All posts by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

The Two Parties Have Failed Us, But The People Can Succeed

The Republican and Democratic Party conventions showed that both major parties are failing to control the pandemic and protect people, address the climate crisis and clean up the environment, support families and businesses during the economic collapse, prevent police violence or deal with any of the other major problems we face.

These were two substance-less conventions. The Democrats focused on criticizing Trump without putting forward an agenda while the Republicans claimed Biden was a front for socialism when he is a deeply embedded corporate Democrat. Trump’s term as president has been a disaster and Biden has been consistently on the wrong side of history over his 47 years in politics. On issues today, both are out of step with the views of the majority of voters.

The two parties demonstrated that people must lead from below because the parties represent the wealthy and transnational corporations. We must continue to organize and build popular power if we are to win the changes we need.

Join us for a webinar and rally on Sunday, August 30 at 2:00 pm Eastern to learn how people can build power to shape the future.

After the DNC-RNC We Can’t Breathe: Keep The Struggle In The Streets
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The Two Parties Have Failed Us, But The People Can Succeed

At the Democratic Convention, no one used the phrases Medicare for all, Green New Deal, tuition-free college and vocational school, universal basic income, or wealth tax, even though all of these issues are supported by the majority of voters. Sen. Bernie Sanders, AOC, and Andrew Yang were silenced on issues they had championed during their campaigns.

At the Republican Convention, if those policies were mentioned, they were derided or called ‘socialist.’ The two parties did not talk about economic, health, and environmental policies because neither has any solutions. Instead, the bi-partisan policies they support have created the economic, public health, and environmental crises we are facing.

The United States is in crisis because the two-party system has failed the people and the planet. On a global scale, the United States is rated as a “flawed democracy” and corruption is on the rise. Studies within the United States find that popular support for a policy has no impact on whether it will be made into law by Congress, while wealthy interests have a significant impact over whether a law passes or fails. This is consistent with the United States being a plutocracy ruled by the wealthy.

As we have written in the past, the United States is a mirage democracy where the candidates are largely chosen by the power holders and the people get to vote for one or another corporate-approved candidate. A few progressive candidates are elected from time to time but they are marginalized at the federal level. If they do gain power, the elites move swiftly to rein them in or redistrict them out.

Third party candidates are kept out of the debates and the media, even left-leaning media like Democracy Now has not interviewed the Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins although he’ll be on the ballot in most states. Third party candidates have to fight to be on the ballot in each state, a challenge often made more difficult by Democrats and Republicans challenging them and tying them up in court.

For this reason, many people throw up their hands and decide that trying to work within the two-party system is the only available option, as flawed as it is. But, where has that gotten us? Federal elections these days are more commonly about voting against what you don’t want rather than voting for what you do want. Lesser evil voting has driven a race to the bottom in the quality of the candidates because as long as people are voting out of fear, it doesn’t matter who the candidate is or what they stand for.

Trump and Biden as the major party presidential candidates this year are the result of the system we have. Whichever one wins in November, the outcome will still be a plutocracy. The climate crisis will still rage on with climate-transformed wildfires, derechos, and drought that destroy crops and strong hurricanes that flatten towns but the Green New Deal will be off the table. The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to sicken and kill hundreds of thousands but Medicare for All won’t be an option. Workers will still be forced to work for low wages in unsafe conditions, families will lose their homes and students will be buried under heavy loans, but when Wall Street corporations or banks need help, the Federal Reserve will whisk their troubles away to the tune of trillions of dollars. Wars and interventions will continue as the Pentagon receives record budgets year after year, but for some reason, there isn’t enough money to fund our public schools, feed hungry families, or rebuild our failing infrastructure.

This system is protected by a security state that has no regard for human life, especially if you are black or brown. Time and again, the legal system lets the police get away with cold-blooded murder. This lack of accountability emboldens law enforcement. And now, it is clear from the recent events in Kenosha Wisconsin, and even before that, those right-wing militias are an unofficial arm of the security state. If this continues and they are not held accountable, they will also be emboldened to kill with impunity.

This is the reality in which we live. It is not the first time in history that this situation has existed in the world but it is unique to our generations in this country. We are living in a dark period, a failing state, and changing this situation is going to take hard work and sacrifice, but history also teaches us that people do have the power to take on the power elites and win.

After the DNC-RNC We Can’t Breathe: Keep The Struggle In The Streets, Webinar and Rally, Sunday August 30 at 2:00 pm Eastern.

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People have the power; protest in Ferguson City Hall in 2014

Building Power To Lead From Below

We are in the midst of a national uprising on multiple fronts of struggle. There are widespread protests against racist police violence and there have been more than 900 wildcat strikes since March over worker safety and low pay. Teachers are striking over school reopenings. There are ongoing protests stopping pipelines and extreme energy extraction projects as well as demanding action on the climate crisis. Just last week, there was a national day of protest involving actions in hundreds of cities to save the US Postal Service.

Since the Occupy protests of 2011, which focused on wealth inequality and political corruption, but also included system-wide change on low wages, police violence, the climate crisis, and student debt, people have been building deeper movements in all of these areas. During the Obama-era, the Fight for $15 began, along with Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, climate, and debt protests. When the pandemic and recession began, people started organizing General Strike and Rent Strike campaigns

The potential for people power has never been greater. Hundreds of thousands of people are ready to take the streets and stop business as usual. This is a time when every one of us has a role to play, whether it is sharing information in our communities (being the media), starting conversations in our social circles (education), organizing and mobilizing people in the groups we belong to or providing support for our neighbors and people who are in the streets (mutual aid). Learn how social movements create transformational change in our free online course.

No matter what happens this November, the protest movement must continue to fight for economic, racial, and environmental justice as well as peace. The next presidential Inauguration Day will need to be a day of protest when more people come to Washington, DC to make demands of the next president than are there to celebrate him.

The growing movement of movements has a broad foundation of education, organization, and mobilization on which to build. We have the ability to make this country ungovernable and if we use that power, we can make demands that cannot be ignored.

Responding To Voter Suppression, Understanding Manipulated Elections

Stop Voter Suppression from the Union of Concerned Scientists

Voter suppression in the 2020 election has become a topic of great concern. In reality, voter suppression has been part of US politics since the founding of the country. The oligarchs who wrote the US Constitution enabled voter suppression by not including the right to vote in it and only allowing white male property owners to vote, suppressing the votes of 94 percent of the population.

Five of 16 states had white-only voting in 1800 and after 1802, every new state, free or slave, except for Maine banned Black people from voting. In 1807, New Jersey, which originally gave voting rights to “all inhabitants,” excluded women and Black men from voting. Maryland banned Jewish people from its polls until 1828. After the Civil War expanded voting rights to Black men, the Black vote was suppressed through intimidation campaigns and Jim Crow laws. After decades of protests, the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 and voting by Black people increased, but in recent years suppression tactics are reducing that vote.

This year, the Republican Party and President Trump are working to suppress the votes of Black people, the working class, immigrants, and others, especially by attacking the US Postal Service to decrease mail-in voting.

TAKE ACTION: National day to save the Post Office on Tuesday, August 25. Find more information here.

The Democrats are also guilty of voter suppression as they do all they can to keep third parties off the ballot. Green Party presidential nominee Howie Hawkins explains party suppression is voter suppression because millions of people refuse to choose between two Wall Street-funded candidates and so they don’t vote. Sanders-Democrats also point to an unfair nomination process resulting in Joe Biden becoming the nominee.

Voter Suppression is Violence from Cool revolution.

Voter Suppression Today

Voter suppression has gotten more sophisticated in recent elections through the massive de-registering of voters, abuse of voter ID laws, cutting the number of polling places in minority communities, felony disenfranchisement, not counting provisional ballots, and voter intimidation at the polls. In 2020, the battle over mail-in ballots and the Post Office is also a major issue.

On March 30, President Trump said in an interview on FOX, if there was high voter turnout “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” Trump was explaining why he opposed more money being spent to help states conduct the 2020 election during the pandemic. More recently, Trump floated the idea of delaying the November 3 election, an idea rejected by even Republican allies and something he does not have the power to do.

Removing people from voter registration lists has become a common practice. A Brennan Center study found that almost 16 million voters were purged from the rolls between 2014 and 2016. Jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination, which are no longer subject to pre-clearance after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, had a median purge rate 40% higher than other jurisdictions.

Voter ID laws have become a key tool in voter suppression. The ACLU reports that: “Thirty-six states have identification requirements at the polls. Seven states have strict photo ID laws.” Over 21 million U.S. citizens do not have government-issued photo identification resulting in ID laws reducing voter turnout by 2-3 percentage points, according to the US Government Accountability Office.

This year voter intimidation is making a comeback. Trump’s response to the closing night of the DNC was to tell Fox News that on election day he’s going to send law enforcement, sheriffs, US Attorneys, and Attorney  Generals to polling locations. While Trump has no control over sheriffs and police, making the threat is part of an intimidation campaign.

Republicans are recruiting an estimated 50,000 volunteers to act as “poll watchers” in November, part of a multi-million-dollar effort to control who votes. This campaign includes a $20 million fund for legal battles as well as the GOP’s first national poll-patrol operation in nearly 40 years.

Poll watchers in some states can challenge the eligibility of voters. After the 1981 election, Democrats sued over voter intimidation and a federal “consent decree” stopped the practice but the decree was allowed to expire at the end of 2017, and a judge declined to extend it in 2018.

The ACLU points to some of the impacts of these voter suppression efforts and how they are targeted at people of color and youth, writing:

  • Seventy percent of Georgia voters purged in 2018 were Black.
  • Across the country, one in 13 Blacks cannot vote due to disenfranchisement laws.
  • One-third of voters who have a disability report difficulty voting.
  • Only 40 percent of polling places fully accommodate people with disabilities.
  • Counties with larger minority populations have fewer polling sites and poll workers per voter.
  • Six in ten college students come from out of state in New Hampshire, the state trying to block residents with out of state drivers’ licenses.

Stop privatization of the Postal Service from PostalReporter.com.

Voting during the pandemic, mail-in voting and the Postal Service

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new issues for voting in 2020. More people will be voting by mail as 20 states expanded or eased access to voting by mail as a public health measure. The election could be decided by a fight over which mail ballots are counted. One of the most common reasons for invalidating a vote is if the ballot arrives late, making postal delivery of critical importance. In the primaries, more than 540,000 mail ballots were rejected during primaries across 23 states this year, nearly a quarter in key battlegrounds for the fall, i.e. Florida, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Last week, the Democrats in the House passed $25 billion in emergency funding for the Post Office. While this is insufficient, it is opposed by President Trump. Senator Mitch McConnell may not take the issue up in the Senate, saying it is too much money and other COVID-19 relief proposals should be included in it.

Trump is also trying to undermine the ability of the Post Office to deliver ballots on time.  Trump crony, Louis DeJoy, who was appointed Postmaster General, is a prominent Trump donor, deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, and the former lead fundraiser for the Republican National Committee. DeJoy donated more than $2.5 million to the Republican Party and its candidates, so he is heavily invested in a Republican electoral victory.

DeJoy fired people with experience running the Postal Service on August 17, and twenty-three postal executives were reassigned or displaced in a new organizational structure that centralizes power around DeJoy. He stopped overtime work and mail sorting machines and mailboxes have been removed. As a result of public pressure, he  says he stopped further removals until after the election, although people are reporting finding locked mail boxes.

The Democrats, who have been complicit with the attack on the Post Office, are paying attention now that it is affecting the election. Unfortunately, their proposal falls far short of the $75 billion investment needed by the Postal Service, and doesn’t address the long term problems created by the Congress and president in 2006 when they required the Postal Service to fund 75 years worth of pension and healthcare costs.

We need to act now because they are likely to ignore the efforts at privatization of the postal service after November. We need to demand more money for the Post Office and insist on the end of any privatization of the Postal Service so it remains a public agency serving the public good. The so-called ‘Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act‘ of 2006, which was designed to weaken the Post Office, must be repealed. And, the Post Office should be given greater power to provide other services like a Postal Bank for the millions of people who do not have access to banking services.

Join the #SaveThePostOffice August 25, National Day of Action.

Showing up by protesting for the Postal Service gives postal workers the power to defy the Postmaster General and speak out. Postal workers in Washington State are refusing to take mail sorting equipment offlinePostal workers have been ordered not to speak to the press so people are not aware how bad the situation is. If workers see the public is on their side, they may have the courage to speak or anonymously leak documents to the media.

Protests in the US in 2011 targeted greed and corruption among banking and business leaders (By Scott Olson for AFP-Getty Images)

2020 Highlights Mirage Democracy

The failure of US democracy is on display in the 2020 election but these are long-term problems. The United States is not a democracy; it is a plutocracy. Elections give people the illusion of choice when in reality the power elites are the ones who choose the candidates, as we described in this 2013 article.

Some people choose not to participate in the elections for this reason. Others choose to use the election to make a point by rejecting the corporate candidates and voting for third-party candidates who support their positions, such as national improved Medicare for All, acting on climate change, ending police violence and imperialism, and more or only voting in down-ballot races.

If you choose to participate in the election, here are some actions you can take to protect your vote:

  1. If you want to vote in 2020, order your mail-in ballots, if they are available, as soon as possible. In our state, Maryland, the Board of Elections warns they may run out of ballots.
  2. Know your rights. It is illegal to intimidate or coerce voters. If you experience it or see it happening to someone else, record it by video or in writing to poll workers.
  3. If you are told you are not registered, demand a provisional ballot. Due to Voter-ID laws, each state has different requirements. Understand what is required in your state, and come prepared.

Finally, it is important to remember when we are inundated with a constant focus on the 2020 elections that the power of the people does not derive from elections. Our task is to build people’s power outside of elections.

People have the power to make the country ungovernable. Both parties are ignoring issues supported by a majority of the people, including, improved Medicare for all, a robust Green New Deal, a guaranteed basic income, a tax on the wealth to shrink the wealth divide, cuts to the bloated military budget, free college and vocational education and confronting the climate crisis, which is already wreaking havoc across the nation.

The Occupy Movement, the Fight for $15, the student debt movement, labor strikes and the uprising against police violence show people have power. We have only begun to scratch the surface of our potential. We have to build the power to rule from below, no matter who is elected president in 2020.

You are invited to a webinar – “After the DNC and RNC – Keep the struggle in the streets” on Sunday, August 30 at 2:00 pm Eastern/11:00 am Pacific.

Protect The Vote And End Privatization Of The Postal Service

As we warned earlier in the year, the US Postal Service is failing due to a long term effort to weaken it plus the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic, recession and intentional efforts by the Trump administration to suppress the vote.

Members of Congress and state leaders are starting to take notice because of the magnitude of the crisis and public outcry, particularly over valid concerns that mail-in voting will be disrupted. Now is the time to not only protect the vote but to end privatization and selling off of the US Postal Service and expand it as a critical public institution that provides high-quality jobs and services to all communities, rich and poor, urban and rural, across the country.

March in 2014 to save the Post Office

The Long Push to Dismantle and Privatize the Post Office

The Post Office is mandated in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7). It is a critical service and a public good that has been provided to all people. With the passage of the 1981 budget, the US Postal Service was required to be self-funded from its revenues alone without support through taxes, which it was able to achieve until the pandemic. In fact, for more than 200 years, it has been solvent despite being the target of big banks and profiteers.

Ellen Brown describes the long history of the plan to dismantle and privatize the US Postal Service (USPS) going back to 1910 when the Postal Savings Bank Act was passed to provide a safer alternative for people after the banking crash of 1907. The big banks were upset by the competition from a postal bank. In 1966, the postal banks were dismantled after a series of laws were passed, beginning in the New Deal Era, which strengthened the private banks and gave them an advantage over postal banks.

Profiteers searching for more public entities to loot, as they have done with water, education, healthcare, and more have long viewed the Post Office as a fertile field for making money if they could weaken it enough so it would fail. A serious step in this direction was taken in 2006 with the so-called ‘Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act‘ (PAEA).

The PAEA was sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats. It passed in the House with the full support of the Democrats (including Congressman Bernie Sanders, one Democrat abstained). Most of the Republicans supported it; twenty voted against it. It then went to the Senate where it passed with unanimous consent (a procedure used when Senators do not want to be held accountable for their vote).

A requirement of the PAEA is that the Postal Service must pre-fund all of its retirement funds including health benefits for the next 75 years (for people who have not been born yet). No business is required to go to this extreme and two-thirds of Fortune 1,000 businesses don’t pre-fund retirement at all. This costs the USPS over $5.5 billion each year. It is a way to “fatten the cow” for its eventual sell-off to private corporations.

One of the first impacts of the PAEA was that 65,000 postal workers lost their jobs in 2009. The USPS is one of the largest employers of African Americans in the US. This continued throughout the Obama administration as almost half of the postal processing plants were shuttered, local post offices had their hours reduced by 25 to 75% and 3,700 post offices were closed. The move to end Saturday mail delivery was attempted and stopped. A total of 150,000 postal workers lost their jobs under Obama and those who remained had their wages cut.

Under Obama, mail sorting and trucking were sub-contracted to private entities that pay their workers less. Activists began to protest in 2013 by delivering petitions and occupying post offices. In Berkeley, CA, people occupied the main post office for 33 days to prevent the historic New Deal Era building from being sold. This was part of a year-long successful campaign that gained tremendous public support, media attention, and support by local and state elected officials.

In 2015, A Grand Alliance to Save the Post Office, created by the four postal worker unions and other organizations, including Popular Resistance, formed under the leadership of APWU President Mark Dimondstein (Listen to our interview with him on Clearing the FOG in April). The Alliance lobbied Congress to repeal the 2006 PAEA and to stop the sell-off to private corporations.

The Alliance successfully organized to stop Staples from being allowed to provide USPS services. The campaign used protests outside Staples’ stores, a boycott of Staples, and a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board. A judge ruled in favor of the USPS in November of 2016 and Staples was ordered to shut down its postal services by March 2017. If Staples had been allowed to continue, it would have led to the closing of more post offices and the loss of more jobs.

Mailboxes being removed in Oregon

The Future of the Post Office is Uncertain

The US Postal Service has continued to face the same struggles throughout the Trump administration. Despite a majority in the House and enough Senators to have power over the passage of any legislation in the Senate, the Democrats did not take steps to save the post office until it threatened their re-election in 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic and recession created an emergency situation for the Post Office. The closing of businesses and record bankruptcies has meant a sharp decline in the quantity of mail. Postmaster General Megan Brennan started putting out the warning early in the year that the situation is dire and that the USPS could run out of funds during the summer. The Postal Service board of governors asked Congress for a $75 billion rescue package that would provide $25 billion in immediate funds and the rest as credit and financing for modernization projects.

Instead, the CARES Act, passed in late March, provided a measly $10 billion, which has been held up by the Trump administration and used to pressure the board of governors to elect Louis DeJoy as the new Postmaster General in June. On March 30, President Trump said on FOX if there was a high voter turnout “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” Trump was explaining why he opposed more money being spent to help states conduct the 2020 election during the pandemic.

The Democrats offered $25 billion in aid and relief of the yearly $5.5 billion in retirement funds in their House version of the bill but did not use their power in the Senate to demand relief for the USPS. Meanwhile, Amazon received tens of millions of dollars in support of its private delivery providers through the Payroll Protection Program for small businesses.

A new Institute for Policy Studies report found that when cuts are made to the USPS, it is rural communities that are hit the hardest. Rural residents rely on the postal service for medication deliveries, bill paying (because they often do not have internet access), and voting (because many don’t have polling places). Private delivery companies like Amazon and FedEx won’t deliver to rural areas and use the USPS to do it for them instead.

Under the new Postmaster General DeJoy, changes have been made that are slowing down mail service and delaying the delivery of medications and other necessities. Almost 700 mail sorting machines were removed and people showed photos on social media of blue mail receptacles being taken away in trucks. On Friday night, top executives in the Postal Service were fired or reassigned. This sparked a large ‘noise demonstration‘ early Saturday morning outside Louis DeJoy’s home in Washington, DC.

President Trump made it clear last week that his actions are intended to suppress the vote in the November election. There is a large push for universal mail-in voting because of the pandemic. People are reluctant to vote in person and states are having trouble finding people willing to work the polls. Although President Trump requested an absentee ballot for himself in Florida, he said that mail-in voting is subject to fraud and can only be trusted in Republican states. He denied a request for emergency aid for universal mail-in voting saying, “They want $3.5bn for something that will turn out to be fraudulent. That’s election money, basically.”

States are reporting that they’ve received letters from the Postal Service saying they will not be able to handle the influx of mail-in ballots in a timely manner. AP News reports 46 states plus Washington, DC are impacted by this and millions of voters will be disenfranchised if action is not taken.

This has gotten the Democrat’s attention and they are now planning to hold an emergency meeting on Monday. They have also scheduled a hearing for when they return to work in September to bring Louis DeJoy in for questioning. Some members of Congress are calling for DeJoy to resign.

Protest outside Louis DeJoy’s house in Washington, DC

Fight Back

It is important to acknowledge that while lawmakers are upset now with the attack on the US Postal Service, this is likely because it is an election year. The Post Office is the most popular government institution so this stance is not only favorable to voters but it also protects the election. Both major parties are responsible for the situation that exists today and, after the election, they will likely return to their previous apathetic positions.

Saving the post office requires a popular movement with a vision of what needs to happen and mobilization to support that vision. The protest at DeJoy’s house was a good one, but it is the bipartisan Postal Service board of governors who have the power to remove Dejoy and Congress that has the power to provide financial support.

The steps that are required to save the US Postal Service over the short term include:

  1. Immediate appropriation and release of $75 billion in pandemic relief funds and credit.
  2. Provision of funds for universal mail-in voting.
  3. Repeal of the 2006 PAEA requirement to pre-fund 75 years of retirement benefits (in fact if those funds are allowed to be used by the USPS, it likely won’t need the pandemic relief).

Then, over the longer term, steps include:

  1. Reopening and modernizing postal offices, especially in rural areas, and reinstating normal operating hours.
  2. Rehiring postal workers at all levels and providing pay increases.
  3. Prohibiting private contracting of postal services and policies that give advantages to private corporations such as Amazon, FedEx and UPS.
  4. Expanding postal services to include more financial services, especially for the 28% of people who are underserved by banks.
  5. The return of the Postal Savings Bank to provide direct banking services, including loans, throughout the country.

We wrote about future possibilities for the USPS in 2013, “Don’t Shrink the US Postal Service; Expand it.”

A Grand Alliance to Save the Postal Service is holding a meeting on Tuesday that we will attend and report back actions. For now, you can join the US Mail Not for Sale campaign here. And you can contact your members of Congress (look up their websites) and the members of the USPS board of governors, see below:

Era Of US Domination Of Latin America Coming To An End

Marcha en Venezuela contra las sanciones de Trump (Reuters)

Despite its failings at home, the United States intervenes in countries across multiple continents seeking to control their governments and resources.

This week, we look at the US’ latest efforts in Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia to undermine their independence and force them to serve the interests of the US government and transnational corporations.

In all three countries, the US has displayed a lack of understanding of the people and their support for their revolutionary processes, and as a result, is failing. As US empire fades, so might the Monroe Doctrine come to an end.

Sandanista- FSLN rally in Nicaragua

Nicaragua: USAID Multi-Year Destabilization Plan Exposed

A US Agency for International Development (USAID) document revealed by reporter William Grigsby describes covert plans to overthrow the democratically-elected Nicaraguan government in the next two years. USAID seeks to hire mercenaries “to take charge of the plan . . . to disrupt public order and carry out other [violent] actions before, during, and/or after the 2021 elections.”

USAID is creating Responsive Assistance In Nicaragua (RAIN), allotting $540,000 in grants to remove the Sandinista government in what it calls “Nicaragua’s transition to democracy.” Daniel Ortega won the 2016 election with 72 percent of the vote in what election observers from the Organization of American States (OAS), a US tool, described as taking “place in a calm, smooth and pacific manner, with no large incidents.”

Brian Willson, who has opposed US efforts to dominate Nicaragua since the 1980s Contra war, concludes the US realizes Ortega will win the 2021 election. In fact, this week, a poll showed support for Ortega’s party, FSLN, at 50% and for the opposition at 10%. One of USAID plans, as they tried in Venezuela in 2018, is for the opposition to boycott the election since they know they will lose, then call it illegitimate and create a political and economic crisis.

The real goal is not a democracy but domination so US transnational corporations can profit from the second poorest country in the hemisphere by putting in place a neoliberal economy to privatize public services, cut social services, and purge all traces of the Sandinistas. USAID also plans to “reestablish” the police and military to enforce their rule. Another goal is to stop Nicaragua from being the “threat of a good example” for its economic growth, reduction of inequality, poverty, illiteracy and crime.

Ben Norton points out in the Grayzone that “the 14-page USAID document employed the word ‘transition’ 102 times” making clear the intent is regime change.  A “sudden transition without elections,” a euphemism for a coup, is one of three possible regime change scenarios.

John Perry writes about “US interference in Nicaragua, going back at least as far as William Walker’s assault on its capital and usurpation of the presidency in 1856.” Since the 1979 Sandinista Revolution, the US has sought to take back control of Nicaragua.

USAID and its National Endowment for Democracy (NED) have been funding the opposition. NED financed 54 projects from 2014-17 to lay the groundwork for a 2018 coup attempt, which  also involved USAID. Wiston Lopez writes the US has provided “more than 31 million dollars between the end of 2017 and May 1, 2020.” When the attempted coup in 2018 failed, the US also put in place illegal unilateral coercive measures, known as economic sanctions, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, to try to weaken the country.

The USAID’s RAIN program outlines the usual regime change steps; e.g., remake the police and military as enforcers of the new neoliberal order, move “quickly to dismantle parallel institutions”; i.e., the Sandinista Front, the Sandinista Youth, and other grassroots institutions, and implement “transitional justice measures”; i.e., the prosecution of current government officials and movement leaders.

A new area of attack is a disinformation campaign against Nicaragua’s handling of COVID-19. The opposition misrepresents the government’s response and puts forward false death statistics in an attempt to create chaos. As Wiston López points out, “Since March the US-directed opposition has focused 95% of their actions on attempting to discredit Nicaragua’s prevention, contention, and Covid treatment. However, this only had some success in the international media and is now backfiring since Nicaragua is the country with one of the lowest mortality rates in the continent.”

The US media fails to report on the success of Nicaragua in combating the virus using a community-based health system. Nicaragua has been building its health system for the last 12 years and took rapid action to prepare for the virus. Nicaragua did not impose a lock down because it is a poor country where 80 percent of people are in the informal economy and 40 percent live in rural areas. People must work in order to eat.

Stephen Sefton puts the failure of the United States so far in context. At its root, the US does not understand the people of Nicaragua, their history of fighting US domination, and their ability to overcome right-wing puppets. It also misunderstands what the Sandinista government is doing to better the lives of the people in every sector of the economy. Sefton concludes, “The US government has failed notoriously to meet the needs of its own people during the current pandemic but can still find money to try and destroy a small country whose success makes US social, economic and environmental policy look arbitrary, negligent and criminal.”

Nicolas Maduro kicks out Donald Trump (Photo by Ben Norton

Venezuela: Bipartisan Failed Regime Change

Ever since the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez, successive US administrations have tried and failed to dominate Venezuela. The bipartisan nature of this policy was on display on August 4, when Elliot Abrams, the notorious coup-monger for multiple presidents, testified in Congress. Not a single Senator criticized the attempt to illegally overthrow a democratically-elected government.

Abrams was criticized by both Democrats and Republicans for his inability to remove President Maduro from power. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) was most open about the coup attempt describing it as “a case study in diplomatic malpractice” and claiming Trump botched a winning play in a comedy of errors that strengthened Maduro. After the hearing, Murphy posted a series of Tweets admitting the coup and how it could have been done better.

clip from Murphy’s embarrassing comments was shared widely including by the Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez and Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. When Vijay Prashad asked Arreaza his reaction, he described the US openly admitting crimes and said the “confessions” of Murphy, Gen. John Kelly, John Bolton, and Elliot Abrams “are priceless evidence for the complaint we raised at the International Criminal Court.”

Elliot Abrams testified that he would continue to work very hard to remove Maduro hopefully by the end of the year.  This echoed a statement by President Trump at SouthCom headquarters in Florida. Sen. Murphy’s comments are consistent with those made by Joe Biden who says he would be more effective at removing Maduro than Trump. Biden described Trump as soft on Maduro because he considered talking to him.

Elliot Abrams announced the US will be starting a media war against Venezuela. The reality is the US has been conducting a media war against Venezuela for more than 20 years.

Venezuela is moving ahead with elections for the National Assembly on December 6, 2020. Unlike 2018, more parties are agreeing to participate including the larger Democratic Action and Justice First parties, as well as a new Communist Party alliance and the hard-right Popular Will party, which was US puppet Juan Guaidó’s former party. There will be 105 political parties contesting for 277 National Assembly seats, 110 more than the current term. Venezuela uses a combination of majority winners and proportional representation. Venezuela also requires half the candidates to be female, and they use electronic voting confirmed by paper ballots with a public citizen audit on Election Day.

Juan Guaidó and others allied with the United States said they would boycott the election. Guaidó cannot risk running because he is likely to be defeated. The US is encouraging a boycott and then will claim the election was not legitimate as it did in the last presidential election. After December, Guaidó will not hold any elected office making his fraudulent claim to the presidency even weaker.

These events come after two major embarrassments for the US in Venezuela. Operation Gideon, an attempt by mercenaries to invade Venezuela was foiled on May 4, leading to their arrests and the arrests of their co-conspirators. The State Department abandoned the mercenaries, and this week two former Green Berets were sentenced to 20 years in prison after admitting their guilt. It was evident that Guaidó was heavily involved in this failure adding to his failed presidential takeover and tainting him beyond repair.

The second defeat was Iran and Venezuela working together to deliver oil and equipment for Venezuelan refineries. Five Iranian oil tankers passed by the largest US armada in the Caribbean since the invasion of Panama. Southcom has been repeatedly sending warships into Venezuelan waters. The solidarity of Iran and Venezuela overcame the naval blockade, undermined US sanctions, and sent a shudder through the US by showing other nations they can defy the United States.

Venezuela has a strong history of struggle against imperialism but the US’ economic war is costing their economy hundreds of billions of dollars and leading to the premature death of Venezuelans. In addition, the United Kingdom is refusing to release more than a billion dollars of Venezuelan gold held in the Bank of England that was to be used for food and medicine. The UK court ruled against Venezuela but they are appealing the decision.

Bolivians protest the postponement of the election

Bolivia: US Dictator Fears Democratic Vote

On November 12 2019, a US-backed coup in Bolivia removed President Evo Morales who had just won re-election. The self-proclaimed President Jeanine Añez, a right-wing Christian, leads a de facto government involved in massacres, persecution and imprisonment of political leaders. It is destroying the social and economic model and achievements of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS Party) led by Morales.

The OAS played a crucial role in the coup with their false analysis of Morales’ re-election. The western media reported the false OAS analysis without criticism. Now, studies by MIT and the Center for Economic and Policy Analysis have shown that Morales clearly won the election and should have remained in power. For months the Washington Post claimed Morales’ re-election was a fraud, but finally, in March, it acknowledged the election was legitimate. Similarly, the New York Times admitted in July that Morales won the election.

Many have called this a lithium coup because the element is plentiful in Bolivia and critical for batteries. This was made evident when Elon Musk, the head of Tesla, said on Twitter “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.” Tesla would benefit from cheap and plentiful lithium for electric car batteries.

The people of Bolivia are struggling to restore democracy. The fraudulent report by the OAS led to a three-week conflict between right-wing Bolivians protesting alleged fraud and pro-government, mostly indigenous, demonstrators defending Morales. The military and police sided with the right-wing coup. The coup government threatened legislators and their families while repressing the people. There were racist attacks against the majority Indigenous population and the Wiphala, the indigenous flag, was burned in the streets. When she took power, Áñez, surrounded by right-wing legislators, held up a large leather bible and declared, “The Bible has returned to the palace.”

The US recognized the coup government, similar to its recognition of the failed coup leader, Juan Guaidó in Venezuela. Añez claimed she’d be transitory until the next election, but at the direction of the US, she is putting in place deep roots and has delayed elections.

The repression has galvanized the MAS party, as well as peasant unions and grassroots organizations who continue their struggle to restore Bolivian democracy. The pressure led to elections being scheduled. Initially, Áñez said she would not run but reversed herself and is now a candidate while she is trying to outlaw the MAS party and its candidates.

Elections were scheduled for May 3, but have been postponed twice allegedly due to the pandemic, but really because this is an ongoing coup.

It is true that the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting Bolivia hard with horror stories about people unable to get medical treatment. Immediately after the coup, the Añez government expelled the Cuban doctors. The coup-government is unable to manage the health system. Corruption is rampant in the purchase of medical equipment. The health ministry has had three ministers during the crisis. The situation is dire with overcrowded hospitals, lack of basic supplies, and corpses in the streets and in their homes with nowhere to be buried.

The coup-government is using the virus to try to delay elections because polls show the MAS candidate, Luis Arce, is far ahead and likely to win in the first round of elections with Áñez coming in a distant third. Áñez has sought to prosecute Arce to keep him from running, so far unsuccessfully.  On July 6, the Attorney General of Bolivia charged Evo Morales with terrorism and financing of terrorism from exile and is seeking preventive detention.

Since mid-July, thousands of Bolivians have been protesting the postponement of elections. They are holding sustained protests throughout the country and blocking many roads. Indigenous and peasant groups, agricultural groups, along with women and unions are joining together calling for elections.  Morales, Arce, and the MAS Party have denounced the delay.

Domination Will Not Reverse Decline

Evo Morales said in a recent interview:

The United States is trying to make Latin America its backyard forever. We know about the hard resistance of the peoples of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua. The struggle of our peoples is very important. The United States wants to divide us in order to plunder our natural resources. The peoples no longer accept domination and plunder. The United States is in decline, and yet it lashes out.

The US is weakening as a global power and its failures in Latin America are both a symptom of this and are causing further decline. The US’ violations of international law are obvious and are being challenged. But the US is an empire and it will not give up the Monroe Doctrine easily.

As citizens of Empire, we have a particular responsibility to demand the US stop its sanctions and illegal interference in Latin America and elsewhere around the world. In this time of multiple global crises, we must demand the US become a cooperative member of the world community and work peacefully to address the pandemic, recession and climate crisis.

Structures to do this exist to help with this such as the global ceasefire and the Paris Climate agreement. And on the anniversary of the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, we must add the Nuclear Ban Treaty as another effort the US must join.

COVID-19 Crisis Failure, People Must Save Themselves and the Economy

Positive COVID-19 Test (Shutterstock)

The US is at a moment of truth. This week, Congress has to face up to a pandemic that is out of control and an economy that is collapsing. The Republican’s and Democrat’s proposals show they will fail this test. The people will need to protect themselves and lead from below.

The pandemic is worsening with more than 60,000 new cases and approximately 1,000 new deaths daily. Deaths, now over 158,000, are spiking across the sunbelt and increasing across the Midwest. By Election Day, the US could have 250,000 deaths making COVID-19 the third largest killer after cancer and heart disease.

The economy shrank at a record 32.9% annual pace in the second quarter, the largest since records were first kept in 1947. Jobless claims increased for the second week in a row with 1.4 million new people seeking unemployment benefits and continuing claims have risen to 17.06 million. More than 35 million people have lost their jobs since March.

In the face of these depression-era numbers, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are planning enough spending to rebuild the economy. President Trump, who has botched the response to the pandemic, is unable to lead but seems willing to sign anything that passes Congress.

Boxes of food are distributed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, at a drive thru distribution in downtown Pittsburgh, 10 April, 2020 (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar.)

Republican HEALS Act Will Spread the Virus, Deepen Economic Collapse

The Republican Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act seeks to push people back to work and reopen schools even if it is not safe to do so. Their proposals to cut unemployment benefits are designed to make workers desperate so they will work in conditions that put their health at risk. A large portion of school funding is restricted to schools that physically reopen forcing unsafe schools. Here are some of the details of the bill:

Health care: The inadequacy of for-profit healthcare has been magnified by the pandemic. The loss of jobs resulted in millions of people losing their health insurance on top of almost 30 million people who were already uninsured. Republicans do not include a funding increase for Medicaid, which 70 million people rely on. The National Governor’s Association reports states are experiencing budget shortfalls ranging between 5 and 20 percent. The Republicans do not provide any funding to state and local governments to make up for this loss of income. Without new funding, states will have to cut Medicaid eligibility, reduce benefits, or reduce payments to providers at a time when the economy and virus mean more people need it.

Food: The Census reports 26 million people do not have adequate food. Food banks are reporting shortages and 14 million children are going hungry but the Republicans did not extend funding for food assistance programs. The Republicans did not extend either the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, or the Pandemic EBT program, a benefit for households with children who have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals, which ended in June. In contrast, they did propose a 100 percent deduction on business meals through the end of 2020.

Housing: The eviction moratorium expired last week. It protected an estimated 12 million renters in federally-backed properties. The HEALS Act does nothing to prevent evictions from restarting. There are 110 million Americans who live in rental households. Twenty percent of them, 23 million people, are at risk of eviction by September 30 according to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. With the cut in unemployment benefits, the Census Bureau estimates 24 million people will be unable to pay next month’s rent, including 45 percent of Black and Latinx households.

Worker safety: As workers are being forced back to work, the HEALS Act cuts their ability to sue at a time when worker-safety is at its greatest risk in a century.  Senator McConnell calls this a “red line” that must be in the final bill. His proposal would preempt the few state workplace safety laws that exist and supersede such federal worker safeguards as the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, among others. The Republican proposal would erect almost insurmountable obstacles to lawsuits by workers who become infected at their workplaces and limit damages. To be immune, employers would merely have to show they were  “exploring options” to comply with federal law, or they found the risk of harm to health could not be “reduced or eliminated by reasonably modifying policies, practices, or procedures.” A worker whose lawyer issues a demand letter and settlement offer would find themselves potentially facing litigation by the employer against them. If employers sue workers, there is no limit to punitive damages. These provisions would be retroactive to December 1, 2019, and remain in effect at least until October 1, 2024.

Student debt: The HEALS Act doesn’t extend the interest-free payment pause on federal student loans or halt debt collection on government-held student debt, two forms of relief in the original CARES ACT. Without extending the relief Congress first granted to student loan borrowers through the CARES Act, 40 million people are likely to have to resume payments on September 30, 2020 at a time when there are Depression-like levels of unemployment.

Business support: The Act provides $100 billion more for the problematic Paycheck Protection Program, which has been rife with corruption as members of Congress and the administration as well as their friends, families, and donors got payouts. Big businesses got loans even though the program was intended for small businesses, making small business owners furious. Black and minority businesses were denied loans. Money is needed for main street businesses but PPP needs major changes rather than just pouring more money into the failed program.

The bill also includes $1.75 billion for the FBI building. This was added at the insistence of the Trump administration because the president’s hotel is across the street from the FBI. Without funding to refurbish the building, the FBI could move to Virginia or Maryland, leaving the current building to be torn down and likely replaced with a hotel that would compete with Trump’s hotel.

Military spending: Nearly $30 billion in the HEALS Act would be allocated in a brazen giveaway to the military. The bill includes billions for the Pentagon including $686 million for F-35 stealth fighters, $650 million for A-10 ground attack airplane wing replacements, $1.4 billion for four expeditionary medical ships, and $720 million for C-130J transport aircraft, $375 million for armored vehicles, $360 million for missile defense, and $283 million for Apache helicopters. This is reportedly being added to make up for money taken from the Pentagon for the border wall and comes after Congress recently passed a record military spending bill.

Paramedics taking a patient into an Emergency Room at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The Democrats Fail To Use Their Power

The Democrats control the House of Representatives. Nothing can pass the Senate without Democratic Party support. The Senate Republicans are divided and Trump is desperate to sign a bill. Polls show Republicans could lose the Senate so they need to pass a good bill. The political alignment favors the Democratic Party but it still isn’t doing what is needed.

The Democrats passed the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act in May, a $3 trillion proposal compared to the $1 trillion HEALS Act. Two months ago this may have been adequate but now that figure needs to be increased as more jobs have been lost, state and city governments have lost income, and the cost of treating the virus has increased with more cases.

A “red line” for the Democrats should be funding state and local government with at least $1 trillion to continue basic services. More than 20 million people work for state and local governments such as firefighters, teachers, police, sanitation workers, and transportation workers. The Economic Policy Institute estimates 5.3 million jobs will be lost without state and local funding. President Trump and the Republicans do not want another massive increase in job loss, so the Democrats are in a strong position to make this demand.

The decrease in unemployment benefits should be another unacceptable “red line” as this will further shrink the economy. The Economic Policy Institute finds the loss of the extra $600 of unemployment benefits, which people are currently spending on basic needs, will result in the loss of an additional 3.4 million jobs.

One area where the Democrats can build on some agreement is the $1,200 COVID-19 relief payment to individuals. These payments are too small. A good COVID-19 relief package would increase payments to $2,000 per person monthly for the duration of the pandemic and recession for households earning under $150,000 as suggested by Sen. Bernie Sanders. This would slow the economic collapse and ease suffering.

It is essential to extend the moratorium on evictions not just for federally-subsidized housing, but the federal government should also cover rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the crises. Otherwise, millions of families will lose their homes in an election year, which should be politically unpalatable for both parties.

Health workers give people free Covid-19 tests in Arlington, Virginia, on May 26 (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

We Need a Plan

What is missing from both the Republican and Democratic bills is a strategy to control and stop the pandemic. The virus is 7 months old and still spreading rapidly. President Trump has failed to lead so Congress must do so. The bill should include a massive investment in making rapid testing available across the country. Every business and school should have rapid testing capability before they reopen. This should be combined with hiring 500,000 public health tracers so those who have been exposed to COVID-19 can be tracked to prevent further spread of the virus.

Everyone wants to restart the economy but this must be done safely. In addition to testing and tracing, workplaces and schools must be safe. School districts should decide whether to restart or continue web-based learning and should be supported by the federal government whatever they choose. Hundreds of thousands of tutors who can do one-on-one teaching to support web-based learning are needed. With high unemployment, especially among recent graduates and college students, there are people available to take on this task.

Congress should authorize OSHA to rapidly enact stringent standards for workplaces to reopen, along with funding for necessary safeguards. There should be increased funding for OSHA workplace inspections and investigations of inadequate safety. Employers who meet the standards for a safe workplace should have legal protection from frivolous lawsuits but employees should also have the right to sue if workplaces do not meet safety standards. This approach protects both workers and employers and will reduce the spread of the virus.

Neither party handled healthcare well even before the pandemic. COVID-19 has magnified the failure of for-profit healthcare. To stop the spread of the virus, Congress needs to break away from its privatized approach to healthcare. With the widespread job loss, 5.4 million workers lost their health insurance as did millions more family members. This is the largest decline in health insurance coverage in US history. The rapid response to this healthcare crisis should be the expansion of Medicare to everyone in the United States. Ideological opposition to publicly funded healthcare should not block this essential step. The long term failure of our healthcare system and widening health disparities demonstrate why we need a community-controlled, public, universal healthcare system.

Workers strike over safety (Yahoo Finance)

he People Must Rule, and Protect Ourselves

Congress and the President are unlikely to enact the laws needed to confront the pandemic and economic collapse. As a result, both will worsen. We will have to take action to protect ourselves and build popular power to win our demands.

We need to organize mutual aid to people meet people’s basic needs, such as for food and housing. Many cities have vacant buildings owned by the local and federal governments. As homelessness rises, these should be taken over to house people. We discuss the practical steps for taking over homes with Cheri Honkala this week on Clearing The FOG, (available as a podcast on Monday).

We build popular power by taking the streets as people have been doing for over two months now across the country, only buying essentials, refusing to pay rent or debt payments, blocking evictions and by building in our workplaces for a general strike.

Our actions must not be about which presidential candidate from the two parties of the millionaires to elect. Only one serious presidential campaign is right on COVID-19 and the economy, the Green candidates Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker. Our actions need to be about building a people’s movement that grows in power before and after the November elections. No matter who is elected, the people will need to resist, create new systems and rule from below.

Popular Movements Can Overcome Authoritarian Policing

Portland protests say Go Home Feds as protests grow (by Noah Berger, AP)

Today is the 60th day of protests since the murder of George Floyd. This weekend, people marched in cities across the country in solidarity with Portland and in opposition to the US becoming a police state.

President Trump sending troops to cities added fuel to the nationwide uprising against racist police violence. Protests have grown not only in Portland but in Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Omaha, Austin, Oakland, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC, among other cities.

Trump is not a ‘law and order’ president, he is a chaos and disorder president. He is mistaken to think that increasing conflict in cities throughout the country will save his failing 2020 campaign. Just as his hyped attack on Central American caravans backfired before the 2018 mid-term elections, this escalation is also backfiring as people are mobilized to stand against Trump’s authoritarianism.

While Trump’s actions are the focus of current protests, Portland demonstrates there is a long history of police violence that preceded Trump. Mayors have allowed police violence and Joe Biden, when he was Chair of the Judiciary Committee, authored legislation that led to over-policing and encouraged police militarization. While Trump sending in militarized troops to cities needs to be opposed, police violence is bigger than Trump.

Federal troop pushes a mother back during a demonstration against the presence of Trump’s federal enforcement (Reuters)

Trump Sends In Federal Troops, Escalates Violence

While federal officers protect federal buildings across the country that is not what Trump is doing. He is using the excuse of protecting federal buildings as cover for sending in federal troops to dominate cities.

On June 1, President Trump made his plan clear, warning governors that if they did not get control of the cities, he would send in troops. He told governors “You have to dominate, if you don’t dominate you’re wasting your time.”

June 1 was also the day that National Guard troops in Washington, DC fired tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets into non-violent protesters in Lafayette Park across from the White House so Trump could walk across the park for a widely denigrated photo-op holding a bible in front of St. John’s church. Trump said last week that he sent personnel to Portland because “the locals couldn’t handle it.”

The presence of federal troops in Portland and being sent to other cities is based on an executive order signed on June 26 to protect “Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.” Homeland Security director, Chad Wolf, created a task force made up of Border Patrol, Coast Guard, U.S. Marshals, and other agencies. Three different operations have been announced: Wolf’s “Protecting Americans Communities Task Force”; the Department of Justice’s crime-fighting “Operation Legend” announced on July 8; and “Operation Diligent Valor,” which includes the Portland police mission.

Legal analysts and commentators are debating whether the actions of federal troops in Portland are legal. The government argues they are merely protecting buildings and when they go blocks away they are investigating who damaged buildings. The Oregonian questions that writing, “Even if the federal agencies have legitimate license to defend the courthouse, ‘The real question is: Is it being used as a pretext?’”

It is evident from federal troop actions in Portland that this generalized federal policing is beyond federal authority.

Reports and videos of unidentified Border Patrol agents in camouflage grabbing people off the street, stuffing them into unmarked vehicles, and driving off are unconstitutional, illegal actions.

Oregon officials including the governor and Portland mayor have asked Homeland Security to keep its troops off of Portland’s streets but Chad Wolf has refused. Oregon’s senators have also opposed Trump sending paramilitary squads to Portland.

Some, including the District Attorney of Philadelphia Larry Krassner, say federal troops should be prosecuted when they violate the law. The Oregonian reported that Steven Wax, a former Federal Public Defender, called on Oregon’s US attorney and the Multnomah County district attorney to convene grand juries with subpoena powers to investigate alleged criminal acts by federal officers. Potential charges could include kidnapping, assault, and racketeering conspiracy, he said. The district attorney and attorney general are conducting a criminal investigation focused on the injury of a protester, 26 year old Donovan La Bella, on July 11 who was shot in the head with an impact munition near the federal courthouse and subsequently needed surgery.

Oregon’s attorney general, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, state legislators, and others have filed at least four lawsuits against federal agencies. US District Judge Michael H. Simon issued a 14-day order barring federal officers from targeting journalists or legal observers and said in court that he was disturbed by several images of federal officers using force against non-aggressive demonstrators. He noted the July  18 baton-beating of 53-year-old Navy veteran Chris David who tried to talk with federal officers outside the courthouse and the injury of La Bella.

As our guest on Clearing The FOG, constitutional lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard makes the point that courts need to protect the rights of all people to protest and not make journalists and legal observers a separate category with greater rights than others.

The Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) carries weaponry of the sort usually used in Afghanistan or Iraq (John Rudoff)

Paramilitaries Instead of the Military

We describe these federal agents as “troops” because that is what they are. President Trump threatened to use the Insurrection Act to deploy armed services to states but people in the military and legal scholars opposed him. Instead, Trump has sent militarized troops from civilian agencies into the cities.

The Department of Homeland Security sent Border Patrol Tactical Units (BORTAC) from Customs to Portland. BORTAC is an elite paramilitary unit that includes snipers and other highly trained troops who often operate outside of the US and are based along the Mexican border.  These “Specialized Response Teams” wear the US Army’s camouflage and use military gear. BORTAC units have been deployed to war environments, including Iraq and Afghanistan. While not a violation of Posse Comitatus, which forbids the use of the military in domestic law enforcement, they subvert the intent of the Act.

An internal Homeland Security memo found the federal troops were not trained in riot control or mass demonstrations. It also stated this kind of federal action was “going to be the norm” so training was needed. Trump has promised to send troops to “Democrat” cities in an election year spectacle.

In addition to on-the-ground troops, the US is using the US Air Force ‘Cougar’ surveillance plane over Portland.  The Intercept reports the flight data shows tight, circular surveillance flights over Portland. Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Government Secrecy Project, asks “What is their mission? Under what authority are they operating, and who authorized them?”

Trump is using police as a prop in the 2020 election with Portland as a campaign stage. The campaign seeks to win votes in the suburbs, which he won by 4 percent in 2016 but is now losing by double digits. Trump’s re-election campaign has spent over $983 million in 2020, more than the $878 million spent in his entire 2016 campaign. Despite this spending, he is behind Biden by landslide margins in all of the battleground states. He fired his campaign manager and is obviously getting desperate.

Trump is mimicking the ‘law and order’ campaign of Richard Nixon but this is a different era when police violence and racism are on video for all to see. Protests after police murdered George Floyd took place in cities of all sizes and in many suburbs. A national consensus is developing that racist police violence exists and it must end. Images of militarized police shooting and tear-gassing unarmed protesters is likely to backfire against Trump.

Portland protester enveloped in tear gas waves US flag (Nathan Howard for Getty Images)

Police Violence is Bigger Than Trump

Before the federal troops arrived, Portland police were using extreme violence and chemical weapons against protesters. The Portland Police Bureau already had a temporary restraining order for its violation of protesters’ free speech rights and another for arresting journalists and legal observers. Another court ruling largely prohibited local police from using tear gas, but that has not stopped federal troops from doing so. When Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also serves as the police commissioner, came to the courthouse protests people jeered him and signs called him ‘Tear Gas Ted.’ Wheeler was teargassed himself by the federal troops.

The Intercept describes how the Portland Police Association has dominated elected officials for decades. In meetings with the mayor, one police union president would put his gun on the table. The union contract protects racist cops making it hard to fire those who’ve used deadly force. When the new contract was being considered in 2016, people protested at City Hall and the police rioted forcing protesters outside where police in riot gear then surrounded the building as city officials approved their union contract.

The NY Times reports that of the 35 cities in the United States with populations larger than 500,000, Portland is the whitest with 71 percent of residents categorized as non-Latino whites and only 6% are Black. This stems from the state being founded as a state for white people. A 19th-century law called for whipping any Black person found in the state. In the early part of the 20th century, Oregon’s Legislature was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan. As the destination of Lewis and Clark, Oregon symbolized the conquest of the American West and the subjugation of Native peoples.

Police violence in Portland is disproportionately against Black people including being stopped by police and targeted with the use of force. Slate reports, “When the police chief banned chokeholds in 1985 after officers killed a Black man with the hold, officers made T-shirts that said, ‘Don’t Choke ’Em. Smoke ’Em.’ In 2012, the Justice Department reported that the PPB had an unconstitutional ‘pattern or practice’ of using excessive force against people with mental illnesses.”  The Portland police have also been sympathetic to right-wing, white supremacist organizations when they demonstrated in the city.

With this history of white domination, some would think racist policing would not be a political issue but the evidence of racist police brutality has struck a chord not only in Portland but across the country. Portland has had a strong protest movement over inequality, neoliberalism, wars, and more. The police have a long history of using violence against protests resulting in court settlements for victims. Now, opposition to racism, capitalism, and fascism has led to a unified movement.

The Wall of Moms, followed by a Wall of Dads, combating tear gas with leaf blowers, has been joined by a wall of veterans. Veterans are challenging the federal troops, telling them they are following illegal orders. Other affinity groups forming “walls” include grandparents, chefs and lawyers. People have made shields and are wearing helmets and gas masks to protect themselves against federal violence. Some are using hockey sticks to hit tear gas containers back toward federal troops.

Most local officials have opposed Trump’s threats to send troops to their cities and have threatened litigation. Lori Lightfoot, a neoliberal Democratic mayor, initially opposed federal troops coming to Chicago but, after a phone call with Trump and a promise that troops would work under the control of the US Attorney with a very limited role, she changed her mind. Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, has faced protests at her home for this.

Alliances with federal police can be problematic. Separate from the current controversy, Albuquerque, Atlanta, St. Paul, San Francisco, and Portland all pulled out of federal-local task forces because federal agents have violated local rules regarding racial profilinguse-of-force policies, and requirements to wear body cameras.

While Trump is putting himself at the center of current police violence, the reality is police violence is bigger than Trump. The system-wide challenges with policing are deeply entrenched. Police defend the status quo including racial injustice and class inequality. Whenever political movements develop to respond to racial and class unfairness, the police have undermined their politically-protected constitutional rights. Now that the conflict has heightened, it is time for the people to resolve it.

Retired US Army major intelligence officer Jenine Betschart (center) protests outside the Multnomah County Justice Center along with the ‘Wall of Moms’ as night fell on the city (Daily Mail)

People Can Protect the Right to Protest and Limit Police Powers

Militarized police violence is the wars abroad coming home. Strategic tactics like the Wall of Moms and veterans in broad opposition to militarized federal police demonstrate how movements can stop Trump’s authoritarianism, limit the actions of police and protect the right to protest.

At the beginning of this century, mass protests in Washington, DC against corporate trade agreements led to violent responses by DC and federal police. Litigation by the Partnership for Civil Justice followed. The result was large monetary awards to protesters but also agreements between the parties that put in place “best practices” to protect the right to protest in Washington, DC. Now both local police and federal police are bound by these agreements.

We interview Mara Verhayden-Hilliard on this week’s Clearing the FOG Radio (available Monday night) about whether the current protests could also lead to the protection of our rights. The overreach of President Trump and the violent reaction of local police is an opportunity for change. To succeed requires smart litigation that protects all protest, not a hierarchy protecting media or legal observers, and the litigation must act in synergy with the people.

People cannot give up the streets but must oppose violent police with strategic tactics that continue to pull people to support the movement and oppose police violence. Our goal is to transform the concept of public safety to mean programs that meet people’s basic needs and build a national consensus for policing that is defundeddemilitarized and democratically controlled. Already the movement has changed the opinions of people in the US.  We must build on that success, and continue the pressure for change no matter who is elected president.

Building On Victories For A Stronger Climate Justice Movement

While the climate justice movement has been winning important victories, stopping and slowing pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure, and putting the future of fossil fuels in doubt, the political system, long connected to the fossil fuel industry, is still fighting the urgently needed transition to clean sustainable energy. Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden put forward energy plans that do not challenge fossil fuels.  The only candidate with a serious climate plan is Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.

The movement needs to build momentum from these successes for more actions to stop fossil fuel infrastructure. As the reality of the climate crisis hits more people, fossil fuels will become high-risk investments while the cost of solar, wind, thermal, and ocean energy is declining.

Propped Up by Massive Subsidies

The fossil fuel industry is being propped up by massive subsidies without which its extinction would be faster. A 2019 IMF report found that $5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017, the equivalent of over 6.5% of global GDP. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found “the $649 billion the US spent on these subsidies in 2015 is more than the country’s defense budget and 10 times the federal spending for education.”

In the era of the climate crisis, COVID-19, and recession, these subsidies are not justifiable. Christine Lagarde of the IMF has called for removing fossil fuel subsidies, noting the investments made into fossil fuels could be better spent elsewhere. She notes: “There would be more public spending available to build hospitals, to build roads, to build schools and to support education and health for the people.”

The era of fossil fuel domination is coming to an end. It is up to people to organize to hasten the transition to a clean, sustainable energy economy. The deeply embedded fossil fuel industry can be defeated. The people have shown they can make it impossible to build fossil fuel infrastructure.

Friends of Nelson Facebook page

Movements Can Stop Fossil Fuels

In early July, three pipeline projects suffered major blows. Their defeats were the result of more than a decade of activism by thousands of people. People risked arrest, went to jail, confronted police, petitioned, lobbied and litigated, slowing the projects down and making it impossible to profitably build pipelines and other infrastructure.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was canceled on July 5. On July 6, a federal court ordered Dakota Access Pipeline to shut down pending an environmental review. Unfortunately, a court of appeals ruling allows the pipeline to continue to operate while the litigation is resolved. That night, the Supreme Court let a Montana court ruling on the Keystone XL pipeline stand, meaning the project cannot be built until much of the litigation is settled.  Construction of the Keystone XL is blocked until 2021. Joe Biden has pledged to oppose the Keystone XL. If he is elected, activists will have to hold him to that promise.

The Keystone XL pipeline was designed to carry Alberta’s dirty tar sands oil across the US-Canada border into Nebraska and has been fought since 2011 by the Tar Sands Blockades, Bold Nebraska and others.  The Dakota Access pipeline was opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux uprising that brought Indigenous nations and climate activists together in a months-long struggle, often facing violent police repression. The DAPL is transporting fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin to Gulf Coast refineries. And, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would have carried fracked gas through the Appalachian Mountains from West Virginia to North Carolina. All along the route, people aligned to oppose the project. Litigation and delays forced the large companies, Dominion and Duke Energy, to cancel the project even after investing $3.4 billion in it.

In another defeat that will empower climate activists, on June 30 in a 10 to 1 decision, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to allow people impacted by fossil fuel infrastructure to sue 31 days after filing an administrative appeal on a permitted project. FERC had been preventing litigation by delaying the 30-day administrative appeal an average of 7 months and up to 15 months during which pipelines were being built.

FERC has been critical for the fossil fuel boom of the Obama and Trump eras. FERC and the fossil fuel industry act as one as all FERC funding comes from industry fees, not taxpayers. According to Ted Glick of Beyond Extreme Energy, which has been battling FERC for a decade, in an interview on WBAI, the vast majority of FERC commissioners since it was founded in 1978 have come out of the fossil fuel industry and many go back to the industry after leaving FERC. The same revolving door exists for many staff members too. FERC and the oil and gas industries have been working together to prevent court review, but with this new DC Circuit Court decision, that should stop.

All of these victories were the result of grassroots struggles by the climate justice movement. As one activist tweeted, “In case you thought that small actions don’t matter . . . this is a result of every tree-sitter, each person who chained herself to a piece of equipment, sat at an air board mtg, blocked a site.” Campaigns that challenge infrastructure at every turn make a difference. These victories are part of a nationwide uprising against fossil fuel infrastructure and the resultant thievery of private property by abusing eminent domain, the pollution of farms, rivers and forests and FERC’s steamrolling over communities.

The movement is making pipelines more expensive to build. Increased costs combined with low fossil fuel prices and low costs for solar and wind energy are making the industry a risky investment. There have been hundreds of bankruptcies. Symbolic of this is the recent bankruptcy of Chesapeake Energy, which was a leader in the fracking boom. It started to decline after one of the CEOs, Aubrey McClendon, died in a car crash in 2016 after being charged with corruption. Steve Horn reports on their ongoing corruption, writing, “Just a month ago, in fact, Chesapeake executives showered themselves with $25 million in bonuses, despite the company tumbling toward bankruptcy.”

USA Today reported that 24 oil and gas companies have already filed for bankruptcy since the COVID-19 pandemic and recession began. The Wall Street Journal reports that potentially 200 fracking corporations could declare bankruptcy in the next two years if the price of oil stays at current levels.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Fossil Fuel Industry is Not Defeated

Fossil fuel industry ties to presidents have run deep for decades. Both George H. W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, were oil men. President Obama, who made the US a top producer of oil and gas, bragged, “We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some.” During his term, over a period of two years, the US built 29,604 miles of new pipeline. According to NASA, the equatorial circumference of the Earth is 24,873.6 miles.

President Trump, who denies climate change, is seeking to expedite the approval of oil and gas infrastructure. Former Vice President Biden said he will protect the fracking industry and opposes the Green New Deal. His recently announced climate plans do not confront the fossil fuel industry.

The Trump administration has issued a proposed rule to undermine the 50-year old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not requiring any consideration of climate impacts as part of the review of fossil fuel infrastructure. His proposal will play out over months or years during a public comment process. If it is approved, litigation can be used to stop it.

Trump is building on the work of the Obama-Biden administration that issued executive orders to speed up environmental reviews and did not include climate considerations in NEPA reviews until his final year in office. Their administration allowed large pipeline projects to be broken into small segments to skirt the NEPA review. Through the signing of the FAST Act in 2015, which led to the creation of a Federal Permit Improvement Steering Council, federal permits and the NEPA review process were streamlined.

Biden is doubling down on fossil fuels and trying to confuse people with the fraudulent phrase of “net-zero” emissions, which is a shell game that will not cut fossil fuel production. He is calling for investment in carbon capture utilization and sequestration to claim he will offset carbon emissions, but this is a political fraud as the technologies are unproven. Even inside the DNC, this strategy is questioned by their Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis, which opposes reliance of offsets and asks, “Why would we rely on it when we already have much less expensive, proven, clean green technologies?”

The movement must be clear in its demand to replace fossil fuels with solar, wind, and other clean sustainable energy sources. We must demand policies that are consistent with the reality of the climate crisis requiring urgent action.

Indigenous Environmental Network

Building On Our Victories

The recent victories indicate that the more we show our determination, risk arrest, challenge projects in the courts and build the case against fossil fuels in the era of climate crisis, the more infrastructure projects will be shelved. For those projects currently underway, the movement must continue to challenge them at every turn using the creativity and tactical variety that come from a movement composed of a broad base of people with different backgrounds, experiences and concerns.

The profitability of pipelines is already in doubt due to the strategic nonviolence of the movement and the changing energy market. Even with Trump and Biden mouthing support for the industry, they will not be able to overcome the realities of the market failure, the climate crisis and that people want funds spent on public health, remaking the economy and transitioning to a clean energy economy.

The nationwide uprising against racism and the movement against pipelines already have close connections due to environmental racism and alliances with Indigenous struggles. We need to make these cross-issue relationships stronger.

The economic collapse is an opportunity to remake the economy with the Green New Deal as the centerpiece of massive job creation, investment in education and the development of new industries. There is a growing labor uprising with PayDay Report tracking more than 900 wildcat strikes since March 1. Workers need to understand that confronting climate change will create 30 million good-paying union jobs and the Green New Deal is key to rebuilding the economy.

The climate movement against fossil fuels has already shown the ability to create this broad movement. Native Americans, climate scientists, farmers and ranchers, big environmental groups, veterans and activists all came together for the first time in some of these struggles. Future efforts can link climate justice, anti-racism, and workers’ rights work, as well as the anti-war movement because the US military is the biggest polluter and fossil fuel user on the planet, to create an unstoppable movement no matter who is the next president.

COVID-19 Corruption: Wealthy And Well Connected Get Rich While People Suffer

COVID Dollars from Fiscal Times

While corrupt elected officials and elites feed at the public trough, the economic collapse is hitting people in the United States hard. According to the newly released Bureau of Labor Statistics figures 47.2 percent of working-age people are without work and businesses are finding it impossible to pay their rent or keep their employees. The basic ability to feed children is in crisis, as nearly 14 million children in the United States went hungry in June, an increase of 10 million since 2018, and nearly three times the number of children who went hungry during the Great Recession, according to an analysis of Census data.

Newsweek summarizes:

Nearly half of U.S. households’ incomes have declined during the pandemic, with survey data showing both low-and high-income households being affected at about the same rate. For the week ending July 4, 1.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits. Evictions are expected to skyrocket with 23 million people possibly facing eviction by September.

The impact of the economic collapse will hit even harder in the week of July 25, when the temporary weekly increase of $600 in unemployment benefits enacted in the CARES bill ends.  There is strong opposition in Congress and the White House to continuing those benefits. The moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing will also end that week. The Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey found 30 percent of renters had little or no confidence that they could meet housing payments next month.

Amidst this crisis for most people, the investor class is doing well as the US stock market closed in June with one of the best quarterly rises in history. This is not surprising as the Federal Reserve and Treasury have funneled trillions to the wealthy. Pandemic capitalism is highlighting the wealth divide and the corruption of government working in cahoots with the super-wealthy.

The Rich Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out

While the government sought to hide where pandemic bailouts under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) were going, it is now being exposed. The PPP loans were intended to help small businesses maintain their payroll with loans that are fully forgiven if at least 60% of it is used on payroll costs. Recipients were kept secret, but public pressure forced them to release the information. The government is only releasing information on grants over $150,000. News agencies have filed suit to release all the information.

The self-dealing and corruption of big donors, members of Congress, the president and their families and friends are being exposed. These people are getting the bailout funds while others without those kinds of connections are suffering. Or, as Esquire mockingly described, the list of recipients  “was stuffed to the gunwales with fatcats, friends of fatcats, deadbeat fatcats, fatcat-financed organizations, and fatcats with political influence.”

Bailout Dollars Go To Elected Officials, Their Families, and Associates

Roll Call reports that $14 million in relief funds wound up going to members of Congress and their families. Businesses owned by lawmakers and their families move to the front of the line for bailouts. “At least nine lawmakers and three congressional caucuses have ties to organizations that took millions of dollars in aid,” Politico reports

The Washington Post reports Elaine Cho, the wife of Majority Leader Mith McConnell (R-KY) received aid, “Among some of those receiving relief were Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s family’s shipping business. In addition, at least seven members of Congress or their spouses received loans, including lawmakers who were directly involved in shaping regulations and also benefited from a blanket waiver of ethics concerns.”

KTAK Corp., a Tulsa-based operator of fast-food franchises owned by Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) received between $1 million and $2 million, according to the Post.  Further, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) benefited when three of his car dealerships, located outside of Pittsburgh, received a combined total of between $450,000 and $1.05 million. Several plumbing businesses affiliated with Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), all based in Broken Arrow, Okla., each received between $350,000 and $1 million.

The Fiscal Times reports:

Among the lawmakers who own or have other ties to businesses that received loans are Republicans Reps. Rick Allen (GA), Vicky Harzler (MO), Kevin Hern (OK), Mike Kelly (PA), Markwayne Mullin (OK) and Roger Williams (TX) as well as Democratic Reps. Matt Cartwright (PA), Susie Lee (NV) and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL). A company tied to the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) got a loan of between $350,000 and $1 million.

Forbes reports that West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, a coal-mining tycoon, pulled in millions for his businesses. His Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs took a PPP loan ranging from $5 million to $10 million. His Greenbrier Sporting Club, a membership club that touts “luxury living,” infinity pools and more took a loan of $1 million to $2 million in April.

Trump Family, Friends and Business Associates Get Millions

ProPublica reports “Businesses tied to President Donald Trump’s family and associates stand to receive as much as $21 million in government loans designed to shore up payroll expenses for companies struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.” This includes a hydroponic lettuce farm backed by Dobald Trump, Jr., the president’s eldest son of at least $150,000.

Further, “several companies connected to the president’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, could get upward of $6 million.” ProPublica reports on Kushner-related grants, “The New York Observer, the news website that Kushner ran before entering the White House and is still owned by his brother-in-law’s investment firm, was approved for between $350,000 and $1 million, data shows. A company called Princeton Forrestal LLC that is at least 40 percent owned by Kushner family members, according to a 2018 securities filing, was approved for $1 million to $2 million. Esplanade Livingston LLC, whose address is the same as that of the Kushner Companies real estate development business, was approved for $350,000 to $1 million.” They also report that “up to $2 million was approved for the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, a nonprofit religious school in Livingston, N.J., that’s named for Jared Kushner’s grandfather and supported by the family.

It is not just Trump’s family, the Post reports, “At 40 Wall Street, an office building Trump owns in Lower Manhattan, 22 companies received loans, for a combined total of at least $16.6 million.” Similarly, tenants at Trump hotels received millions; e.g., “Triomphe Restaurant Corp, which operates the Jean-Georges restaurant at the Trump International Hotel on Central Park West, got between $2 million and $5 million. Sushi Nakazawa, a restaurant in the Trump D.C. hotel, received between $150,000 and $350,000 to support 22 jobs, according to the data.”

Also, Trump friends and associates such as “Albert Hazzouri, a dentist frequently spotted at Mar-a-Lago, asked for a similar amount. A hospital run by Maria Ryan, a close associate of Trump lawyer and former mayor Rudy Giuliani, requested more than $5 million.”  A Trump lawyer also received millions: “a Manhattan law firm whose marquee attorney has fiercely defended Trump for almost two decades. Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP — whose managing partner, Marc Kasowitz, was at one point the president’s top lawyer in the special counsel’s Russia investigation — was set to receive between $5 million and $10 million from Citibank.”

Trump media allies got PPP funding. Bipartisan Report wrote:

The conservative online media outlet founded by Trump confidante and FOX News host Tucker Carlson, the Daily Caller received as much as $1 million. Carlson sold his stake in the company on June 10. And, Newsmax, the Conservative TV network and website owned by another presidential confidante, Christopher Ruddy, got a loan worth $2 million to $5 million.

End Socialism For The Rich

Bailout business “socialism” would be something you’d expect libertarians and small government anti-tax advocates to oppose; however, among the recipients of PPP funds was Grover Norquist who wants the government to shrink “to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” His organization, Americans for Tax Reform took $350,000. The Ayn Rand Institute, The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism, which advocates  “laissez-faire capitalism,” took $1 million in PPP funds. Its board member, Harry Binswanger, said they would take the money because “the principle here is justice.”

In fact, if the principle were justice, then this kind of hypocrisy and corruption would be stopped and a program to help the vast majority of people who lack economic security, and the small businesses that will be unable to survive the economic collapse would be the recipients of this kind of funding.  This is the second time in a decade that the government has had to bail out capitalism with trillions of dollars. Maybe it is time for economic democracy, an economy that serves the people, not the wealthy.

As Richard Wolff writes, “Capitalism serves capitalists first and foremost.” That’s why recovery from the COVID19 pandemic and the current recession require changing the economic system to one that puts people and the planet over profits. There are efforts to make that a reality by creating worker-owned cooperatives, participatory budgeting and public banks. Some communities are organizing mutual aid including solidarity gardens where the food produced is given to communities in need and there are programs to donate stimulus checks to people without incomes.

If there was ever a time to build a different world, that time is now. Ajamu Baraka explains, “The current ongoing capitalist crisis has created the most serious crisis of legitimacy since the collapse of the capitalist economy during the years referred to as the Great Depression.” He urges us to keep the focus on class and race so we cannot be divided and to have a broad lens to connect what is happening at home to what the US does abroad. We must also recognize how the state will try to coopt and water down our demands. Change is coming. What it looks like is up to us.

Upcoming events:

July 16 – The Embassy Protection Collective hosts the “Strengthening Solidarity between Social Movements in Venezuela and the US” meeting via Zoom at 2:00 pm. Click here for more information.

July 20Strike for Black Lives.

Government Attacks Media As People’s Media Reveals The Truth

An Omaha police officer escorts freelancer Megan Feeney, a camera dangling from her zip-tied hands, on June 1, 2020. (Aaron Sanderford/Omaha World Herald).

NOTE: We are taking next weekend off to take care of personal needs. The newsletter will be back in two weeks. – KZ and MF

Government attacks on the media are escalating as the battle for the narrative grows in importance.

For the last decade, stories produced and amplified by the democratized media have put the power structure at risk. People saw government documents showing war crimes and violations of international law. We all saw police killing unarmed people and extreme militarized violence in response to nonviolent protests. These stories have been magnified by people realizing they are the media and sharing stories in their networks on a variety of platforms.

To maintain control, the power structure needs to stop people from knowing the truth. The recent RAND Report on the future of warfare cites the following concern: “As smartphones and social media saturate the developing world, militaries will find themselves harder pressed to control both what images the public sees and the narrative surrounding operations.”

Powerholders are striking back. This article focuses on two aspects of this conflict – the new indictment brought against Julian Assange this week and the attacks on media by the police during the nationwide uprising against police violence. Part of the job of each of us is to let them know we see what they are doing to try to hide the truth of their actions. We must hold them accountable for the false narrative they produce and their efforts to criminalize those who are the truthtellers and work to put out the true narrative those in power want to suppress.

Collateral murder video provided to Wikileaks.

Federal government’s new indictment against Assange based on smears

The leading truthteller who is under attack is Julian Assange. The prosecution of Assange will define freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and our right to know in the 21st Century.

This week the federal government sought to bolster its bogus case against Assange with more false and misleading claims in another superseding indictment. The centerpiece of the indictment remains the 17 Espionage Act counts for the publication of documents leaked by Chelsea Manning exposing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and illegal global diplomatic intrigues. The federal government did not add new charges but instead sought to mischaracterize Assange as a hacker because the charges based on the Espionage Act are problematic. The Espionage Act has never been used against a journalist and extradition from the UK is not allowed for political prosecutions. The prosecution of a journalist for reporting the truth about US foreign policy is clearly a political prosecution.

The federal government sought to define Assange as a hacker using speeches he gave at conferences calling for transparency and describing the power of government whistleblowers who share documents and hackers who acquire them. The government twists important political arguments made by Assange about the need to expose corruption and crimes of government, especially the US government, as conspiring with hackers.

To achieve this feat, they produced an indictment that “is riddled with inaccuraciesglaring plot holes, and amateurish errors, relies heavily on testimony from a literal convicted pedophile and diagnosed sociopath, and appears to be little more than a feeble attempt to legitimize the injection of the words ‘hacking’ and ‘hackers’ into the prosecutorial narrative,” as Caitlin Johnstone writes.  In addition, the prosecutors leave out important details including the FBI’s own complicity in hacking in an effort to set people up, including Assange, for prosecution.

They also sought to claim Assange and his colleagues at Wikileaks were conspiring with hackers because of the assistance they gave to Edward Snowden to avoid capture by the US government and move to Russia for political protection. Sarah Harrison of Wikileaks is described as a co-conspirator for her heroic role in saving Snowden from prosecution even though she is not charged with any crime. Other Wikileaks members are included as co-conspirators.

The new indictment points to statements made by Assange and other Wikileaks members at the Chaos Computer Club conference in Germany on December 31, 2013. Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, and Harrison participated in a panel discussion called, “Sysadmins of the World, Unite! A Call to Resistance.” This effort to turn a public speech by Assange into a hacker-conspiracy shows the desperation of the government to convict Assange. Kevin Gosztola writes in Shadowproof that “At no point does the Justice Department attempt to connect the alleged ‘recruitment’ of ‘hackers’ or ‘leakers’ to an actual individual, who heard these words and acted upon them.”

The original indictment, which claimed Assange assisted Chelsea Manning in acquiring classified documents, was obviously false. Manning had security clearance and legal access to the documents she leaked and did not need to hack the files. She had already downloaded the documents on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanomo Bay, and State Department cables before contacting Assange. During the extradition hearings it was revealed she asked Assange to help her acquire prohibited video games and music for her military colleagues. Assange did not even provide help to accomplish these innocuous objectives.

The government’s desperation is made glaringly clear in this new indictment as almost all of the new material has been on the public record in one form or other, for six years or longer. They date back to Assange’s speeches to public conventions of computer experts in the Netherlands and Malaysia, in 2009 and 2010.

As has been true with each of these indictments, the government is seeking to criminalize normal journalistic practices. This includes encouraging people with inside information to provide the media with documents that are in the public interest. Assisting whistleblowers with avoiding prosecution is common practice. Glenn Greenwald says you can find very detailed instructions on the New York Times and Washington Post websites about how to safely be a whistleblower.  He describes it as the “duty of a journalist to help their source not get caught.”

The investigation of Julian Assange began in the Obama-Biden administration. While Trump praised Wikileaks during his campaign, Mike Pompeo made it his goal to prosecute Assange and destroy Wikileaks to prevent any journalist anywhere in the world from reporting on US war crimes and corruption.

This prosecution is a threat to the fundamental purpose of the First Amendment that allows people freedom of speech to criticize the government without being punished for doing so. The First Amendment is not a protection of corporate media or some narrow classification of journalists but protects all people. The Assange case is important because Wikileaks has democratized the media by giving people a method to expose crime and corruption of governments and corporations. And, it is important because the US is prosecuting an Australian journalist, writing from the UK about the United States, thereby putting people at risk not just in the United States but anywhere in the world.

Police assault Australian media crew in front of the White House.

National uprising exposes attacks on media

The national uprising against police violence and the killing of people in communities of color are exposing more efforts to suppress the truth. This comes from arrests, harassment, and violent attacks on media reporting on the protests and showing police violence. Newsrooms are also complicit by suppressing reporting.

Charles Baker writes in Business Insider that in early June, “in Minneapolis, local law enforcement took aim at Linda Tirado, a photojournalist, and shot her in the eye as she covered protests over the police killing of George Floyd. They later subjected a black journalist from CNN to wrongful arrest. In Louisville, TV reporter Kaitlin Rust and her crew were targeted by local cops who peppered them with non-lethal bullets during a live broadcast.” This led to an open letter to police endorsed by groups such as the Society of Professional Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the National Press Club to stop the devastating targeting of journalists.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there have been 499 journalists affected in over 400 cases of press freedom violations in the United States since May 26.  The US Press Freedom Tracker reports more than 440 aggressions against the media during the protests, including 116 journalists attacked and 36 arrested. An example of this involved two journalists for the Associated Press who were assaulted by six police officers and ordered to leave the scene of protests in New York City. The police claimed they were violating the curfew; the reporters said they were essential workers and therefore allowed to be there. A video shows an officer responds, “I don’t give a shit.” Another reporter was violently arrested in New York and held for two nights in Manhattan Central Booking. And, another reporter was violently attacked while he held up his press credentials and shouted he was with the media, as shown in footage captured by the Associated Press.<

In Los Angeles, an independent journalist was arrested for covering protests after the curfew after he responded to the police who asked if he was press, saying “Yes, sir.”  In Oakland, a reporter covering a protest was arrested as the curfew approached despite her press credentials being visibly on display. There have been reports from many parts of the country including Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Atlanta, Worcester, Omaha, Dallas, Lincoln, Santa Monica, Des Moines, Denver, and Minneapolis among others.

The police also served a subpoena from the county prosecutor’s office for videos, photos, and audio captured by reporters for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com during recent protests in downtown Cleveland, thereby making journalists into an arm of the police. Also in Cleveland, police banned the media from covering protests.

Commercial media outlets have taken actions to restrict coverage of protests. US-controlled media outlets, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, have been censoring and downplaying the uprising and the violent police response. A Black reporter is suing the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for not allowing her to cover the protests because of a tweet she made. In response to a long history of media suppressing the voices of oppressed people, there is a growing revolt among Black journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times.

Knowledge is Power

This century there has been a dramatic increase in awareness of government and corporate corruption, state violence, and systemic oppression. The internet and social media platforms have given everyone the tools to expose what is going on. It is this awareness that has fueled the rise in consensus that there are significant crises, that the current systems can’t address these crises and that we need new systems. The facade of democracy is fading. That we live in a failed state is becoming obvious. And now we have a summer of rebellion beginning with the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd.

Sign-up on our home page for the Popular Resistance Daily Digest and use the reports to be the media. Share articles in social media and with your networks. A key task for activists is to be the media by building up their networks and reaching more people. 

The powerholders are afraid because they can no longer control the narrative. Even those within their institutions, the corporate media, are breaking ranks and refusing to be complicit. The ruling class will do whatever it can to wrest that control back even if it means arrests and intimidation of people, breaking the law, and violating the Constitution.

The prosecution of Julian Assange, assaults on the media, and censorship of alternative voices are all an attack on our right to know. Knowledge is power. We must not lose the right to know what our government, state actors, and corporations are doing.

Julian Assange’s extradition hearing will be in September. The latest superseding indictment is another attempt to smear Assange’s reputation and weaken his public support. It is no coincidence that it came out just as the revelation of his two young children was garnering greater sympathy and Australian 60 Minutes did a favorable show on him. We must defend Assange by countering the smears, getting the truth out, and showing up for him. DefendWikileaks.org is one place to get information about what is happening and how to take action.

In this era, we all are protectors of the right to know. We encourage you to question what you see in the corporate media (and that includes the so-called public media like NPR), support independent media, and make it your responsibility to share information that counters false narratives. Learn how to be the media by covering injustice where you see it. It’s as simple as writing a letter to the editor or a blog, taking photos and videos with your phone, and sharing articles on social media.

Police Violence and Racism Have Always Been Tools of Capitalism

The system-wide challenges the United States faces with policing are entrenched and deeply rooted. When the historical and current practices of police are examined, it is evident police have been designed to uphold the status quo including racial injustice and class inequality. Whenever political movements develop to respond to racial and class unfairness, the police have undermined their politically-protected constitutional rights.

Police have used infiltration, surveillance, and violence against political movements seeking to end injustices throughout the history of the nation. It is the deeply embedded nature of these injustices and the structural problems in policing that are leading more people to conclude police must be completely transformed, if not abolished.

We advocate for democratic community control of the police as a starting point in addition to defunding the police and funding alternatives such as programs that provide mental health, public health, social work and conflict resolution services, and other nonviolent interventions. Funding is needed for the basic human needs of housing, education, employment, healthcare, and food especially in communities that have been neglected for years and whose low-wage labor has enriched the wealthy in this unequal society.

An alleged fugitive slave being seized (Getty Images)

The Roots of Policing are Rotten

The needs of the wealthy have been the driving force for the creation of police. Policing developed to control workers, many who were Irish, Italian and other immigrants seeking fair wages in the North and African people who were enslaved in the South. Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D writes in “A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing” that “Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities.”

Police detain protesters as they march down the street during a solidarity rally for George Floyd on Saturday, May 30, 2020 (AP Photo: Wong Maye-E) 

A. Southern Police Created to Protect Slavery

In the south, the driving force of the economy was slavery where people kidnapped in Africa were brought to the Americas as chattel slaves, workers who created wealth for their owners. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database lists 12.5 million Africans who were shipped to the Americas, 10.7 million of which survived the dreaded Middle Passage. Of that, 388,000 were brought to North America. African slaves were forced to reproduce for their owners and to sell.

From the start, African people revolted against slavery and fought to escape it. This 400 years legacy of racist injustice that helped form the United States is the history we must confront. The roots of policing in what became the Confederacy and later the sheriffs who enforced Jim Crow grew out of the containment of slaves, the most valuable ‘property’ in the nation.

Olivia Waxman describes this history writing that in the South, “the economics that drove the creation of police forces were centered . . . on the preservation of the slavery system.” She describes “slave patrols tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts” as one of the primary police institutions.

Gary Potter writes in “The History of Policing in the United States,” that:

Slave patrols had three primary functions: (1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside of the law, if they violated any plantation rules.

The purpose of slave patrols was to protect the wealth of the white people who owned slaves.

Potter writes:

The first formal slave patrol had been created in the Carolina colonies in 1704. During the Civil War, the military became the primary form of law enforcement in the South, but during Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.

Hundreds of laws were passed in the South around slavery and its enforcement but laws were also passed in northern colonies including Connecticut, New York, and others to control slaves. The US Congress passed fugitive Slave Laws allowing the detention and return of escaped slaves, in 1793 and 1850. Racist police made up the “kidnap gang” in New York City in 1830 who would capture Africans and bring them to a rubber stamp court that would send them to the South as captured slaves – often before their families knew they were arrested. Throughout this history, there were people who fought police violence and abuse as is discussed in The Black New Yorker Who Led The Charge Against Police Violence In The 1830s.

The history of racist policing did not end with the abolition of slavery. Police forces were involved in enforcing the racist Black Code, the Convict-Lease System, and JimCrow segregation. The terrorism of white supremacist groups like the KKK, the burning of black schools and churches and lynching became the common realities of the south. White police often did not stop, or seriously investigate these crimes; some even participated. In the era of Civil Rights, southern police used violence against nonviolent protesters – beatings, fire hoses and dogs.

This also occurred in the north. For example, Minnesota was infamous for arresting indigenous people on charges like vagrancy and forcing them to work for no pay.  This spurred the formation of the American Indian Movement. Dennis Banks describes, “The cops concentrated on the Indian bars. They would bring their paddy wagons around behind a bar and open the back doors. Then they would go around to the front and chase everybody toward the rear. ” They would be taken to stadiums and convention centers and forced to work for no pay. The police did not do this at white bars, only bars where Native Americans gathered.

The War on Drugs became the new disguise for police violence against black people. “We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news,” said President Nixon’s domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman to Harper’s Magazine. Mass incarceration of the 1980s, begun under President Reagan and continued under President Clinton with Joe Biden leading efforts in the Senate, disproportionately impacted black and brown people. Now slavery legally continues as prison labor.

AT&T workers on strike (Socialist Worker)

B. Northern Police Protect Commercial Interests, Hold Down Wages

The history of policing in the northern colonies was also driven by economics. Commercial interests protected their property through an informal, private for-profit form of hiring people part-time. Towns relied on a “night-watch” to enforce laws. Boston started a night-watch in 1636, New York followed in 1658 and Philadelphia created one in 1700.

As cities become more populated, the night-watch system was ineffective. Commercial interests needed more regular policing and so they hired people to protect their property and goods as they were transported from ports to other areas. Boston, a large shipping commercial center, became the first city to form a police force when merchants convinced the government that police were needed for the “collective good” thereby transferring the cost of maintaining a police force to the citizens.

A driving force for police expansion was workers, who were often immigrants, seeking better pay and working conditions. Abolishing The Police: A Radical Idea That’s Been Around For Over A Century, describes how the first state police force was formed in 1905 in Pennsylvania to combat workers forming unions. According to a study in 1969 by the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, the United States has the bloodiest and most violent labor history of any industrial nation in the world.

Sam Mitrani, author of The Rise of the Chicago Police Department: Class and Conflict, 1850-1894, writes in In These Times that “as Northern cities grew and filled with mostly immigrant wage workers who were physically and socially separated from the ruling class, the wealthy elite who ran the various municipal governments hired hundreds and then thousands of armed men to impose order on the new working-class neighborhoods. Class conflict roiled late-19th century American cities like Chicago, which experienced major strikes and riots in 1867, 1877, 1886, and 1894. In each of these upheavals, the police attacked strikers with extreme violence, even if in 1877 and 1894 the U.S. Army played a bigger role in ultimately repressing the working class.”

Martha Grevatt points out that:

Throughout labor history, one finds innumerable accounts of cops engaging in anti-union violence. Police viciously attacked unarmed pickets during the 1994 Staley strike in Decatur, Ill., as well as the 1995 Detroit newspaper strike, to name a few examples. They arrested and harassed UAW members during last year’s strike against GM.

This is not only a time of growing protest against police violence but also against the mistreatment of workers. Over the last two years, there has been a record number of strikers not seen in 35 years. PayDay Report counts more than 500 strikes in the last three weeks with a peak number on Juneteenth at “29 ports across the West Coast” and the UAW stopping production on all assembly lines “for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor George Floyd.”  They have tracked more than 800 strikes since March.

Protesters march in a Black Lives Matter demonstration organized by the Dallas Black Firefighters Association on Juneteenth 2020 in Dallas (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Historic Time Of Uprising and Unrest Rattles the Police and Power Structure

The rebellion by workers and anti-racism activists is unprecedented in the lives of most people alive today. There is a nationwide uprising in every state and in thousands of cities and towns.  Repression by the power structure with militarized police and the National Guard has failed to stop the protests. Democrats have failed to divert the movement of the energy into the elections, as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi have offered inadequate reforms such as more police training. Fundamental changes are needed.

Police will continue to make efforts to shut down the unrest. The FBI and local police have a long history of combatting movements. In addition to the violent response that has been well documented against the current rebellion, we should expect infiltration, surveillance, creation of internal divisions, and other tactics, even murder.

All of these acts against labor, civil rights, peace, environmental, and other movements have happened before and we should expect them again. Documents show a nationwide effort of police and the FBI to defeat the Occupy Movement that included entrapment of activists in crimes. There has also been aggressive police violence against people protesting pipelines and seeking climate justice.

Black activists continue to be a major focus of the FBI and law enforcement. Media Justice and the ACLU reported last week that one million pages of materials on FBI surveillance were discovered in a FOIA request showing widespread surveillance of black activists.

The small victories that have been won by the movement are already causing repercussions. Police are threatening to quit because they are being held accountable for violence, even though they remain protected by immunity from prosecution. A survey last week found 3 out of 4 Washington, DC police were ready to leave the force. CNN reported police in Minneapolis, Atlanta, South Florida, and Buffalo quitting. In Atlanta, police got the “flu” after felony murder charges were brought against the officer who killed Rayshard Brooks.

New York City police are planning a strike on the Fourth of July to show people what life would be like without police. However, this may backfire as during a 1997 slowdown and also during a 2014–2015 slowdown, crime did not spike, and may even have declined a bit. The nation’s top law enforcement official, Attorney General Bob Barr threatened in December 2019 that if some communities don’t begin showing more respect to law enforcement, then they could potentially not be protected by police officers.

New York Police Department (NYPD) officers guard the main entrance of the Trump Tower in New York on November 14, 2016 (Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images)

To Transform the Police, The Economy Must Be Transformed

The US Constitution, written by slaveholders and businessmen who profited from slave products, puts property rights ahead of individual rights. The Bill of Rights was an afterthought. The result of treating people as property, Jim Crow laws, redlining, and other racially unfair economic practices has left Black Americans with a $13 trillion dollar wealth gap.

Max Rameau told us in a recent podcast, To Deal With Police, We Must Understand Why They Even Exist, that when we understand the purpose of police is to protect property, it becomes more evident why they cannot be reformed. Unless we confront neoliberal capitalism that creates inequality and a hyper-class-based society, the wealthy will always find someone to pay to protect them.

In fact, the call to defund the police can be easily thrown off course by getting activists fighting for small gains of cuts to police budgets, while the police are increasing their funding from private corporations. Already, as reported by Eyes on the Ties, “Police foundations across the country are partnering with corporations to raise money to supplement police budgets by funding programs and purchasing tech and weaponry for law enforcement with little public oversight.” Their report documents support to police from Wall Street and finance, retail and food industries, Big Tech, fossil fuel corporations, sports, and universities.

It is fantasy to believe police exist for public safety. As Justin Podur writes, “Society doesn’t need a large group with a license to kill.” Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report advocates for community control over police but he doesn’t stop there, writing “communities should control, not just the police, but much of the rest of their neighborhoods’ vital services and resources.”

As Richard Rubinstein writes in ThePolice May Pull the Trigger but it is the System That Kills:

Racism, police brutality, and economic injustice can be thought of as separate boxes, but they are part of one self-reinforcing system. And that system’s defining characteristic – the feature most resistant to change – is that it is based on the production of goods and services for profit, not to satisfy basic human needs.

Like many conflicts in the United States, the problems of police violence comes down to corporate-capitalists vs. the people. Racial separation and inequality are ways the ownership class keeps people divided so the people can be controlled. This is the reality of the US political system and the reality of policing in the United States, but we can change that reality by continuing to organize, staying in the streets and building our power.