience, ignoring the deep suffering of the many millions who lost their homes, savings and jobs. The candidate of Goldman Sachs was defeated, unfortunately by a billionaire exemplar of everything that’s evil in late-stage capitalism, who will now worsen instead of fix the system. Thanks to the arrogance of the Democratic Party leadership that stifled the Sanders revolution, we are entering a very dangerous period with a Trump presidency, and this will be a time to see whether our system of checks and balances functions as our Founding Fathers intended

Make no mistake about it: This is a crisis of confidence for America’s ruling elite that far surpasses Nixon’s Watergate scandal. They were the enablers of radical deregulation that betrayed Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s contract with the American people in the wake of the Great Depression. The people are hurting, and regrettably, Trump was the only vehicle presented to them by either major party in the general election to register their deepest discontent. The Trump voters are the messenger; don’t demonize them in an effort to salvage the prestige of the superrich elite that has temporarily lost its grip on the main levers of power in this nation.

Thankfully, the Clinton era is over, and the sick notion that the Democratic Party of FDR needed to find a new home in the temples of Wall Street greed has been rudely shattered by the deep anger of the very folks that the Democrats had presumed to represent. That includes working-class women, who failed to respond to the siren song of Clinton, whom the Democratic hacks offered instead of a true progressive like Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Yes, we need a female president, but not in the mold of Margaret Thatcher.
Scheer, I should note, believes that Sanders would have defeated Trump in a progressive populist versus neofascist populist showdown. If Sanders was not actually a Democrat, I might have believed that, too.

Michael Laxer, The Left Chapter, "The wages of liberalism is Trump":
Much of the worst damage actually happened under Democrats. It should never be forgotten that it was Bill Clinton who helped to destroy the American liberal post-war state. Nor the role the Clinton Presidency played in the passing of sweeping and deeply racist crime bills that imprisoned and also disenfranchised millions of people-of-colour in the United States. . . . .

It was bizarre, as so many apologists for Clinton and the Democrats did, to go on about the alleged achievements of "incrementalism" or Democratic governance when it is easy to prove that the United States has gone dramatically to the right in every meaningful economic sense and when inequality is greater than it has been since the 1920s.

This did not change in any real way at all under Obama, a fact that is easily demonstrated.

Liberals and social democrats have failed workers and people living in poverty so spectacularly that it is impossible to overstate the extent.

This is a day-to-day lived reality for staggering numbers of people and telling those who might well be inclined to support something that rejects what has happened around them that your candidate and party are singularly qualified to stay the course due to their experience over this time in having done so, was both typically liberal and the worst form of political folly. It was a blind and bizarre self-defeating arrogance, that was profoundly, truly, madly, deeply foolhardy in its timing.
(Thanks to Allan for collecting these.)

5. We know what lies ahead.

In fact, we don't. This may have been merely an upset in the polls. Or it may be a sea change in US politics. I don't know what's coming and neither do you. That's why we're all so afraid.

11.09.2016

a dark and frightening day

I've spent the past several months reassuring my co-workers and baldly stating on Facebook that Donald Trump would not become President of the United States.

The lesson for me and for many of us: never underestimate what angry, alienated people can be led to do. The racism, hatred, and violence that is always present in the United States, decades of hopelessness and downward mobility that have gone completely unaddressed, and a demagogue fearmonger unafraid to pander to the lowest strains of American life: and here we are.

It would appear the system is less rigged than I thought. I thought the corporatocracy that controls the US would not allow this to happen. I thought Trump's presence on the right -- a huge boon to Democrats by shutting down left-of-liberal resistance -- would also drive moderate Republicans to vote Democrat. If either of these scenarios came into play, they were not of sufficient magnitude to overcome the popular discontent and desperation.

I fervently hate the Democrats and would not have voted for Clinton (and it wouldn't have mattered if I had), but the Democrats are a known quantity. I know what they do. They make war on foreign nations, they deport immigrants and refugees, they superficially (and sometimes meaningfully) support reproductive rights and LGBT rights. They are moderately liberal on social issues, and far-right on both military and economic issues. They are a party of cats, and I expect nothing for the mouse beyond the occasional crumb.

Trump, however, is an unknown. No one knows how far this will go, and whether enough resistance can be mounted against it.

3.20.2016

fascist shift: donald trump in context

Many years back, I used to blog about a phenomenon called fascist shift. I borrowed the term from Naomi Wolf's essential The End of America, but the concept was something I had been thinking about for many years. In brief, fascist shift asks, What if we're all looking for jackboots and Sieg Heil and tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue, and while we're keeping our eyes peeled for a scene from a black-and-white newsreel, a different brand of fascism moves in and sets up shop? What if today's fascism is more insidious and less obvious - and what if it's dressed up in a democracy costume? What if while you're saying That can happen here and But they wouldn't do that, it already has, and they did.

When you scroll through Wolf's ten indicators of fascism, are there any not seen in the US? And have any of them been repaired or reversed under Obama? Not a one.

Now, though, Donald Trump's presidential bid and the many millions of Americans who support him bring America's fascist shift into better focus.

* * * *

It's difficult to analyze Trump on this level, because most people only want to talk about who will become the next US President. Whereas I think (a) it's incredibly obvious who will become the next POTUS, (b) it doesn't really matter, and (c) any pretense of democracy in the US is a complete sham. In this post from 2012 (which is a good read, by the way), I wrote:
As always, I am completely blocking out all US electoral politics. I don't know anything about the campaigns, because I already know everything about them, without knowing a single detail. If you've followed one US election campaign since 1980, you've followed them all. They only change by a matter of degree: they get worse and worse.
Nothing has changed in the intervening years. Including all the voters who seem not to understand what is happening.

I cannot understand - I mean, for the life of me, I cannot understand - how anyone of voting age could possibly think Bernie Sanders is going to win the Democratic nomination. It is not even remotely possible. (For more on that, see my post "bernie sanders, the pope, and the politics of amnesia".)

Bernie Sanders running as a Democrat is ultimately a betrayal of everything Sanders says he stands for. And if he ran as an independent and tried to build a movement, he'd be vilified by the people who now praise him, and everyone who dared vote for him would be accused of electing the Republican. Such is the tragedy of the American left.

And despite Trump's performance in the primaries, I still believe, as I have all along, that the Republican National Party will not give the nomination to Donald Trump. I don't think the corporate oligarchs that control the duopoly parties want a clown as their figurehead. I don't know (or care) how they'll manage it, but my lack of imagination will not impede them.

It looks like the RNC has decided to sit this one out, as each party does from time to time. They can run a weak candidate, and simply let Hillary Clinton win. And why not? A Hillary Clinton presidency will be every bit as Republican as the Republicans. It's a win-win for the corporate masters.

* * * *

But this doesn't mean I don't recognize the significance of Trump's campaign. Trump - not the man, but the performance, and the audience's reaction to it - is a milestone of sorts. Trump is American fascism unmasked.

In a discussion on Facebook, a friend wondered when was the last time a presidential candidate from a major party spoke about hatred and bigotry in such bald, uncoded terms. The most recent example we could think of was George Wallace. (Todd Gitlin had a similar thought.) That's going back a ways.

I may have forgotten some gems from Michele Bachmann's campaign, but Bachmann never commanded the attention that Trump now enjoys, garnering a full 23 times the media attention given to Sanders. The US and Canadian media are enthralled. What will he say next? How far will this go? His entire campaign is one long vamp for the camera.

* * * *

The mainstream Canadian media (and Canadians who look to those sources) seem to take the US at face value. The skepticism and caution applied to Canadian politics ends at the (Democrat) White House door. Trump's open racism and bigotry shocks them, because Obama! They seem not to recognize that all the hatred of Obama and the worship of Trump are fueled by pure, undiluted racism. Much of the white working class - with no decent jobs, no bright future for their children, and no rescue in sight - cannot abide that a black man represents their country, and sits in a position of authority over them. The subtitle of this Barbara Ehrenreich piece says it all: "Downward mobility plus racial resentment is a potent combination with disastrous consequences."

Progressive USians know that both institutional and personal racism have never gone away. But, as someone said in that same Facebook conversation, for the last 40 years or so, most politicians have trained themselves to speak in code or to keep their mouths shut. But all the while, O'Reilly, Coulter, Limbaugh, Beck (and so on) have been stoking that hatred, keeping their audiences primed and ready. Now Trump comes along to cash in.

For me the surprise is not that so many Americans rally around hatred, bigotry, xenophobia, and violence. The surprise is that so many people are surprised! How did you all not know this about the US? A country founded on the genocide of its original inhabitants, built by slavery, justified by conquest, and made rich and powerful by imperialism. The United States, where property rights and the rights of the ruling class are sacrosanct above all, including human life.

For all its fears of communism (then) and terrorism (now), the US has only ever been in danger of takeover from fascism.

9.28.2015

bernie sanders, the pope, and the politics of amnesia

I see a lot of excitement online, in places like Common Dreams and The Nation, and in my Facebook feed, about Bernie Sanders, supposedly remaking US politics, and Pope Francis, supposedly remaking the Roman Catholic Church.

About Sanders, I shake my head and wonder why long-time Democrat voters do not see him and his candidacy for what it is. About the Pope, I wonder why progressive people allow themselves to care.

Sanders is the new Dean

Bernie Sanders has been praised as a maverick, an independent, and a socialist. All of which may have been true at various points in his political career.

Right now Sanders is running for President as a Democrat. He is not spearheading a movement to build a new alternative. He is not refusing corporate funding and appealing to the grassroots. He is not "challenging politics as usual," as headlines in progressive news sites often say. He is seeking the Democratic nomination, which means he will play within the boundaries of that game.

And that game demands that Bernie Sanders not run for president. I suspect it's already a done deal: that in return for firing up progressive voters and helping them to believe that their cause is the Democrats' cause, he has already been offered a cabinet position, should Hillary become POTUS. I'd be shocked to learn that this is not the case.

However, whether or not there is already a backroom deal in place, we can be assured that Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic presidential nominee. No matter the size of the crowds at his appearances, no matter the polls. The nominee is not chosen based on crowds, nor on polls.

Just as we have always been at war with Eastasia, there has always been a Bernie Sanders. His name has been Dennis Kucinich, and Howard Dean. His name has been Jesse Jackson, and Paul Wellstone. He exists to reassure and corral the liberal vote. He does his part, then fades away, as the "electable" candidate is tapped for the big show.

I recently saw this headline: Sanders and Trump Offer Two Roads Out of Establishment Politics—Which Will We Follow?. In what way does Sanders offer a "road out of establishment politics"? During his tenure in Congress, he has voted with the Democrats 98% of the time. Sanders is seeking the Democratic candidacy and Trump is seeking the Republican candidacy. What is anti-establishment about that?

Francis is not the new anything

And then there's the "radical pope". If ever there was a time for the "you keep on using that word" meme, surely it is when the word radical is applied to the leader of the largest hierarchy on the planet.

In what way is this pope radical? He has said some things. He has made some statements.

Pope Francis has declared that Catholic priests will temporarily be allowed to absolve the sin of abortion without obtaining special permission from a bishop. And media hailed this as the Church softening its stance on abortion!

Absolution? The Pope should be begging our forgiveness for the untold number of women who have died from illegal abortions, the orphans and desperately poor children whose mothers were denied contraception, the families forced into poverty by the Church's own policies. The Church offers a brief amnesty for women who exercised their human rights? Fuck you.

Pope Francis has made some statements against unchecked capitalism and in sympathy with the world's poor. Has the Church renounced its immense, tax-exempt wealth in order to feed the hungry world?

"God weeps," said this Pope, at child sexual abuse, and similar statements of contrition that survivors have heard from two popes before him. Pope Francis praised his bishops' handling of the sex abuse crisis, only to back down after an outcry from survivors and advocates. One more "carefully choreographed" statement. One more nothing. If survivors themselves had not risen up and demanded the world hear them, the Church would still be playing whack-a-mole with pedophile priests.

Pope Francis has acknowledged that LGBT people are human beings, and perhaps will not suffer eternal damnation for leading their own lives. Gee thanks, Pope.

There is no doubt that Pope Francis has changed the tone of a tone-deaf institution that is decades, if not centuries, behind the times. Because liberation movements - of women, LGBT people, indigenous people, sexual abuse survivors - have changed our very world, the Church was finally forced to acknowledge modernity.

But he has altered nothing of substance, and certainly has not moved one iota towards radical change.

This pope name-dropped the great radical leader Dorothy Day, much as every US politician quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. But besides his speeches in the US, what did Pope Francis actually do? He canonized Father Junípero Serra, a Spanish priest who was actively complicit in the genocide of indigenous peoples of North and South America.

Yet this change of tone and some heartfelt conciliatory speeches are enough for the media - including much alternative media - to hail Pope Francis as a Great Bringer of Change.

Mass amnesia

I watched in wonder as liberal USians hailed Obama as the Great Bringer of Change, then had their hearts broken, as per usual. Yet now, less than a decade later, they appear to be hypnotized again.

Bernie Sanders will not save us. Pope Francis will not save us. We are the people we have been waiting for. If we want radical change, we have to band together and create it ourselves. Idle No More. Occupy Wall Street. Fight for 15. The member organizations of 350.org. Food Inc. No One Is Illegal. Marinaleda. Los Indignados. And a million other groups - groups without names, groups without media coverage - groups of people, acting collectively. This is the way forward.

Vote for Sanders in the primaries. Then dutifully vote for Hillary for president. And wonder why nothing ever changes.

6.28.2015

some thoughts on the u.s. moving a bit closer to equality (#lovewins)

At last, it has happened. With Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex marriage has been declared legal and constitutional in the United States. Same-sex couples can legally marry, just as opposite-sex couples have always had the right to do. Most importantly, laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are now unconstitutional.*

For some years on this blog, I used to note every country that joined the equal marriage club, but about two years ago, I stopped counting. More than 20 countries now recognize same-sex marriage as a right, and that number continues to climb.

This issue has always been, is, and always should be a complete no-brainer. Equality is equality. Rights are rights. We can't have rights for some and not others. That couldn't be more obvious. The debate in the US, especially the displays of extreme homophobia and bigotry from the other side, has helped the vast middle of the road to adjust to the idea.


That's why yesterday's SCOTUS decision, although incredibly wonderful, is tinged with a sad after-taste. I fully expected this ruling, but I imagined something more like 7-2 or 6-3. The 5-4 majority, and the small-minded bigotry embedded in the dissenting opinions, are disturbing evidence of the deep and frightening divisions that exist at every level of US society.

Right now it's Pride, and we're all celebrating, and we're not fretting over this close call. That's as it should be. But reading quotes from Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion makes my flesh crawl. This is a Supreme Court Justice, one of the most powerful positions in a country that claims to be a modern democracy. Say no more.

Shortly after the Harper Government was elected, the new Prime Minister brought a motion before Parliament to re-open the issue of same-sex marriage. Equal marriage had been the law in Ontario since 2003, then became legal in eight provinces and one territory, and finally was enshrined nationally on July 20, 2005. But Harper had promised his socially conservative backers this one re-visit. This would be a "free vote," where all Members of Parliament could vote according to their individual consciences, rather than voting as a party, the way the Parliamentary system normally works. The motion to re-open the issue was defeated 175 to 123.


Allan and I had moved to Canada only a few months before this, and were still getting up to speed on how the system works. We expressed surprise and dismay at the closeness of the vote... and learned that the previous votes, the second and third readings of the Civil Marriage Act, were carried by 164-137 and 158-133, respectively. That 175-123, the last stand of the backwards thinkers, was actually an improvement.

This is so hard to get my mind around. More than 100 elected representatives to the Canadian House of Commons believed it should be legal to deny a same-sex couple the same rights afforded an opposite-sex couple. I think this is what the over-used word mind-boggling refers to.

Mind you, I could care less about legal marriage personally. To me it's an antiquated and meaningless institution. Not love. Love is The Most Important Force in the World. Not commitment, and partnership, and dedication, and chosen family. But legal marriage. That choice has been my privilege as a woman partnered with a man. If I was partnered with a woman, the choice would have been made for me. I would be a second-class citizen, with fewer options, protections, rights, and privileges than if I had a male partner. So duh. No-brainer.

Yet four out of nine Justices on the Supreme Court of the United States disagree.

Thank you to Justices Kennedy, Sotomayor, Kagan, Ginsburg, and Breyer. Thank you to every lower-court judge, every lawyer, every state legislator and mayor, who made this possible.

Thank you especially to every same-sex couple who didn't take no for an answer.

* * * * *

Vanity Fair: The Bitchiest Quotes from Scalia’s Gay Marriage Dissent

ThinkProgress: 19 Hysterical Passages From Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Dissenters

Gawker: The Craziest Lines in Every Dissenting Gay Marriage Opinion


* Many states continue to enforce anti-abortion laws that have been ruled unconstitutional, so there are still battles ahead.

12.26.2014

what i'm reading: pro: reclaiming abortion rights by katha pollitt

Katha Pollitt's new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, is a powerful gust of fresh, clean air that blows away the toxic stench of the current discourse about abortion.

Pro is a thorough, no-holds-barred takedown of the hypocrisy of anti-abortion-rights movement - not only in the most obvious sense that people who claim to be "pro-life" also (usually) support war and the death penalty, oppose gun control, and encourage lethal terrorism against abortion providers and clinic staff, and of people who claim to care about women and children, but oppose all social supports that might improve the lives of actual living children. Pro also exposes the perhaps less obvious hypocrisy of how the anti-abortion movement has created conditions that result in more unwanted pregnancies, more abortion, more later abortions, and less safe abortions. Using unassailable logic and facts, Pollitt exposes what the real agenda of the anti-abortion movement is and has always been: punishing women for trying to live modern, emancipated lives.

She exposes, too, the contradictions in how the current abortion debate is framed, and how the majority of people - not the vehemently pro-choice or the vehemently anti-abortion, but the "muddled middle," as Pollitt calls it - thinks about abortion. The vast majority of North Americans, it appears, believes abortion should be safe and legal, but also regard the procedure with distaste, discomfort, and shame. Pollitt makes it sparklingly clear why "legal, but..." doesn't work, why it can't work, and why we shouldn't want it.

This book is about something many people might find a strange contradiction: reclaiming abortion as a social good.
First, the concept of personhood, as applied to the zygote, blastocyst, embryo, and at least until late in pregnancy, fetus, makes no sense: It's an incoherent, covertly religious idea that falls apart if you look at it closely. Few people actually believe it, as is shown by the exceptions they are willing to make.

Second, the absolutist argument that abortion is murder is a mask by which people opposed to the sexual revolution and women's advancement obscure their real motives and agenda: turning back the clock to an idealized, oversimplified past when sex was confined within marriage, men were the breadwinners and heads of families, Christianity was America's not-quite-official religion, and society was firmly ordered.

Third, since critiquing what came before does not necessarily help us move forward, I want to help reframe the way we think about abortion. There are definitely short-term advantages to stressing the anguish some women feel when facing the need to end a pregnancy, but in the long run presenting that as a general truth will hurt the pro-choice cause: It comes close to demanding that women accept grief, shame, and stigma as the price of ending a pregnancy. I want us to start thinking of abortion as a positive social good and saying this out loud. The anti-abortion movement has been far too successful at painting abortion as bad for women. I want to argue, to the contrary, that it is an essential option for women - not just ones in dramatic, terrible, body-and-soul destroying situations, but all women - and thus benefits society as a whole.
For anyone deeply involved in the pro-choice movement, as I have been, Pollitt breaks no new ground. You'll be familiar with all the ideas, trends, and arguments. But to read them all gathered together, laid out logically, backed by impeccable research, and pronounced without apology in Pollitt's lively, witty style, is thrilling.

For people who think of themselves as "pro-choice but" - the muddled middle, the majority, who say abortion should be legal and permissible in certain circumstances - this book is for you. Pollitt argues in the clearest, most convincing manner: none of your restrictions make sense. All of them must go. If that seems extreme, read this book with an open mind, then see how you feel.

Pro is written in a US context, and it's important for everyone in the US to read, especially moderate liberals who adopt the "safe, legal, and rare" position.

But this is an important book for Canadians to read, too. Without directly referencing the history of abortion rights in Canada, Pollitt shows us why Dr. Henry Morgentaler and the movement that grew around his work were correct to insist on no abortion law, and why Canada's courts were correct to realize that was necessary. The arguments in Pro explain why the pro-choice movement in Canada kicks up such a loud and sustained noise every time proposed legislation threatens to restrict abortion rights. (The Harper government has tested the waters many times under the guise of private members' bills. Rights don't protect themselves.)

Pollitt argues for abortion as a basic human right: necessary to women's full participation in society, necessary for her survival and her safety, not just in extreme circumstances, but in all circumstances. She excoriates the hypocrisy of a society that worships motherhood as an abstract concept, but in reality, so belittles and minimizes the experience of parenthood as to imagine that a woman can simply have a baby and raise a child any time she becomes pregnant, no matter her current life circumstances - then dismisses the notion that she must do otherwise as abortions "for convenience".

Pollitt also widens the lens to include all aspects of reproductive justice, including access to affordable and reliable birth control, free and affordable childcare, paid parental leave, and working hours designed for working parents. She places abortion in an historical context - it has always existed, in all societies and in all eras - and reminds us what happens to women who live in Ecuador, Ireland, most of the US, and other countries where women's access to this basic, necessary health care has been denied.

After teasing out the many sacrifices, the pain, the accommodation, the compromises, that women routinely make in order to bear children, Pollitt writes:
To force girls and women to undergo all this against their will is to annihilate their humanity.
And that is the bottom line.

Pro is an eloquent, sustained wake-up call. I hope you will all read it.

8.10.2014

the courage and compassion of dr. willie parker, the last abortion doctor in mississippi

"The Pink House", the last abortion clinic in Mississippi.
The owner painted it pink so it would stand out, in defiance.
I've thought a lot about heroes, that tremendously overused word, about who my heroes are and why I love them. Moral courage, as you may know, is my highest value. Now, reading this story in Esquire about Dr. Willie Parker, the last abortion doctor in the state of Mississippi, I realize there's another ingredient shared by all my heroes: an abundance of compassion.

Dr. Parker, a committed Christian, embodies both physical and moral courage, refusing to run despite the knowledge that others who tread this path have been murdered. Dr. Parker fills a vital health and social need by performing abortions in Mississippi. But he does more than that. He offers compassion (along with education) to every patient.

Dr. Parker not only wants women to decide for themselves whether and when to bear children. He wants to help free them of the guilt and shame that they've internalized from the surrounding anti-abortion culture. He is very smart, politically; he understands what really drives the anti-abortion movement.
One result: In 2012, America's teenage girls had an average of thirty-one births per one thousand. In Canada, the number was fourteen. In France, six. In Sweden, seven. The difference is that those countries promote contraception without shame. "So it seems like if they want to reduce abortion, the best thing to do would be to support contraception—but they're against contraception, too, because contraception and abortion decouple sexuality from procreation. That's why I think religious preoccupation with abortion is largely about controlling the sexuality of women."
This is a tremendous article, which Esquire released online in advance of the print edition, because of the recent court ruling blocking a Mississippi anti-abortion law. I hope you will read it in its entirety: The Abortion Ministry of Dr. Willie Parker, by John H. Richardson.

3.03.2014

lessons from wisconsin and michigan: tim hudak's threat to ontario workers is not over

Last September, when Tim Hudak announced that he intended to break Ontario's unions, it came as no surprise to labour activists. The head of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party, cynically framing the issue as one of "choice," talked about "right-to-work" - a familiar euphemism for union busting - and repealing the Rand Formula. That 1946 Canadian Supreme Court decision ensures that everyone who enjoys the benefits of belonging to a union contributes union dues, which in turn ensures that union workplaces can survive.

And that, in turn, sets a standard for all Ontario workers, union or not. This is one time the expression "a rising tide lifts all boats" - usually applied in defense of regressive economic policies - actually does apply. Union work sets a standard in any community for decent pay and humane working conditions. Unions are a bulwark against the low-wage economy that has decimated working conditions in the United States. Without unions, the gun goes off on a race to the bottom.

Union workers throughout Ontario understood the threat and mobilized. Then, two weeks ago, Hudak rescinded his right-to-work plan. Activists throughout the province cheered, and with good reason. It was a significant win. But has the threat truly passed? And can we trust Hudak? Can we take him at his word?

First, we should acknowledge why Hudak changed his tune. He didn't wake up one morning thinking, How can I make life better for the average Ontarian? He took right-to-work off the table because of our resistance. Union workers and the a good portion of the general public made so much noise about right-to-work that members of Hudak's own party began to see the issue as an election liability. In other words, the fightback worked. And now, if we consider the battle won, if pack up our tents and return to complacency, we'll be blindsided when the next threat hits.

And what is the next threat? Hudak himself said (emphasis mine):
This ‘right-to-work’ issue just doesn’t have the scope or the power to fix the issues that are threatening 100 per cent of the manufacturing jobs in Ontario. So if we’re elected, we’re not going to do it — we’re not going to change the so-called ‘Rand Formula.’ Our agenda is a lot bigger, and a lot more ambitious, than that.
Right-to-work is only one torture instrument in the shock-doctrine toolbox of this anti-labour, anti-human agenda. Consider this New York Times story, "Wisconsin's Legacy for Unions," about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's union-busting tactics:
Mr. Walker’s landmark law — called Act 10 — severely restricted the power of public-employee unions to bargain collectively, and that provision, among others, has given social workers, prison guards, nurses and other public employees little reason to pay dues to a union that can no longer do much for them. . . . . [Act 10] bars public-sector unions from bargaining over pensions, health coverage, safety, hours, sick leave or vacations. All they can negotiate is base pay, and even that is limited: any raises they win cannot exceed inflation.”
Now compare this to one slice of Hudak’s "Million Jobs Act".
The Tories say that, if elected, they would save $2 billion by freezing public sector wages across the board. In an earlier announcement, they said they would find even more savings by slashing 10,000 jobs in the education sector.
Exactly how does freezing wages and slashing jobs create jobs? Ontario is bleeding manufacturing jobs as corporations chase the higher profits gained from a low-wage workforce in countries without health, safety, and environmental protections. Instead of mounting a real response that would protect good jobs and strengthen our communities, our politicians can only talk about corporate tax cuts... which lead to cutting social services... which means squeezing the people who provide those services... who are more likely to be unionized workers. Corporate tax cuts don't create jobs. They weaken our economy.

Hudak can try any number of sneaky methods of union-busting, or, if elected, he can slap right-to-work back on the table. That's what happened in Michigan. The right-wing National Review ran a story called "The New Wisconsin," which details how Michigan quietly became a right-to-work state.
Yet before anything could happen in Michigan, the right-to-work movement needed to overcome at least one more obstacle: [Republican] Governor Rick Snyder, who had announced during his race [in 2012] that right-to-work would not be on his agenda. He called it “too divisive” — a label that must have seemed entirely fitting as he watched Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, his neighbor across Lake Michigan, suffer through 18 months of partisan strife. The unions thought they detected weakness and began to push for what would become Proposal 2, a 2012 ballot initiative to enshrine collective bargaining in the state constitution, effectively putting compulsory unionism beyond the reach of right-to-work reformers.

“This turned out to be a priceless gift,” says Mike Shirkey, a Republican legislator and right-to-work ringleader. “It gave us the entire summer to frame the debate and let us tell voters that we’re not out to destroy unions but to protect workers’ rights.”
Snyder was elected in November 2012, and right-to-work was passed the following month.

In Wisconsin, with unions out of the way, the drive to destroy the fruits of the labour movement has begun: state Republicans have introduced a bill to repeal the five-day work week.

Don't let this happen here.


-----
Thanks to Michelle for her amazing research and to James for continuing to keep me informed.

8.27.2013

the standard double-standard: prison for war resisters, immunity for war criminals

Abby Zimet reports on Common Dreams:
Days before Bradley - now Chelsea - Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for helping expose U.S. war crimes in Iraq, the Obama Department of Justice filed a petition in federal court arguing that the perpetrators of those crimes - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al - enjoy “absolute immunity” against criminal charges or civil liability. The filing came in a suit brought by Sundus Shaker Saleh, an Iraqi single mother and refugee now living in Jordan, who alleges that the planning and waging of the Iraq war under false pretenses constituted a "crime of aggression" under a law used in the Nuremberg trials.
Meanwhile, after the revolution...

2.16.2013

two great reads from the new yorker, part 2: jill lepore on political advertising

The current New Yorker stories by Joseph Mitchell has given me an opportunity to post something I've been meaning to share for ages.

Last September, Jill Lepore unearthed an incredible bit of history, a piece of the American past that is  alive with us today, and more dangerous than ever. (I am generally interested in anything Lepore writes; last year I gushed over her reviews of books about Clarence Darrow, one of my abiding heroes.)

In this piece, Lepore writes about the roots of political advertising - the falsehoods and trickery, the lies and slander, the deception and distortion, the swiftboating and smearing that make us grit our teeth in frustration. The advertising firms that design and disseminate those orchestrated lies can be traced back to one company, an operation called Campaigns Inc.

Its first victim was Upton Sinclair, the writer and socialist and one-time candidate for Governor of California. He called it The Lie Factory.
In 1934, Sinclair explained what did happen that election year, in a nonfiction sequel called “I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked.” “When I was a boy, the President of Harvard University wrote about ‘the scholar in politics,’ ” Sinclair began. “Here is set forth how a scholar went into politics, and what happened to him.” “How I Got Licked” was published in daily installments in fifty newspapers. In it, Sinclair described how, immediately after the Democratic Convention, the Los Angeles Times began running on its front page a box with an Upton Sinclair quotation in it, a practice that the paper continued, every day, for six weeks, until the opening of the polls. “Reading these boxes day after day,” Sinclair wrote, “I made up my mind that the election was lost.”

Sinclair got licked, he said, because the opposition ran what he called a Lie Factory. “I was told they had a dozen men searching the libraries and reading every word I had ever published.” They’d find lines he’d written, speeches of fictional characters in novels, and stick them in the paper, as if Sinclair had said them. “They had a staff of political chemists at work, preparing poisons to be let loose in the California atmosphere on every one of a hundred mornings.” Actually, they had, at the time, a staff of only two, and the company wasn’t called the Lie Factory. It was called Campaigns, Inc.

Campaigns, Inc., the first political-consulting firm in the history of the world, was founded, in 1933, by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter.
If you like history and you deplore the Lie Factory, you will love this article: The Lie Factory: How politics became a business, by Jill Lepore.

2.15.2013

ten years ago today, the world said no to war. say no to obama's wars, too.

Ten years ago today, my partner and I took the day off work, dressed in many layers of clothing, and joined nearly a million people in the streets of New York City. It was February 15, 2003, and the world was saying no to war.

The bitter cold didn't stop demonstrations in 80 Canadians towns and cities, including 150,000 people who braved minus-30 wind chill in Montreal. In the US, protests were held in 225 communities.

In London, at least one million people gathered. Every European country saw huge crowds, but they were all topped by Rome, where three million people formed the largest antiwar demonstration in one place in history.

In Australia, major protests were held in all six state capitals. The scientists stationed on Antarctica held a protest on the ice. In Brazil, in Argentina - in Tokyo, in Beirut - in Dhaka and Calcutta - in Seoul and Johannesburg - in every continent of the planet - large crowds gathered, all with the same message.

In all, up to 30 million people in 800 locations came together to say no to war.

Commentary in the New York Times conjectured "that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion".

* * * *

Of course, the United States invaded Iraq, as they had intended to from at least 2001. The resident of the White House at the time, an unelected figurehead, became the most hated man on the planet.

Many Americans viewed the invasion of Iraq as a turning point in their country's history, as something unprecedented, an aberration. They couldn't have been more wrong.

The US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq was in keeping with US history from the very beginning - from the western expansion, on to Hawaii, straight through to Guatemala and Vietnam. In this regard, I recommend reading Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Kinzer tells you up-front that he uses a very narrow definition of overthrow as his focus. Dozens of other military coups, assassinations, and dismantlings of democratically elected governments, all bought and paid for by the United States, didn't make the cut. Kinzer's book is just a beginning, but it's an excellent starting place to see the Iraq invasion in historical context. And of course, the United States still occupies Iraq, maintaining thousands of "security contractors," otherwise known as occupying forces.

Americans viewing the unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Iraq as an aberration only underscores so many people's ignorance of their own country's history. I'm not talking about the gun-nuts and the bible thumpers, or so many Canadians' stereotypes of Texans. I'm talking about moderate US liberals, the people who elected Barack Obama. They breathed a sigh of relief; the nightmare was over. For the people of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan - and who will join the list tomorrow? - the nightmare continues.

I found this excellent page from St. Pete for Peace: Obama Fact Sheet. I thank the good people of St. Petersburg, Florida, who put this together.

* * * *

So what of February 15, 2003? Was it a failure, since we were unable to stop the US from invading Iraq? Here's what my friend James Clark, writing at Socialist.ca, has to say.
Despite the unprecedented success of the February 15 protests, which helped keep Canada and other states outside Bush’s “coalition of the willing,” they ultimately failed to stop the war. The consequences for Iraq have been horrific: 1.2 million Iraqi deaths from war and occupation, on top of 1.5 million Iraqi deaths after 12 years of sanctions. The country remains deeply divided on sectarian grounds and its landscape and infrastructure have been completely devastated. As we mark the anniversary of the protests, we must remember these facts and remain sober about the movement’s limits, both then and now.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also recognize and celebrate the successes we did achieve. February 15 gave us a glimpse of the immense potential of mass movements, and trained a generation of activists who, in many cases, continue to be active on other fronts. The long-term effects of the protests, especially in the social movements, helped change the political terrain we operate on today, by raising our expectations about international solidarity and collective action, and by giving confidence to resistance movements throughout the region—from Iraq to Palestine to Lebanon to Egypt, the frontlines of resistance to imperialist war and occupation.

If anything, this is probably the most important effect of February 15: the developing bonds of solidarity between ordinary people in the Arab world and those outside it, particularly in countries whose governments backed the war. According to some activists in the region, those bonds contributed to emerging struggles that have subsequently developed into far-reaching revolutionary movements. Our role in this is no doubt small, perhaps even imperceptible, but it nevertheless shows that, although we didn’t stop the war, we still helped change the world.

12.03.2012

greenwald on "both sides are wrong", hedges on the world as gaza

There are always at least two sides to every story.

Long ago, in the American West, some pioneers and cowboys were killed by "Indians". More recently, Iraqi "insurgents" have killed US soldiers. When I was growing up, Vietnamese "guerillas" - I believe the technical term was gooks - were killing American soldiers, too.

Those deaths were not trivial. Death is never trivial to the victims and the people who love them. But we understand that, had the US not invaded Iraq, Vietnam, (etc. etc.) - and had Europeans and their descendants not believed it was their divine right to own an entire continent and to cleanse it of its original habitants - those Iraqis, Vietnamese, and Native Americans wouldn't have killed those Americans.

I used to have a political cartoon on my bulletin board: black South Africa was on the ground, its head held by the apartheid jackboot. Ronald Reagan, observing, said, "Gee, all that pressure on your foot must be tiring."

Because, you know, there are two sides to every story. Greenwald:
Everything about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict follows the same pattern over and over, including the reaction of Americans. In the first couple of days after a new round of violence breaks out, there is intense interest and passion, which is quickly replaced by weariness, irritation, and even anger that one has to be bothered by this never-ending, always-ugly and seemingly irresolvable conflict. These sentiments then morph into an attempt to separate oneself from the entire matter by declaring both sides to be equally horrendous and thus washing one's hands from any responsibility for thinking further about it ("I'm sick of both sides"), followed by recriminations against anyone who actually has an opinion that is more supportive of one side than the other. . . .

But for two independent reasons, this reasoning, understandable though it may be, depends upon patent fictions, and is thus invalid. The first reason, which I will mention only briefly, is that there is not equality between the two sides.

As my Guardian colleague Seumas Milne superbly detailed in his column Tuesday night, the overarching fact of this conflict is that the Palestinians, for decades now, have been brutally occupied, blockaded, humiliated, deprived of the most basic human rights of statehood and autonomy though the continuous application of brute, lawless force (for that reason, those who like to righteously condemn Hamas' rockets (Pierce, defending Obama; "he happened to be correct the other day. No country can tolerate the bombing of its citizens") have the obligation to state what form of legitimate resistance Palestinians have to all of this). Moreover, as these clear numbers from the Economist demonstrate, the violence and carnage so disproportionately harm the Palestinians that to suggest some form of equivalence between the two sides borders on the obscene.

But the second reason, to me, is even clearer. The government which Americans fund and elect, and for which they thus bear at least some responsibility, is anything but neutral in this conflict. That government - certainly including the Democratic Party - is categorically, uncritically, and unfailingly on the side of Israel in every respect when it comes to violence and oppression against the Palestinians.

For years now, US financial, military and diplomatic support of Israel has been the central enabling force driving this endless conflict. The bombs Israel drops on Gazans, and the planes they use to drop them, and the weapons they use to occupy the West Bank and protect settlements are paid for, in substantial part, by the US taxpayer, and those actions are shielded from recrimination by the UN veto power aggressively wielded in Israel's favor by the US government. . . .

So this "both-sides-are-hideous" mentality is not what drives the actions of the US government. Quite the contrary: the US government is as partisan and loyal a supporter of one side of this conflict as one can possibly be. So if people want to rail against anyone who has convictions about one side or the other - Pierce: "The only people who make me more ill than the two active sides in this endless slaughter are the people far from the killing grounds who are so very goddamn sure they know what to do . . . I hate the cheering squads over here today" - then the place to begin is with the US government, the Obama administration, whose unstinting, multi-faceted support for and enabling of Israel is central to all of this. . . .

If one wants to try to wash one's hands of this entire matter by declaring both sides equally culpable, that's fine. But doing so requires an acknowledgment that the US government is doing nothing of the sort. It is fueling, funding and feeding the Israeli war machine, and, with its own militaristic conduct, is legitimizing the premises of Israeli aggression.
Chris Hedges relates the massacre in Gaza to the economic situation worldwide. Some people believe Hedges writes in broad hyperbole. I think he's just more observant than most.
In the new global landscape, as in Israel’s occupied territories and the United States’ own imperial projects in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan, massacres of thousands of defenseless innocents are labeled wars. Resistance is called a provocation, terrorism or a crime against humanity. The rule of law, as well as respect for the most basic civil liberties and the right of self-determination, is a public relations fiction used to placate the consciences of those who live in the zones of privilege. Prisoners are routinely tortured and “disappeared.” The severance of food and medical supplies is an accepted tactic of control. Lies permeate the airwaves. Religious, racial and ethnic groups are demonized. Missiles rain down on concrete hovels, mechanized units fire on unarmed villagers, gunboats pound refugee camps with heavy shells, and the dead, including children, line the corridors of hospitals that lack electricity and medicine. . . . .

Because it has the power to do so, Israel — as does the United States — flouts international law to keep a subject population in misery. The continued presence of Israeli occupation forces defies nearly a hundred U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for them to withdraw. The Israeli blockade of Gaza, established in June 2007, is a brutal form of collective punishment that violates Article 33 of the Fourth 1949 Geneva Convention, which set up rules for the “Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.” The blockade has turned Gaza into a sliver of hell, an Israeli-administered ghetto where thousands have died, including the 1,400 civilians killed in the Israeli incursion of 2008. With 95 percent of factories shut down, Palestinian industry has virtually ceased functioning. The remaining 5 percent operate at 25 to 50 percent capacity. Even the fishing industry is moribund. Israel refuses to let fishermen travel more than three miles from the coastline, and within the fishing zone boats frequently come under Israeli fire. The Israeli border patrols have seized 35 percent of the agricultural land in Gaza for a buffer zone. The collapsing infrastructure and Israeli seizure of aquifers mean that in many refugee camps, such as Khan Yunis, there is no running water. UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) estimates that 80 percent of all Gazans now rely on food aid. And the claim of Israeli self-defense belies the fact that it is Israel that maintains an illegal occupation and violates international law by carrying out collective punishment of Palestinians. It is Israel that chose to escalate the violence when during an incursion into Gaza earlier this month its forces fatally shot a 13-year-old boy. As the world breaks down, this becomes the new paradigm—modern warlords awash in terrifying technologies and weapons murdering whole peoples. We do the same in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.