It is increasingly clear that the wagons have circled both in the Democratic National Committee and in the news media to shut down any possibility of a national health plan as proposed by Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) or Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
The media for their part, keep touting — almost a year and a half before Election day, and just under a year after next year’s Democratic primary voting and caucusing, that two “centrists” (who should be called the Establishment candidates, both neo-Liberals in the Clinton mold) — Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the “leading candidates” for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Biden is quoted favorably for perpetrating the lie that establishing a new “single-payer” program of government insurance covering everyone would mean “starting from scratch” and taking away everyone’s current employer-funded, or Obamacare subsidized health insurance.
Meanwhile Harris, who was against Medicare for All before she was for it, and who now talks about “funding” it with taxes on Wall Street, is treated like the voice of reason, when in fact she’s just blowing smoke and confusing the issue deliberately.
So let’s get this straight. Funding a program of what Bernie Sanders and health care activists call Medicare for All, would cost an estimated $30 trillion over the next 10 years (that last bit about over ten years tends to get left out of articles criticizing the plan), as in this report in the National Review. But it’s not just right wing media that obfuscate. In a CNN interview of Harris, reporter Kyung Lah just says Sen. Sanders says the plan will “require a middle class tax cut” to fund.
But Lah doesn’t say, and Harris, who is smart enough to know, but doesn’t want to admit publicly, that the US healthcare system today already costs more than $3 trillion per year and will cost much more than $30 trillion over the next 10 years.
Here’s the real story. As things stand presently, health care costs in the US account for 18% of total US Gross Domestic Product. That is to say, 18 % of all economic transactions in the US, government and private sector, go for medical care. That’s 18% of $21.1trillion in 1019, or about $3.7 trillion. In constant dollars over the course of the next decade that would be $3.7 trillion.
That figure includes the cost of Medicare for the elderly and disabled — a program that is already funded by taxes paid by individuals and their employers (the federal budget for Medicaid, financed by those taxes, is about $600 billion this year). Add to that the amount for Medicaid, which provides health benefits for one-in-five Americans unable to obtain private insurance and which is funded by the federal government and the states (also about $600 billion this year), and taxpayers are already funding some $1.2 trillion of the US health care bill through taxation. Then add in the cost of private insurance, paid by both employers and employees, or for those working at stingier employers, or for themselves, through insurance offered under the ironically named Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which is about $2.2 trillion, and the cost of medical care paid out-of-pocket because it’s not covered by increasingly loophole-plagued insurance plans (another $400 billion, and Americans and their employers are already paying a total of $3.6 trillion per year for health care. But this haphazard free-marked/government-funded tacked-together chaos that we call American-style healthcare still leaves 30 million citizens uninsured!
Now note that all of those expenditures — all $3.6 trillion of it — would be eliminated to be replaced by dedicated taxes paid by citizens and private companies to fund a real Canadian-style system of what is being called Medicare for All. On top of that, there would be no more worrying about paying medical bills, worrying about whether pre-existing conditions would be covered, worrying about losing a house because of medical expenses, or losing benefits if one lost a job, or needed to go out on strike to fight for better pay or working conditions. Your publicly funded health care would be a right, just like the right of free speech or the right to vote.
So saying, as CNN reporter Lah does so disingenuously, that the Sanders Medicare for All plan will “require a middle-class tax hike” is a grotesque fraud on the public. Medicare for All, which even a right-wing Koch-Brothers study claimed disparagingly would cost $30 trillion in tax funding over a ten-year period, while true, would actually cost some $6-7 trillion less in constant dollars than the current joke of a “system” we have in the US.
I would point out, for those who don’t know it, that Canada, our neighbor to the north, has had a kind of “Medicare for All” system in place since 1976 — in fact it’s called Medicare. And that system, which covers the medical care of all Canadians, no exception, and is financed entirely by taxes paid by individuals and businesses, is so popular that even though Canada and its provinces (which actually administer the system) all have been governed more often by conservatives than liberals or socialists over the intervening years, not one government, even the arch-conservative federal government of Stephen Harper that preceded the current one led by Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, dared to cut it or to try to undo it. To do so would be to face immediate ouster, so popular is Canada’s Medicare program.
I would add that even in the UK, which has a truly socialist health care system, where much like our huge and, from a point of quality, if not access, excellent Veterans Health Care System, features public hospitals owned by the government and physicians and support staff who are government employees paid salaries, not fees for service, no conservative government has dared to try and undo the system put in place by a Labour government just after the end of World War II nearly three-quarters of a century ago.
Harris deserves to be pummeled in upcoming debates, at her campaign appearances and in the media for her failure to admit that Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would not increase the costs of healthcare by raising taxes, but would reduce those costs by freeing those 160 million Americans who are currently in costly bondage to their employers, depending on them for offering mostly crappy private health insurance coverage that they would lose if they lost those jobs, would end taxes for increasingly privatized Medicare and for hard to get and always threatened Medicaid, and would slash the costs of prescription drugs (now running at close to $500 billion a year).
Meanwhile, while in place of those taxes, and while eliminating private payment and employer payment of insurance premiums, there would surely have to be taxes paid by individuals and businesses to fund a new public insurance system like Medicare for All, Harris and other half-hearted “backers” of the Sanders program — and Sanders himself — should be calling for massive cuts in military spending, now at a record $1.3 trillion per year, with some of the savings going to fund public healthcare. That would be real “national defense”!
I don’t object to Harris’s proposal in her pathetic CNN interview, that taxes be increased on Wall Street and the Financial sector to fund health care, but that’s small beer compared to the funds available from cutting the US military down to size and ending the current imperial policy of endless wars and of military action instead of diplomacy in foreign affairs.
First though, we need an honest debate about Medicare-for-All — not one that hides the issue behind false warnings about “increased middle-class taxes” to fund it.
Everyone will save money under Medicare-for-All, and we will have a far, far healthier population to show for it. Even Sanders himself has done a poor job of making this point in his campaigning. Why doesn’t he just say it: Americans will be financially, and medically, better off if they paid a bit more in taxes to obtain full coverage under Medicare for All and eliminated the premiums they and their employer now pay increasingly costly and less adequate private insurance coverage.
The clear advantage of government-provided over privately funded health care is why every other developed nation in the world, and many less developed ones, has some form of nationally-funded health care system that treats health care as a right, why every one of those countries has spends less total money as both a share of GDP and national budget, and on a per-capita basis than we do in the US, and yet, in all developed country cases and in many less developed countries, also have better health statistics (life expectancy, infant mortality rates, incidence of diabetes and untreated high blood pressure, etc.).
Time for some god-damned honesty about this issue from both our politicians and the media!
Twitter has become policy. It is platform, direction and determination. It has served one particular person well, a hazy mechanism to fog up the lenses of law makers. When President Donald Trump needs an air-wave filling distraction, a bilious splurge of interest in the blogosphere, he is always happy to lob a grenade of 280 characters or so. His targets and recipients oblige in an unsettling dance. Speeches are made, press galleries filled and resolutions submitted to Congress.
Trump’s last round of fired remarks found their targets in Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. They were not mentioned by name, but presumption can be all powerful. “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.” Then came his none-too constructive suggestion: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
While his remarks against “The Squad” are in characteristic poor taste, not to mention inaccurate (three of the representatives were born in the United States) they remain characteristic, brutish panto and all part of the boundless show that is Trumpism. They are not designed to convert the unconverted or convince the unsure with rhetorical sharpness or insight. Anti-Trump and pro-Trump lines are firmed, concretely paved for the next election. The issue, till then, is merely to occupy space with venom and fury, to divide and hope that the house will fall when the votes are tallied.
Such space of distraction assumes a few forms, all ultimately lending false credibility to incendiary smatterings. Words are broken down, assumptions unpacked. Were his words racist? Yes, claim some. Did he articulate a substantive vision? Most certainly, go others. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deemed them “xenophobic”.) For Omar, Trump’s words are programmatic, “a blatantly racist attack on four duly elected members of the United States House of Representatives, all of whom are women of colour. This is an agenda of white nationalists.”
President Barack Obama’s chief election strategist David Axelrod, similarly sees a program, albeit encased in a trap, with Trump wanting “to raise the profile of his targets, drive Dems to defend them and make them emblematic of the entire party. It’s a cold, hard strategy.” The none-too-implicit suggestion here is that the quartet risk being hung out to dry come 2020 by the party strategists.
In solidarity, the four representatives expressed their marshalled outrage, all the time attempting to give a sense of elevated fury to the garbage gilded twittersphere while denying its enduring relevance. Omar fell for the laid bait on the issue of impeachment, claiming on Monday that “it is time for us to impeach this president” having “openly” violated his constitutional oath.
The quartet managed to get up a House resolution, passed by 240 to 187 votes, condemning Trump for “racist comments that have legitimised fear and hatred of New Americans and people of colour”. The resolution, for good measure, also praised the value immigrants had brought to the United States. Trump ventured his own view. “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
The show delighted commentators dazzled by the fireworks. It was seen as historic, because it was the first time in over a century a President had received such a vote of disapproval. But it was true polarising fodder for the Trump administration, bound to inflict indigestion for anybody keen to seek a united stance. Division reigned; disorder prevailed and the representatives stuck to firmly etched party lines, with the exception of four Republicans who crossed the floor.
Democrat Representative John Lewis, Democrat from Georgia, spoke of knowing racism when seeing it and feeling it “and at the highest level of government”. Pelosi claimed that to not condemn Trump’s words “would be a shocking rejection of our values and a shameful abdication of our oath of office to protect the American people.”
Representative Dan Meuser, Republican of Pennsylvania, was ill-tempered in response, insisting that the whole show had been a “ridiculous slander” which did a “disservice to our nation”. “What has really happened here is that the president and his supporters have been forced to endure months of allegations of racism.”
Republicans slanted their attack on procedural improprieties, less on the nature of Trump’s words than the behaviour of their Democrat colleagues, who they regarded as impugning the motives of the President. A failed effort was made to excise any suggestive words from the House Speaker’s record in accordance with the Jefferson Manual, a text authored by Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Quaintly if revealingly, the manual states that “references to racial or other discrimination on the part of the President are not in order.” Appalled by the bickering and disagreement, Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, Democrat of Missouri, banged the gavel and took his leave. “We just want to fight.”
While the president versus squad show was boiling over, an arguably more significant resolution failed to gather the numbers. Sponsored by Representative Al Green, Democrat from Texas, the measure seeking to impeach Trump in light of his comments on the four representatives, failed by 332 votes to 95. Bigotry, argued Green, was “a high crime and misdemeanour.”
The president, while publicly condemning the exercise as “time consuming”, would have been heartened: the squabbling Democrats may well have been united in their rebuke of the president’s tweets, but such consensus was momentary. In Pelosi’s words, “We have six committees working on following the facts in terms of any abuse of power, obstruction of justice and the rest that the president may have engaged in”. With unwitting comedic effect, the House Speaker found herself claiming that to be “the serious path we’re on – not that Mr Green is not serious, but we’ll deal with that on the floor.” And dealt with it they did, putting the pro-impeachment Democrats back into their crammed box.
In his last book on Venezuela, Daniel Kovalik, a lawyer and a long standing friend of Latin American people in countries such as Colombia and Central America, is tearing away the veil of war propaganda: “The humanitarian part of the intervention is now barely a fig leaf for the real and usual intention – the control of another country’s oil supplies“. To know more about the ins and outs of The Plot To Overthrow Venezuela, we have interviewed author Mr. Kovalik.
Alex Anfruns: In a chapter of your book on the birth of the Bolivarian Revolution, you point at some historical figures from the pre-revolution period that have been concealed to the western public opinion. I quote an excerpt: “A report mentions that critical poverty had tripled from 11% of the population in 1984 to 33% in 1991, meaning that only 57%” of Venezuelans could afford more than one meal a day”. Which conclusion should we draw if we compare those figures to the situation that has prevailed the last 20 years of Bolivarian government?
Daniel Kovalik: Certainly between 1999, when Hugo Chavez became president, until 2015, the government did a great job of eradicating poverty and extreme poverty; of building houses, providing free education to children – which also included a hot meal every day, etc. So that was a real critical piece of Bolivarian Revolution. They struggled after 2015 with those social programs because of the lowering of oil prices — which was done intentionally by Saudi Arabia and the United States beginning in 2014 — and then, because of the sanctions that were imposed on 2015 and have been ramped up ever since.
But even in spite of the sanctions, the government has made huge efforts to get food to people through the CLAP program (Local Committees for Supply and Production in Spanish) and it continues to build housing for people. It has built 2.5 million housing units. The gains of the revolution continue to exist, but the sanctions are certainly cutting into them.
AA: You also highlight the rights that Venezuelan government has given back to the Afro-descendant and indigenous people, the majority of which are supporting the revolution. Could you draw a comparison with the situation of these people in the US and how their specifical rights are being treated there?
DK: Well, there is really no comparison, because indigenous groups in the US have been treated in a horrible way. Since the initial years of the US, the attacks against indigenous peoples can only be described as genocidal. It was an extreme genocidal violence against them. And still, to this day, you have massive amounts of poverty amongst the indigenous peoples in this country – the suicide rate is huge; you have situations in which indigenous children are taken away from their families on a huge scale. In truth, indigenous peoples have been pushed to the margins of society, where they remain.
In Venezuela, on the other hand, the government made a huge attempt, since the Bolivarian Revolution in 1999, to enshrine the rights of indigenous peoples in the Constitution, not only to recognize their languages but actually to preserve them. They have gone out of their way to create programs to preserve indigenous languages. They gave stolen land back to indigenous peoples.
So I mean the differences in both countries are very stunning, and similarly with Afro-descendants! This country (the US), of course, was built on trade slavery, and then there was Jim Crow and legal segregation, and still today African Americans are living much worse than the rest of the population in terms of poverty, hunger, and access to social services and critical infrastructure. You have disproportionately high rates of infant mortality, maternal mortality amongst African Americans. And there is the huge rate of incarceration of African Americans in this country. The first thing to say about this is that the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world — in both absolute numbers and by percentage of the population. Over 2.2 million people in this country are incarcerated, and about 40% of those are African Americans even though they only make up around 14% of the total population. So you see, African Americans are still being greatly oppressed in this country.
And again in Venezuela, the Bolivarian Revolution has given land back to Afro-descendants, has recognized their rights as a people, in a way which really didn’t exist before the revolution. And that’s the reason why Afro-Venezuelans and indigenous people are supporting the government there. And, of course, it makes sense in many ways that the US government, which oppresses indigenous and Afro-descendants here, have aligned with the white elite in Venezuela to try to topple the government.
AA: Ex ambassador of the US in Venezuela has recently admitted it, in other words, explaining why a traditional military intervention couldn’t be put into practice in Venezuela contrarily to the case of Libya’s, for at least two reasons: the lack of rebel forces ready to overthrow the government, and the state of the public opinion, still not unanimous enough against Maduro. Can this “collapse strategy” benefit somehow the Venezuelan opposition or is it rather a political impasse?
DK: Obviously the goal is to destroy the Venezuelan economy and to blame all of this on the Venezuelan government, with the hopes to overthrow the government and bring the opposition into power. But even the opposition and Juan Guaido have recognized that, though they have supported that strategy, they have also recognized that if the economy is destroyed beyond repair — by sanctions and other means — then, how are they going to govern if they take power? So Juan Guaido, for example, asked Trump a few months ago to lift the international sanctions which prevent Venezuela from getting international financial assistance and loans. Again, he didn’t want to see the economy hurt so badly that he would inherit a mess if he came to power. However, Trump turned him down on that.
So the point is even the opposition recognizes that the damage could be too great and could be irreparable. And indeed, we are seeing that the US is imposing such draconian sanctions on that country, that they really could destroy the economy in a way that it would be nearly impossible to repair. I don’t think this economic warfare is going to work to replace the Maduro government, but certainly it could destroy that nation.
By the way, that’s the alternative goal of the US. If you look at US regime change operations throughout the years, if the US is unable to unseat the government it wants to unseat, it will accept as an alternative simply destroying the nation. Vietnam is a great example. The US knew at some point that it would not defeat the national liberation forces in Vietnam and so it simply proceeded to bomb that country to the stone age so as to leave them with nothing. If we look at Libya there is a similar situation, in Venezuela and Iran too. The US would settle for just destroying which is quite shocking and obscene, and people should oppose it. But I do think we are witnessing that strategy being played out.
AA: Venezuelan government has denied there is a “humanitarian crisis”. On the contrary, the opposition has been using on purpose this concept, which is linked to the UN’s “responsibility to protect” norm that could lead to a military intervention. To which extent are US sanctions affecting Venezuelan people?
DK: There is a recent report that was put out by The Center for Economic Policy Research which was co-authored by Jeffrey Sachs, a very well-respected economist from Columbia University. They have concluded that at least 40 thousand Venezuelans have been killed by the sanctions since August 2017 when Trump imposed a very draconian round of sanctions which cut Venezuela off from the international financial markets. So they are virtually unable to get things like HIV medicine, dialysis equipment, chemotherapy medicines and food.
This report concludes that because of this, 40 thousand Venezuelans have died, and they also conclude that at least another 40 thousand or more will die this year. So the sanctions have been very devastating for people there, which, of course, exposes the lie that this is a humanitarian operation. If you truly wanted a humanitarian operation, you wouldn’t intentionally cut people off from medicine and food.
AA: So, how has the Venezuelan government been dealing with them in order to protect its own people’s rights?
DK: What the government has done in response is the CLAP program in which it buys mostly locally grown food, and then provides it at very cheap cost to those who need it. For a long time they were providing food to people once a month, and now they are trying to do it every 15 days in order to make sure people are getting food. The government try to get medicines from the eastern market like China, Russia, Iran, because it can’t get them from the West. And again, incredibly the US now wants to sanction the CLAP program that is providing food for people. So this is an obvious attempt to starve the population. The hope of the US is that the Venezuelans cry uncle (specifically, Uncle Sam) and overthrow the government. This is a form of terrorism, clear and simple!
AA: A few people have denounced how the western public has been disinformed by propaganda in favor of a coup d’Etat during the first half of the current year. Do you think the debate about foreign issues in the US public opinion will evolve, specially now that there is a dialogue process between the Venezuelan government and the opposition?
DK: I can only speak about what is happening in the US, and in the US the press is very one-sided in its coverage of Venezuela. It barely covers the negotiations that have been taking place between the government and the opposition. Once it became evident that Juan Guaido was not going to succeed in overthrowing the government, the press just stopped covering Venezuela like they were covering it before. Instead of trying to deal with the situation in an honest way, and reconsider whether this gambit of supporting Guaido was right to begin with, the media just moved on. The point is that it would be hard for most of Americans to be forced to reassess the situation, because the media isn’t giving them any information or any reason to rethink what’s happening there.
AA: In the 2000’s you have had a rich experience in defending Colombian trade unionists – there is a documentary film that talks about that. Nowadays we learn about the killing of Colombian social leaders on a daily basis, but it seems that this issue is not important enough to make big news…
DK: That’s another point that I mention in the book: if you look at Colombia, which is right next door to Venezuela, there are record numbers of social leaders being killed, including trade unionists. This year has been terrible for them, with about over 150 social leaders being killed in the last year, and that number is really climbing. There is massive displacement of people. Colombia has the largest internally displaced population on earth, at around 8 million people. And disproportionately, the displaced are Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples. So there is a terrible human rights record in Colombia, but again it’s not being covered in the press.
The press barely whispers anything about Colombia. So people don’t understand what the reality of Colombia is, especially as compared to Venezuela’s. The other thing that the media doesn’t talk about is the fact that 5.8 million Colombians are living in Venezuela. There has been a mass migration going the other way, from Colombia to Venezuela, which is not talked about. So people are then led to believe that Venezuela is a uniquely troubled country in the region when that is far from truth.
AA: In your opinion what is the importance of that country for the US, and what is your view on the future of the Colombian peace agreement?
DK: The government never honoured the peace agreement in a serious way. There has been 130 ex-FARC combatants murdered. The government has never halted the paramilitaries as it was required to do by the peace agreement. So the peace agreement is dead. That is a fact. Colombia is the US’s beach head in South America. The US operates from over at least 7 military bases there, its regime change operations for Venezuela are largely staged from Colombia. Some people say Colombia is the Israel of South America, the US’s surrogate in South America. That’s why the US is so protective of Colombia and gives it so much military aid, because that is where it projects power from.
One side is playing for keeps. They oust elected representatives and block members from voting on efforts to challenge a brutal occupation. On the other side, members defending a morally righteous cause twist themselves in knots to avoid directly criticizing nakedly authoritarian party leaders.
Recently, the NDP national office overturned the vote of party members in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour after they elected Rana Zaman to represent the riding in the upcoming federal election. Party ‘leaders’ excluded the Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage from running because she defended thousands of Palestinians mowed down by Israeli snipers during last year’s “Great March of Return” in the open-air Gaza prison. A prominent local activist, Zaman represented the party provincially in 2017.
In May the leadership of the Ontario NDP blocked a resolution on Palestinian rights from being debated at their biannual convention. According to party member Moe Alqasem, the resolution “was pushed to the very bottom of its list of resolutions on block 4” despite having “as many endorsements as the top resolution on that same list … The appeals committee refused to re-prioritize it on the list, a speech was given in favor of the re-prioritization and the room erupted into cheers and chants for a few minutes. The committee’s decision was next to be challenged on the main floor of the convention, but the chair ‘conveniently’ decided that we were behind on time. There were several attempts to amend the agenda or the order-of-the-day to allow for the membership to challenge the committee’s decision again, conveniently however the chair decided that it was not possible. The chair spent 20 minutes refusing us the opportunity to speak for 1 minute on the resolution. Knowing full well that the membership was supportive of Palestine. Later on during that convention, somehow the order-of-the-day was amended in favour of another resolution and the committee’s decision was challenged in front of the general membership. Several other rules were amended, the same privileges were not afforded to the Palestinians and the Palestine-Solidarity members within the party.”
Recently, the NDP hierarchy undermined former Toronto mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi’s bid to represent the party in Parkdale-High Park possibly because she signed an open letter calling on the NDP to withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group. The national office took 141 days to vet her candidacy, giving her only 23 days to sign up new members to vote. Then a good number of the 400 members she registered were disenfranchised beforehand and at the riding association vote. At the centre of the sordid affair was Parkdale-High Park president Janet Solberg who was maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian at the NDP’s 2018 federal convention.
According to Myles Hoenig, “Janet Solberg, sister of Stephen Lewis, leader of the Ontario NDP for most of the 70s who kicked out the leftist contingent known as The Waffle, played a leadership role in officiating this election. In a 3 way call to the candidates, she openly expressed her hostility to Saron by stating how she won’t support her.” A former Ontario NDP president, vice president and federal council member, Solberg pushed to suppress debate on the “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which was endorsed by more than two dozen riding associations before the federal convention. The motion mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it called for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”
Six months after suppressing the Palestine Resolution, NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière and party leader Jagmeet Singh participated in an unprecedented smear against one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights. After Dimitri Lascaris called on two Liberal MPs to denounce death threats made by B’nai B’rith supporters against a number of Liberal MPs and the Prime Minister, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called on MPs to attack him, prompting Laverdière to call Lascaris “anti-Semitic” while Singh inferred as much.
In the lead up to the 2015 federal election the NDP leadership ousted as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates because they publicly defended Palestinian rights. The most high-profile individual blocked from seeking an NDP nomination was Paul Manly, a filmmaker and son of a former NDP MP. Manly recently delivered a blow to the NDP by winning the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection as a candidate for the Green Party.
In another Palestine-related development, four NDP MPs (quietly) withdrew from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). They did not do so because someone politely convinced them it was immoral to participate in a group promoting “greater friendship” with a belligerent, apartheid, state, but because they were directly challenged through an open letter signed by more than 200 prominent individuals, as well as other campaigning.
NDP MP Randall Garrison remains vice-chair of CIIG and a prominent anti-Palestinian voice within the party. Any NDP activist with an internationalist bone in their body should hope Victoria-area Palestine solidarity campaigners help defeat him in the October election. There must be a price to pay for egregious anti-Palestinianism. In a similar vein, individuals such as Solberg should be confronted on their anti-Palestinianism.
At the end of May I learned Jagmeet Singh was making a major announcement in Montréal. With a hastily drawn placard in my bag, I attended thinking of interrupting the event to decry NDP participation in CIIG and suppression of the 2018 Palestine Resolution. I hesitated for a series of reasons, notably a sense that disrupting a major announcement by the social democratic party was too extreme. I now regret not walking in front of the cameras to denounce NDP anti-Palestinianism at the launch of their climate plan. Unfortunately, this is the type of action required to force party leaders to have second thoughts about blithely ousting pro-Palestinian candidates and suppressing debate on resolutions opposing Palestinian subjugation. NDP leaders fear anti-Palestinian individuals and groups’ no holds barred brand of politics. They need to know the Palestine solidarity side is also prepared to ruffle feathers.
Enough of walking on egg shells. In Alqasem’s devastating report about the Ontario NDP suppressing discussion of a resolution upholding Palestinian rights he begins by letting the perpetrators off the hook. He writes, “the following is not an attack on the membership, the party or administrators within.” But, how can one not politically “attack” the NDP “administrators” who just suppressed internal democracy in order to enable the subjugation of a long-suffering people?
After the federal convention 18 months ago I wrote: “Over the next year NDPers who support Palestinian rights and care about party democracy should hound the leadership over their suppression of the Palestine Resolution. Every single elected representative, staffer, riding association executive and party activist needs to be prodded into deciding whether they side with Palestinian rights and party democracy or suppressing the Palestine Resolution and enabling ongoing Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession.” These words still ring true, even if they may trouble many pro-Palestinian elements within the party (recent developments should be added to the discussion, of course).
For those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but reluctant to openly challenge the party leadership, ask yourself these two questions:
Since polling reveals a higher percentage of Canadians support Palestinian rights than vote for the NDP federally, why won’t party officials allow a clear statement of support for Palestinian liberation?
Is there a point when explicitly antidemocratic behavior that contributes to Palestinian subjugation will no longer be tolerated in a party claiming the mantra of social justice?
It is time the NDP leadership listened to its membership.
Attorney and activist Kamau Franklin says the decision not to bring civil or criminal charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the murder of Eric Garner is an example of the criminal justice system working as intended.
I want Tulsi Gabbard in the Democratic Presidential debates because she speaks out against wars. She raises the topic unasked. She wants various wars ended or not launched. She wants impeachment made automatic for presidents who launch wars. What’s not to love?
I also want Mike Gravel included for the same reason. If anything, he’s even better than Gabbard. But Gravel openly says he doesn’t want to be elected; he just wants to improve the debates. I wish Gabbard would say the same thing. Here’s why.
February 15, 2003, saw the biggest public demonstration in world history. It was against the obvious lies being used to launch a war against Iraq. Whistleblower Katharine Gun risked her freedom to expose the war in March 2003. The United Nations refused to support the war, and its Secretary General joined many world governments in denouncing the war as a fraud and a crime.
By the spring of 2004, over a year later, the lies had been exposed to the satisfaction of most of those who had either believed them or pretended to. The New York Times had publicly apologized. Senators and Congress Members had been compelled to apologize or squirm like weasels. Polls had found a slim majority of the public now saying the war should never have been started. Camilo Mejia had chosen prison over a second tour.
But in April 2003, Tulsi Gabbard had joined the Hawaii Army National Guard, and in July 2004 — JULY FRICKIN TWO THOUSAND AND FOUR, she VOLUNTEERED to take part in the war on Iraq, which she did until 2005. She has, as far as I know, never expressed regret or apologized; it is certainly not part of her standard stump speech — quite the opposite. She has never left the military, and she has never stopped bragging about having performed the “service” of helping to destroy Iraq — even when opposing any similar wars in the same breath.
Now, that combination is a clear cut above your typical warmongering politician, your . . . well, to put it briefly, your Joe Biden-type. Having someone who learns and improves and takes better positions is a benefit to the debates. I’m glad Gabbard has apologized and improved her views on gay rights. I believe her and applaud her. But has she said she’s learned anything about war? Has she, in fact, learned anything about war? Has she apologized? Has she stopped promoting the military? Has she stopped posing in uniform? She’s only removed photos of herself in uniform from her website when the military has complained to her. When repeatedly asked in the first round of primary debates whether she’d ever support a war on Iran, she eventually caved and said yes, if Americans were attacked. Well, what does anyone imagine the Trump gang is putting so many Americans so close to Iran for?
Gabbard seems unable to mention war without both bragging about having participated and believing it to be insanely destructive. The public response to this seems to be schizophrenic. Those who love militarism support that part of what she says. Those who oppose it support that part. The wonderful, principled, and courageous Dennis Kucinich tweeted this during the debate: “Thank you for your strength challenging wars, @TulsiGabbard. Your record of service to America in the military and Congress is commendable.” How is participating in criminal mass-murder both a commendable service and something it’s strong to challenge?
Gabbard’s website includes among her qualifications:
- Served two tours of duty in the Middle East (Iraq / Kuwait)
- Currently serves as Major in Army National Guard
We can also look to her voting record. She has voted against cutting the military budget. But she has voted to keep the AUMF in place. When the U.S. House of Representatives last week passed numerous amendments to create accountability for foreign bases, repeal the AUMF, prevent a war on Iran, finally end the war on Korea, and dozens of other things we don’t usually dare dream of, producing the least awful National Defense Authorization Act in many years, Gabbard didn’t vote.
Gabbard says she wants to end the war on Afghanistan. At the same time, in the same breath in the debate, she suggests that only a member of the military should be president. Is that the kind of nation YOU want to live in?
Here’s where I think we’ve gone wrong. Some of our best peace activists are veterans. It helps that they are veterans both because they know war and because of the widespread and misplaced respect for veterans. Pro-troop propaganda has made us recognize that those making decisions for war from air-conditioned offices are more to blame than direct participants in war. But we’ve gone too far. We’ve come to imagine that participating in an evil war is actually a good thing, even while rates of suicide and depression among veterans suggest that they know better than we do.
This distortion of morality around the propaganda of troopism is compounded by our cartoonish notion of responsibility as developed in a culture of adversarial and retributive justice. We imagine that if someone is responsible for something (such as a president for a war) everyone else is absolved of all responsibility for it. After all, if you prosecuted and convicted a president, nobody could claim you hadn’t achieved vengeance. It would be time for the final credits to roll. But this is equally true: if soldiers didn’t fight, wars would not exist. If something would not exist or not be as strong without your participation, then you are responsible for it, you deserve some bit of the infinite and never-depleted substance of responsibility, as do many, many others.
Is there a value in knowing war up-close? Of course, there is. And there are aid workers and peace activists and war victims who know war up-close. Did it help to elect Eisenhower president because he said he knew war? Perhaps it helped in Egypt. Perhaps it hurt in Iran. The examples of veteran presidents are too few and too much like all the non-veteran presidents to draw any conclusions.
But what about the value of having known enough to oppose war? Why did Barack Obama claim to have opposed the war on Iraq, even while having voted to fund it as soon as he got a chance? Why does Donald Trump pretend both to have opposed the war on Iraq and to be really smart? Because it’s generally not a good idea to give unprecedented reckless imperial power to somebody who’s slow on the uptake. But Donald Trump didn’t just promise to end wars and stop launching them, he also promised a bigger military that would more boldly slaughter whole families. Tulsi Gabbard wants to avoid at least certain wars and end some of the same ones Trump promised to end and then escalated. But does she want to reduce military spending? Does she want to close any bases? Does she want to make the United States party to international law? Does she want to convert to a peaceful economy?
If not Tulsi Gabbard, then who? Well, within the Democratic field of candidates, the vast majority of them are far worse than she is on war and peace. Bernie Sanders isn’t. He’s a million miles from perfect. He also lacks the sadly crucial characteristics needed for the infantile exercise in tokenism that elections have become. But he opposes wars and military spending without feeling compelled every time he does so to also brag about having participated in what he is opposing. How is that not a leading platform for everyone who cares about peace?
History never truly retires. Every event of the past, however inconsequential, reverberates throughout and, to an extent, shapes our present, and our future as well
The haunting image of the bodies of Salvadoran father, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter, Valeria, who were washed ashore at a riverbank on the Mexico-US border cannot be understood separately from El Salvador’s painful past.
Valeria’s arms were still wrapped around her father’s neck, even as both lay, face down, dead on the Mexican side of the river, ushering the end of their desperate and, ultimately, failed attempt at reaching the US. The little girl was only 23-months-old.
Following the release of the photo, media and political debates in the US focused partly on Donald Trump’s administration’s inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants. For Democrats, it was a chance at scoring points against Trump, prior to the start of presidential election campaigning. Republicans, naturally, went on the defensive.
Aside from a few alternative media sources, little has been said about the US role in Oscar and Valeria’s deaths, starting with its funding of El Salvador’s “dirty war” in the 1980s. The outcome of that war continues to shape the present, thus the future of that poor South American nation.
Oscar and Valeria were merely escaping ‘violence’ and the drug wars in El Salvador, many US media sources reported, but little was said of the US government’s support of El Salvador’s brutal regimes in the past as they battled Marxist guerrillas. Massive amounts of US military aid was poured into a country that was in urgent need for true democracy, basic human rights and sustainable economic infrastructure.
Back then, the US “went well beyond remaining largely silent in the face of human-rights abuses in El Salvador,” wrote Raymond Bonner in the Nation. “The State Department and White House often sought to cover up the brutality, to protect the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes.”
These crimes, included the butchering of 700 innocent people, many of them children, by the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion in the village of El Mozote, in the northeastern part of the country. Leaving El Salvador teetering between organized criminal violence and the status of a failed state, the US continued to use the country as a vassal for its misguided foreign policy to this day. Top US diplomats, like Elliott Abraham, who channeled support to the Salvadoran regime in the 1980s carried on with a successful political career, unhindered.
To understand the tragic death of Oscar and Valeria in any other way would be a dishonest interpretation of a historical tragedy.
The dominant discourse on the growing refugee crisis around the world has been shaped by this deception. Instead of honestly examining the roots of the global refugee crisis, many of us often oscillate between self-gratifying humanitarianism, jingoism or utter indifference. It is as if the story of Oscar and Valeria began the moment they decided to cross a river between Mexico and the US, not decades earlier. Every possible context before that decision is conveniently dropped.
The politics of many countries around the world have been shaped by the debate on refugees, as if basic human rights should be subject to discussion. In Italy, the ever-opportunistic Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, has successfully shaped a whole national conversation around refugees.
Like other far-right European politicians, Salvini continues to blatantly manipulate collective Italian fear and discontent regarding the state of their economy by framing all of the country’s troubles around the subject of African migrants and refugees. 52% of Italians believe that migrants and refugees are a burden to their country, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.
Those who subscribe to Salvini’s self-serving logic are blinded by far-right rhetoric and outright ignorance. To demonstrate this assertion, one only needs to examine the reality of Italian intervention in Libya, as part of the NATO war on that country in March 2011.
Without a doubt, the war on Libya, justified on the basis of a flawed interpretation of United Nations Resolution 1973, was the main reason behind the surge of refugees and migrants to Italy, en-route to Europe.
According to the Migration Policy Center, prior to the 2011 war, “outward migration was not an issue for the Libyan population.” This changed, following the lethal NATO war on Libya, which pushed the country squarely into the status of failed states.
Between the start of the war on March 19 and June 8, 2011, 422,912 Libyans and 768,372 foreign nationals fled the country, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Many of those refugees sought asylum in Europe. Salvini’s virulent anti-refugee discourse is bereft of any reference to that shameful, self-indicting reality.
In fact, Salvini’s own Lega party was a member of the Italian coalition which took part in NATO’s war on Libya. Not only is Salvini refusing to acknowledge his country’s role in fostering the current refugee crisis, but he is designating as an ‘enemy‘ humanitarian GOs that are active in rescuing stranded refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.
According to the UN refugee agency (UNHRC), an estimated 2,275 people drowned while attempting to cross to Europe in 2018 alone. Thousands of precious lives, like those of Oscar and Valeria, would have been spared, had NATO not intervened on the pretext of wanting to save lives in Libya in 2011.
According to UNHRC, as of June 19, 2019, there are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide; of them, 41.3 million are internally displaced people, while 25.9 million are refugees who crossed international borders.
Yet, despite the massive influx of refugees, and the obvious logic between political meddling (as in El Salvador) and military intervention (as in Libya), no western government is yet to accept any moral – let alone legal – accountability for the massive human suffering underway.
Italy, France, Britain, and other NATO members who took part in bombing Libya in 2013 are guilty of fueling today’s refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. Similarly, the supposedly random ‘violence’ and drug wars in El Salvador must be seen within the political context of misguided American interventionism. Were it not for such violent interventions, Oscar, Valeria and millions of innocent people would have still been alive today.