All posts by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

Ending Militarization Of Our Communities

From Stop The Militarization of Police Facebook page

In recent weeks Popular Resistance has focused on the escalation of US militarism around the world, especially in the Middle East with the assassination of General Soleimani, US troops staying in Syria to take their oil and the US refusing to leave Iraq despite being asked to leave. The US is in the midst of a potential escalation toward full-scale war in the Middle East once again.

However, militarism abroad is mirrored by militarism at home, especially in poor, black and brown communities. There is a long history of attacks on these communities. Now, the Department of Justice’s new Operation Relentless Pursuit threatens seven cities with more militarized police who view people in these communities as the enemy. This escalation of the war at home must be stopped and people are offering positive alternatives to militarization.

Join us at the conference of the United National Antiwar Coalition,
“Rise Against Militarism, Racism and the Climate Crisis Building Power Together”
February 21, 22, 23, at the People’s Forum in New York City

Trump Administration’s ‘Relentless Pursuit’ Will Ignite New Era Of Mass Incarceration

The US Department of Justice announced a new $71 million program, Operation Relentless Pursuit, which will escalate law enforcement in seven cities focusing on poor, black and brown communities. In addition to increased spending, the DOJ will bring enforcement personnel from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobaccos, and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, and US Marshals to Albuquerque, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, and Milwaukee.

These types of federal enforcement programs have a long history dating back to the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration that existed from 1968 to 1982, to the Weed and Seed program that began in 1997 under the Clinton Administration with $28.5 million and continues today. There are numerous similar programs and federal-state law enforcement task forces. They have resulted in increased arrests and mass incarceration without investing in communities or solving the root causes of crime.

In the graph below, the Sentencing Project shows how the number of people in prison in the United States took off starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Mass incarceration is a direct result of changes in policy governing law enforcement and the judicial system such as the war on drugs and mandatory minimums for sentencing. It is also driven by the privatization of prisons. Prison corporations sign contracts with governments that guarantee a certain level of occupancy creating an obligation by the state to incarcerate people.

More Police In Communities Means More Deaths

The United States is the “greatest purveyor of violence,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, both abroad and at home. Just as the US openly killed the foreign military leader of a country we are not at war with, in the US, police brazenly kill on average more than 1,000 people per year or about three people per day. Black men are three times more likely to be killed by police than white men. Latino men’s risk of being killed by police is about 40 percent higher than the risk faced by white men. Men are 10 times more likely to be killed by police than women. Racial inequality in risk extends across gender.

In fact, the total number of civilians killed by police in the United States greatly surpasses the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq where 39 soldiers were killed in 2019 and 48 in 2018.  China, whose population is 4.5 times the size of the United States, recorded 3 killings by law enforcement officers in 2018 and 2019 combined. Police in the US kills citizens at over 70 times the rate of other first-world nations.

Many people in heavily-policed communities do not feel safer when they see police in their neighborhoods. Too many feel like the police are an occupying force that gets away with murder. The violence of police leading to the death of civilians has become more widely known and understood as people developed the ability to report them through social media. Well-known killings such as Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in New York City, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD and so many others have resulted in large nationwide protests.

In response, residents of some cities have elected prosecutors who seek to control police violence but they are running up against a system that thwarts their efforts. The Circuit Attorney in St. Louis, Kimberly Gardener, is suing the city, the police union and others using a law designed for the KKK for a “racist conspiracy to stop her from doing her job.” She is being attacked personally and her efforts to hold people accountable and reopen corrupt convictions are being blocked. In many cities where prosecutors are trying to reform the system, police unions are retaliating against them.

Ending Police Violence

Communities are organizing to rein in abuse by police. There is a growing campaign for community control of the police in which residents would decide who polices their communities and how they do so. They would be able to fire police who are abusive, racist or violent and make sure police are trained to ‘protect and serve.’ People are seeking to put in place  Civilian Police Accountability Councils that give broad powers to a democratically-elected council. This would replace the charade of civilian police review boards, which are appointed and often do more to protect the police than to hold them accountable.

There are many solutions to police violence. The Police Use of Force Project proposes common-sense limits on the use of force that are proven to reduce violence. These include requiring officers to de-escalate situations, prohibiting officers from choking or strangling civilians, requiring officers to intervene to stop excessive force by another officer, restricting officers from shooting at moving vehicles, developing a continuum of force that limits the types of force and weapons used, requiring the exhaustion of all reasonable alternatives to deadly force, requiring police to give a verbal warning before shooting and requiring officers to report each time they use or threaten the use of force.

The project finds that these basic procedures are not widely used and that “the average police department would have 54 percent fewer killings and a police department with none of these policies currently in place would have 72 percent fewer killings by implementing all eight of these policies.” They also find those police departments with these policies have less likelihood of police being killed, assaulted or sustaining an injury. Restricting police violence has not lead to an increase in violent crime.

Invest in the Poor, Not Police, and End the Drug War

Jacqueline Luqman, whom we interviewed on Clearing the FOG, points to basic solutions that would reduce crime by investing in poor communities instead of investing in more police. In our city, Baltimore, the police receive more resources from the city government than the health department and schools combined. Luqman says:

There are some pretty common-sense responses. Provide people jobs. Stop taking people’s homes. Make sure that people have affordable places to live. Increase the number of truly affordable housing and provide some type of tax benefit for working people so that they can keep their homes. Definitely invest in public schools. Provide resources and programs for kids and recreation centers. Restore the recreation centers that were closed especially in places, like Baltimore. Provide subsidized mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment for people who need it. If we do those things, crime will go down.

Listen to our interview about Operation Relentless Pursuit with Jacqueline Luqman here:

New Federal Police Surge Targets Poor And Black Communities.

Luqman highlights that another driving force in crime is the illegality of drugs. Drug use has been treated as a police issue for many decades, resulting in mass arrests and mass incarceration with a racially disproportionate impact on black and brown communities. Police are not equipped to solve the health and social problems of drug abuse.

Rather than continuing to use the same mistaken policies, the US needs a new approach to drug issues. So far eleven states have legalized adult use of marijuana and prosecutors in some cities are no longer prosecuting low-level marijuana offenders. The Atlanta Police Department is disbanding its special Narcotics Unit and reassigning officers to other units to address violent crime. Homicides in Atlanta for 2019 were up 9 percent over 2018, and 19 percent over 2017.

In addition to refocusing police resources on violent crime, positive programs to deal with drug abuse are needed. The US needs to move from zero tolerance and mass arrests to harm reduction programs that use a public health approach to reduce the damage from drug abuse. There is a wide range of harm reduction programs that reduce deaths from drugs, the spread of disease and crime.

Legal access to heroin or public injection facilities as well as controlled access to heroin have had dramatic impacts on crime and health. Studies conducted in six countries – Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany,  Canada, and England – show many positive benefits. These programs have reduced crime related to the acquisition of drugs, reduced drug markets, and public drug use, lowered the cost of health care and criminal justice as well as promoted employment and family life. Where people can purchase legal heroin for 10 percent of the cost of illegal heroin, it resulted in a 50 percent reduction in crime for those in the program as well as reductions of homelessness, unemployment and drug use.  As a result of people stabilizing their lives and forming positive relationships, people stopped their heroin use so this approach is now called Heroin Assisted Treatment.

With the United States imprisoning almost twenty-five percent of all people imprisoned in the world, even though we only have 5% of the world’s population, it is time to demand these commonsense, effective and humane approaches. Programs such as Operation Relentless Pursuit pour more money into a failed approach that terrorizes oppressed communities, breaks families apart and murders residents. We need to recognize that a country that recklessly murders people abroad will do the same at home. We need to end all wars by investing in programs that provide for people’s basic necessities instead of investing in programs that are designed to kill.

The World Must End The US’ Illegal Economic War

The United States is relying more heavily on illegal unilateral coercive measures (also known as economic sanctions) in place of war or as part of its build-up to war. In fact, economic sanctions are an act of war that kills tens of thousands of people each year through financial strangulation. An economic blockade places a country under siege.

A recent example is the increase in economic measures being imposed against Iran, which many viewed as more acceptable than a military attack. In response to Iran retaliating for the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani and seven other people, Iran used ballistic missiles to strike two bases in Iraq that house US troops. President Trump responded by saying he would impose more sanctions on Iran. Then he ended his comments by urging peace negotiations with Iran. The United States needs to understand there will be no negotiations with Iran until the US lifts sanctions that seek to destroy the Iranian economy and turn the people against their government.

The sanctions on Iran have been in place since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which made that country independent of the United States. Iran is not the only country being sanctioned by the United States. Samuel Moncada, the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, speaking to the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement of 120 nations on October 26, 2019, denounced the imposition of sanctions by the US, as “economic terrorism which affects a third of humanity with more than 8,000 measures in 39 countries.”

It is time to end US economic warfare and repeal these unilateral coercive measures, which violate international law.

Take Action: Join the International Days of Action Against  Sanctions
and Economic WarMarch 13 – 15, 2020

 

Sanctions are war (From havaar.org.)

Sanctions Are A Weapon of War

The United States uses sanctions against countries that resist the US’ agenda. US sanctions are designed to kill by destroying an economy through denial of access to finance, causing hyperinflation and shortages and blocking basic necessities such as food and medicine. For example, sanctions are expected to cause the death of tens of thousands of Iranians by creating a severe shortage of critical medicines and medical equipment everywhere in Iran.

Muhammad Sahimi writes that in a “letter published by The Lancet, the prestigious medical journal, three doctors working in Tehran’s MAHAK Pediatric Cancer Treatment and Research Center warned that, ‘Re-establishment of sanctions, scarcity of drugs due to the reluctance of pharmaceutical companies to deal with Iran, and a tremendous increase in oncology drug prices [due to the plummeting value of the Iranian rial by 50–70%], will inevitably lead to a decrease in survival of children with cancer.’”

Diabetes, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and asthma affect over ten million Iranians who will find essential medicines impossible to get or available only at high prices. The US claims that food and medicines are excluded from sanctions but in practice, they are not because pharmaceutical companies fear sanctions being applied to them over some technical violation and Iran cannot pay for essentials when banks can’t do business with it. European nations failed to persuade the Trump administration to ensure that essential medicine and food were available to Iranians.

In Venezuela, due to the sanctions, 180,000 medical operations have been canceled and 823,000 chronically ill patients are awaiting medicines. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found sanctions have deprived Venezuela of “billions of dollars of foreign exchange needed to pay for essential and life-saving imports,” contributing to 40,000 total deaths in 2017 and 2018. More than 300,000 Venezuelans are at risk due to a lack of access to medicine or treatment. Economists warn US sanctions could cause famine in Venezuela. Sanctions also cause shortages of parts and equipment needed for electricity generation, water systems, and transportation as well as preventing participation in the global financial market. Sanctions, which are illegal under the UN, OAS and US law, have caused mass protests in Venezuela against the US.

Sanctions against Iran and Venezuela could be a prelude to military attack; i.e., the US weakening a nation economically before attacking it. This is what happened in Iraq. Under pressure from the United States, on August 2, 1990, the UN Security Council passed sanctions that required countries to stop trading or carrying out financial transactions with Iraq. President George H.W. Bush said the UN sanctions would not be lifted “as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.” The US continued to pressure the increasingly skeptical Security Council members into compliance even though hundreds of thousands of children were dying. In 1996, then-U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright was asked about the death of as many as 500,000 children due to lack of medicine and malnutrition exacerbated by the sanctions, and she brutally replied, “[The] price is worth it.” Sanctions were also used against Libya and Syria before the US attacked them.

This is consistent with the US ‘way of war’ described by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz in “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States,” which describes frontier counterinsurgency premised on annihilation including the destruction of food, housing, and resources as well as ruthless militarism. The US has waged a long-term economic war against Cuba (sanctions in place since 1960), North Korea (first sanctions in the 1950s, tightened in the 1980s), Zimbabwe (2003) and Iran (1979)

Sanctions hurt civilians, especially the most vulnerable – babies, children, the elderly and chronically ill – not governments. Their intent is to shrink the economy and cause chronic shortages and hyperinflation while ensuring a lack of access to finance to pay for essentials. The US then blames the targeted government claiming that corruption or socialism is the problem in an effort to turn the people against their government. This often backfires as people instead rally around the government, quiet their calls for democracy and work to develop a resistance economy.

Stop Sanctions destroying lives from BrightonAndHoveNews.org.

The Movement to End Sanctions

In recent years, a movement has been building to end the use of illegal economic coercive measures. The movement includes governments coming together in forums like the Non-Aligned Movement, made up of countries that represent 55 percent of the global population, as well as UN member-states calling for international law and the UN Charter to be upheld and social movements organizing to educate about the impact of sanctions and demand an end to their use. This June, the Non-Aligned Movement called for the end of sanctions against Venezuela.

Popular Resistance is working with groups around the world on the Global Appeal for Peace, an initiative to create a worldwide network of people and organizations that will work together to oppose the lawless actions of the United States, and any country that acts similarly. A high priority is opposing the imposition of unilateral coercive economic measures that violate the charter of the United Nations. The UN and its International Court of Justice have been ineffective in holding the US accountable for its actions. No one country or one movement has the power alone to hold the United States accountable, but together we can make a difference. Join this campaign here.

With 39 countries targeted with sanctions, and other countries impacted because they cannot trade with those countries, nations are challenging the US’ dollar domination. Countries are seeking to conduct trade without the dollar and are no longer treating the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency while also avoiding Wall Street. The de-dollarization of the global economy is a boomerang effect that is hastening due to the abuse of sanctions and will seriously weaken the US economy.

Foreign Minister Zarif, who describes sanctions as “economic terrorism,” warned that “the excessive use of economic power by the United States, and the excessive use of the dollar as a weapon in US economic terrorism against other countries, will backfire.”  As the blowback continues to grow, the negative impact on the US economy may force the US to stop using sanctions. The end of dollar domination will add to the demise of the failing US empire.

Take Action: Join the International Days of Action Against  Sanctions
and Economic War
March 13 – 15, 2020

End the Deadly Sanctions banner on the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC. (From the Embassy Defense Collective.)

Time to End the Use of Illegal Economic Sanctions

The combination of countries acting against US sanctions, and people’s movements pressuring the US government has the potential to end the abuse of sanctions. The EU has moved to blunt the impact of the sanctions against Iran by creating an alternative to the US-controlled SWIFT system for trade. This is spurring the end of the dollar as the reserve currency. Some officials in the EU have called for retaliatory sanctions against the US.

Trump left a small opening for potential diplomacy with Iran that could lead to the end of sanctions against that country. Trump bragged about the US being the number one oil and gas producer, taking credit for an Obama climate crime, and therefore no longer needing to spend hundreds of millions a year to have troops in the Middle East. He concluded with a message to the “people and leaders of Iran” that the US was “ready to have peace with all those who seek it.” He said the US wanted Iran to have a “great and prosperous future with other countries of the world.”

That future is only possible if the US moves to end the sanctions against Iran. Iranians have learned the US cannot be trusted. Iran lived up to the requirements of the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but Trump did not when he withdrew from it and re-instated draconian sanctions lifted by Obama. Trump added even move sanctions. This also angered European allies who had negotiated the agreement and were put in the position of being subservient to the US or going against it. To regain Iran’s trust, the US needs to make a good-faith gesture of ending punitive economic measures.

North Korea, which has been sanctioned by the US longer than any other country, had a similar experience after they reached an agreement with the United States in 1994 under the Clinton administration.  The George W. Bush administration wanted to put in place a national missile defense system but the agreement with North Korea blocked that. John Bolton and Dick Cheney falsely accused North Korea of violating the agreement, increased sanctions against it and claimed it was part of the Axis of Evil, along with Iran, and Iraq. North Korea, like Iran, learned they cannot trust the United States. Sanctions are causing thousands of deaths in North Korea. Now, China and Russia are allied with North Korea and are urging relief from the US sanctions. Russia and China have also ignored US sanctions against Venezuela and continue to do business with it.

On December 17, the Senate passed a Sanctions Bill that put in place sanctions against corporations working with Russia to develop gas pipelines to Europe. The action is naked US imperialism seeking to prevent Russia from being the main natural gas exporter to the EU market and to replace it with more expensive US-produced gas, a move to save the financially-underwater US fracking industry. Russia, Germany, and others have defiantly told Washington its weaponizing of economic sanctions will not halt the gas pipeline construction.

The indiscriminate, illegal and immoral use of sanctions is an act of war. Unless they are authorized by the United Nations, unilateral coercive measures are illegal. A critical objective of the peace and justice movement in the United States, working with allies around the world, must be to end this terrorist economic warfare. The US economy currently depends on financial hegemony and war. The slow, steady collapse of the dollarized economy means the 2020s will be the decade US domination comes to an end. The US must learn to be a cooperative member of the global community or risk this isolation and retaliation.

Reckless US Actions Fire Up The Antiwar Movement

The reckless and dangerous act of war committed by Donald Trump and the Pentagon in killing Major General Qasem Soleimani of Iran and the Iraqi leader of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, has brought the conflict in the Middle East (aka West Asia) to a new level. The conflagration of war is growing with the United States making this direct attack on a top Iranian official in violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

As expected, the corporate media and many politicians are spreading lies to justify the murders and further aggression towards Iran. It is important for us to understand the facts so we can respond to this misinformation and avoid being lied into yet another war.

Fortunately, there was a rapid response in the United States with actions in more than 82 cities in 38 states involving tens of thousands of people to protest more war on Iran. [See our message to Iran here.] It is imperative, and the ingredients are in place for it, that the antiwar movement grows exponentially very quickly and becomes a major force in 2020. The combination of opposition to never-ending, always-expanding wars, hatred of Donald Trump, the 2020 election year and pent up frustration over massive military spending can create a movement more dangerous to Trump than the toothless Democratic Party impeachment.

January 4 march in Washington, DC. Shawn Thew/EPA/EFE.

The Assassination of Soleimani was Based on Falsehoods

As expected, corporate media in the US is pushing lies to rationalize the crimes committed by the US. In reality, the justifications used by the US for the assassination were false. The primary claim used to justify the attack is that Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on US forces. In fact, Moon of Alabama reports that Soleimani was not planing any “imminent attacks” on the US or its interests in Iraq. In no way was Soleimani a legitimate target for a US attack.

Moon of Alabama writes:

The Quds force [which Soleimani led] is the external arm of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Soleimani was responsible for all relations between Iran and political and militant movements outside of Iran…. He was the man responsible for, and successful in, defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In 2015, Soleimani traveled to Moscow and convinced Russia to intervene in Syria. His support for the Houthi in Yemen enabled them to withstand the Saudi attackers.

In all these instances, Soleimani was standing up against US imperialism. These actions made him a target of the US military establishment and a hero in Iran and allied nations.

There have been vague claims that Soleimani killed a US contractor, but this is in doubt. As Scott Ritter writes:

There are several problems with this narrative, first and foremost being that the bases bombed were reportedly more than 500 kilometers removed from the military base where the civilian contractor had been killed. The Iraqi units housed at the bombed facilities, including Khaitab Hezbollah, were engaged, reportedly, in active combat operations against ISIS remnants operating in both Iraq and Syria. This calls into question whether they would be involved in an attack against an American target. In fact, given the recent resurgence of ISIS, it is entirely possible that ISIS was responsible for the attack on the U.S. base, creating a scenario where the U.S. served as the de facto air force for ISIS by striking Iraqi forces engaged in anti-ISIS combat operations.

Following the alleged killing of this unnamed US contractor, the US military bombed members of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) killing dozens and wounding about 50 people. In response to this outrageous action – imagine a Chinese contractor being killed in the US and China responds by bombing our domestic military bases – Iraqis stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad. The assassination of Soleimani was apparently in response to the protests at the embassy.

Prior to these events, Iraqis had been protesting their government and were divided over the US and Iran’s involvement in the country. However, now the country is united against the United States and the Parliament voted to expel the US from the country. Before that vote, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi told the Parliament he was scheduled to meet with Soleimani a day after his arrival to receive a letter from Iran in response to a de-escalation offer Saudi Arabia had made. The US assassinated Soleimani shortly after his arrival at the Baghdad civilian airport and before the letter could be delivered.

Iranians march in the southwestern city of Ahvaz to pay homage to top general Qassem Soleimani (Hossein Mersadi/fars news)

The Fallout

The United States has been waging a war of “maximum pressure” on Iran throughout the past year to no avail. Iran has been measured in its responses to the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, increased illegal unilateral coercive measures (aka sanctions), threats of attack and false accusations against Iran. This assassination is a new level of criminality and recklessness. General Soleimani was loved and revered in Iran and throughout the region. Since his murder, Iranians and Iraqis have poured into the streets to mourn him and al-Muhandis and to call for action.

Iran has promised, “forceful revenge” but Iran is not seeking a war with the US. Unlike the US’ action, which doesn’t seem to be thought through, Iran will be deliberate to achieve strategic objectives. While rapid escalation is possible, more likely is a long-term careful response by Iran. An asymmetrical response, which is the strategy put in place by Soleimani, is the most likely. Iran’s control of the Strait of Hormuz, where one-third of the world’s oil passes, could choke the world’s oil supply resulting in increased prices that risk a recession in the US and globally. Already, oil prices are rising.

Iran can act diplomatically to further isolate the United States. Scott Ritter writes:

The diplomatic missions Suleimani may have been undertaking at the time of his death centered on gaining regional support for pressuring the United States to withdraw from both Syria and Iraq. Of the two, Iraq was, and is, the highest priority, if for no other reason that there can be no sustained US military presence in Syria without the existence of a major US military presence in Iraq.

The 16,000 people working at the massive US embassy in Baghdad could also be forced out of Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr has already said in a letter that Iraq should go further and shut down the US embassy. The State Department has ordered all US citizens to leave Iraq.

Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan, Iran’s former defense minister and current military adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei, says Iran is not seeking war with the United States and will only target military sites. There are also military targets in the region that could be attacked by Iranian allies including those of the US and its allies such as Israel.  General Gholamali Abuhamzeh, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said: “Some 35 US targets in the region, as well as Tel Aviv, are within our reach.”

An escalation of the situation could occur no matter what Iran does because of actions by the United States. Yesterday, President Trump was threatening to bomb 52 targets in Iran, including historic sites. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote in response that “Targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME.” Zarif sent letters to both the UN Security Council and the UN to condemn the US’ actions. 

The US announced it is sending 3,500 more troops from the 82nd Airborne Division to Iraq, adding to the 5,000 already there, at the same time that the Iraqi Parliament, Premier, and Prime Minister have called for the US to leave Iraq. The US will either leave voluntarily or it will remain as an illegal occupying force. And Iran just announced that it is leaving the nuclear agreement. Although Iran has not stated an intention of building nuclear weapons, leaving the agreement opens that door.

US Out of Iraq

Iran’s first goal of removing the US from Iraq, Syria and the Middle East was advanced on Sunday when the Iraqi Parliament voted to expel the US military from the country. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi described the murders as “a political assassination” and urged “for the sake of our national sovereignty” that Iraq establish a timetable for the exit of US troops.

Shia PMU groups have already declared they will do whatever they can to evict the US military from Iraqi soil. The US killed their leaders and comrades so they will take action independent of Iran. Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric who commands millions of followers in Iraq, has given orders to reactivate his military to force the US out. Millions of people in Iraq joined processions remembering Soleimani and al-Muhandis. These Iraqis will be ready to take action to force the US to leave if the US does not abide by the Iraqi government’s request.

An unfortunate outcome of the US’ actions is that not only have very effective leaders in the fight against ISIS been killed, but the Iraqi PMU is now diverting its efforts away from stopping ISIS to focus on US troops. This is one more reason why the US needs to leave Iraq, and ideally the whole Middle East. US foreign policy over the past decades has brought instability to the region and made the world more insecure. It’s time for people in the United States to increase our calls for the US to get out of Iraq and the whole Middle East.

Anti-war activists march in Washington DC on Jan 4 in reaction to Trump’s assassination of General Soleimani and commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes.

Our Next Steps

The mobilizations across the country yesterday were large and energetic. Many youth and new faces showed up. The messages were clear about opposition to more war on Iran and sanctions, demanding the US get out of the Middle East and calling out the bipartisan war machine. The root causes of capitalism and imperialism were also condemned. In 2020, we can build a people’s peace movement that cannot be ignored.

Congress returns to Washington, DC on Tuesday. We need to send a clear message upon their return that there must not be any more aggression on Iran and that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force must be repealed immediately. Click here to call Congress. You can also call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. We need to pressure all members of Congress and candidates to speak out against the war on Iran.

We will also need to continue educating ourselves and members of our communities to counter the lies being told in the media. All wars are based on lies and we must be able to recognize them when we hear them. Sharing articles on social media, writing letters to the editor and holding teach-ins and public forums in your communities can counter the corporate media claims.

And we will need to continue to protest in the streets. There will be more calls for days of action, but you can also organize your own. Find a highly-trafficked location such as a transit center or a public square and hold regular vigils to show your opposition. Hold a protest at your member of Congress’ office. If you are more ambitious, you can organize disruptive actions. Have a sit-in at your local weapons producer’s office, for example.

These reckless actions by the US military create dangerous and uncertain times, but it is also an opportunity to demand significant changes to US foreign policy. The US is losing imperial power and cannot continue to be a bully that violates international law. It is time to transform from domination to being a cooperative member of the world community. It is time to put in place a peace economy that creates economic security at home and abroad. The US is a young nation that has much to learn from more mature civilizations like Iran if we can only stop misbehaving long enough to listen.

Rebellion is the Only Way to Stop the Ruling Elitists

Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, October 2011

Clearing the FOG cohosts, Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, interviewed journalist and author Chris Hedges about the significant events of 2019 and what activists must prepare for in 2020 and beyond. Hedges covered uprisings and wars in the Middle East, Balkans, and Central America for twenty years as a foreign correspondent. He has studied and written books about sacrifice zones, the failures of the liberal class and the rise of the right in the United States. He shares the wisdom he has gained from his experiences watching governments fall to inform us about what to expect and how to build power. You can listen to the full interview plus current news and analysis on Clearing the FOG.

*****

Clearing the FOG (CtF): What were some of the events in 2019 that you thought were of importance?

Chris Hedges (CH): I would say there are two. The failure to address the climate emergency, which is seeing an acceleration of the deterioration and destruction of the ecosystem that is quite dramatic and pronounced in California and Australia, would be number one. Even if we stopped all carbon emissions today, which again the ruling elites utterly betrayed and failed us in Madrid, we’re still going to deal with catastrophic climate change. The other was the failure on the part of the Democratic Party to address the rupture of social bonds and deep social inequality that has torn apart the country and resulted in the election of Donald Trump.

At the end of the year, after the complete failure of the Mueller report, which was hyped by all sorts of media organizations, not only Rachel Maddow and MSNBC but also the New York Times, we got this kind of mind-numbing spectacle of the impeachment with that very cloying and repugnant moral posturing on the part of the Democratic Party. What they did was selective. They charged Trump not with all of the most egregious impeachable offenses and constitutional violations that he carried out, but with the most trivial. That’s contempt for Congress and the attempt to get the Ukrainian President Zelensky to open an investigation of Biden and his son in exchange for about 400 million in US aid and allowing Zelenski to visit the White House.

If the Democratic Party was committed to actually defending the Constitution, then they would have to go back and impeach Trump for a series of violations that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama routinely committed. They don’t want to do that. So when I hear them talking about the restoration of the rule of law and see that they ignored the most serious Constitutional violations, which have now been normalized by both parties, it’s an example of at best self-delusion and probably very cynical manipulation.

I can run through a few. Bush launches two illegal wars that are never declared by Congress as demanded by the Constitution. He places the entire US public under government surveillance that’s violating the Fourth Amendment. He authorizes torture and kidnapping of foreign nationals who are not even US citizens and holds them where they’re tortured in black sites and offshore penal colonies around the world. Obama expands the illegal wars, which are now up to 11 if we count Yemen. Edward Snowden reveals that intelligence agencies are monitoring and spying on all of us, downloading all of our data and metrics into government computers where they’re stored for in perpetuity and nothing is done. Obama misuses the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force act to erase due process. That’s when he argues that the executive branch has the right to assassinate US citizens starting with a radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki and two weeks later his 16-year-old son, in essence, serving as judge, jury, and executioner. And then, of course, he signs into law section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which overturns the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that prohibits the use of the military as a domestic police force. I sued him in federal court over that. And then there are other again bipartisan constitutional violations, including violating treaty clauses that are supposed to be ratified by the Senate, violating the appointments clause where you need Senate confirmation and the routine abuse of executive orders.

Watching the impeachment process was a very depressing spectacle for me because it was about the pretense of the rule of law. It again exposed the fact that the Democratic Party will refuse to be self-reflective and refuse to confront its complicity in neoliberalism, deindustrialization, programs of austerity, massive expansion of our prison system and militarizing of our police. It tries to personalize all of our problems in the figure of Trump.

CtF: You have written that the right-wing has picked up revolutionary rhetoric because people in the United States and around the world see the corruption of the elites. Now with these right-wing, fascists rising, do you see any possibility of the Left being able to pick up that need for a revolutionary vision and plan?

CH: Well, I do see the need but I don’t see it happening. I think that is driven by fear. Especially at every presidential election cycle, the Left, the liberal class just crumbles.

The attraction of Trump is that he rightly attacks the Deep State, which is real. But what is the Deep State? The Deep State is the generals, the war industry, the bankers, the lobbyists, the corporatists, the intelligence agencies, the government bureaucrats and the technocrats who actually run both domestic and international policy. The fact is we don’t control our own economy. It’s controlled by Goldman Sachs and Citibank and JP Morgan Chase.

The Washington Post when it released the Afghanistan Papers recently, the roughly more than 2,000 pages of internal government documents about the war in Afghanistan, which they obtained through a three-year legal battle, exposed exactly the bipartisan lies, fraud, deceit, corruption, waste and mismanagement during the 18-year conflict that was carried out by the ruling elites, by the Deep State, the Deep state that so many Trump supporters have been betrayed by and turned on with a vengeance. Trump’s attraction is that he calls them out often in very vulgar and crude terms.

The Democratic Party in pushing Biden, because he’s been anointed by the Democratic Party donor class, is seeking to perpetuate a system that at least half or more of the country wants to get rid of. And the Left has not embraced or understood that the whole ideology of the ruling elite – neoliberalism and imperialism – just doesn’t resonate anymore. They’re bound to this ideology because the people funding the party recognize quite correctly that if they don’t have that kind of corporate money and corporate backing, they will lose power. And so they’d rather take the whole system down, which is what they’re doing.

This is the problem of the Left. It has misread power. I’m a strong supporter of Extinction Rebellion because I think they’ve correctly read power. We can go back for the last four decades, carbon admissions have exponentially risen. All of the attempts to work within the system, this is 350.org and others, have been an utter and complete failure. And the Left, partly because we were so knocked off balance over the last few decades, our organizations were either co-opted or destroyed, is just not willing to face this reality.

CtF: Putting aside the Democratic Party, how do you see the potential for the Left movement awakening to anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist thinking?

CH: I don’t know that the Left is organized. I don’t know that it has yet offered a strong alternative vision to the mainstream. I think it’s often divided by identity politics without grasping that the fundamental issue is class. This is class warfare and as Warren Buffett has correctly said, his side is winning.

We also have to make it clear that they have not only marginalized us but cut down the spaces by which we can communicate. That’s why I’m on RT. What I do on RT should be on a functioning public broadcasting system, but the public broadcasting system, in particular PBS, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers.

If you go back to the 70s, you could see Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Angela Davis, and all sorts of people who were not beholden to institutions or to corporations offering a critique of power. The last national show that we had that critiqued power is Bill Moyers’ show, which is now off the air and in the end, was funded through a private foundation.

All of those sentiments are on the rise, but it is yet to be translated into a political movement. And if there are uprisings without that kind of vision and focus, then the ruling elites can easily decapitate them.

CtF: You worked with us back when we were organizing the occupation in Washington DC throughout 2011 and that was a time of a lot of uprisings around the world. The Occupy Movement really took off in the United States. Now we’re seeing a rise again around the world against corruption and neoliberal capitalism. Do you think that has the potential to come back to the United States in another wave and what do we need to do to be prepared for that if it does?

CH: I covered uprisings for 20 years as a foreign correspondent all around the globe, the Palestinian uprisings, most of the revolutions in Eastern Europe, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and the street demonstrations that brought down Slobodan Milosevic. What’s fascinating is that what ignites it, no one can predict. Even purported leaders of the opposition don’t know what pushes people over the edge, which is usually something very relatively in and of itself minor and even banal.

Neoliberalism or global capitalism is a global phenomenon. It has affected people in the same way.  One of the things we don’t hear about the protests in Hong Kong is that especially the young are without work and social inequality is very pronounced. I think that economic tyranny lies at the root of the uprisings that we’ve seen not only in Hong Kong, but in India, Chile, and France, and in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. But it also lies at the root of the rise of these right-wing demagogues as we just saw in Britain with Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi in India, and Trump in the United States.

And so, yes, I think that we’re not immune to this kind of social unrest and this kind of upheaval, especially as the forces that created it have no regulation and no restraint – student debt, personal debt, national debt. We’re about to watch the Republican Party again take an axe and slash social services and food stamps. These corporatists know only one word and that’s more and they won’t stop until there’s blowback. The problem is that if that blowback is just kind of a release in the streets of anger and frustration and rage, all legitimate, without an alternative vision and without alternative structures to begin to challenge power, then it can be crushed.

CtF: When we were involved in Occupy, it was a different phase of the movement’s development. Occupy was an eruption of anger, the 99% versus the 1%. Since Occupy, there has been a lot of work done by various groups on new economy ideas, whether it’s participatory budgeting or worker-owned businesses, cooperatives or public banks. California is the first state to do a public bank since North Dakota in 1919-20. We’re seeing some movement toward the beginning I think of a vision that you’re describing and I think that’s a potential positive.

The other thing that’s a challenge in the United States is the electoral system because right now so many activists are getting pulled into the 2020 election particularly through the Sanders campaign and a little bit through the Warren campaign and somewhat in the Green efforts, but those are so squashed in the United States that they are hardly visible. We see the election system as a kind of a mirage democracy. It’s molded, manipulated and in the end, never quenches people’s needs.

Sanders is interesting because if he loses because of a Democratic primary violation, that could create an eruption itself. If he wins, then you have someone in office you can actually push to try to get things done. That may cause an eruption. Can the Sanders campaign have that kind of an impact?

CH: I think you could make a strong case that the nomination was stolen from Sanders in 2016. People walked out of the Democratic National Convention, but it didn’t have that impact.

The New York Times has run more than one story where they are interviewing anonymous Democratic Party donors who are already organizing to make sure neither Sanders nor Warren, and I don’t trust Warren too much, get the nomination. It is the question of whether you can work from within. I have long argued that the Democratic Party is not salvageable. It’s not reformable. It is not in any sense a real political party in that the base has any real say.

Maybe the Sanders campaign will prove me wrong. I hope they do prove me wrong, but I don’t think so. And if Sanders did get the nomination, these rich donors who find Trump an embarrassment and repugnant and vulgar and inept have made it clear they will support Trump.

If Sanders had won in 2016, we would have had complete paralysis because Sanders would have never had the base within either the Republican or the Democratic Party to push through the kinds of reforms he says he wants to institute. I just don’t think at this point our system of what Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism” is reformable or salvageable. Nor do I think that electoral politics are going to bring about the kinds of radical reforms, especially in terms of our addiction to fossil fuels, that are urgently needed.

CtF: What’s happening in Chile is really interesting because it is stronger than what anyone predicted. Piñera just announced that in April he will put forward discussions and planning to talk about developing a new constitution, which is one of the major demands of the protesters. What are your thoughts on what’s happening down there?

CH: The examples of Chile, Hong Kong, and Lebanon are important because these people have taken to the streets to put pressure on the ruling elites, which is what we have to do. That Constitution was written as soon as Pinochet took power by the so-called Chicago School, the global corporatist and neo-liberal, Milton Friedman-type economists on behalf of the world’s ruling elites. And the hands of any Chilean government have been effectively tied because of that Constitution.

There’s nothing at this point that has proved to be an impediment to the further concentration of wealth in the hands of this global oligarchic elite. Eight families now hold as much wealth as 50 percent of the world’s population. We’re certainly seeing during the Trump administration an acceleration of the demolition of government controls and regulations, the further privatizing of public lands, and public services, the assault on labor unions, the ability of global speculators to use trillions of dollars lent to them of government money at virtually zero percent interest to do things like buy back their own stock to swell their own compensation packages.

The corporations are back to doing exactly what they were doing before 2008 with structured asset destruction through inflation, stripping assets through mergers and acquisitions and raising levels of debt incumbency, which has created this huge debt peonage on the public. Jamie Dimon has been indicted along with JPMorgan Chase more than any other bank in American history for this kind of fraud. I mean really sleazy stuff like having veterans sign mortgage loans and then jacking those loans up to amounts that they can’t pay.

We’ve created another bubble. The Ponzi schemes are back in business. In addition to creating income inequality and monopoly power, that is going to create another financial collapse. When it comes, I don’t know what will trigger it, but it’s not a sustainable system and what will happen then? Will they go back and demand more money, trillions of dollars from the US Treasury? How will people react?

Certainly, people will react with a kind of outrage and anger. But we’re headed for an extremely difficult period especially because they have stripped us of all of our rights: privacy, due process, habeas corpus. And now under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, they can deploy the military into the streets. And they’ll use everything within their power. They will not shrink from using coercion and force to maintain control. And it could get pretty ugly. I mean, we have a thousand of our citizens right now who are shot dead by police, almost all of them unarmed, almost all poor people of color in American cities. That’s one every eight hours.

CtF: One of the challenges on the Left is understanding what’s happening around the world. The United States is getting more aggressive and somewhat more sophisticated in its regime-change campaigns. There are so many reasons for people in Hong Kong to protest. It’s a neoliberal capitalist paradise where there’s almost no enforcement of business or finance crimes and people have a very wide wealth divide and inequality, expensive housing, and low paying jobs with no future. It’s just a really hard situation for the vast majority of people in Hong Kong so it’s understandable that it’s a big uprising.

Then it’s interesting to see the National Endowment for Democracy’s role in Hong Kong. They are spending more than a million dollars a year. They have been funding anti-China movements in Hong Kong since before the turnover of Hong Kong to China. These Hong Kong protests are turning into “Trump save us” or anti-China stuff, singing the Star-Spangled Banner or putting up the UK flag in the legislature, saying “bring us back to colonialism.” This is really the US targeting China.

CH: Right, but it was Lord Salisbury who said there are no permanent allies, there’s only permanent power. So if you look at the whole human rights drive going back to Charter 77 founded by Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia, he was a non-person within Czechoslovakia. The only way you could hear Václav Havel’s voice was over Voice of America. I knew Havel and Havel was not a supporter of US imperialism. He was a socialist.

In repressive situations, we’ll often make alliances. All the points you make are true. I’m not arguing them. But the idea that any resistance movement is somehow untainted is wrong. In the whole Cold War, the Soviet Union, which you know had a very deeply repressive, anti-democratic system, backed revolutionary socialist governments, such as the Cuban government, which I would support. In terms of foreign affairs, there often are contradictions, moral contradictions as you correctly pointed out, but I don’t think that invalidates the uprisings themselves.

CtF: The 2020s are going to be a time when major crises are culminating, the climate crisis, economic crisis, militarism, and repression. What would be your advice to activists to where they should put their focus or things that they should be preparing for?

CH: Well, I think Extinction Rebellion, which is this radical climate group that just organized thousands of people to shut down city centers in about 60 cities around the globe has got it. It’s nonviolent occupation of bridges and roads and roundabouts to paralyze commerce and to begin to force the ruling elites to respond to the climate emergency. Extinction Rebellion is quite clear that they’re not interested in reform. They’re interested in rebellion. They are interested in removing the ruling elites from power. They will do that by breaking the law and by going to jail. Over a thousand people were arrested in London.

That’s where we really have to go. We have to use our numbers to paralyze the system. That’s the only hope that we have. And I think that’s what we have been seeing in countries like Lebanon, Chile, and Hong Kong. I think, especially if we talk about the climate emergency alone, that is the only mechanism left to save us.

CtF: Thank you, Chris. You can read Chris on Truthdig and watch him on RT.

We are the Majority

Over the last decade, a national consensus has developed for a progressive left agenda on the economy, social services, the climate crisis and ending wars but the movement has not yet built the power to make that a reality. The next decade will be ripe with opportunities for transformational change due to a combination of expanding popular movements as well as escalating crisis situations.

Positive change will only occur if these movements evolve into an organized popular movement that truly represents the people’s interests against the elites. The movement must protect the planet at this critical time of climate crisis against the profiteering of the planet-plundering capitalist class. We must stand against continued militarism, bloated and wasteful weapons spending, military conflict and regime change imperialism.

The movement must be clear about which side we are on, the people’s side, put forward a vision of a future that draws the masses — including members of the power structure — and be organized to fight for our vision.

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

We Have Built National Consensus

Since the Occupy-era of 2011, the movement has grown, not disappeared as many in the media would lead you to believe. People have been working more deeply on multiple fronts of struggle building national consensus.  Below we review some key issues where consensus has been achieved but where we still need to build the power to enact change.

Reducing Inequality

The Occupy Movement highlighted the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent. It was a class war, out in the open, with the people fighting back for the first time in decades. The US has become one of the most unequal societies in history resulting in movements against inequality growing. There is now support for taxing the wealthy with Gallup data showing that 62 percent of people in the US say “upper-income people” pay too little in taxes. Further, 69 percent say that corporations are paying too little in taxes. Other polling shows that over three-quarters of US workers believe that CEOs make too much and that about the same percentage of all people (74 percent) say that CEOs are overpaid.

The support for progressive policies confronting inequality is expressed not only in the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren but even Joe Biden, a corporate centrist Democrat, has had to at least rhetorically agree, saying: “Economic inequality is pulling this country apart. We need stronger labor laws and a tax code that rewards a middle class that’s been cut out of decades of economic growth — not just the wealthy, who have gotten too many tax breaks for too long.” And, Donald Trump won the election in part by playing to the economic insecurity of working people, unfair corporate trade and against the elites in DC.

Despite this, over the last decade, the wealthy have benefitted under Democrats and Republicans, while the workers have struggled. Donald Trump and the Republicans have put in place the most regressive tax policy in US history. Last year, ninety-one Fortune 500 Companies paid $0.00 in federal income taxes.  Over the last decade, the 400 wealthiest people’s fortunes doubled while tax rates dropped. This has led to the unjust reality that the 400 richest US families paid a lower tax rate than working people. When looked at through a racial prism, inequality is worse than it was in 1979, when it was already a crisis. This is not just Trump, the wealthiest have not paid their fair share in decades. For workers, a so-called booming economy has meant more bad jobs and a faster race to the bottom.

In the last year, the world’s 500 richest people gained $1.2 trillion in wealth. Sam Pizzigati writes if we confronted inequality and put in place policies like Japan, the third wealthiest country in the world, the median net worth of people in the US “would triple, from $66,000 to $199,000.” We need to build political power to create a more fair economy. The Next Systems project highlights some of the places where that is happening.

Nurses, doctors, and medical students demonstrated outside the annual meeting of the American Medical Association in Chicago on Saturday, demanding the group “get out of the way” in the fight for a Medicare for All program. (Photo: National Nurses United/Twitter)

Putting in Place Improved Medicare for All

Another issue that has popular political support and is a top concern of people is the crisis in US healthcare. National Improved Medicare for all has transformative potential that will shrink inequality and cut poverty by 20 percent while providing high-quality healthcare to everyone.

The scam of the Affordable Care Act formalized an unequal health system, giving names to inequality — platinum, gold, silver, and bronze plans — while giving hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies to the corrupt insurance industry and allowing pharmaceuticals and hospitals to charge exorbitant prices. Although the power structure has tried to confuse the issue, polls show majority support for ‘Medicare for All’ even when they say it will replace private plans. No poll accurately describes improved Medicare for all as cutting healthcare costs for people or says that people will never lose their healthcare again, instead, the media and bi-partisan insurance-funded politicians spew false information. Improved Medicare for all has gone from a pipe dream to mainstream as the movement has made the issue a litmus test for their presidential nomination with 84 percent of Democratic voters saying it is a priority issue.

No matter who is elected, the improved Medicare for all movement will need to continue to build its power. The insurance industry and others who profit from the status quo are resisting change in a classic battle of corporate money vs. the people. The single-payer movement has a strategy to win and has successfully turned attacks against those who oppose us. If we continue to organize, Medicare for all has the potential to become an unstoppable political issue.

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 1: A replica of a clock is seen at Lafayette Square as people gathered to protest President Trump announcement that U.S. will pull out of the Paris climate agreement on Thursday, June 1, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Confronting the Climate Crisis

The last decade was the Earth’s hottest ever, marked by extreme storms, and deadly wildfires. Thousands of scientists have been issuing emergency warnings about irreversible changes as they see tipping points are approaching with frightening prospects, especially for those who are young and will live through escalating storms, floods, droughts, fires and more.  Youth rank responding to the climate crisis as the most vital issue of our times.

Despite this, the staggering failure of political leadership continues as we saw at the most recent UN climate meeting. The crisis emanates from the US where two-thirds of new oil and gas is produced. Failed bi-partisan US leadership on the climate crisis makes resistance imperative. People have been responding in the US and globally with escalating protests including days of action involving the largest protests ever involving more than six million people. Now we need to move from protest to power.

Responding to the climate crisis requires major transformations in the US economy as multiple sectors — energy, transportation, housing, manufacturing, agriculture, banking, among others — will have to transition. There is a growing understanding of what needs to be done with the most detailed plan coming from Green candidate, Howie Hawkins’ ecosocialist Green New Deal. Last week, Stanford researchers put forward Green New Deal plans for 143 countries. Here are ten immediate steps for the next president.

We need to defeat the illusion that corporations and corporate governance can solve the climate crisis. Once again, it is a battle of the people vs. corporate power. To save the planet we must overcome the ruling elites.

Ending Militarism

US militarism is exacerbating the climate crisis. While we can’t confront climate change while lavishly funding the Pentagon that is not the only reason to end US militarism.  The recent release of the Afghan Papers showed us that the longest war in US history, Afghanistan, has been a lie. Pentagon spending, now over 60 percent of discretionary spending, has been escalating for decades and most recently a record bi-partisan Pentagon budget was passed while the people were distracted with impeachment.

The US military is planning a war with ChinaNATO is looking for new enemies to justify its existence and the US is expanding its weapons race to outer space. While human needs go unmet and underfunded, the military is given a blank check despite failing its only financial audit.

It is not only wars and militarism that must be dismantled, but the US foreign policy of domination and empire must come to an end. This includes regime change campaigns as currently being attempted in Venezuela, Iran, and Bolivia, and recent years in Nicaragua, Ukraine, and Syria. The illegal use of unilateral coercive measures, which the US calls sanctions but which are another form of war, kill tens of thousands annually.

US empire is failing. It has resulted in militarized police and led to racist police killings. The movement to end war is growing and having victories like stopping the Trump military parade but we need to put forward a vision for a peace economy that ends the era of global military bases. A better jobs program than the military is putting in place a Green New Deal, building urgently needed housing, remaking infrastructure and providing for human needs. The era of wasteful spending on a bloated and unnecessary military must come to an end.

An Era of Transformation is Upon Us

These are just some of the issues where consensus is being achieved and where change is urgently needed. Crises are resulting in movement building over the resurgence of racism, racist mass incarceration and drug wars as well as police violence in black and brown communities, the mistreatment of workers leading to record days on strike, the crises in homelessness, poverty and housing, deep student debt, environmental degradation beyond the climate crisis, and the crisis in US democracy, are some others.

One could look at today and be depressed at seeing no opportunity for change. In reality, these crises are opportunities for transformational changes to build a better world for ourselves and future generations. This contradiction is highlighted in a recent dialogue between long-time activist George Lakey and a young organizer Yotam Marom. Marom had a hard time accepting Lakey’s claim that “There’s no other time I’d rather be alive.” Lakey explains why we are in a better position than movements were in the 60s and 70s to make deeper transformational change. He sees current polarization as an opportunity, as well as the issues discussed in this article, the state of the movement, training available to activists and how crises will force change. Of course, there is no guarantee regarding our success but there is potential — potential we can realize.

We are building toward being a movement that can make transformational changes over the next decade. There are opportunities to organize in our communities, connect with others throughout the country and around the world. The potential of a movement of movements linking issues that seem unrelated is being realized. We are building solidarity from person-to-person across movements and across borders. Together we can build the power to create a new world.

Impeachment Indicts Both Parties and Clarifies Our Tasks for 2020

The Democratic Party’s electoral strategy of impeaching Donald Trump is backfiring. Before impeachment, Trump was losing to each of the leading Democrats, but the latest USA Today/Suffolk University poll finds for the first time Trump defeating all of the leading Democratic candidates. Gallup reports that Trump’s approval has risen by six points since the launch of the impeachment inquiry. A CNN poll found that support for impeachment fell by five percent over the past month.

Rather than focus on issues that impact people’s lives — like racism and bigotry, the unfair economy that results in low wages, growing inequality, major corporations and the wealthy not paying taxes, as well as expensive and inadequate healthcare coverage — Democrats are focusing on the issue of withholding military aid to Ukraine for a proxy war against Russia when voters are tired of never-ending wars.

The Democrats, while trying to wrap themselves in the Constitution, are using impeachment as a partisan election-year tool to defeat Trump in 2020. It is failing and is confusing people on the Left. As Ajamu Baraka clarifies:

Political Stunt Could Erupt in Dangerous Ways

The Democrats are not focusing on what makes Trump unpopular, his open racism and sexism, his anti-environment and climate denialism policies, and his antipathy for whistleblowers and constant false statements. In fact, Representative Al Green introduced resolutions for impeachment that focused on these issues in 2017 and they were voted down by the House.

Raising Ukraine reminds people that Obama-Biden conducted an open coup there that brought more corruption to that country. Trump demanded an investigation of Joe Biden for interfering with an investigation of the appointment of his son Hunter to a well-paid board seat on Ukraine’s largest gas company — a job for which he lacked expertise. Ukraine-gate reminds people of Democratic Party corruption and their unpopular interventionist foreign policy.

Both the Democrats and Republicans have a long history of corrupt activities from the statehouses to the White House. Unfortunately, many of these activities are done with the cover of domestic law. Governments have a responsibility to ensure that basic needs are met and provide security, but in the United States, the government is a wealth-building tool for the already rich. And the security state is designed to protect the elites from the people. This is causing real hardship for most people in their everyday lives. Impeachment, as it is being conducted, will not improve things and may actually make them worse.

As Chris Hedges wrote in September, impeachment will not restore the rule of law or bring democracy but it will allow President Trump to raise the outrage of his base, which is armed, and potentially increase right-wing violence. This may already be happening in Tazewell County in Southwestern Virginia, where 82% voted for Trump in 2016. They recently deemed themselves a second amendment sanctuary county and passed a resolution asserting their right to form a militia.

To quote Hedges:

Economic, social and political stagnation, coupled with a belief that our expectations for our lives and the lives of our children have been thwarted, breeds violence. Trump, fighting for his political life, will use rhetorical gasoline to set it alight. He will demonize his opponents as the embodiment of evil. He will seek to widen the divisions and antagonisms, especially around race. He will brand his political opponents as irredeemable enemies and traitors.

The Democrat’s election-year stunt is also sucking time and activist energy away from working for solutions to the many crises we are facing. In this way, it is fueling insecurity and anger that could erupt in dangerous ways.

Protest at the DNC, Democratic Party Betrayal by John Zangas of the DC Media Group

Democrats Work Against The People’s Interests While Impeaching Trump

Throughout the impeachment process, Democrats lost opportunities to work for people and the planet and differentiate themselves from Trump. They demonstrated their complicity with policies that benefit the elites.

In 2016, Trump campaigned against corporate trade that sent jobs overseas and kept wages low in the US to win key Midwestern states. He railed on NAFTA, which hollowed out Rustbelt communities. During impeachment, the Democrats had the opportunity to show Trump does not represent the people but instead represents big business interests. NAFTA II, which Trump re-named the US Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), is a replay of NAFTA. It continues the tradition of corporate trade agreements while shuffling which industries profit from it. Instead of pointing out Trump’s failure, the Democrats signed off on his agreement after some modest amendments. This bi-partisan approval was a victory for Trump and a defeat for those who want corporate trade remade for people and the planet.

Trump also campaigned against never-ending wars and foreign interventions. While focusing on impeachment Democrats failed to point out Trump is doing the opposite of what he promised. On December 12, 188 Democrats joined him and on December 17, 37 Democrats voted for the funding in the Senate when it passed the largest military budget since World War II, $738 billion for the Pentagon. Trump signed it before flying off to his Mar-a-lago resort for the holidays. The corrupt leadership of both parties is shown in the Afghan Papers that expose the fraud of the 19-year failed trillion-dollar war for which the military had no strategy, was incompetent and knew was unwinnable.

The Democrats provided funding for a new branch of the military, the Space Force, which will lead to the greatest arms race in the history of the planet. The military budget continued the trillion-dollar upgrade of nuclear weapons begun under Obama spurring a nuclear arms race when we should be banning nuclear weapons. The Democrats could have pointed to massive spending on an arms race when the US is already spending more than the next 10 countries in the world combined — all at a time of crumbling infrastructure, the need for a rapid transition to a clean energy economy and urgent needs for housing, healthcare, and more. This followed shortly after changes in the rules on food stamps that will create food insecurity for up to 700,000 more people.

Pelosi called for impeachment at the same time as Trump’s embarrassing trip to the 70th anniversary NATO meeting. At the meeting, Trump was mocked by world leaders including French Prime Minister Macron who called NATO ‘brain dead’ because of Trump’s poor leadership. NATO should be ended as it is a force for the expansion of wars and wasteful spending on militarism but Democrats were silent on that reality.

During impeachment, regime change continued causing suffering in Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. The economic war against Venezuela escalated with continued efforts to put in place the failing puppet Guaido. Bolivia is suffering from US-supported regime change. US-funded protests in Hong Kong and false reports on the Muslim Uyghurs are escalating conflict with China. And, the US continues its efforts to topple the Iranian government with extreme sanctions and manipulation of protests in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Finally, during impeachment, the UN climate meeting, COP 25, was held. While Trump has committed climate crimes, the Democrats are also guilty of such crimes. The United States has played a negative role throughout this history of the COP meetings. This continued at the Spain meetings where despite the US withdrawing from the Paris agreement, it continued to play a negative role.

Screenshot of final impeachment vote on Article I from MSNBC.

The Popular Movement and Impeachment

There is no “progressive” side to the impeachment battle between the millionaire’s parties. On one side, Donald Trump was using his office to investigate a political opponent. On the other side, the Democrats are protecting the corruption of Joe Biden and using impeachment as an election tool. The reality is past presidents could have been impeached for numerous violations of law including serious war crimes, illegal wars, illegal unilateral coercive measures (sanctions), selling their office for donations to their billion-dollar campaigns and crimes against the environment that risk our future by not only ignoring climate change but making it worse.

Impeachment may define the 2020 election. It is a perfect distraction to keep people from fighting for what we need. In 2020 the necessities of the people and protection of the planet will be silenced. Voters will be told to make no demands because we need to remove Trump and to unite around another corporatist Democratic presidential candidate.

The Democratic leadership and the corporate media are struggling to prevent the nomination of Senators Sanders or Warren because they oppose their progressive agenda. The media is not covering Howie Hawkins, a Green candidate who has put forward the most progressive agenda built around an Ecosocialist Green New Deal and economic equality.

We need to focus on issues in 2020 and fight for a People’s Agenda. Due to the misleadership of the corporate duopoly, the nation and planet are facing multiple crisis situations. Our job in 2020 is to focus on those issues, not on a candidate or on impeachment. We need to build popular support for confronting the climate crisis and changing laws and policies to shrink inequality and end systemic racism and militarism.

To win the People’s Agenda, we need a strong and organized Left in the United States. This requires political education so people understand what is happening around them and the role of government in it. It also requires building participatory democratic structures in our communities. We spoke with Leo Panitch about this in our latest episode of Clearing the FOG: “Corbyn’s Loss: What it means for Sanders and where the Left goes from here,” which you can hear or read the transcript.

When it comes to elections, the mirage democracy of the United States has very little room for the people in manipulated elections that create an illusion of democracy. We must build electoral structures that organize the people’s movements inside the electoral system. For us, this means building an effective independent left party outside of the corporate duopoly.

Impeachment is a partisan exercise. The Democrats had their partisan vote when they impeached Trump in the House. Pelosi is now preventing the Senate from its inevitable acquittal of Trump. No matter how impeachment turns out, it will not make a difference in advancing the people’s agenda. It is our job to focus on building the movement for enacting an agenda for people and planet, something both millionaire parties will fight to stop.

Failed Action on the Climate Crisis Makes Resistance Imperative

On December 2, the 25th two-week long United Nations climate conference begins in Madrid, Spain. The stated task of the conference, referred to as COP 25 (Conference Of Parties), is to make sure there are plans to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. The goals of that agreement, which are nonbinding, are:

  1. Reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030;
  2. Achieve a net zero global carbon footprint by 2050; and
  3. Stabilize the global temperature increase at 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Last week, prominent scientists issued a warning that significant changes related to the climate crisis are already happening and could create a cascading effect that locks in catastrophic levels of temperature and sea-level rise. They view the pledges made by countries to take climate action as insufficient and leading to a three degrees Celsius temperature rise by the end of the century.

It is this reality that is spurring people around the world to take action in the growing global climate emergency movement. Many people are asking what they can do about the climate crisis.

Young activists take part in a rally to protest against Climate change outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC on November 29, 2019. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm).

Too little, too late

Each new climate report is direr. The climate crisis is here now. Oceans are heating up and acidifying as they absorb carbon dioxide. This is slowing ocean circulation and killing coral reefs. Ocean circulation impacts the weather – slowing is already changing weather patterns and worsening storms. Coral reefs are necessary for providing habitat and protecting coastlines.

According to a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, ice is melting at an unprecedented pace and sea-level rise is accelerating. This is leading to more frequent and chronic flooding. The world has already warmed to 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels causing droughts and frequent wildfires.

Of great concern is the fact that these changes are not isolated. They feed into and feed off of each other causing a cascading impact that is leading us to a point of no return, at least for thousands of years. For example, as the land thaws, stored methane is being released. Methane is the most potent greenhouse gas in the short term causing more warming and more thawing. The prominent scientists cited above explain this:

…as science advances, we must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming. This is what we are seeing already at 1°C global warming…

Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are failing. Levels are rising even though we need at least a 7.6 percent reduction each year to reach the Paris Agreement goals. Growing energy demand is the biggest culprit. Colder winters and warmer summers mean more energy used to heat and cool our homes and other buildings. In the United States, gas consumption increased by ten percent in 2018 after years of decline. The increase in renewables is not even meeting new energy demands, let alone replacing polluting forms of energy production.

Even though the United Nations admits that not enough is being done to address the climate crisis and that there is no time to waste, it does not wield its power to make sure that effective actions are taken. Instead, as we wrote in 2014, the UN is dominated by global finance and corporations and their subservient governments pushing financial schemes and green technology to enrich themselves even when those projects don’t solve the problem.

In this year’s meeting, the major focus will be the rules for the newest form of a global carbon trading market mandated by the Paris Agreement. Carbon trading has been in existence since the Kyoto Protocol and has not reduced carbon emissions. California’s cap and trade system, one of the largest in the world, is being copied by other countries, but ProPublica found that carbon emissions in California have risen by 3.5 percent under the program as it allows big polluters to purchase credits and even increase their emissions.

There have already been mass protests around the world leading up to the COP meetings. In expectation of more protests at the meetings in Spain, more than 5,000 police have been called out. Thousands of anti-capitalist activists, environmental defenders, and concerned citizens are arriving from all over the world to demand that countries take concrete measures to halt global climate change. The police are on high alert throughout the COP meetings until December 14.

This is the last year that the United States will participate in the United Nations COP meetings as Trump formally withdraws from the Paris Agreement. What are activists in the US to do?

Climate Demonstrators in Cologne on November 29, 2019, before the UN climate summit. Source DPA

Action for the climate

The United States is the second-largest total GHG emitter in the world and the third-largest per-capita GHG emitter behind Saudi Arabia and Australia. The US is the largest producer of new fossil fuels. People in the US have a critical responsibility and role to play in the solution to the climate crisis.

There are lots of discussions going on right now about what people need to be doing and the answer is that we need to be using all the tools available. We cannot count on institutions such as the United Nations, governments and corporations to take appropriate actions without outside pressure. We need to organize resistance and build the solutions in our communities.

A core requirement of effective social movements is to have a clear vision of what they are working to achieve. To be transformational, this vision must embody not only the goal (for example, reducing GHG emissions) but also the structure of the system that will achieve that goal. Two major components of that structure are the ways decisions will be made and how the system will be financed. For more information on social transformation, visit the Popular Resistance School.

Currently, it is the powerholders who make and profit from the decisions. A new system, such as the Green New Deal, could be structured in a way that puts those who are most impacted by the decisions in control and could be financed in a way that reduces the wealth divide. The Ecosocialist Green New Deal, developed by Howie Hawkins, a candidate running for the Green Party presidential nomination, is the strongest proposal. It has the fastest timeline, includes a transition to a peace economy with 75 percent cuts to the military, an Economic Bill of Rights and a Green Economy Reconstruction Program. It would transform multiple sectors of the economy to put in place a clean energy economy by 2030 as well as transitioning to public or worker-controlled ownership.

The next requirements are a strategy to achieve the vision and tactics to serve that strategy. There are a broad range of actions to take and a number of roles to play. Here is a partial list of current actions:

  1. Pushing agencies to address the climate crisis in their policies – When the Trump administration announced it would allow more oil and gas drilling on federal lands, advocacy groups came together and sued the Bureau of Land Management to make sure GHG emissions are assessed in considering oil and gas leases. A court recently sided with the groups and hundreds of thousands of acres of leases are being suspended. Another example is the Beyond Extreme Energy campaign to transform the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which grants permits for energy projects, to the Federal Renewable Energy Commission.
  2. Direct action to prevent new fossil fuel infrastructure – Major campaigns to stop pipelines, fracking and new oil and gas infrastructure are going on across the country. Oil and gas corporations cite this resistance as their biggest obstacle. Last week, activists in Wingdale, NY shut down construction of the Cricket Valley Fracked Gas Power Plant. They are pressuring Governor Cuomo to shut it down for good. And in Clearbrook, Minnesota, activists blocked construction of the Line 3 Pipeline. You don’t have to lock down or climb a tripod to participate. There are many roles required for direct actions such as media support, legal observers, jail support and more.
  3. Driving disinvestment in dirty energy – Students, faculty and supporters took action last week to disrupt the Harvard-Yale football game with a message to their schools to divest from fossil fuels and cancel Puerto Rico’s debt. This was one action in an ongoing divestment campaign. The European Investment Bank took a positive step recently by promising to phase out investment in dirty energy over the next two years. Though it is promising to be the first climate bank, activists will still need to watchdog what the bank supports to make sure it is not investing in more false solutions.
  4. Protecting the right to protest – We know our actions are having an impact when the state tries to criminalize them. A new law was signed by the governor of Wisconsin making it a felony to protest fossil fuel infrastructure. This is the tenth state to pass such a law. In South Dakota, their anti-protest law was successfully fought in the courts this year.
  5. Pressuring lawmakers (and candidates) – During the Extinction Rebellion Global Hunger Strike, which started Nov. 20, a group of activists sat-in House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office calling for her to hold a public meeting with them. Two of them continued their hunger strike through this weekend. The Sunrise Movement has organized actions targeting lawmakers, candidates and the Democratic Party throughout the year. They, along with Fridays for Future, will target lawmakers with a climate strike on December 6.
  6. Constructive programs to build alternatives – There are many programs to build positive alternatives from developing regenerative agriculture to a resurgence of small farmers and urban gardens to expanded public transportation, walkable communities, and bike lanes, to incentives for clean energy installation and the formation of worker-owned cooperative green businesses. Recently a new law was passed requiring new roofs in Brooklyn, NY to either have solar panels or greenery. Visit the CREATE section of Popular Resistance for more information.

These are a few examples of many activities for the climate that are being organized. Here are a few final thoughts and observations. First, while changing our personal habits to reduce consumption and emissions is important for transitioning to the world we are working to create, we must remember that the drivers of the crisis are systemic and require systemic solutions. Second, activists often struggle with the issue of activism versus electoral politics. Our view is that in the manipulated US election system, we can’t elect our way out of these crises. Throughout history, it has been mass popular movements that have forced powerholders to either make necessary changes or to lose their power. Electoral politics is a useful tool when it is used to raise awareness for our issues and expose the failings of the current political system but the major focus of our work must be movement building.

Perhaps one of the most exciting developments is the rise of anti-capitalist protests around the world against neoliberalism, a model that drives privatization of land, water, services and more. We can’t solve the climate crisis using capitalist economic models because capitalism is fundamentally about extracting profits at all costs and is based on the overconsumption of a consumer-oriented economy.

Another promising development is the work to make connections between the many crises we face. We cannot solve the climate crisis in isolation because it requires a major restructuring of our entire society. This is the opportunity the climate crisis provides. Over the next decade, with a clear vision of where we want to go, we can shape the world to be one that respects self-determination, human rights and sustainability. That will only come about through organization, planning, and action to create a mass movement.

The seeds of that mass movement are growing. The opportunity has never been so great and the stakes have never been so high.

The Most Enduring Media Cover Up

Clearing the FOG hosts Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese interviewed Alison Weir, journalist and founder of If Americans Knew, a website that provides factual information about the Israeli State and Palestine. Weir describes how she learned firsthand that US media provide a false and one-sided narrative about Occupied Palestine and why she has dedicated the past twenty years to counter that. She also explains some of the most common myths and what she learned as she did research for her book, Against Our Better Judgment. Weir is a very clear thinker on the issue of Palestine-Israel and provides the data and language we need to speak to a propagandized population. You can listen to the entire interview and the week’s news analysis on Clearing the FOG.

Interview

Clearing the FOG (CtF): Alison, your website is a great source of information. Before we get into the site, why don’t you tell us about how you got involved in this issue.

Alison Weir (AW): People always wonder that because I don’t happen to be Jewish or Arab or Muslim or Palestinian and like most Americans 20 years ago, I knew very little about this issue. I had been active on other issues, anti-war during the Vietnam war, civil rights, that type of thing but I had never focused on Israel-Palestine until the Second Intifada began in the Fall of 2000. I’m sure you know intifada just means “Uprising,” a Palestinian Uprising. When that began, in Fall of 2000, I got curious about it.

My background is journalism. At that time, I was the editor of a very small weekly newspaper in Northern California. This wasn’t for my job, it was just my personal curiosity. I started to follow the news coverage on this uprising and I quickly noticed that it was very one-sided, that we were hearing from and about Israelis in great detail, but we got very little information from and about Palestinians.

I went on the internet and discovered a great deal of information from the region itself, from humanitarian agencies that were there, Israeli media in English, Palestinian media. And I discovered that Israeli forces were shooting Palestinians every day in large quantities, including many children and I noticed this reality was not being reported on the news sites that I usually looked at. The San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, especially NPR, seemed to be covering that up.

So the more I looked into it, the more I felt this was a truly significant cover-up. I felt and I do feel now that this was the longest-lasting and most enduring cover-up I had ever seen and that it was occurring across the political spectrum. After a few months of looking into that, I decided, it seemed so significant that I quit my job in Sausalito and traveled as a freelance reporter throughout Gaza and the West Bank. It was a very intense trip, I was not part of any delegation. There really weren’t any delegations at that time.

When I came back, I started the organization, If Americans Knew. The goal has been to be very factual, to show the sources of our information. It’s very transparent. It gives Americans without ideological slant the facts on Israel-Palestine and especially the American connection, the fact that we are in many ways responsible for what Israel does because our tax money goes to Israel. It’s now over 10 million dollars per day. We’ve given Israel far more than we’ve given anybody else.

Most Americans, I think, are the way I was. I felt I had no connection to this confusing issue on the other side of the world, but I learned I have a very direct connection to it and therefore it’s my responsibility to know about it and to act in ways that I feel are morally required. In a nutshell, that’s how I ended up 20 years later still working on this issue.

CtF: That was a very courageous thing to do. Of course, the US also provides cover for Israel in the United Nations or when the International Criminal Court wants to investigate Israel. How were you received by Palestinians when you went there to cover the Intifada?

AW: The perception was and is that you will be in great danger from Palestinians. But I discovered it was the opposite. I was welcomed. I was invited to stay in people’s homes, which I often did. People were very excited to learn that an American journalist was there. I told people I’m here to see what’s going on and people would smile at me in places like Gaza where there were really very few Americans at that time. I didn’t see any other journalists traveling around.

Crowds of people would come up to me and they wanted to show me their bullet-riddled homes and show me what was happening to them. So I found it then and on my other trips there since, people are very welcoming, very friendly. Often they’re very aware of how much money the US gives to Israel. Even though most Americans don’t know that, it is known in the region. Despite their knowledge of that and despite their knowledge of how the US has supported Israel in so many ways, they’re still very welcoming to Americans and very willing to not blame us for what our government is doing. So it’s really the opposite of what people have been led to believe it would be like.

CtF: We were just in Occupied Palestine recently and what you describe is very consistent with our experience as well. Your website focuses on correcting the misconceptions. What are some of the most important misconceptions that people in the United States have about the situation in Occupied Palestine?

AW: That’s at the heart of the problem because there are so many that it’s hard to make people realize it’s really as different as they expect. If there were only one or two, people can accept that. It’s harder for them to realize that almost everything they thought was true is not accurate. And that is what I am often telling them.

One of the main things is that we are directly related to the conflict. We give Israel massive amounts of money. This is per capita on average 7,000 times more than we give other people. One of the other things is that many people are unaware that Israel was established in my lifetime, that when I was born there was no Israel. There was a region called Palestine that had been there called Palestine for really millennia.

Many intelligent and knowledgeable people are not aware of what Israel Palestine is about, that basically Israel was established through warfare. It was not established by the United Nations, another misconception. It was established by a war of ethnic cleansing. That’s what we now term that type of war. It’s the title of an excellent book by an Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, so, the very foundation of Israel is very different than people realize.

This was an intentional dispossession of the indigenous population. It started with the beginning of the establishment of the modern state of Israel and continues through today. Constantly Israel is confiscating additional Palestinian land and taking it over for Jewish-only settlements, as they’re called. Many people are unaware that many Palestinians are Christians. This is where Christianity began. It’s rarely mentioned in the US media.

The other thing people are often unaware of these days is media coverage always focuses on “rockets from Gaza.” Every news report mentions rockets from Gaza. The fact is that I was there traveling around by myself as a reporter before any rockets had been fired and I saw already at that time in early 2001 extreme devastation. I saw neighborhoods in Gaza that were bullet-riddled, that looked like the pictures you see of World War II ruins. In the West Bank too shelling was going on. This was before any rockets had been fired.

People think Israel is defending itself from rockets, but the rockets were actually resistance groups in Gaza trying to fight back with really very ineffectual rockets. In the whole time they’ve been used, they’ve killed at most a few dozen Israelis. Meanwhile, Israeli forces have killed many thousands of Gazans. The only statistic we get in the typical news report is thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza. They never tell that the total number of Israelis who have been killed is perhaps by now, maybe 50, perhaps not even that high and they never tell that during that time about 5,000 Gazans have been killed. We don’t hear about the massive bombardment of Gaza that’s been going on for a very long time and that has killed thousands of Gazans. And of course, killed many people in the West Bank also.

CtF: When we were there, we saw fighter planes flying over Jerusalem on their way to bomb Gaza. Over 30 Gazans were killed, including a family. Tens of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes in the recent siege of Gaza. And these so-called rocket attacks, they’re like little pipsqueak rockets. These rockets were a response to an Israeli assassination in Gaza. It’s really amazing they use that as an excuse, but they do.

AW: They get away with it because the media only tell about the response and don’t tell about what came before. The American population is completely misled. Most of these are small homemade projectiles, but media will report them as missiles and people are imagining a Nike missile or something. That’s just not what’s going on.

There have been studies of the chronology of the violence in the conflict. There was one excellent study by an MIT professor who looked at periods of calm, at various truces through the years. Her study showed that it was something like 96% of the time in the shorter truces it was Israel that had first resumed violence against Palestinians and in the longer truces, it was 100% of the time that Israeli forces resumed the violence. This is just not known to the American public because it’s very filtered news coverage that people are getting.

Your point of hearing jets flying over to bomb Gaza is very significant. People don’t know that here we have one of the most powerful militaries on the planet, largely due to our tax money and often US weaponry, fighting against a population that has no Air Force, no Navy, no aircraft, no helicopter gunships. The disparity is astounding and the media try to call it a war. A war is between two military forces. That’s not what we have when we look at Gaza and Israeli forces.

CtF: It’s such an asymmetric situation. Palestinians have been forced from their homes, living in an apartheid state and have the right under international law to defend themselves. But the Palestinians we met with while we were there, activists, said we are nonviolent, we believe in using non-violence and talked about teaching their children not to hate other people, how giving in to that was destructive. One of the things that people push back in the United States is they say that there never really was a Palestine, that Palestinian nationality didn’t start until the 20th century. Can you comment on that?

AW: Yes. This is one of the Israeli talking points that many people have fallen for. You see this on Facebook and Twitter and various places. It’s a nonsensical argument. It’s true, there was not a state of Palestine. There was not a state of Israel. There was a region called Palestine. You can look at old maps.

Palestine was a region back in biblical times. It was talked about in more recent times. It was talked about in more recent centuries. It was under the Ottoman Empire. It was what we call multicultural. Around 1900, the population was about 80 percent Muslim, about 15 percent Christian and a little under five percent Jewish. This was a region. It was not a nation-state, as we know nation-states came relatively late to the world. Germany wasn’t a nation-state for many years. The United States did not used to be a nation-state. Palestine was a region. Palestinians have existed.

There was a book published some years ago by an Israel partisan who went by the name Joan Peters claiming the Palestinians did not exist, that they were just nomads that had come in because the Zionists’ wonderful entrepreneurial spirit had created jobs for these nomads to join them. This is the thesis of her book called “From Time Immemorial.” Many people read it. It was praised by pretty much every book review in the United States.

People like Barbara Tuchman, an Israel partisan, but known as a historian, praised it. It turned out to be a complete hoax.  Some very good historians and analysts including some Jewish Americans looked into the book and found out that these many footnotes were often fraudulent. They were actually coming from Zionist propaganda. In Israel itself, it was exposed as non-factual. In Britain, it was exposed as non-factual. In the United States, it eventually was, but I don’t think any of the people that gave it a positive review and that endorsed it then had the honesty or principle to retract their erroneous reviews.

Many people, especially many Jewish Americans, read that book and were taken in by it and then repeat the myth that there were no such thing as Palestinians. Even Golda Meir, the famous Israeli Prime Minister, said at one point that quote there were no Palestinians. That’s like Americans trying to say well there were no Native Americans here. Of course, there was.

CtF: Even in the country itself Israeli Jews seem oblivious to the reality in their own country. Home demolitions and the settlers putting settlements on Palestinian communities and on Palestinian lands. We drove on Jewish-only roads. If I Google “Jewish only roads,” I find an article about “Jewish only roads don’t exist.” One of the challenges we have in talking to people in the United States, and even in Israel, Occupied Palestine, is they don’t want to see reality. How do you communicate to people who just seem oblivious whether unintentionally or intentionally?

AW: Certainly, Israelis have been brought up to be just the way you’re describing. Nurit Peled, an academic, has done excellent work showing that Israeli textbooks are very propagandistic in the way that they depict Palestinians. They’re not even called Palestinians. They call them Israeli Arabs. So this is deeply embedded in many portions of the Israeli population.

Fortunately, there are many people in Israel that are dissenting from that and they’re trying to reach their fellow Israelis. There are Israelis Against Torture and Israelis Against Home Demolition. There are a number of Israeli groups within the society, a small fraction, but they’re doing really wonderful work in trying to expose what’s actually going on. There are some Israeli journalists, especially Gideon Levy, who write every week in the Israeli media about some of the latest atrocities being committed by Israel against Palestinians.

I would love to reach everybody. I’d love to reach every Israeli. I’d love to reach every American who’s taken in by Israeli talking points. What I focus on is the really fairly promising reality that about three-quarters of the American population, despite the pro-Israel media coverage that we’ve been getting for decades and despite Hollywood, really does not have a strong view on this issue. And general surveys will show that they say something like we shouldn’t take sides, which is sensible. If you don’t know much about an issue, you just don’t take sides.

That sounds like a fairly wimpy approach to those of us who know what’s going on there, but what that would mean if you don’t take sides is we would stop giving Israel 10 million dollars per day. We would stop vetoing UN resolutions to protect Israel from world condemnation of its violence. So it’s actually quite a good stand if we did what the majority of Americans already say we should do.

I try to focus on giving the general public the facts on this issue and the importance of making their wishes known to their elected representatives that it’s time to stop this massive aid to Israel. It prevents peace. Israeli militarists think they have a blank check from the most powerful nation on the planet, which they do right now. So my view is we give voters factual information on this. We show how extremely tragic the situation is because of what we’re funding and the fact that it hurts us as well and emphasize how important it is to tell our elected representatives that we want them to change these misguided destructive US policies of a blank check to Israel.

It’s time for us to vote and to work on the issue of Israel Palestine. Not only because of what it’s doing to Palestinians, not only because of what it then does to the US but because our support of Israel has led to our wars in the region. It has led to much of the violence in the region that has since spilled over elsewhere. It’s the core issue of the Middle East and it’s the time for us to focus on it and to address it.

CtF: I want to ask you about a topic that you’ve been writing about recently. And that is the criticism that people who question or criticize the Israeli state are anti-semitic. Can you talk about that?

AW: Yes, that’s used all the time and most of us are profoundly opposed to bigotry of all kinds. We don’t want to be splattered with such mudslinging. We don’t want to be called anti-Semitic. We don’t want to be anti-Semitic and we’re not being anti-Semitic when we speak out for justice as a principal, but that’s the attack that they try to use.

A member of the Israeli Parliament some years ago on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now said, and I’m paraphrasing, she said this is a trick. We always use it when somebody is critical of Israel, we call them anti-Semitic and that is exactly what going on. Nobody should be anti-Semitic. Nobody should be against any population, should be hostile and prejudiced against people. Bigotry is wrong. So that’s what they try to use.

What’s gotten worse is that not only do they try to claim somebody’s anti-Semitic when we’re talking about a nation-state and talking about injustice and trying to support principles of justice for all people, there is an effort to change the definition of anti-Semitism to include criticisms of Israel. This is extremely insidious.

It’s been going on for a number of years. There’s a new formulation in which certain criticisms of Israel, factual statements about Israel, will now be defined as anti-Semitism. Therefore it will be defined as hate speech, etc. This effort was begun by an Israeli Minister named Natan Sharansky. It has now been embedded in the US State Department and it’s being embedded elsewhere around the world. We need to learn about that and we need to oppose it. We need to stick with the traditional definition of anti-Semitism and we should oppose all anti-Semitism just as we oppose all racism, but we should not allow that incorrect epithet to be used to silence us or to prevent us from working for justice and human rights for all people including Palestinians.

CtF: One of the people we visited with when we were recently in Occupied Palestine was Rabbi Hirsh, who is with an ultra-orthodox Jew, and he makes a very strong case that Zionism is inconsistent with Judaism, that it violates the Torah. That makes the state of Israel really under his religious analysis to be against Judaism. A growing group of Jews in the United States is getting active in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. A number of Jewish groups are actually beginning to criticize Zionism and Israel. It’s really is an absurd claim that people who criticize Israel or Zionism are anti-Semitic. It just shows the weakness of their arguments.

AW: It does and I’m glad you brought that up because when Zionism, political Zionism, began with Theodore Herzl and some conferences in Switzerland in the late 1800s, the majority of Jews around the world did not join that movement. They said we’re Americans, we’re British etcetera. Even a Jewish population in Palestine was opposed to it, especially observant Jews were opposed to it and considered it a heretical move. There are many Jews who for religious reasons oppose Zionism saying this is against the Bible. It’s against God’s will. That’s part of what people don’t know. And in my book, in the research I did, it was very interesting to see how Zionists were very upset that Jewish-Americans were not embracing Zionism in the early years. In fact, for a number of decades, there were groups such as the American Council on Judaism that actively and strenuously opposed Zionism.

CTF: Finally, how can people learn more about the work that you do?

AW: The first thing would be to go to our website: IfAmericansKnew.org. From there, you will also go to our blog, the If Americans Knew blog. Between those two resources, I believe there’s a lot of information that will be useful to people. My book is available on Amazon. The short title is “Against Our Better Judgment.” It can be read very quickly. It’s one of the selling points and it’s thoroughly cited. It turned out that the book is half citations. So every statement in it, you can find the source for that statement. It contains a great deal of information that many people, even experts on the issue, did not know about before because when I started researching it, I was starting from scratch. I read a huge number of books. We’re also working to encourage people to join the effort to work within their congressional district to inform the people in your community about what’s going on. You can email us at gro.wenKsnaciremAfInull@tcatnoc and help get this information off the internet and into the hands of people in your community. We also have a very active Facebook page, If Americans Knew Facebook page, where we post things every day. I especially encourage people to join our email list. We should not rely on Facebook for our communication. That is a private company and they could turn it off whenever they want to so, please join our email list also.

CtF: If you haven’t visited If Americans Knew, it’s a very deep website. If you ever want to understand a particular aspect of Israel or Occupied Palestine, you’ll find a lot of the facts right there. If you’re ever writing about it, debating it, trying to understand and discuss it with others, it’s a very fact-based and deep web site that serves a very useful purpose for engaging on this issue.

AW: We’ve certainly tried and the websites been live about 15 or 16 years. There’s really a depth of content there. We’re trying to upgrade it to a more modern look but there’s so much content, we just haven’t been able to do that yet. So it’s an old-school look but the content is there for people to find and it’s all sourced. We try to make sure that our material is factual and show people that that’s the case.

The Whole Damn System Is Guilty As Hell: Taking Control Of Police

Stop killings by police protest (Credit: William Widmer of the NY Times)

The entire system of policing in the United States is in crisis. Police murdering civilians has become a too common nightmare across the United States. The police murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Eric Garner in New York City, Walter Scott in Charleston, SC, Tamar Rice in Cleveland OH, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD, Laquan McDonald in Chicago, IL and so many more have spurred a movement to transform policing.

The power relationship between police and the community is out of balance. Militarized policing of black and brown communities resembles an occupying force. While many police departments use the slogan “protect and serve,” in too many communities, people do not feel protected or served. They feel threatened, harassed and abused by police.

The relationship between police and the people needs to change. While there have been some positive reforms like police body cameras, special units to investigate police and increased prosecutions of police, these are insufficient. The most promising transformational change is to put in place community control of police through a democratically-elected police accountability board.

Screenshots showing the police conflict and killing of Eric Garner

The Crisis

The constant police killings and shootings often caught on video and shared on social media have created a movement to transform policing. Associated Press described it, writing: “The videos — and the outrage that followed — helped ignite the most powerful civil rights movement since the 1960s.” The widespread police violence has become a national racial justice issue.

Police violence protest sign carried in the 1963 March on Washington, from Smithsonian Institution

Police violence has been a reality in the United States from the start. The poster above could be carried today, but it is more than 50 years old. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in the I Have A Dream Speech, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” Police violence has been part of centuries of oppression of Black people in the United States since they were first brought to the continent as slaves.

Slavery and racism are intertwined with policing, as Gary Potter, Ph.D., wrote in The History of Policing in the United States:

The genesis of the modern police organization in the South is the “Slave Patrol” (Platt 1982). The first formal slave patrol was created in the Carolina colonies in 1704 (Reichel 1992). 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. Following the Civil War, these vigilante-style organizations evolved in modern Southern police departments primarily as a means of controlling freed slaves who were now laborers working in an agricultural caste system, and enforcing “Jim Crow” segregation laws, designed to deny freed slaves equal rights and access to the political system.

The 1929 Illinois Crime Survey found that although blacks made up just five percent of the population, they constituted 30 percent of the victims of police killings. Police violence has been the spark for uprisings in black communities. Newark had one of the deadliest riots when in 1967 police officers beat a black cab driver leading to an insurrection where 26 people died over four days of unrest. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders investigated the causes of major uprisings concluding: “police actions were ‘final’ incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.”

The 1991 video of the bloody beating of cab driver Rodney King showed police brutality on television. Police hit King more than 50 times with their batons. When they were acquitted, the verdict led to an uprising that lasted six days, killing 63 people and injuring 2,373. The National Guard, US Army, and Marines were deployed in the community.

Today, the widespread acts of violence cannot be claimed to be isolated incidents of one bad apple. This violence is documented by the media like The Guardian and non-profit organizations like The Marshall ProjectMore than 1,100 people per year are killed by the police — more than four times the number of people lynched or executed by capital punishment in the worst of years — about one person every eight hours.

Police departments have become a violent occupying force in communities of color and against people exercising their political rights at protests. Police departments with military-grade equipment have become the norm in US cities. Images of police officers in helmets and body armor riding through neighborhoods in tanks accompany stories of protests, including when people protest against police violence.

Community Control of Police, thousands in Chicago protest against police crimes (Photo by Monique in Fight Back News)

Putting People in Control of the Police

In 2012, about 100 people met in Chicago to develop a plan for community control of the police. Now, 60,000 people have signed petitions and there are 19 members of the Chicago City Council, 40 percent of the council, who support it. This weekend, 1,000 people attended the re-founding of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression where the centerpiece of discussion was democratic control of the police.

We interviewed Frank Chapman, who has been involved in the work in Chicago to create a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) from the beginning, on our radio show.  Chapman puts the issue into context describing how, for a brief period after the Civil War, communities controlled their police. But the reversal of Reconstruction ended that. He says that communities getting control of police should be recognized as central to black liberation.

Chapman explains how they have organized to build support for the issue with grassroots activism, holding community meetings, going door-to-door and tabling, gathering signatures and electing people to the city council.

The centerpiece of the Chicago bill is democratic community control. The bill for a Civilian Police Accountability Council gives broad powers to the elected council. These powers include complete control of the police:

  1. Appoint a Superintendent of Police;
  2. Adopt rules and regulations for the governance of the Department of Police of the city;
  3. Serve as a board to hear disciplinary actions for which a suspension for more than the 30 days expressly reserved to the Superintendent is recommended, or for removal or discharge involving officers and employees of the Police Department in the classified civil service of the city;
  4. Promulgate rules, regulations, and procedures for the conduct of the CPAC’s investigations consistent with the requirements of collective bargaining agreements, due process of law and equal protection under the law;
  5. In those instances where CPAC’s investigation indicates that a member of the Department of Police has committed a crime, petition the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to convene a Grand Jury if one is not already convened, and present CPAC’s findings of criminal activity to the Grand Jury to get an indictment for Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law pursuant to 18 U.S. Code § 242;
  6. Review, approve and submit to the City of Chicago the annual budget of the Department of Police;
  7. Provide required educational opportunities for CPAC members to become familiar with citizens’ United States and Illinois constitutional rights, learn law enforcement oversight techniques, and undergo victims’ assistance, sexual assault and domestic violence certification training;
  8. Establish officers, committees, and subcommittees for the effective conduct of CPAC business;
  9. Protect the rights guaranteed to the citizens of Chicago by the United States and Illinois Constitutions;
  10. Review and sign off on all complaint investigations;
  11. Review and sign off on all new Department of Police policies and special orders;
  12. Disallow the use of the Department of Police by outside law enforcement agencies to commit crimes;
  13. Negotiate and approve contracts with the police unions; and,.
  14. Remap the City of Chicago police districts as needed as determined by the CPAC.

When asked what the difference is between the elected council and the increasingly common Civilian Police Review Boards, Chapman responds: “Accountability.” By being democratically elected, the Chicago model holds the council and the police accountable. Review boards chosen by the government too often include people who are friends or allies of the police.

Democratic control is essential

This November 4, the city of Rochester, NY passed a referendum creating a Police Accountability Board with 75 percent of voters supporting it. Between 2001 and 2016, citizens filed 923 allegations of excessive force. The Chief of Police sustained 16 of these allegations, only 13 led to discipline.

The board will be able to independently investigate civilian complaints, subpoena information for its investigations, and determine whether individual officers have committed misconduct. It will also create disciplinary guidelines, with an opportunity for input from the Chief of Police and the police union. If the board finds, after a hearing, that an officer has committed misconduct, the Chief of Police is required to impose discipline consistent with disciplinary guidelines. The board will also recommend changes to the Police Department’s policies, practices, and training. The police union is expected to file suit to stop this board from taking effect.

The board will be composed of nine unpaid Rochester residents: one appointed by the Mayor and eight appointed by the City Council; four of the Council’s appointees will be nominated by a coalition of community organizations, the Police Accountability Board Alliance. The potential Achilles Heel of this new law is the lack of democratic control by the people.

As a result of a November 2001 referendum supported by over 76 percent of the electorate, Miami created the Civilian Investigative Panel (“CIP”). Voters sought oversight because of a series of suspicious police shootings, throwdown guns and officers lying to grand juries. The CIP only makes recommendations to the police and has weak powers granted to its 13 members. They have lost their fight to be able to subpoena police officers due to the state’s Law Enforcement Bill of Rights. This approach has been judged as a failure. Sixteen states have a Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, which gives extra protection to police under investigation and makes it impossible for police to be judged by anyone but other police officers.

Lessons from the experience with police oversight include the importance of the democratic selection of oversight boards, not boards appointed by elected officials, clear powers that are not merely advisory for the board and, in states where relevant, confronting the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights.

Cities are spending large shares of their budgets on police at the expense of social services, health care, infrastructure, and other needs. Oakland spent 41 percent of the city’s general fund on policing in 2017. Chicago spent nearly 39 percent, Minneapolis, almost 36 percent, and Houston 35 percent. A recent study documents how a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing are far more successful in reducing crime than police or prisons.

Democratic community control of the police transforms the power dynamic between police and citizens. Black communities policing the police in their neighborhoods to confront the long term racist roots of policing in the United States. Community control of police needs to become the unified goal of movements seeking to end police violence, create police who serve the community and liberate black communities.

New Report On FBI Spying Shows Need For Congressional Investigation

Church Committee hearing. The Frank Church Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University.

Clearing the FOG (forces of greed) hosts Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers interviewed Chip Gibbons, an expert on Constitutional Law and the legal and policy counsel for Defending Rights and Dissent about a recent right to protest victory in Washington, DC plus his new report, “Still Spying on Dissent: The enduring problem of FBI First Amendment Abuse.” You can read and download the report here. This report, which finds that people are being investigated for their political opinions, is part of a new campaign to hold the FBI accountable and stop its widespread surveillance and infiltration of social movements. You can listen to the entire interview and the week’s news analysis on Clearing the FOG.

Interview

Clearing the FOG (CtF): Before we get into your new report, let’s talk about the recent victory over an effort by the Trump Administration to stifle protest in Washington DC. Can you tell us about that?

Chip Gibbons (CG):  Late last year, the National Park Services asked for comments on new proposed rules that would have severely curtailed the ability to protest on public lands, national parks. One of the elements of the proposed rules that got the most attention was the so-called protest tax that would have allowed the National Park Service to charge protesters for the cost of policing or cleaning up of demonstrations. There was also concern that they were going to eliminate the deemed granted rule, which is that if you don’t hear back from the National Park Service within a certain period of time when you apply for a permit, your permit request is deemed granted.

A hundred and forty thousand people submitted comments about this proposal opposing it. Eighty civil society groups, including Popular Resistance and Defending Rights and Dissent, labor unions, and civil rights groups submitted comments opposing it. It was just announced this week that the Park Service was withdrawing the proposed rule change. That’s a pretty big victory because, at the end of the day, democracy is about more than just voting. It’s also about freedom of expression and assembly and that includes the right of people to come together in a common cause.

The National Park System is not only a custodian of our parks, but they also play a crucial role in facilitating democracy. Under international law, the right of free expression is interpreted as recommending that governments only require notice, not permits, for political demonstrations because as the previous rapporteur for the United Nations on Free Speech and Assembly said, “A right is not a right if it has to be granted.”

CtF: We really want to ask you about this new report that you authored for Defending Rights and Dissent. It’s about the FBI’s monitoring of social movements. Can you tell us about it?

CG: The report is called “Still Spying on Dissent: The enduring problem of FBI First Amendment abuse,” and it focuses on FBI surveillance or monitoring of social movements, protests, and civil society activity since 2010. It’s based on information that was already in the public domain. A number of journalists have filed FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests and a number of activists have reported being visited at their homes by the FBI.

A very interesting development was when Walmart was brought before the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices, it was revealed in discovery that they contacted the FBI JTTF, Joint Terrorism Task Force, about Occupy protesters. This is information that’s been in the public domain, but the point of the report was to compile it all in one place. When you put all of the incidents we know about together in one place in detail, a picture starts to emerge of a systemic problem of surveillance in the United States. After covering that, the report steps back and puts it in the context of the FBI’s history since 1908 of spying on dissent.

The other thing is that in a number of cases what we know actually raises further questions, which is why it would be very helpful for somebody with subpoena power like Congress to actually step in and do their own investigation of this matter. A number of times when people received FOIA documents, they were redacted to the point of being unintelligible. We know that different people have filed FOIA requests about the same information and have gotten different responses. There’s some evidence to suggest the FBI is wrongfully withholding information when they’re subjected to FOIA requests. And when you hear stories about activists being visited at their homes, the question is what investigation is that part of?

What we know is very disturbing and it is cause for concern but just as important is what we don’t know. That’s why Congress needs to make sure we know more.

CtF: We don’t really know the extent of the FBI’s infiltration and monitoring of social movements. The Church Committee hearings exposed widespread government and FBI surveillance in the past. Do you think we’re really at that stage again where it’s so widespread that we need to have a series of Congressional hearings focusing on FBI surveillance of political activity in the United States?

CG: I absolutely do think so. I mean the Church Committee is the example that usually gets cited. The Church Committee was a select committee investigation into bad acts by the intelligence community in general. It talked about assassinations and about CIA tricks overseas, but the committee also talked about the use of intelligence to infringe on people’s rights domestically. A lot of people don’t know this, but the FBI is not only a law enforcement agency, but it’s also an intelligence agency. So, there is some information in it about the FBI’s use of its domestic intelligence powers to violate American’s constitutional rights.

In the late 80s, there was another investigation done by the Senate Intelligence Committee with some input from the Senate Judiciary Committee into what the FBI was doing when they were spying on opponents of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. It came out in the 1980s that the FBI had been spying on the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. There are a number of ways this came to light, my favorite of which is that they didn’t pay their informant and he complained. The Senate had an investigation, not a hearing, but an actual investigation. They released a report. People at the time felt like it was a bit of a whitewash but compared to the types of oversight we have of the FBI today, it certainly was an improvement.

In 2006, it came out that the Bush Administration was spying on a bunch of groups and that led Congress to ask the DOJ Inspector General to study the matter. They released their report on the Bush-era FBI spying in September of 2010. That’s why we choose 2010 as our starting date because there’s been no real oversight since then. Just four days after the report was released, the FBI raided the homes of anti-war and solidarity activists in the Midwest. The report showed that the FBI has loose guidelines.

When the Bureau of Investigation was created in 1908, it was created while Congress was on recess and to this day it has no statutory charter. After the Church Committee, there were some efforts to impose a charter on it, but Congress instead allowed the Attorney General to write guidelines in lieu of a Charter. As you can imagine, conservative attorney generals like those in the Reagan Administration and the Bush Administration rewrote the guidelines to be less restrictive and less protective of civil liberties.

Since the time period covered in the OIG report, the FBI’s guidelines have actually gotten even looser. George Bush’s lame-duck attorney general Michael Mukasey promulgated the current guidelines, which created a new category of investigations called assessments that allow the FBI to investigate people using very intrusive techniques when there’s no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing or national security threat, just an “authorized law enforcement purpose.” That’s the first time since the Church Committee the FBI was allowed to investigate people absent facts that suggested they were engaged in either a national security threat or in criminal wrongdoing. The other type of investigations allowed in the guidelines are literally called predicated investigations and that means they have a factual predicate. So, an assessment is an investigation without a factual predicate to suggest any wrongdoing at all.

CtF: So in the “land of the free” people can be investigated simply because of their political opinions. You mentioned that they use intrusive techniques to surveil activists. Can you talk about what some of those are?

CG: The biggest problem is human intelligence or confidential informants. There’s a lot of focus contemporarily on sort of the high-tech surveillance that the NSA does or all these sorts of spy tools that local police departments are acquiring and that’s very scary. And I think just as analogous when people talk about the FBI of the pre-Church Committee era, there’s a lot of fixation on illegal wiretaps and stuff like that.

Most of the surveillance the FBI does is through human intelligence. That’s either an undercover officer or confidential informant. You can have the best encryption in the world, but if the person that you’re sending the message to is reporting everything back to the FBI, it’s not very helpful. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned with bulk surveillance and all this technology that is sucking up all our information. We should be terrified of it.

We also should not lose sight that the FBI is still using the tried and true old methods as well. And increasingly what we see is that these confidential informants go well beyond gathering information and they actively engage as agents provocateurs meaning that they come up with terror plots and they entice people into participating in them. Then the FBI turns around and arrests them and that allows the FBI to sort of over-exaggerate the threat of terror as well. If they say they’re arresting all these terrorists, that implies there’s some sort of further need for security.

When Donald Trump issued the first executive order authorizing the Muslim ban, the courts asked about the purpose. The second executive order used two terror plots supposedly involving refugees as justification for it, but in both cases, those plots were the product of FBI agents provocateurs. In one of the cases cited by Trump’s executive order, a judge found it to be an example of “imperfect entrapment,” which is different than perfect entrapment. That is an affirmative defense and bars your conviction. Imperfect entrapment is just an argument for a lesser sentence. A judge said this was imperfect entrapment and Trump then turned around and cited that as justification for a repressive policy.

CtF: Right after the Occupy Movement was winding down in 2012, there were a few cases of relatively young men who were vulnerable and they were entrapped into making it look like they were going to commit violent acts. In the past, the FBI would go after leaders of movements, but in this case, they went after the low-hanging fruit and then made headline cases out of it. Can you talk about that?

CG: I believe the case you are referring to is Occupy Cleveland where there were a number of young men sort of on the margins. They had issues and an FBI informant enticed them into participating in this plot to blow up a bridge on May Day. Obviously, that’s horrible, you shouldn’t blow up civilian bridges. But there was no such plot and the FBI announced the arrests right on the eve of Occupy Cleveland’s major May Day demonstration, which was supposed to have revived the movement in Cleveland that had sort of gone into hibernation during the winter. So they had to cancel the march given the negative publicity. So, they completely decimated the resurrection of Occupy Cleveland by creating this fake terror plot and then being able to defame the movement.

CtF: Can you give us a sense of the kind of groups targeted by the FBI?

CG: It’s the same groups the FBI has always targeted. It’s peace and solidarity groups, environmental groups, racial justice groups and economic justice groups. We know the FBI has this ridiculous threat assessment called “Black Identity Extremism”, which argues that perceptions of racism, police violence and social injustice in the African-American community could lead to retaliatory lethal violence against police. The argument is that if you’re rightfully angry or rightfully concerned about the racism or police brutality you’ve been on the receiving end of in our society and you want to speak out against that, that’s a precursor to violence. That’s a really insidious logic because it treats not only First Amendment protected speech as a precursor to criminality but rightful and legitimate concern about injustice as a precursor to doing a criminal act.

CtF: That’s such circular reasoning. Police commit violations of people’s rights, especially racist violations. The community is aware of it. And because you are aware of it, you’re a suspect for potential violence yourself and therefore under surveillance by the FBI.

CG: They use that logic repeatedly. There was a recent document that Yahoo! News got a hold of from an FBI office in Arizona where they mentioned that because of people being angry at children being put in concentration camps and the abuse of migrants that there could be an increased likelihood of armed confrontation between anarchists and the federal government. It’s totally insidious. It just treats First Amendment protected speech as a reason to be suspicious of someone as willing to commit a crime. When they single out these groups, oftentimes the FBI and their own files admit there’s no indication that anyone is planning on engaging in violence, but an unknown person at an unknown point in the future could.  So, the FBI has very clearly embraced this logic that certain points of view are inherently suspicious and that they should be monitored and investigated.

MF: One of the major groups that have been targeted by the FBI is the Muslim Community. Can you talk about that?

CG: Another really insidious thing the FBI does when it uses these confidential informants is it oftentimes sends them to the Muslim Community without any specific targets.

There’s a very notorious case where the FBI engaged in something called Operation Flax where they sent an informant into a mosque in Orange County. The mosque actually reported the informant to the FBI because he was acting rather ridiculously and the informant came forward and said that he had asked the FBI, “Who is my target ?” and they said, “Oh the target will come to you.” So what you’re talking about is a sort of dragnet suspicion-less surveillance. They asked this informant to infiltrate a Southern California mosque to gather personal information such as email addresses, cell phone numbers, and political and religious views. He was even encouraged by the FBI to enter into sexual relations with Muslim women in order to gather intelligence.

There’s an ongoing lawsuit about this surveillance. The FBI has tried to have it dismissed under the State Secrets Doctrine. It doesn’t look like they’re going to get away with that, but it still highlights the problem of this suspicion-less surveillance. Another famous case is the Newburgh Four.

The informant goes into this mosque and he’s not targeting anyone in particular, as far as we know. We have no idea why the FBI picked Newburgh for this particular type of surveillance. He eventually encounters the person he entices into this fake plot in a parking lot. So, they’re just going into Muslim communities where no one is suspected of any crime and just surveilling them and then trying to invent crime.

The FBI clearly views the Muslim community as a fifth column, which is why they are subjecting them to this awful suspicion-less surveillance.

CtF: In Robert Mueller’s era as FBI director, he did a lot of that kind of activity in the Muslim community, yet people look at Mueller as a great hero because he investigated Trump for Russiagate.

CG: There’s an entire OIG report on Robert Mueller’s FBI counterterrorism investigation of domestic advocacy groups, like Greenpeace, PETA, and the Catholic Workers. The last major attempt at oversight, the report released in 2010, coincides with Robert Mueller’s time at the FBI. Robert Mueller is not a hero.

CtF: You are a constitutional law expert, Chip. Can you talk about the state of our constitutional freedoms in the United States right now? How would you assess our rights to protest and to free speech?

CG: In terms of the FBI’s political surveillance, the courts have made it very difficult to challenge it. There’s a very important case in the 1970s where people who were protesting the Vietnam War in DC were spied on by the US Military and they tried to sue, Laird v. Tatum. They tried to sue the military for spying on them and the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision refused to hear the case on the merits; therefore, never ruling whether or not they had a First Amendment complaint.

In order to be able to have standing to sue, you have to show that you suffered a harm and that the court can remedy that harm. The Supreme Court reasoned that the idea that if the military creates a dossier on you with your picture and tracks you because of your First Amendment protected activity, that if you might not want to engage in that activity, then that’s a self-subjective chill. You’re doing the harm to yourself. There are instances where people have gotten over that hurdle, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to challenge political surveillance in the courts.

What’s really needed is for Congress to act. Over the years, there have been a number of fine pieces of legislation proposed to impose limits on the FBI. I think those limits should be part of an overarching charter. We’re talking stuff like forbidding the FBI from investigating First Amendment protected activity unless there are facts indicating a violation or likely violation of the federal criminal code and that they have to weigh the magnitude of the crime against the threat to free speech, which you know isn’t a terribly radical suggestion. It’s actually quite moderate. Also, any sort of FBI charter needs to be judicially enforceable, meaning that if the FBI does break the charter and spies on you, you have a remedy in terms of both declaratory and injunctive relief. So, the courts can say this spying broke the charter and the FBI has to stop it. Those would be positive steps forward.  Congress needs to have an investigation into why the FBI is doing what it’s doing.

CtF: If you add the attacks on journalism with Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Max Blumenthal, there are so many attacks on our freedoms. When they know a protest is being planned, like Occupy, how early do you think the FBI starts infiltrating and investigating protesters?

CG: Well, with Occupy, we don’t have to speculate because we know from the documents that were released the FBI began monitoring Occupy Wall Street in August of 2011. That’s a month before the protests began. Before the very first protester ever set foot in Zuccotti Park, the FBI was on the case. I don’t know in every instance how with-it the FBI is. The FBI is not always the most with-it people when you look at some of these documents they’ve released. It’s not unlikely before a protest or a movement happens for the FBI to start investigating or monitoring it. That’s clearly what happened in Occupy.

There are other cases where they’re sort of late to the picture. There’s a very disturbing example that we talk about in this report that involves By Any Means Necessary, which is a civil rights group, a racial justice group. They were doing a counter-protest of the Traditionalist Workers Party, which is right-wing, white supremacist, and fascist. The counter-protesters, the racial justice protesters, were stabbed. They were attacked. And the FBI instead of investigating the fascists who committed a crime, investigated By Any Means Necessary. What’s very fascinating is that the FBI gets the name of the racist group wrong. They think it’s the Ku Klux Klan. So, you have these FBI documents where the FBI says things like the Ku Klux Klan is a group that some people perceive as having a white supremacist agenda. They end up investigating the civil rights group as part of a counter-terrorism investigation and for possibly violating the civil rights of the Ku Klux Klan.

I’ve seen FBI documents where they’re describing the relationship between different activist groups, groups that I’m familiar with, and it’s like wow. On the one hand, the degree of surveillance is so terrifying but on the other hand, it’s like you guys are also kind of really out of it.

CtF: It’s not just the FBI. That’s just one agency. There are over 30 police agencies in Washington DC. The New York City Police Department is the size of an army. The US has been increasing the number of police officers since the Clinton era. He added more than a hundred thousand police to the streets in his era. How does the FBI work with local and state law enforcement?

CG: The FBI as a police force isn’t actually that large. The NYPD has more police than there are FBI agents, at least that used to be the case. What we increasingly see is that local police are working for the FBI in these so-called Joint Terrorism Task Forces. And in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, local law enforcement, and in some cases other federal agents are assigned to them, carry out their day to day missions as JTTF officers and they do this under the purview of the FBI. In most cases, they follow the FBI’s own guidelines.

There’s been a lot of pushback against this recently because, in a number of cases, states have laws on the books governing local police conduct and those laws are more stringent than the FBI’s own guidelines. So, in theory, the local police by following the FBI’s guidelines could be breaking state law. San Francisco rewrote their memorandum of understanding with the FBI mandating that local police have to follow local laws even when they’re acting as FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force agents. They then turned around and broke away from the Joint Terrorism Task Force completely. Portland also left that.

There’s been some controversy recently with some of these federal task forces, not just the Joint Terrorism Task Force, but some of the DEA ones, where they don’t allow their agents to wear body cameras. I believe this may have changed but they weren’t allowing the agents to wear body cameras. So, in cities or states where it was the law that police had to wear body cameras, they weren’t doing so when they were acting as Federal Task Force agents. Local officials rightfully got upset by that.

More and more, the FBI is turning local police into their foot soldiers.

CtF:  There are ways to deal with informants, infiltrators and agents provocateurs. On our Popular Resistance website, we have a class on how social transformation occurs and at least one class is on these issues. This report is very helpful for people to know what kind of tactics they use, how widespread it is and what to expect, but beyond that, there are other things people can do to build their movement in a way that handles this pretty well. How can people who care about this issue get more involved? Is there anything that they can do concretely?

CG: We have repeatedly called on Congress to investigate the FBI. We had a major campaign in 2016 where something like a hundred and thirty-seven groups, including Popular Resistance, and 88,000 people signed our petition to ask the Senate and House Judiciary committees to hold hearings about FBI surveillance of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and pipeline protesters. We are gearing up to relaunch that campaign in light of the report.

If people want to read the report, it’s on our website at rightsanddissent.org/FBI- spying/. On that page, there is an action you can take. In the coming weeks, we’re going to be using this report as an organizing tool and trying to build pressure around this issue of FBI political surveillance.

This is the time to put the pressure on Congress to use this moment to try to look into what’s going on and actually come up with some tangible solutions. The first attempt to check the FBI political surveillance was in 1924. Harlan Fiske Stone read a report by the ACLU about the FBI doing political spying. He was so concerned by it, he made J Edgar Hoover meet with Roger Baldwin, the head of the FBI. Stone did not know that Hoover was spying on Roger Baldwin and the ACLU. He put into place a regulation that the FBI had to stick to investigating violations of the criminal code and he asked Hoover, can you show us anywhere where it’s illegal to be a communist? Hoover found ways to get around that.

The FBI is very good at finding reasons to spy on people. But then in the 30s, there was a whole bunch of national executive orders from Roosevelt that gave the FBI very broad national security powers. So, this isn’t a new issue, but you know some of the ideas that have been proposed over the last almost 100 years are still very good ideas.