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Reports of War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan Highlight the Failures of Both Wars

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Photograph Source: RAWA – CC BY 3.0

The alleged bid by the British government and army to close down investigations into torture and murder in Iraq and Afghanistan appears to be the latest aspect of a widespread desire in in the UK to forget all about these failed wars. Joining the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 is commonly blamed on Tony Blair, but there is little interest in the desperate situation into which British troops were plunged post-invasion, first in southern Iraq and then, three years later, in Helmand province in Afghanistan.

The gravity of the miscalculations in each case is not in doubt. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador in Kabul at the time, wrote in his memoirs that the worst mistake made by the Foreign Office in the previous 30 years was the invasion of Iraq, and the second worst was “its enthusiastic endorsement of Britain’s half-baked effort to occupy Helmand in 2006”.

The allegation that war crimes were committed – to be claimed in a BBC Panorama programme on Monday evening – is in keeping with Britain’s dismal record in these conflicts.

The ICC has said it is considering opening an investigation into the claims, based on leaked documents. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said the allegations are unsubstantiated.

After the capture of Baghdad, the British army stayed in the south of Iraq, mostly in and around Basra, apparently under the impression that this would be quieter than the Sunni Arab provinces that had more strongly supported Saddam Hussein.

It swiftly became clear that, while the Shia population of the south was glad to be rid of Saddam, they were not about to accept a British occupation. An ominous sign of this came on 24 June 2003 when six British Royal Military Police were shot dead in a town called Majar al-Kabir near the city of Amara.

They died because they were advising local police at the same moment as British paratroopers were carrying out an aggressive patrol in another part of the same town and had had an exchange of fire in which several locals had died. The RMPs were killed soon afterwards in a revenge attack.

The incident sums up the fatal contradiction facing the British expeditionary force in Iraq. Their numbers and dispositions were suitable for a country in which most of the population was friendly, but if the opposite were true, as it certainly was, then the soldiers were vastly outnumbered and in danger. British officers used to annoy their American counterparts by claiming prior expertise in this type of warfare, drawing on British experience in Malaya and Northern Ireland. A captain in military intelligence stationed for a year in Basra later said that “I kept trying to explain without success to my superiors that in Malaya and Northern Ireland we had local allies while in Basra we had none”.

The weakness of the British position was exposed in detail by the Chilcot Report in 2016, but its findings were masked by the media obsession with finding a “smoking gun” that would prove the culpability of Tony Blairand by the shock result of the Brexit referendum that had taken place at the same time.

The report explains that by 2007 the British forces in Basra had run out of ideas and “it was humiliating that the UK reached a position in which an agreement with a militia group [the Mahdi Army], which had been actively targeting UK forces, was considered the best option available.”

According to Chilcot, the one consistent British strategy between 2003 and complete withdrawal in 2009 was “to reduce the level of deployed forces” and to do so without offending the US. The means of doing so was to redeploy the troops to Afghanistan, which was supposedly safer, but where they arrived just as the Taliban were restarting their guerrilla war and where 405 British troops were to be killed in the coming years.

Those who may have committed war crimes in these conflicts have been investigated, even if they were not prosecuted. It would be good if those responsible for these doomed military forays should also be held responsible for their actions.

The post Reports of War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan Highlight the Failures of Both Wars appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Thinking Outside the Grid

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Smoke and power lines. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Thirty years ago, a friend of mine published a book called 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save The Earth. It described the huge environmental benefits that would result if everyone made some simple adjustments to their way of life. Six hundred thousand gallons of gas could be saved every day, for example, if every commuter car carried just one more passenger; over 500,000 trees could be saved weekly if we all recycled our Sunday newspaper; and so on. The book was immensely popular at the time, at least partly because it was comforting to know we could “save the Earth” so easily.

Unfortunately, the projected benefits of these simple steps were actually insignificant compared to the scale of the problems they addressed. Saving 600,000 gallons of gasoline sounds impressive, but it’s only about 0.15% of the amount of fuel consumed in this country daily. Half a million trees every week sounds like a lot too, but the sad fact is that globally, about 35 acres of forest are being lost every minute despite all the newspapers that are now routinely recycled.

50 Simple Things is no longer in print, but the idea that our most urgent environmental problems can be solved by tinkering around the edges of modern life just won’t go away. In 2006, for example, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth DVD included an insert with ten “Things To Do Now” to fight climate change: recycle more, inflate tires to the proper pressure, use less hot water, and other equally “simple things”. There are still dozens of websites offering similar tips: 50WaysToHelp.com, for example, has the usual fluff (“don’t waste napkins”) as well as some suggestions the 1990 book couldn’t foresee (“recycle your cellphone”, “use e-tickets”).

If there’s been much of a change in mainstream attitudes to our environmental crises, it’s that today’s “solutions” rely much more heavily on technology: electric cars and LED light bulbs, clean coal and genetically-engineered biofuels. What this means is that while individuals are still directed towards those same small steps, Big Business will be relied upon for the huge leaps. That’s the premise of IBM’s “Smarter Planet” initiative (a corporate campaign implying that our naturally dimwitted planet needs corporate help to avoid embarrassing gaffes like environmental breakdown). Thanks to digital technologies, IBM sees the Earth “becoming more intelligent before our eyes – from smarter power grids, to smarter food systems, smarter water, smarter healthcare and smarter traffic systems.”

At first glance, 50 Simple Things and the Smarter Planet initiative are very different, but they share a core assumption, which is that solving our myriad problems won’t require systemic change. Instead, it is assumed that modern industrial life can continue its upward and outward expansion forever – smartphones, superhighways, robotic vacuums and all – so long as the public focuses on “simple things” while allowing industry to do whatever might keep us one step ahead of resource depletion and ecological collapse.

This is a dubious strategy at best. Aside from what it means for climate chaos, it ensures that cultural and biological diversity will continue their downward spiral; that the gap between rich and poor will grow even wider; that the wealth and power of transnational corporations will continue to expand. (Needless to say, corporations won’t do anything to save the earth if it doesn’t add to their bottom line: making the planet more intelligent, for example, is “the overarching framework for IBM’s growth strategy.”)

In other words, what mainstream environmentalists like Al Gore and corporations like IBM are proposing is just more of the same. For many people this is actually comforting, because systemic change sounds frightening: they are accustomed to their way of life, and fundamental change can seem like stepping off a cliff. But done right, systemic change is something to look forward to, rather than fear. This has already been made abundantly clear by the local food movement, which aims at fundamentally changing the food system. Almost everywhere that local food initiatives have taken root, the result has been more vibrant communities, stronger local economies, better food and a healthier environment. Systemic change via localization simply extends the logic of local food to other basic needs.

Like electric power. Just as we can’t know what went into that industrially-grown tomato from Florida or apple from Chile, our continent-wide electric grid prevents us from really knowing the social and environmental costs of flipping on a light switch, using a hair dryer, or making toast in the morning. Did the power come from a nuclear power plant, a huge hydro project in Canada, or a coal-fired plant in the Midwest? Even if we are aware of the costs of these sources of power, few of those costs affect us immediately or directly.

If our electric needs were sourced locally or regionally, on the other hand, we’d have to balance our desire for power with costs that we and our neighbors largely bear ourselves. One can imagine lively debates in communities everywhere about what mix of local power sources – small-scale hydro, wind, biomass, solar – should be employed. Each of these has trade-offs that might be difficult to balance, but most of the costs and benefits would accrue to the same community. If the economic, ecological, and aesthetic costs were too high, many communities would find ways to limit their use of energy – for example by rejecting building permit applications for “McMansions” that use a disproportionate share of the common, limited energy supply.

Ultimately, a greater reliance on local power would eliminate one of the most destructive side-effects of the grid: the misperception that energy is limitless. Grid-connected life leaves us expecting that we should have as much power as we’re willing to pay for, 24/7, year in and year out. The angry reaction to PG&E’s power outages in California – intended to lower the risk of wildfires – shows how deeply this expectation has become embedded in the public’s consciousness.

Does California’s experience mean that people will never accept the limitations of decentralized renewable energy? I believe that such a shift would be far easier than many imagine, based on my own family’s experience of living off-the-grid for the past 20 years. (Off-grid life does not make us environmental heroes: I’m well aware that the PV system we rely on for power also has environmental costs, some quite heavy.) The point is only that our attitude towards energy now includes a healthy sense of limits, and that we have quite naturally adjusted our behavior as a result. If the sun hasn’t been out for a few days we probably can’t run the vacuum cleaner, and we’ll have to use a broom instead. If the sun hasn’t been out for a week, we’ll have to turn off the pump on our deep well, and use the gravity-fed spring instead – which means there won’t be enough pressure for showers. In the best of times we don’t use electricity to toast bread (anything that turns electricity into heat uses a lot of power); instead we only make toast in the winter, when it can be made on the top of our cookstove.

These and many other adjustments don’t feel like sacrifices: they’re simple and logical responses to the fact that our source of power is limited and variable. The fuels that power the grid are limited too (as resource depletion and global warming should make clear) but there’s no direct link between that fact and the day-to-day experience of grid-connected life.

As the planet heats up and critical resources run low, people will need to adapt in a number of ways. For those of us in the industrialized, over-developed world, one of the most important will be to replace our sense of entitlement with a sense of limits. Our high-consumption lifestyles will be difficult to disengage from – not because they are inescapable products of human nature, but because they are essential to the “growth strategies” of powerful big businesses. The irony is that scaled-down localized alternatives to the media- and advertising-saturated consumer culture would allow the majority to live fuller, richer, more meaningful lives. Nothing to fear, and much to gain.

Systemic change is on no one’s list of “simple things”: it will require hard work, creativity, and a willingness to stand up to powerful interests. The alternative is to assume that the best we can do is inflate our tires properly and screw in a new light bulb, while allowing the corporate world to continue its quest for limitless power and endless growth, all while destroying the only planet we have.

Originally published on Local Futures’ Economics of Happiness Blog.


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America’s Arms Sales Addiction

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Photograph Source: Stacks of shells in the shell filling factory at Chilwell during World War I – Public Domain

It’s no secret that Donald Trump is one of the most aggressive arms salesmen in history. How do we know? Because he tells us so at every conceivable opportunity. It started with his much exaggerated “$110 billion arms deal” with Saudi Arabia, announced on his first foreign trip as president. It continued with his White House photo op with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in which he brandished a map with a state-by-state rundown of American jobs supposedly tied to arms sales to the kingdom. And it’s never ended. In these years in office, in fact, the president has been a staunch advocate for his good friends at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics — the main corporate beneficiaries of the U.S.-Saudi arms trade (unlike the thousands of American soldiers the president recently sentinto that country’s desert landscapes to defend its oil facilities).

All the American arms sales to the Middle East have had a severe and lasting set of consequences in the region in, as a start, the brutal Saudi/United Arab Emirates war in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians via air strikes using U.S. weaponry and pushed millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine. And don’t forget the recent Turkish invasion of Syria in which both the Turkish forces and the Kurdish-led militias they attacked relied heavily on U.S.-supplied weaponry.

Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear that he cares far more about making deals for that weaponry than who uses any of it against whom. It’s important to note, however, that, historically speaking, he’s been anything but unique in his obsession with promoting such weapons exports (though he is uniquely loud about doing so).

Despite its supposedly strained relationship with the Saudi regime, the Obama administration, for example, still managed to offer the royals of that kingdom a record $136 billion in U.S. weapons between 2009 and 2017. Not all of those offers resulted in final sales, but striking numbers did. Items soldincluded Boeing F-15 combat aircraft and Apache attack helicopters, General Dynamics M-1 tanks, Raytheon precision-guided bombs, and Lockheed Martin bombs, combat ships, and missile defense systems. Many of those weapons have since been put to use in the war in Yemen.

To its credit, the Obama administration did at least have an internal debate on the wisdom of continuing such a trade. In December 2016, late in his second term, the president finally did suspend the sale of precision-guided bombs to the Royal Saudi Air Force due to a mounting toll of Yemeni civilian deaths in U.S.-supplied Saudi air strikes. This was, however, truly late in the game, given that the Saudi regime first intervened in Yemen in March 2015 and the slaughter of civilians began soon after that.

By then, of course, Washington’s dominance of the Mideast arms trade was taken for granted, despite an occasional large British or French deal like the scandal-plagued Al Yamamah sale of fighter planes and other equipment to the Saudis, the largest arms deal in the history of the United Kingdom. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, from 2014 to 2018 the United States accounted for more than 54% of known arms deliveries to the Middle East. Russia lagged far behind with a 9.5% share of the trade, followed by France (8.6%), England (7.2%), and Germany (4.6%). China, often cited as a possible substitute supplier, should the U.S. ever decide to stop arming repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, came in at less than 1%.

The U.S. government’s stated rationales for pouring arms into that ever-more-embattled region include: building partnerships with countries theoretically willing to fight alongside U.S. forces in a crisis; swapping arms for access to military bases in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and other Persian Gulf states; creating “stability” by building up allied militaries to be stronger than those of potential adversaries like Iran; and generating revenue for U.S. weapons contractors, as well as jobs for American workers. Of course, such sales have indeed benefited those contractors and secured access to bases in the region, but when it comes to promoting stability and security, historically it’s been another story entirely.

The Nixon Doctrine and the Initial Surge in Mideast Arms Sales

Washington’s role as the Middle East’s top arms supplier has its roots in remarks made by Richard Nixon half a century ago on the island of Guam. It was the Vietnam War era and the president was on his way to South Vietnam. Casualties there were mounting rapidly with no clear end to the conflict in sight. During that stopover in Guam, Nixon assured reporters accompanying him that it was high time to end the practice of sending large numbers of U.S troops to overseas battlefields. To “avoid another war like Vietnam anywhere in the world,” he was instead putting a new policy in place, later described by a Pentagon official as “sending arms instead of sending troops.”

The core of what came to be known as the Nixon Doctrine was the arming of regional surrogates, countries with sympathetic rulers or governments that could promote U.S. interests without major contingents of the American military being on hand. Of such potential surrogates at that moment, the most importantwas the Shah of Iran, with whom a CIA-British intelligence coup replaced a civilian government back in 1953 and who proved to have an insatiable appetite for top-of-the-line U.S. weaponry.

The Shah’s idea of a good time was curling up with the latest copy of Aviation Week and Space Technology and perusing glossy photos of combat planes. Egged on by the Nixon administration, his was the first and only country to buy the costly Grumman F-14 combat aircraft at a time when that company desperately needed foreign sales to bolster the program. And the Shah put his U.S.-supplied weapons to use, too, helping, for instance, to put down an anti-government uprising in nearby Oman (a short skip across the Persian Gulf), while repressing his own population at the same time.

In the Nixon years, Saudi Arabia, too, became a major weapons client of Washington, not so much because it feared its regional neighbors then, but because it had seemingly limitless oil funds to subsidize U.S. weapons makers at a time when the Pentagon budget was beginning to be reduced. In addition, Saudi sales helped recoup some of the revenue streaming out of the U.S. to pay for higher energy prices exacted by the newly formed OPEC oil cartel. It was a process then quaintly known as “recycling petrodollars.”

The Carter Years and the Quest for Restraint

The freewheeling arms trade of the Nixon years eventually prompted a backlash. In 1976, for the first (and last) time, a presidential candidate — Jimmy Carter — made reining in the arms trade a central theme of his 1976 campaign for the White House. He called for imposing greater human-rights scrutiny on arms exports, reducing the total volume of arms transfers, and initiating talks with the Soviet Union on curbing sales to regions of tension like the Middle East.

Meanwhile, members of Congress, led by Democratic Senators Gaylord Nelson and Hubert Humphrey, felt that it was long past time for Capitol Hill to have a role in decision-making when it came to weapons sales. Too often Congressional representatives found out about major deals only by reading news reports in the papers long after such matters had been settled. Among the major concerns driving their actions: the Nixon-era surge of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, then still an avowed adversary of Israel; the use of U.S.-supplied weapons by both sides in the Greek-Turkish conflict over the island of Cyprus; and covert sales to extremist right-wing forces in southern Africa, notably the South African-backed Union for the Total Independence of Angola. The answer was the passage of the Arms Export Control Act of 1978, which required that Congress be notified of any major sales in advance and asserted that it had the power to veto any of them viewed as dangerous or unnecessary.

As it happened, though, neither President Carter’s initiative nor the new legislation put a significant dent in such arms trafficking. In the end, for instance, Carter decided to exempt the Shah’s Iran from serious human-rights strictures and his hardline national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, undercut those talks with the Soviet Union on reducing arms sales.

Carter also wanted to get the new Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) he established — which eventually morphed into the U.S. Central Command — access to military bases in the Persian Gulf region and was willing to use arms deals to do so. The RDF was to be the centerpiece of the Carter Doctrine, a response to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Shah of Iran. As the president made clear in his 1980 State of the Union address: “An attempt by any outside forces to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States. It will be repelled by use of any means necessary, including the use of force.” Selling arms in the region would prove a central pillar of his new doctrine.

Meanwhile, most major sales continued to sail through Congress with barely a discouraging word.

Who Armed Saddam Hussein?

While the volume of those arms sales didn’t spike dramatically under President Ronald Reagan, his determination to weaponize anti-communist “freedom fighters” from Afghanistan to Nicaragua sparked the Iran-Contra scandal. At its heart lay a bizarre and elaborate covert effort led by National Security Council staff member Oliver North and a band of shadowy middlemen to supply U.S. weapons to the hostile regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. The hope was to gain Tehran’s help in freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon. North and company then used the proceeds from those sales to arm anti-government Contra rebels in Nicaragua in violation of an explicit Congressional ban on such aid.

Worse yet, the Reagan administration transferred arms and provided training to extremist mujahedeen factions in Afghanistan, acts which would, in the end, help arm groups and individuals that later formed al-Qaeda (and similar groups). That would, of course, prove a colossal example of the kind of blowback that unrestricted arms trading too often generates.

Even as the exposure of North’s operation highlighted U.S. arms transfers to Iran, the Reagan administration and the following one of President George H.W. Bush would directly and indirectly supply nearly half a billion dollars worth of arms and arms-making technology to Iran’s sworn enemy, Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein. Those arms would bolster Saddam’s regime both in its war with Iran in the 1980s and in its 1991 invasion of Kuwait that led to Washington’s first Gulf War. The U.S. was admittedly hardly alone in fueling the buildup of the Iraqi military. All five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the U.S., the Soviet Union, France, the United Kingdom, and China) provided weapons or weapons technology to that country in the run-up to its intervention in Kuwait.

The embarrassment and public criticism generated by the revelation that the U.S. and other major suppliers had helped arm the Iraqi military created a new opening for restraint. Leaders in the U.S., Great Britain, and other arms-trading nations pledged to do better in the future by increasing information about and scrutiny of their sales to the region. This resulted in two main initiatives: the United Nations arms trade register, where member states were urged to voluntarily report their arms imports and exports, and talks among those five Security Council members (the largest suppliers of weapons to the Middle East) on limiting arms sales to the region.

However, the P-5 talks, as they were called, quickly fell apart when China decided to sell a medium-range missile system to Saudi Arabia and President Bill Clinton’s administration began making new regional weapons deals at a pace of more than $1 billion per month while negotiations were underway. The other suppliers concluded that the Clinton arms surge violated the spirit of the talks, which soon collapsed, leading in the presidency of George W. Bush to a whole new Iraqi debacle.

The most important series of arms deals during the George W. Bush years involved the training and equipping of the Iraqi military in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But $25 billion in U.S. arms and training was not enough to create a force capable of defeating the modestly armed militants of ISIS, when they swept into northern Iraq in 2014 and captured large swaths of territory and major cities, including Mosul. Iraqi security forces, short on food and equipment due to corruption and incompetence, were also short on morale, and in some cases virtually abandoned their posts (and U.S. weaponry) in the face of those ISIS attacks.

The Addiction Continues

Donald Trump has carried on the practice of offering weaponry in quantity to allies in the Middle East, especially the Saudis, though his major rationale for the deals is to generate domestic jobs and revenues for the major weapons contractors. In fact, investing money and effort in almost anything else, from infrastructure to renewable energy technologies, would produce more jobs in the U.S. No matter though, the beat just goes on.

One notable development of the Trump years has been a revived Congressional interest in curbing weapons sales, with a particular focus on ending support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. (Watching Turkish and Kurdish forces face off, each armed in a major way by the U.S., should certainly add to that desire.) Under the leadership of Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA), Congress has voted to block bomb sales and other forms of military support for Saudi Arabia, only to have their efforts vetoed by President Trump, that country’s main protector in Washington. Still, congressional action on Saudi sales has been unprecedented in its persistence and scope. It may yet prevail, if a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020. After all, every one of the major presidential contenders has pledged to end arms sales that support the Saudi war effort in Yemen.

Such deals with Saudi Arabia and other Mideast states may be hugely popular with the companies that profit from the trade, but the vast majority of Americans oppose runaway arms trading on the sensible grounds that it makes the world less safe. The question now is: Will Congress play a greater role in attempting to block such weapons deals with the Saudis and human-rights abusers or will America’s weapons-sales addiction and its monopoly position in the Middle Eastern arms trade simply continue, setting the stage for future disasters of every sort?

This story first appeared on TomDispatch.

The post America’s Arms Sales Addiction appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Christianity is the Religion of Imperialism

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Saba Mahmood is a very talented scholar who has assimilated a post-colonial sensibility. She has learned to look at the world through the eyes of those who have been the pedagogical objects of European colonialism. The literature on Orientalism is vast; and the evidence suggests that Europe cannot easily shake off the deep-seated assumption that its way of life and scholarly products are the Archimedean point for comprehending the entire world. Tomoko Masuzawa (The invention of world religions [2005]) demonstrated provocatively that the idea of “world religion” is an intellectual construction that implicitly assumes that Christianity is the only universal religion that breaks free from locale and particularity.

Even in its secular modern form, it is supposed to be superior to all other ways of life, suffused as they are by a non-Christian religion. Mahmood (“Can secularism be Other-wise? In M. Warner, J. VanAntwerpen and C. Calhoun [Eds.]. Varieties of secularism in the secular age [2010]) begins her critical questioning of Taylor’s A secular age (2007) by declaring that he “delineates his object of study: a coherent religious tradition, coextensive with a spatial geography, whose historical unfolding can be plotted without accounting for non-Christian religious traditions that have coexisted within that very space of ‘Latin Christendom’” (p. 285).

Mahmood raises two salient points. For one thing, Latin Christendom is not as homogenous as Taylor makes out and, secondly, it is not understandable without grasping its encounters with others in new worlds. “These encounters,” she observes, “did not simply leave Christianity untouched but transformed it from within, a transformation that should be internal to any self-understanding of Christianity. Omission of this story is akin to the omission of the history of slavery and colonialism from accounts of post-Enlightenment modernity—an omission that enables a progressivist notion of history and normative claims about who is qualified to be ‘modern’ or ‘civilized’” (p. 286). This is devastating and intriguing commentary.

Many thoughts are now triggered. Early Christianity (embodied in St. Paul) shapes its self-understanding in relation to the Jewish and pagan other. Over time, its apologetics take form in the often violent encounter with Islam (as well as receiving Aristotle) through the medieval period. When Europe ventures out to colonize the world, its own self-understanding is imbricated with its sense of civilizational superiority. That is, Christianity becomes yoked to its twin: civilization. One cannot have one without the other. To become Christian is to be civilized (in sensibility and moral outlook). But if we reject the idea that Christianity is a universal essence that floats above history and culture, we can see the power and impact of Mahmood’s critical insights. The iconic French explorer Jacques Cartier (who arrived in Canada in 1534) naturally assumed that Catholic Christendom ought to be extended to the entire world. He was relatively unaffected by the dogmatism of the counter-reformation and the new rationalism. His mystical faith made little distinction between natural and supernatural worlds.

Although this latter belief placed him on common ground with native peoples, he had “no doubt that the line between France and Canada, between civilization and savagery, was sharply drawn and that civilization was on the march” (R. Cook, “Introduction.” In H.P. Biggar, The voyages of Jacques Cartier [1993], p. xv). Cartier could not conceive of “equal and different.” The native people he encountered had no government and no culture or religion to speak of, so Cartier simply assumed that he had the right to claim the land for France. He had the right to seize the land from native peoples and protect and promote “Catholicism against the threat of ‘wicked Lutherans, apostates, and imitators of Mahomet’ and to ‘these lands of yours,’ ‘your possessions,’ and ‘those lands and territories of yours’” (as cited, Cook, 1993, p. 38).

Explorers like Columbus and Cartier did not see who and what was before them; the discordance between what was before them and their mental categories opened the door for new ways of seeing and being in the world. But even through European Christendom was fracturing irrevocably, the Christian cosmography did not yet allow for a radical acceptance of the other. Indeed, we would have to await the fullness of the scientific revolution and the blooming of the enlightenment—as well as significant resistance from those deemed as objects of Euro-pedagogy—to accomplish the corrosion of Euro-superiority and deepen its self-critique.

Mahmood’s powerful core idea is that Christianity’s self-understanding was increasingly shaped by its “enmeshment in an imperial world order” (p. 287). Missionary work, then, was “important to developments within Christianity and to many of the central ideas and institutions of Latin Christendom” (ibid.). Mahmood points out that missionaries shaped educational systems, bringing in forms of western-styled rationalism and ways of thinking about the world. Mahmood states that in the period from 1858-1914, the zenith of colonial power, every corner of the globe was penetrated by Christian missions. “Importantly, these missions did not simply pave the way for colonial rule (as if often noted) but played a crucial role in shaping and redefining modern Christianity to fit the requirements of an emergent liberal social and political order in Europe” (p. 287).

In a sense, western Imperialism empties out the primal message of Christianity, replacing the content with core values and practices of Euro-centric notions of superiority and rationality. In Canada, the creation of residential schools was the instrument to empty Indigenous spirituality of its power and to fill the vacuum with new content, appropriate to the Native’s destined role as subordinate and deracinated humans.

For Mahmood, Taylor fails to “acknowledge the immense ideological force the ‘empirical history’ of Christianity commands in securing what constitutes as the properly religious and secular in the analytical domain” (p. 289). But this securing, Mahmood argues, comes at great cost. It is to “engage in a practice through which the ‘North Atlantic’ has historically secured its exceptionality—the simultaneous uniqueness and universality of its religious forms and the superiority of is civilization” (p. 290). Western secular modernity, then, retains traces of its Euro-Christian origins.

This latter phenomenon occurs, for example, in the way France’s arrogant understanding of the precise role any existing form of religion ought to play. The sovereignty of the secular state provisions the power to “regulate religious life through a variety of disciplinary practices that are political as well as ethical” (p. 293). We see this process played out in contemporary Quebec with its controversial Bill 21 which prohibits public servants from wearing religious headgear and other symbols.

“To inhabit this founding gesture uncritically (as Taylor does), by which the West consolidates its epistemic and historical privilege, is not simply to describe a discursive structure but to write from within its concepts and ambitions—one might even say to further its aims and presuppositions. The fact that Taylor sometimes inhabits this discourse ironically (evident in his acknowledgement of other possible accounts one could give of secularism) does not undermine the force of this discourse but only makes it more palatable to a post-imperialist audience” (ibid.).

This is tour de force criticism.

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Letting the Side Down: Prince Andrew, the Royal Family and Jeffrey Epstein

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Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The choking cloud of Jeffrey Epstein’s paedophilic legacy has been floating over the Atlantic for some time. It does its best (or worst) in matters of US and British celebrity, warts and all. It has not, for instance, exempted the British Royal Family, whose cupboard stocked with misbehaviours and raunchiness got just more crowded with the antics of the Duke of York.

Prince Andrew’s performance on Saturday on the BBC’s Newsnight was an object study of how not to self-exonerate. The prince had been thick with Epstein, though hardly a luminary when compared to that particularly chocked address book. The meetings between them were sufficiently frequent to warrant questions. Madeleine Aggeler reminds us: Mar-a-Lago in 2000; his presence at Epstein’s spacious abode in 2010; the foot massages from “two well-dressed Russian women” in 2013.

But when it came to alleged misdeeds, the prince can count himself high up in the rankings, with one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, adamant that she was forced when underage to have sex with the royal on three separate occasions.

In September, it became clear that the FBI was conducting an investigation into Prince Andrew’s Epstein link. As a member of the US Department of Justice revealed, “The US investigation is focusing on several potential victims in the hope that they can provide more details about Prince Andrew and his connection to the Epstein case.”

The level of Buckingham Palace’s seriousness regarding such claims is measured by the degree royal excursions are shortened. The palace has not been quite so sympathetic to Prince Andrew as they might, a point made by the shortening of a golf vacation in Spain over the summer.

Feeling some pressure to make a statement on the matter, the prince took the plunge with Newsnight. It became clear early on that levels of remorse were low. Knowing Epstein, for instance, had been a “useful” matter. “I wanted to know more about what was going on in the international business world, and so that was another reason for going there.” As for Epstein himself, the prince felt “regret that he quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming”.

Staying friends with Epstein despite his conviction did niggle Prince Andrew. He saw little trouble with those regular accusations of Epstein being a sex offender, but once the law had caught up with him, the prince had to “kick” himself “on a daily basis because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the Royal Family and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down, simple as that.” Trust a royal to deploy a sporting metaphor to paper over misdeeds.

Prince Andrew conceded making errors, but these were more in the case of being caught out. His visit to Epstein in New York in December 2010 had been advertised as their “breakup” meeting, as doing so by phone would have been a “chicken’s way of doing it”. This particular process seemed lengthy and luxuriant, taking four days and a dinner party. Put it down to convenience, explained Prince Andrew, a nice place to crash. Even better, put it down to a matter of honour: “I admit fully that my judgment was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable, but that’s just the way it is.”

As for Giuffre, the prince dug in. He had never met her, or at least never recalled doing so. An evening in March 2001 spent at the home of Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s girlfriend and able procurer-in-chief, had escaped his memory, despite a photograph showing the Royal arm clasping Giuffre’s waist. “I’ve said consistently and frequently that we never had any sort of sexual contact whatever. I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever.” That same royal could apparently bi-locate: while this kanoodling was supposedly taking place, he was at home with his family after a visit to the Pizza Express at Woking with daughter Beatrice.

In a darkly comical effort to sink Giuffre’s claims, notably one involving both dining and dancing at the Tramp Nightclub in London, Prince Andrew suggested a most curious alibi. Giuffre had recalled profuse sweating. Impossible, retorted the prince. “There’s a slight problem with the sweating because I have a peculiar medical condition which is that I don’t sweat or I didn’t sweat at the time and that was… was it… yes, I didn’t sweat at the time because I had suffered what I would describe as an overdose of adrenaline in the Falklands War when I was shot at”.

Such a specimen devoid of empathy impressed, albeit negatively, the Sunday Mirror. “No sweat… and no regret.” Read in a different way, Prince Andrew was being the consummate Britannic Royal: incapable of remorse or being flustered. In the face of such impropriety, the prince could summon smiles and even laugh, chided The Guardian.

That said, the prince’s sociopathic tendencies proved catching. Ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, only had praise for this man, an unusual species that combines honesty and “pure real truth”, remaining “steadfast and strong to their beliefs.” Perhaps her own degree of combination of pure real truth, with a pinch of honesty, could best be summed up by the assistance Epstein once gave her in the lean years: a gift of $15,000 to tie her over. That’s balance for you.

The post Letting the Side Down: Prince Andrew, the Royal Family and Jeffrey Epstein appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Open Letter to the People of Planet Earth

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Photograph Source: Jessie Eastland – CC BY-SA 4.0

The Galactic Gardeners’ Forum

This may not be the best time to contact you, but waiting may only make things worse.  Since we’re your first neighbors in the galaxy to make contact, we hope you’ll consider us a welcoming committee with a warning.  We’ve hacked into all your major channels of communication to transmit our message in every human language.  We do not want to go through “official channels” or speak only with your corrupt rulers.  We want our words to reach everyone.

We come from a remote handful of living planets and moons scattered across this galaxy.  We are a network of galactic gardeners who nurture life by sharing our stories, experiences, knowledge, and ideas.  We offer each other encouragement, constructive criticism, advice, and hard-won wisdom.  But unfortunately, the vast distance between our worlds deprives us of the joy of actually meeting face-to-face.  We’ve decided to contact you because we cherish life everywhere we find it—and life on your planet is in grave danger.

You inhabit an astounding planet.  It supports a living tapestry of great vibrancy and splendor.  We’ve witnessed Earth-life evolve for eons. Because you are such a young, impetuous species, we’ve refrained from contacting you.  We did not know how making contact would affect you, since your awareness remains fractured by conflicts between the powerful rich and the powerless poor; as well as between nations, races, and religions.  But we felt compelled to act because your carbon-addicted way of life has made you a threat to yourself and the magnificent biosphere that made you.

Your consciousness has yet to reach the level of holistic awareness and life-preserving empathy so essential for you to become a vital part of your biosphere’s immune system.  We hoped this was the path you were on since your ecological sciences and some of your spiritual beliefs extol the need for all humans to care for each other and your “Mother Earth.”

Unfortunately, your addiction to fossil fuels has thrown you way off course.  It has transformed you from potential healers into malignant parasites.  Earth is being ravaged by your self-destructive addiction to hydrocarbons.  We fear that if you don’t recover soon, you may not recover at all.

The members of our galactic forum have been around much longer than human beings.  Our common quest is to learn all we can about the life whose astounding variation is lightly sprinkled across our largely lifeless galaxy.  Some of us have helped revive our biospheres after geophysical catastrophes devastated them.  We see ourselves as gardeners, first responders, and trouble-shooters—an integral part of our biosphere’s immune system.  The commonwealth of knowledge we’ve gathered to keep our homelands habitable and healthy has deepened our friendships over time.

We’ve watched Earth-life rebound slowly after five major extinction episodes.  Asteroid collisions and abrupt geophysical fluctuations in Earth’s life-support systems caused those unavoidable calamities.  But this time things are different.  A sixth extinction episode now threatens Earth-life and this time we can speak with its cause—you.  We have never tried to do this before.  So we are not sure if contacting you can help avert ecocide and alter your self-destructive trajectory.  But, after some debate, we’ve decided that it probably can’t hurt to try.

When your ancestors discovered how to make use of Earth’s subterranean hydrocarbon deposits we weren’t sure what to think.  The optimists among us were not alarmed.  They argued that, whether you realized it or not, your combustion of fossil fuels could benefit Earth’s biosphere.  We knew Earth’s complex, uneven orbit was entering a cooling phase that would eventually bring about another ice age.  Our optimists hoped that humans would unconsciously counteract this planetary temperature drop by burning fossil fuels; thus sending some of the carbon sequestered under the Earth back into the atmosphere.  Some predicted that, as you used your scientific method and carbon-powered technologies to study Earth, your rudimentary biospheric awareness would improve dramatically.

However, the pessimists among us feared you were “playing with fire” because your consciousness was still so tribalized and consumed by conflicts over wealth and power.  Also, you did not yet realize the vital role carbon-based greenhouse gases play in regulating Earth’s climate.  Consequently, they worried you were unwittingly unleashing an enormous source of power that you weren’t prepared to use wisely.  Some predicted you’d behave like “kids in a candy store” and the pace of fossil fuel combustion would become so fast and furious it would drive Earth’s temperature abruptly in the opposite direction.

Unfortunately, they were right.  Even though you’ve gained enough knowledge to realize that fossil fuels can damage Earth’s biosphere and jeopardize your survival, you continue to burn more every year.  You’ve become chronically dependent on doing something very harmful to yourself and other Earthlings—in short, you have become addicted.  In the last 40 years, you’ve mainlined more fossil energy and resources than in your entire previous existence.  Your reckless hydrocarbon addiction is causing climate chaos and collapsing biodiversity.

Abrupt greenhouse gas oscillations were instrumental in all of Earth’s previous extinction episodes, yet they never flooded the atmosphere at this pace.  Earth’s atmosphere contains 32 percent more CO2 now than it did before you became industrial users.  As carbon-fueled machines plunder the planet to feed your addiction, the rest of life is perishing at an alarming rate.  You invade, poison, and decimate the habitats of other Earth dwellers to replace them with mega-cities, suburbs, highways, parking lots, industrial farms, feedlots, and factories.  While your population soars, other creatures are driven to extinction.  Ninety percent of all the remaining terrestrial vertebrates are the animals you breed in unnatural abundance to slaughter for food.

Your carbon addiction has left the Earth’s oceans in critical condition.  Petro-chemical water pollution from industrial agriculture generates vast oceanic dead zones so anoxic no life can survive.  Plastic wastes clog Earth’s oceans and soon will outweigh all marine life.  Worse yet, hydrocarbon combustion is raising sea levels, temperatures, and acidity.  Earth’s oceans have absorbed 90 percent of the excess heat and 30 percent of the extra CO2, which becomes carbonic acid in seawater.  Rising acidity is killing your planet’s coral reefs and the tiny plankton at the base of the marine food chain that produce one-third of Earth’s oxygen.  In the coming decades, ocean acidity may rise well beyond what most sea life can tolerate.

In sum, your addiction is pushing Earth toward the brink of a biological holocaust—an ecocide of planetary proportions.

We know you’ve heard these warnings from your scientists.  But carbon addiction cripples your capacity to heed their warnings.  Your rulers crave fossil energy to maintain their wealth and power; your media lives off the advertising profits of consumerized consumption; and your entire way of life would have to change drastically to avert disaster.  We believe your failure to act, and the ecocide that will result if you don’t, will be the direct result of your debilitating addiction to hydrocarbons.

We appreciate your predicament.  Some of us have wrestled with our own addictions.  Also, we have witnessed the planetary carnage inflicted by species whose cancerous growth went uncontrolled.  Unfortunately, these were not sentient creatures we could communicate with, like we can with you.  We know our dire warning may fall on deaf ears.  But perhaps it will make a difference.

Addiction is a curse that comes disguised as a blessing—a dangerous dependence masquerading as a beneficial bonanza.  The more you rely on it, the more pernicious it becomes.  By the time it reveals its destructive character, it has seized control of your life and warped your mind.  So breaking its death grip seems nearly impossible.

Hydrocarbon addiction is extremely insidious because it afflicts your entire species. Recognizing it is much harder when everyone is addicted.  When your entire society is built around a carbon-addicted lifestyle, it just seems normal.  The oddballs are the few who try to live off the fossil energy grid.

We understand why fossil fuels are so addictive.  Carbon-powered technologies allow you to do miraculous things.  You can talk with people around the planet and fly anywhere on Earth in a matter of hours.  You can eat food shipped from all over the world while machines do most of the farm work.  You can cook your meals, light and heat your homes, do your laundry, and bathe yourselves without ever having to collect and chop wood, haul buckets of water, make soap, or even start a fire.  With just a tank of gas, you can journey hundreds of miles in a few hours.  Before fossil fuels, not even your greatest kings had the power to do such things.  No wonder you call your addiction “progress.”

Carbon addiction has induced a state of delusional superiority and grandeur.  You even claim to “produce” the fossil energy that sunlight, ancient plant life, and Earth’s geological forces created long before you came along.  Instead of using this precious gift wisely, you’ve become seduced and enslaved by its powers.  Addiction has transformed you into a self-absorbed species surrounded by an artificial world of push-button technology, cars, plastic, and cement.

In your isolated, grandiose state of mind, you believe you are far more important than the rest of Earth-life.  You have lost all respect, empathy, or obligation to nurture the community of life that made you.  Instead, like desperate addicts, you kill each other with carbon-powered weapons over a vanishing supply of fossil fuels.  Then you use this energy to pillage the planet’s resources, turn them into commodities, consume them, and clog the planet with toxic waste.

You have lost your way.

Had your species been more mature and collectively conscious, perhaps you could have avoided carbon addiction.  Fossil fuels could have been used in moderation—frugally, equitably, peacefully, and wisely.  They could have improved everyone’s quality of life, making it easier and more rewarding for countless generations, with little damage to yourselves or the planet.  By minimizing life’s drudgeries, fossil energy could have afforded you with more time to pursue the endeavors that make life more joyful, creative, and purposeful, while enhancing your ability to nurture, heal, and protect the living planet that raised you.

But unfortunately, you became hooked on hydrocarbons at a vulnerable, adolescent stage.  Power-hungry nations and profit-driven corporations dominated your consciousness.  They had no interest in equity or moderation.  Fossil energy generated tremendous wealth and destructive power for them, made room for a growing middle class of comfortable consumers, but left most of you desperate and destitute…while trashing the planet and jeopardizing your survival for generations to come.

The heads of state and captains of industry who gained control over fossil energy—and all the weapons and technologies they devised to exploit them—behaved like clever, enterprising drug lords.  These carbon pushers tried to turn everyone into their addicted minions of avid consumers, loyal employees, and patriotic soldiers.  As fossil-fueled machinery replaced farmers, people were pushed off the land and onto the carbon grid where they spend their lives doing the mind-numbing, back-breaking jobs of tending and defending the bureaucratic-industrial machine.

So now your lives are utterly dependent on a life support system of fossil fuels for “national defense,” food, shelter, clothing, transportation, health care, communication, information, and entertainment.  Your high-tech, urbanized carbon cocoons isolate you from one another and the planet.  You’ve become so dazzled and captivated by the virtual worlds on your screens that you hardly notice your real world is dying.  Thus, few of you realize the extreme danger you’re in.

As a young sentient species, you have come to a do-or-die threshold in your life.  We would not bother to contact you now if we didn’t believe you may have the capacity to break your carbon chains, heal yourselves, and replenish the planet.  We decided to make contact now because we see that some of you are finally trying to resist and reverse your death spiral of dependence.  We applaud your courage.

Power will be decisive in the unfolding struggle over your future and the future of Earth-life.  The carbon pushers who plunder the planet and profit from your addiction are ruthless and cunning.  They will do everything in their power to crush your rebellion.  To succeed you must transform your emerging resistance into a massive global mutiny.

Mutiny is daunting and dangerous.  But even though the carbon-powered system you live in appears invincible, it is far more vulnerable than you think.  Soon major ecological catastrophes, energy famines, economic contractions, political conflicts, and resource wars will hammer its crumbling foundations.  Angry, desperate people will riot and rebel—but with what result?

As the system implodes and the carbon-induced delusion of endless growth reveals its lethal limitations, an addicted population will not automatically rise in mutiny.  People are too consumed by the demands, conveniences, and distractions of a petroleum-powered, media-hyped lifestyle.  Instead, many will zealously follow any populist pusher who promises to feed their addiction, restore growth and national greatness, and defeat their rivals for the Earth’s vanishing resources.

Those of you committed to preventing this carbon-addicted death spiral as soon as possible must become insurgent first responders.  You must treat every crisis as an opportunity to expose the carbon pushers’ lies; awaken people from their addicted delusions; and encourage them to recover by building safe, thriving, carbon-free communities all over the planet. Wherever your mutinies take power, you must redirect the vast wealth and energy used to finance wasteful opulence, militarism, and ecocidal pillage into human recovery and planetary restoration.

Your species faces the greatest challenge of its life.  You can live in a garden or die a graveyard.  You may succumb to your addiction, submit to the pushers, and spend your remaining years fighting over the ruins of depleted planet.  Or you may win the battle to heal yourselves and Mother Earth.  If you remain addicted and divided your mutiny is doomed and your fate is sealed.  But if you overcome your addiction; remove the pushers from power; and take up the challenge to become part of your planet’s immune system, we will welcome you with open arms.  We will gladly share all we’ve learned about nurturing, protecting, and enjoying life on a healthy biosphere.


Postscript to readers:  When I asked myself to imagine, “What would wiser, life-loving beings from distant biospheres say to us if they could?” I seriously underestimated how challenging it would be to grapple with this question.  The more I thought about, it the harder it became.  Give it a try.

The post Open Letter to the People of Planet Earth appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Democratic Party’s Missing Electoral College Game Plan

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Rule number one of politics:  The first step in exercising political power is to get elected.  Somewhere along the line the Democratic Party has forgotten this.  Why this is important is that right now it looks that Democrats are on the road to another 2020 presidential popular vote victory and a loss in the electoral college.  Simply put, the Democrats have no electoral college victory plan.

The reality is that  the only number that matters in US presidential politics is 270.  That is the number of electoral votes you need to  win.  US presidential elections are not really national popular votes; they are 50 separate state elections plus the  District of Columbia where in 49 instances the winner of the state’s popular vote nets the candidate the entire trove of its electoral votes.  The combination of  the electoral college and this winner-take-all structure means that effectively in 40 states the 2020 presidential election is over.  How New York, California, Massachusetts, Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma will vote is not in doubt.  The presidential candidates know this too.  The race for the White House comes down to a handful of swing states, prominent among them are Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  As Trump demonstrated in his 2016 Midwest strategy, winning them was key to his victory and had less than 90,000 votes flipped in them, Hillary Clinton would have won the electoral college victory and not simply the popular vote.

Political coalitions, like fences, are only as strong as the weakest link.  Democrats need a strategy to hold all the states they won in 2016 and then how to pick up Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin.  Yes, they could try to flip Arizona, Georgia, or Texas as some pipedreams hope for, but the reality is winning them is distant and difficult.  They key is flipping critical swing states.

What is interesting about these swing states is that their electorates are generally to the left of recent Republican Party presidential candidates and to the right of Democratic Party candidates.  In many ways they are states more centrist than the non-swing states, and certainly more in the middle compared to the overall Democratic Party base.

There are two ways to flip these  swing states.  One option is to move swing voters back to the Democrats.  But here what we know is that who is a swing voter is less and less likely to be someone who moves back and forth between voting Democratic or Republican and more so whether they swing into or out of voting.  Democrats did badly in 2016 because swing voters, especially suburban  females, stayed home or did not vote for them.  In 2018, those suburban females came out for Democrats.  Winning in 2020 is getting these women to vote.  What we know about these voters is that they are socially moderate to liberal but are not left of center.  This is a more centrist strategy.

Option two is moving voters who do not normally vote to show up.  Presumably these voters are more liberal as they constitute younger people, perhaps people of color.  These are the people who perhaps resonate with issues such mandatory Medicare for all.  These individuals are hard to motivate to vote and they may be a smaller percentage of the potential electorate in swing as opposed to non-swing states.

The point here is that a viable strategy for the Democrats to win the 2020 election relies upon them winning critical swing states, whether it is running more to the center or to the left.

Unfortunately, the debates so far, the 2020 primary and caucus schedule, and the candidate messages are setting the Democrats  up to fail.  Consider first recent polling data.  In critical states such as Michigan ,  Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin  mandatory Medicare for all is unpopular (or is divisive at best) despite the fact that nationally a majority of Democrats support it.  Nationally, only 41% support eliminating private insurance for a mandatory Medicare plan for all.   A pledge by Warren or Sanders to push for this as an issue may not play well in the swing states.

Two, the current so-called debate structure does not favor or emphasize winnability of Democrats in critical swing states.  Instead, its combination of popularity in national opinion polls and national fundraising keeps potential popular vote candidates alive but does little to winnow candidates to those who are viable in swing states.

Three, consider the primary and caucus schedule.  While arguably Iowa (February 3, caucus) and New Hampshire (February 11, primary) are swing states, the critical states of Michigan (March 10, )  Wisconsin (April 7), and Pennsylvania (April 28) come after the March 3, Super Tuesday which features 14 states and includes California and Texas.  Super Tuesday could well filter out candidates who could run well in swing states because of either the costs or ideological orientation of these 14.  Of these 14 states, arguably only Minnesota and Virginia are swing.  Running and winning the gauntlet of Super Tuesday does not mean one is prepared to win in the swing states that will decide the road to 270.

Perhaps the electoral college is unfair and needs to be eliminated or reformed.  But it is a reality at least for next year.  Democrats need a process that vets candidates and strategy to win the electoral college in 2020.  They do not have it.

The post The Democratic Party’s Missing Electoral College Game Plan appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Joe Biden’s AstroTurf Campaign

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Last week, I attended Joe Biden’s first rally in California since he launched his presidential campaign more than six months ago.

It was revealing.

The Biden for President campaign had been using social media and its email list in the Los Angeles area to urge attendance. Under sunny skies, near abundant free parking, the outdoor rally on the campus of LA’s Trade-Technical College offered a chance to hear the man widely heralded as the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

No more than 500 people showed up.

Admittedly, as an active Bernie Sanders supporter, I didn’t have high expectations. But what struck me about the rally went beyond the dismal turnout and the stale rhetoric from a corporate Democrat posing as a champion of working people.

Biden’s slow decline in polls is empirical, but what ails his campaign — as reflected in that California kickoff rally — is almost ineffable. Biden is a back-to-the-future product who often seems clueless about the present. In view of so many deep and widespread concerns, from income inequality to healthcare disparities to the climate emergency, his talking points are simply beside the point.

The Biden base has two main components: the corporate media outlets that routinely protect him from critical scrutiny, and the rich people who routinely infuse his lackluster campaign with cash. When and where he isn’t getting fuel from either component of that base, the campaign sputters.

Contrasts with the large and passionate rallies for Sanders and Elizabeth Warren could hardly be greater. Not coincidentally, those two candidates are glad to rely on large numbers of small donations, while Biden relies on small numbers of large donations.

Biden is so afraid of Democratic activists that — for the second time this year — he declined an invitation to join other candidates in speaking to a convention of the California Democratic Party. The latest convention heard from eight presidential candidates on Nov. 16, two days after Biden’s kickoff rally, no more than an hour’s drive away in Long Beach.

While careful to stay away from engaged grassroots Democrats, Biden made a beeline for wealthy donors immediately after his sparsely attended rally. First, he hurried over to a reception in West Los Angeles (tickets up to $1,000 each). Later that evening, a local TV station noted, Biden’s fundraising schedule took him to “the Pacific Palisades home of Rick Lynch, the owner of the entertainment marketing firm BLT Communications, and music video producer Lanette Phillips,” with tickets “priced at $500 and $2,800, the maximum individual contribution during the primary campaign.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that Biden “previously made eight fundraising trips to California since entering the race in late April, visiting at least once a month. He has headlined 21 fundraisers in the state, raising money at the homes of Hollywood executives, Silicon Valley tech leaders and other affluent Democrats.”

Among some who roll their eyes about Biden, a kind of conventional wisdom now says that he is sure to fade from contention. But — in the absence of comparable polling numbers from the numerous other corporate candidates in the race — the Biden campaign is likely to be the best bet for deep-pocketed political investors seeking to prevent the nomination of Sanders or Warren.

Biden’s decision last month to greenlight super PACs on his behalf has underscored just how eager he is to bankroll his AstroTurf campaign against grassroots progressives no matter what. As he said during an interview in January 2018, “you shouldn’t accept any money from a super PAC, because people can’t possibly trust you.” But ultimately, Biden doesn’t need people’s trust. He needs their acquiescence.

The post Joe Biden’s AstroTurf Campaign appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Health Care and “Head Taxes”: an Unhealthy Combination

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The divide in the health care policy debate couldn’t be any clearer. On one side: the Medicare for All proponents. On the other: the Obamacare with a Public Option proponents

Americans see the divide. But are we seeing the fundamental issues at play here? I don’t think so. We’ve been largely ignoring the huge historic contrast that separates these two rival approaches.

Let’s start with a point that economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, two of the world’s top inequality experts, have begun making of late: What we shell out for health care amounts to a tax just like any other. Most Americans pay roughly the same amount of this health care “tax.” If you make $60,000 a year, you’ll pay the same premiums on a standard health insurance policy as someone who makes $6,000,000 a year.

Note that not all Americans face this health care tax. Poorer Americans who qualify for Medicaid don’t pay the full premium “tax,” and rich American families might pay more than middle-class families for health care, but only if they choose to add extras services into their insurance. The reality we all face: For the same coverage, all Americans other than the poor currently pay the same price.

The Obamacare with a Public Option plans maintain this structure. In tax parlance, this is akin to a “head tax,” a system under which all taxpayers pay the same dollar amount of tax, regardless of their means. Whether you rate as Joe Six-Pack or a corporate titan, you bear the same head tax burden.

I first learned about head tax systems years ago as a young tax lawyer. A crazy shareholder of one of my law firm’s corporate clients was challenging the constitutionality of the corporate income tax. I had the task of researching the legislative history of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, the amendment that blesses the idea of an income tax.


The Nordics Show that Equality Works

The income tax needed blessing because the Constitution, as originally written, requires that any direct tax be apportioned among the states, according to population. “Capitation” taxes — the phrasing the Constitution uses to refer to head taxes — meet this requirement. If applied uniformly, they satisfy the requirement that a direct tax be apportioned by population.

Income taxes — levies based on how much individuals make — don’t satisfy this requirement, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled an income tax enacted in 1894 unconstitutional on just this basis. The subsequent public furor over that court decision would focus widespread attention on the absurd unfairness of a head tax, under which a “hod carrier” would pay the same tax as a President.

Eventually, the American people spoke out loud enough to convince Congress and state legislators that a tax levied according to income would always be infinitely fairer than a head tax. In 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment became part of the U.S Constitution.

In the over a century since, Americans have borne the cost of all public goods — from military defense to public education — according to our ability to pay. The progressivity of our tax system has certainly flattened in recent years, but we still adhere to the basic principle that the dollar amount of people’s tax burden should be at least proportional to their means.

Except when it comes to health care. There, the head tax system reigns supreme. And it’s killing us. In some cases, literally.

Medicare for All plans would discard the health care head tax system in favor of one that embraces the principle of proportionality. They would largely fund American health care through the nation’s already existing progressive income tax. The greater your income under these plans, the greater share of health care costs you would bear.

Obamacare with a Public Option plans, by contrast, would not alter our current head tax system for health care. In fact, the “public option” wording here may be misleading. Yes, the insurance provider under a public option — the federal government — would be a public entity. But the premiums would remain essentially private. All individuals, except the poorest Americans, would bear their own costs, regardless of the insurance provider, public or private, they choose.

In effect, Medicare for All proponents would abolish the system where Joe Six-Pack pays the same tax as Jeff Bezos. Obamacare with a Public Option proponents would keep it.

Remarkably enough, millions of Joe Six-Packs have been content to pay the same health care tax as Jeff Bezos. But change may be in the wind. Remember, hod carriers once paid the same tax as Presidents.

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The Right to Vote Should not Fall Victim to Partisan Battles

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The right to vote is fundamental to any democracy. Protecting that right — and making it easier to exercise it — ought to be a priority across partisan lines.

Instead, in states across the country — particularly in the five years since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act — it has become a pitched battle.

The basic reality is clear: Republicans, increasingly a party of older, white voters, have chosen not to reach out to Hispanics, African Americans or the young, but instead seek ways to make it harder for them to vote — or for their votes to count. Backed by right-wing think tanks, Republican state legislators and governors push a slew of measures to suppress the vote of targeted populations. These are increasingly challenged in courts and protested on the streets.

Alabama, for example, is a state that is over one-fourth African American. Yet it has had all white appellate court justices for a quarter-century. This was locked in by requiring at-large statewide elections for both appellate and Supreme Court judges instead of district elections where African American candidates would have a good chance of being elected in some areas. This practice — followed in Texas against Hispanic voters — is now being challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP.

At-large elections are only one of the tactics tried by the Republican power structure in Alabama.

Since the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision that ended federal pre-approval of voting rights changes, Alabama has passed measures to require a photo ID to vote while seeking to close driver’s license offices disproportionately in black areas. They sought to impose a “proof of citizenship” mandate to register to vote in state and local elections. Dozens of polling places were closed, disproportionately in areas with large African American populations. Get-out-the-vote efforts were made more difficult with the passage of a ban on financial transfers from one PAC to another, an act aimed at the leading organizations working on African American turnout, which got much of their revenue from other political entities. Alabama has also begun the process of purging the voting rolls. When the state legislature passed a measure giving felons who had served their sentences the right to vote, the state government refused to do anything to inform people that their rights had been restored. Some of these measures have been stalled by judicial decisions, but the effort to constrict the vote continues.

Across the country, instead of making voter registration automatic and adopting same-day registration, Republican-led states are making registration harder. Instead of expanding days to vote, they are limiting them. Instead of encouraging voter registration drives, they are adopting various measures to criminalize the activities of voter registration groups. Partisan gerrymandering gets ever more sophisticated. Hackable voting machines pose a true threat of even getting an honest count. Closing polling stations forces some — again, disproportionately those from minority or poor districts —to travel longer and wait in long lines to vote.

The only way to counter these measures is massive citizen mobilization — and to elect leaders who will make the right to vote a priority. In 2018, efforts to restrict the right to vote overwhelmed a voter turnout that was the highest since 1914. In 2020, with the fundamental direction of the country at stake, another record turnout is vital. Upon gaining the majority in the House of Representatives in 2018, Democrats immediately passed HR 1, the most extensive election and democracy reform bill since the Voting Rights Act. Among other things, it would adopt same-day voter registration, limit the role of big money in elections, curb political gerrymanders and much more. That bill sits on the desk of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who won’t even allow it to come to a vote.

If voters overcome the tricks and traps designed to make voting difficult and vote in large numbers in 2020, fundamental democratic reform is teed up to move.


The post The Right to Vote Should not Fall Victim to Partisan Battles appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Billionaires and Corporations Love Anti-SLAPP Laws, Why Does John Oliver?

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John Oliver recently dedicated his HBO show to why we need a federal anti-SLAPP law. Like most of his stuff, the episode was witty and engaging. It was also sloppy, thoughtless and poorly researched. From now on, I’ll wonder whether I can trust anything he says.

An anti-SLAPP motion is a powerful legal maneuver available to defendants against libel and defamation lawsuits. In the 27 states that have them, the filing of an anti-SLAPP motion brings everything to a halt until a judge — not a jury — decides various issues about a case. Does it involve a matter of public interest? Is there a chance the case would succeed at trial? If the judge rules for the defense, the case is thrown out and the plaintiff pays the defendant’s legal fees.

Liberals and conservatives alike like anti-SLAPP. Supporters say they protect activists, whistleblowers and average individuals from being bankrupted if they get sued by deep-pocketed corporations and wealthy individuals who use the courts to harass their victims. In his show Oliver described his experience being sued by a coal baron who wanted to chill criticism. HBO, Oliver said, spent $200,000 to defend him because the suit was filed in a state without anti-SLAPP.

It’s easy to see why someone like Oliver, targeted by a frivolous defamation claim designed to tie him up in court and waste his employer’s lucre, would yearn for a federal anti-SLAPP law. His must have been a frustrating experience.

There is, however, an inherent design flaw in anti-SLAPP: the United States Constitution. Under the equal protection clause, you can’t give rights to one class of defendant and not another. You can’t limit anti-SLAPP protections to impecunious individuals and small businesses; rich people and giant corporations have to get the same legal prerogatives.

Which is what has been happening. Billionaires and corporate conglomerates use anti-SLAPP to crush legitimate libel and defamation lawsuits filed by ordinary individuals and whistleblowers. Happens a lot. Why don’t you hear about these cases? Because media companies love, love, love anti-SLAPP.

In 2016 The National Enquirer published a cover story about fitness headlined: “Richard Simmons: He’s Now a Woman.” He wasn’t. “Secret Boob & Castration Surgery,” the tabloid screamed, “Yes, This Photo Shoot Is Real!” It wasn’t. The cover photo of “transwoman” Simmons was Photoshopped.

Thanks to anti-SLAPP, what should have been an open-and-shut defamation case turned a travesty of justice into a farce. While acknowledging that the paper lied about Simmons, Los Angeles judge said that letting Simmons’ case go forward was tantamount to saying that it is bad to be trans. Simmons was an innocent victim and the Enquirer knowingly lied. Yet the court ordered him to pay American Media, owner of the paper, $130,000 in legal fees. So much for anti-SLAPP as being a tool for the little guy! AMI brought in $310 million in revenues last year.

In 2018 MSNBC host Joy Reid [disclosure: I have appeared on Reid’s show] retweeted a photo of a Trump supporter yelling at a high school student at a Simi Valley, California city council meeting. Reid added the following text: “He showed up to rally to defend immigrants…She showed up too, in her MAGA hat, and screamed, ‘You are going to be the first deported’…’dirty Mexican!’ He is 14 years old. She is an adult. Make the picture black and white and it could be the 1950s and the desegregation of a school. Hate is real, y’all. It hasn’t even really gone away.”

Hate is real. The story was not. The kid said that Roslyn La Liberte, the woman in the photo, was trying to keep things “civil.” She never said that stuff.

La Liberte’s son emailed to inform Reid of the truth. Reid nevertheless reposted the image, this time alongside a black-and-white image of pro-segregation protesters in Little Rock in 1957 with this caption: “It was inevitable that this image would be made. It’s also easy to look at old black and white photos and think: I can’t believe that person screaming at a child, with their face twisted in rage, is real. B[ut] everyone one of them were. History sometimes repeats. And it is full of rage.”

La Liberte was wronged. Rather than settle or plead guilty, MSNBC’s lawyers hit the working grandmother with an anti-SLAPP motion. Ignoring the fact that Reid’s posts easily qualify under as “reckless disregard for the truth” under the landmark libel case Sullivan v. New York Times (1964), the judge wallowed in pro-corporate sophistry: “the juxtaposition of the photographs does not ‘make clear that [La Liberte] is alleged to have engaged in specific racist conduct akin to that demonstrated during desegregation.’” La Liberte’s case was thrown out, denying her justice. Adding injury to insult, she has to pay MSNBC’s legal fees. MSNBC is owned by NBC Universal, a $203 billion company.

President Trump used anti-SLAPP against Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who sued him for calling her a liar. Trump is worth $3 billion. Daniels owes him $293,000 for his legal fees.

My readers are familiar with my case against the Los Angeles Times. No one disputes the fact that they lied about me, fired me as a favor to the LAPD (which owned them at the time) and tried to destroy my journalistic reputation in order to send a chilling message to journalists who criticize the police. My anti-SLAPP case is still working its way through the court system—and things currently look good—but there is already a $330,000 judgment against me. They want me to pay that money to two billionaires, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and LA schools superintendent and former Times publisher Austin Beutner, with a combined net worth of $16 billion.

Bill Cosby has been using the anti-SLAPP statute against his rape victims.

Faced with these cases, anti-SLAPP apologists sometimes say that the law isn’t bad, that it is simply being abused. If a law is written in such a way that it can be routinely abused, it is bad by definition.

The post Billionaires and Corporations Love Anti-SLAPP Laws, Why Does John Oliver? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

One Pound Capitalism, a Pinch of Democracy, and an Impeachment

Counterpunch Articles -

(includes a recipe brought to you by Discomfort Foods)

In February 2018 on Fox News, Laura Ingraham ended her interview with former CIA director James Woolsey by asking him if the United States continues to “mess around in other people’s elections.” To which Woolsey, as though tasting the tasty lie in his mouth, replied:

“Welllllllll aummmm yum yum yum yum yum… only for a very good cause, in the interest of democracy.”

The United States has been interfering in foreign elections since World War II. And our government’s foreign policy has always been about sabotaging other people’s lives and their environment in furtherance of its geopolitical interests. Policy has not been aimed at furthering a “good cause,” and it certainly has not been “in the interest of democracy.”

For example, in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, the Bush Administration and the EU pumped millions of dollars into Fatah’s campaign to ensure its victory. Fatah lost that election and Hamas won. And before the dust had settled on that defeat of US meddling, the Bush administration had already started making plans to overthrow the democratically elected Hamas government.

In a 2008 investigative article, Vanity Fair reported that it had “obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan [a Fatah strongman], and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power.”

The assault on Gaza has not waned. While we here in the U.S. were glued to our screens watching the first day of impeachment hearings looking into Trumpian extortion aimed at manipulating the 2020 election, news was coming in from Gaza of Israeli forces killing dozens including 7-year-old Amir Rafat Mohammad Ayad.

Im-Peach-Mint Quid Pro Quobbler

(This is an updated version of an old-fashioned recipe for peach cobbler)

Quobbler filling ingredients:

1.687 cups warm water

4 teaspoons imli (tamarind)

1 teaspoon red chilli powder

4.375 cups, peeled and sliced peaches

1 teaspoon salt

Quobbler batter ingredients:

6 tablespoons butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup milk

Served with:

fresh mint leaves

vanilla ice cream or whipped cream

(cooking directions at the end of article)

Why I chose these ingredients in their respective measurements for the recipe design:

1.687 cups water equals 81 teaspoons, which conveys the findings of the Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong, Dov Levin, who revealed that between 1946 and 2000 the United States participated in 81 “partisan electoral interventions” around the world. This of course does not include the country’s numerous coups and invasions.

The original recipe called for 3/4 cup granulated sugar. I substituted that with 4 teaspoons imli (tamarind) to convey the fact that this is the fourth impeachment hearing in the country’s history. I chose imli because the first two letters ‘im’ conveniently prefix peach; as a Hindi word, it symbolizes the United States’ own meddling in foreign elections past, present and future; and the imli fruit has a very sour taste, communicating the tart irony of today’s politics: that in the crimes under examination in the impeachment hearings, America finds itself a victim at home of the same kinds of crimes it has committed abroad.

4.375 cups of peaches equals about 70 tablespoons, which in the recipe conveys the roughly 70 years that the U.S. has spent interfering in other people’s elections.

The sweet quobbler batter making up the base remains true to the classic cobbler recipe, except I substituted granulated sugar with brown sugar to emphasize how almost always it’s the non-white people of this world who pay the price for our government’s intrigues. While baking in the oven, you can see the base slowly enveloping the im-peach filling, much like the predicament of our own ill-gotten and directly threatened democracy that is being artificially held together by a fake sense of sweet freedom.

What started off as Russiagate has quickly evolved into Ukrainegate, so I added a teaspoon each of chili powder and salt and a few sprigs of fresh green mint leaves to add a few more articles of tongue-twisting tastes to challenge the status quobbler.

We had some friends over for dinner yesterday and I served them the quobbler for dessert as we played some gin rummy. And here are some reactions I got:

“It challenges the senses. Pushes you into unchartered territory. It doesn’t coincide with any expectations. Unfamiliar.”

“The heat (from the chilly powder) creeps up on you. Metaphorically speaking, we keep going through this impeachment thing and it keeps getting hotter and hotter in your throat.”

Cooking directions:

Soak the imli in the warm water for about 1/2 hour. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, squeeze as much of the pulp as possible out into the water. Pour the imli water along with the chili powder into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium low and cook (about 40 minutes), stirring occasionally till the sauce thickens and measures 1/4 cup.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Put the imli sauce, sliced peaches and salt in a saucepan and cook on medium-high heat for about two minutes, stirring.

Cut the butter into small pieces and add to a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Place the dish in the oven till the butter melts. Remove from oven.

In a bowl combine the flour, baking powder and sugar. Stir in the milk till just combined. Pour this mixture into the baking dish over the butter and spread it evenly to cover the bottom of the dish.

Spoon the peaches over the batter and bake for 35-40 minutes. Decorate with mint leaves and serve warm with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream.

Enjoy during the remainder of the Im-Peach-Mint hearings with friends and family.

Bon appétit!

The post One Pound Capitalism, a Pinch of Democracy, and an Impeachment appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Voters Say They Want a Third Party, They Should Vote Accordingly

Counterpunch Articles -

According to an October Rasmussen poll, 38% of likely voters say they intend to vote for “someone other than President Trump or the Democratic presidential nominee” in the 2020 US presidential election.

In a three-way presidential race, 38% constitutes a winning plurality, assuming it’s distributed among the states such that the Electoral College outcome reflects it.

As a long-time activist in America’s largest “third” political party, the Libertarian Party, I’m prone to find that number encouraging.

On the other hand, I’ve seen numbers like this before and I’ve watched them not pan out on election day. Here’s why:

Pluralities or majorities of independent, “swing,” and even Democratic and Republican voters always respond positively to polls asking them, generically, about the desirability of a “third party” in American politics.

But generically and specifically are two different animals.

America already has numerous “third parties.” In addition to the Libertarians, we have the Greens, the Constitution Party, and a wide assortment of ideological parties across the spectrum from openly socialist to openly fascist. Even the Prohibition Party, founded in 1869, still nominates a presidential slate every four years.

But most voters who perennially say they don’t want a Democrat or Republican for president next time don’t agree on a specific alternative. They either vote for the Democrat or Republican for president, or just stay home, when election day rolls around.

Even in 2016, when the “major” parties each chose widely disliked and distrusted presidential candidates, only about 5% of those who voted strayed outside the major party fold.

Why don’t third party candidates do well, especially at the presidential level? A number of factors play into the poor results.

One is that third party candidates, already far out-spent by the Democrats and Republicans, have to spend lots of the money they raise just getting on ballots. Their actual campaign budgets amount to rounding errors compared to those of their major party opponents. Even those who might prefer a mouse to a whirlwind have trouble hearing the offerings of the former over the din of the latter.

Another is a  “fear factor,” naturally occurring but  energetically encouraged and cultivated by the big players. Don’t “spoil” the election. Vote against the major party candidate you fear most, rather than for the minor party candidate you like best. Your only “real” alternative is “the lesser evil.”

A third problem is bad voting systems. Ranked choice voting would allow those fearful voters to choose the candidates they prefer while remaining confident that if their first choices failed, their second choices wouldn’t be eliminated.

Next year, voters will be told by the major parties that they must choose either four more years of the banana republicanism they chose in 2016, or a buffet of microwaved and re-heated 50- and 80-year old New Deal and Great Society programs doused with supposedly “progressive” sriracha.

That won’t be the case. Third party options will likely be on offer in all 50 states.  The 38% of voters who claim to want one should actually choose one instead of finding reasons not to.


The post Voters Say They Want a Third Party, They Should Vote Accordingly appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Overtunring WI v. Yoder: Making Education a Federal Right for All Children (and Bringing the MeToo Movement to Fundamentalist Communities)

Counterpunch Articles -

 “Schpring! Schpring zu de velschken feldt!” shouted one of the Amish parents gathered to see their children off for their first day in an Iowa state or “English” school. The year was 1965, the bus had just arrived and the parent was urging the kids to, “Run! Run to the cornfields!” A photographer present to document the event snapped the photo that went viral, leading to national sympathy for the Amish who wished to preserve their traditional way of life which included no more than eight years of education in one of their own one-room schoolhouses.

The event led to the highlighting of issues that purported to be about religious freedom but which, according to Torah Bontrager, author of An Amish Girl in Manhattan, were in fact more about exploitation. Bontrager, who determined at the age of eleven to leave behind her family and the only way of life she’d ever known, finally escaped the community in the middle of the night when she was fifteen.

What ensued was anything but light and freedom. Her first “savior” was her formerly Amish uncle, Harvey Bell “(last known location: Alder or Sheridan, Montana, and/or Alaska), who raped me repeatedly. The day after the first night, he bought my silence with a death threat.” When, seeking refuge from that nightmare, she appealed to a second uncle, “Enos Bontrager (last known location: Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; prior location: Friesland, Wisconsin; place of business: Pride Originals Furniture Company, Cambria, Wisconsin)” he raped her as well.

Bontrager went on to earn degrees not only from high school but also from Columbia University, where she recently hosted a conference entitled Overturning WI. v. Yoder: Making Education a Federal Right for All Children. The name alludes to the 1972 Supreme Court case that arose out of the cornfields where those Amish children (one of whom was another of Bontrager’s uncles) had fled the state authorities in 1965. Jonas Yoder was a father fighting for the right to educate his children in the Amish tradition which ended at the eighth grade. In fact, Bontrager points out, it was not secular education that offended him. He himself had received instruction at the hands of an “English,” ie non-Amish teacher. His ire rose from the number of years that the state insisted on depriving him of the free labor of his children on the farm.

None of this was made obvious to the Supreme Court, however, and the Amish were permitted, in the sui generis case, to carry on with their idiosyncratic form of education, under the impression that they were a gentle, harmless people whose way of life needed to be preserved.

In researching a way to overturn the decision for the sake of other children who might be interested in the science, civics, world history, literature, music and sex education that the Amish system overlooks, Bontrager learned that the United States Constitution does not guarantee a right to education. However, the world has changed since 1972. Although the majority opinion in Yoder described the ways in which the Amish, even with their limited education, were productive members of society, the talk by Michael Rebell, Executive Director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University and the Keynote Speaker at the conference, brought out the need for today’s Amish to understand technology and issues such as climate change and civics in order to exercise their constitutional rights of voting and even freedom of speech.

The case is of interest not only to Amish. Other panelists at the conference included Noura Embabi, Co-founder, An-Nas: Humanists Rising from Muslim Communities; Dr. Mica McGriggs, who was raised in the Mormon church; Naftuli Moster, Executive Director, YAFFED (Youth Advocates for Fair Education) who was raised as a Hasidic Jew; and Carrie Pritt, a student of philosophy at Princeton University who was raised in a fundamentalist home that belonged to what is sometimes referred to as the Quiverfull movement.

Another speaker at the conference was a social worker appearing under a pseudonym because of threats on her life for bringing to light several instances of rape that she had encountered in the Amish community. According to Bontrager and others, whenever the police are summoned to deal with these cases, they defer to the authorities of the Amish church. The bishops, in turn, routinely blame the frequently underage girls for tempting the men. In a case where a father raped his daughters, they didn’t have to. His wife “knew” the fault lay with her for not adequately performing her conjugal duties.

Whether or not WI v. Yoder is overturned by the current conservative Supreme Court, the effort is sure to bring about long needed changes of the MeToo variety in fundamentalist communities.


The post Overtunring WI v. Yoder: Making Education a Federal Right for All Children (and Bringing the MeToo Movement to Fundamentalist Communities) appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Joe Biden Claimed to Have the Support of the Only Black Woman Senator. He Forgot About the One on Stage.

Mother Jones Magazine -

Last week at a town hall in Las Vegas, former vice president and presidential candidate Joe Biden affirmed his stance against legal marijuana—it’s a gateway drug, he reasoned. Tonight, those words came back to haunt him.

“I thought you might have been high when you said it,” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said from the debate stage. Citing the inconsistency of the nation’s marijuana laws and its continued disproportionate use against minority communities, Booker continued, “Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people, and it’s the war on drugs has been a war on Black and brown people.” Booker went on to highlight that there are more African Americans bound by the country’s legal system than were slaves in 1850.

.@CoryBooker just slammed @JoeBiden over Biden's recent comments on marijuana: "This week I hear [Biden] literally say that I don't think we should legalize marijuana."

*turns to Biden*

"I thought you might have been high when you said it." pic.twitter.com/0ZAa8uZP7H

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) November 21, 2019

On the defensive, Biden tried to gesture towards his relatively strong polling numbers with the African American community. “I come out of the black community,” Biden said. “I have more people supporting me in the Black community because they know me, they know who I am,” he continued. “Three former chairs of the Black Caucus, the only African American woman elected to the US Senate, a whole range of people.”

Looking across the stage, Booker immediately fired back, “That’s not true.”

“The other one is here,” said California Sen. Kamala Harris, who is indeed Black.

“I said first!” Biden said. But he hadn’t, and the damage was done.

“My point is,” Biden said, trying to speak over the laughter of Harris and the audience, “one of the reasons that I was picked to be vice president was because of my relationship with the Black community.” 

Joe Biden said tonight that he had the endorsement of the "only African American woman" elected to the US Senate, referring to former US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun. But that isn't true.

“The other one is here,” Kamala Harris said. pic.twitter.com/ZP8CFNfQ0h

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) November 21, 2019

But Black people were surprised to hear that Biden was picked to be Barack Obama’s running mate because of his great relationship with African Americans, seeing as he launched his last presidential campaign in early 2007 with a racial gaffe. Biden, who was then a senator from Delaware, described his then-opponent Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

When reporters asked him to explain what he meant by that, his answer wasn’t great: “This guy is something brand new that nobody has seen before.” On a press call, Biden assured the media that Obama was not upset and had accepted his apology. ““I didn’t take it personally and I don’t think he intended to offend,” Obama said in an interview with the New York Times

But several months later, Biden did it again. 

During an October 2007 interview with the Washington Post, Biden said the school disparity between Iowa and Washington, DC schools was because the Black population in Iowa was less than 1 percent, and only 4 to 5 percent were minorities. He described children in DC as coming from “dysfunctional homes” with mothers who don’t talk to them in contrast to moms in Iowa who actually speak to their children. “Half this education gap exists before the kid steps foot in the classroom,” he said.

Iowa voters went to the polls the following January. After getting less than 1 percent of the vote, Biden dropped out of the race. 

The Prosecution of Julian Assange Calls for the Public Defense of Free Speech

AntiWar.com News -

On Saturday, The New York Times published a front-page article on the leaked files that exposed the Chinese government’s coordinated crackdown on ethnic minorities. In covering the story, the newspaper noted that although the source and the methods through which documents were gathered are unclear, the disclosure of 403 pages of internal documents is one … Continue reading "The Prosecution of Julian Assange Calls for the Public Defense of Free Speech"

The post The Prosecution of Julian Assange Calls for the Public Defense of Free Speech appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Russiagaters Pivot Focus to Russian State Media

AntiWar.com News -

As the race for 2020 heats up, the mainstream media is hard at work, stoking fears of Russian influence. NBC News ran a story on a report about Russia’s English-speaking media outlet’s coverage of 2020 presidential candidates. The report was released Tuesday, by former FBI agent Clint Watts who is a fellow at the Foreign … Continue reading "Russiagaters Pivot Focus to Russian State Media"

The post Russiagaters Pivot Focus to Russian State Media appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Let’s Talk About Joe

Mother Jones Magazine -

There weren’t a lot of surprises at tonight’s Democratic debate. Pete Buttigieg got dinged for his lack of experience. Elizabeth Warren has lots of plans. Climate change got hardly any serious attention. So let’s talk about Joe Biden.

Biden, as usual, committed several Bidenisms. That hasn’t hurt him before, however, and probably didn’t hurt him tonight. His performance was steady enough.

But something that struck me a little harder than usual was that Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep “punching” at it. My heart sank immediately. I knew that everyone would smirk at that. I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that.

Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.

It was the same when Biden said he “came out of the black community.” Smirks and Twitter ridicule. But it was pretty obvious what he meant, and I imagine most people, both black and otherwise, understood it perfectly well.

And the closing statements! Nine of the candidates gave scripted, bog ordinary statements. Biden’s was scripted too, but it was completely different. The United States is great! We can do anything if we put our minds to it! Stop being so downcast!

We sophisticates might roll our eyes at that, but I’ll bet most people don’t. That’s exactly what they want to hear, and Biden is the only one giving it to them. His final minute was basically a bid to be the Democratic Ronald Reagan, and I suspect it worked.

As always, I’ll add a caveat: I’m trying to guess about how other people reacted to things, and maybe I’m wrong. But for those who continue to be confused about how Biden retains his poll standing, this is probably it. Most people don’t care very much if he sometimes offends the tone police. They know perfectly well what he meant, and they’re OK with that.


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