Category Archives: Leading Article

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out of Social Media

Photo by Alan O’Rourke | CC BY 2.0

While the pool of Facebook accounts suspected of being harvested by Cambridge Analytica continues to grow it’s important to recognize that there’s more to this story than a cabal of shady republican operators. By focusing on Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL, the major news outlets are creating the perception that what’s happening is the work of a few bad apples. When the reality is that the underlying problem is systemic in nature.

It’s not just the GOP. Political influence operations are a bipartisan affair. According to a number cruncherwho worked for the Democrats, the 2012 Obama campaign aggregated almost five times as much Facebook data as Cambridge Analytica. It’s just that in Obama’s case Facebook execs decided to turn a blind eye. As the source explained, “they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”

In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, Zuckerberg has hired public relations experts and launched an extensive damage control campaign. Note, for example, the tacit assumption baked into the title of Brian Chen’s piecein the New York Times: “How to Protect Yourself (and Your Friends) on Facebook.” Are editors at the Times alleging that users can have their cake and eat it too?

Reading down into the article, Chen acknowledges that truly protecting your data would entail deleting your Facebook account. This frank admission underscores the fact that it’s nearly impossible for social media users to escape data collection. After all that’s how social media companies make their money. Well over a hundred billion dollars per year. Your online activity inside their walled internet gardens as well as your dopamine addiction to “tweets” and “likes” are their income stream.

What? You thought these online services were free? A miracle of the new economy?

Social media’s big data collection directly informs Madison Avenue. All that aggregation begets carefully targeted attempts at manipulation (though marketing execs prefer harmless euphemisms like “educate” and “inform”). And if that wasn’t bad enough, when intelligence services ask to have a gander its dollars to donuts that social media will silently collaborate, chatting away with spy masters on a first name basis. Keep moving folks, nothing to see here.

So there you have it. Social media is a form of mass surveillance and a tool of elite control. Buy product X, vote for candidate Y, support regime change movement Z. Pay no attention to the CEO behind the curtain.

What to do, what to do?

In the spirit of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), journalists like Matt Taibbi have suggested that government regulation is the way forward. The idea is that lawmakers should enact laws that force social media companies to “dial back the use of the data-collection technologies.” Luminaries like Richard Stallman have echoed similar thoughts. And although there’s merit to the idea, it’s unlikely to be immediately feasible in the United States given the tech industry’s lobbying footprint. Companies like Facebookand Googlehave been more than generous with lawmakers. At best, serious legislative reform is a long term approach that’s linked to state capture. At worst it’s wishful thinking.

Thus we return to Brian Chen’s advice: cold turkey. Take personal responsibility for your own social life. Go back to engaging flesh and blood people without tech companies serving as an intermediary. Eschew the narcissistic impulse to broadcast the excruciating minutiae of your life to the world. Refuse to accept the mandate that you must participate in social media in order to participate in society. Reclaim your autonomy.

Having said that, the option of forgoing digital platforms in favor of genuine human interaction is related to another legitimate critique of social media; that it tends towards ideological echo chambers. Where people take refuge in the comfort of messaging that serves only to reinforce their existing beliefs. A novel incarnation of the divide and conquer strategy which the power elite have traditionally wielded to hobble the proles.

Readers should be wary of social media bubbles, safe spaces, and the like. In the absence of billionaire donors like Robert Mercer and Tom Steyer, instituting societal change means reaching out to other folks. Some of whom may have different ways of viewing the world. Resist the temptation to write them off and have the humility to accept the limits of your own understanding.

How Can We Know If a Chemical Weapons Attack Took Place in Syria?

Photo by Gwydion M. Williams | CC BY 2.0

Every atrocity in the Syrian civil war provokes a furious row about whether it happened and, if so, who was responsible for carrying it out. The merciless brutality of all sides combines with partisan reporting and lack of access for independent investigators to make it possible for doubts to be generated about even the most blatant war crime. One good rule is that participants in the war are often accurate about the crimes of their opponents while they invariably lie or are silent about their own.

This rule appears to hold good in the case of the poison gas attack on the city of Douma on 7 April, which killed at least 34 people and possibly twice as many. The Russian military claim that the attack was faked by pro-opposition activists and that samples taken from the site of where the civilians died were not toxic. The Syrian government issues blanket denials when accused of using poison gas.

But there is mounting evidence from neutral observers to confirm that chlorine was used last Saturday. The World Health Organisation says that local health authorities in Douma, with whom it is cooperating, confirm that on the day of the alleged bombing they treated 500 patients with the symptoms of exposure to toxic chemicals. It reports that “there were signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to the central nervous systems of those exposed”.

Other evidence for the gassing of civilians is cumulatively convincing: large gas cylinders, like those used in past chlorine gas attacks, were filmed on the roof of the building where most bodies were found. Local people report that Syrian government helicopters were seen in the area at the time of the attack. Such helicopters have been used in chlorine gas bombings in the past.

The Russian and Syrian government accounts of what happened, varying between saying there were no attacks or that evidence for them has been fabricated, are contradictory. A Russian spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the use of “smart missiles” on Syrian government forces could be an attempt to destroy the evidence.

The allegations of fabrication are generalised and non-specific and amount to a conspiracy theory for which no evidence is ever produced, other than to throw doubt on the partiality of those who say that chlorine was used. It is true that many of the sources cited by the Western media as if they were bipartisan eye-witness accounts are committed supporters of the opposition. But the Russian and Syrian governments have never produced any counter-evidence to give credence to the elaborate plot that would be necessary to fake the use of poison gas or to really use it, but put the blame on Syrian government air power.

The most convincing reason advanced by those who argue that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces did not carry out the attack is that it was entirely against their interests to do so. They have already won militarily in Douma and the second of two convoys carrying thousands of Army of Islam fighters and their families left for Turkish-controlled northern Syria today. And this latest success brings Assad with sight – though it is still a distant one – of a complete victory over his enemies.

For all the furore about the proposed missile strike on Syrian forces– likely to happen in the very near future – it is difficult to see what it will achieve other than as a general sign of international disapproval of the use of chemical weapons. Hawks in the US and Europe may want to use the occasion to reopen the door to armed intervention in the Syrian civil war with the aim of weakening or displacing Assad, but the time for this is long past, if it was ever there.

There is a widely held myth that US air strikes against government forces in 2013, which President Barack Obama is blamed for not having carried out, would have brought the war to a different and happier conclusion. But such air strikes would only have been effective if they had been conducted on a mass scale and on a daily basis in support of ground troops. These would either have been Sunni Arab armed opposition forces, which were already dominated by al-Qaeda-type movements, or the US army in a rerun of the Iraq War of 2003.

What ‘Betrayal’? On War, Trump Has Delivered as Promised

Photo by Billie Grace Ward | CC BY 2.0


The toddler is drunk, tired and angry. It is also stupid. It is a stupid, drunk, tired, angry toddler, and about 49 percent of the adult population wanted to give this diaper-rashed monster a couple thousand nuclear warheads to play with. Donald Trump is the septuagenarian child in this analogy, and while he we can’t say for sure that he will kill us all in a 5:30 am temper tantrum, the latest Trump hire has some of those who dabbled in apologism for his brand of militarism feeling hurt and scared.

“Trump has broken another campaign promise — and it is surely his most dangerous betrayal yet,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, a liberal magazine, wrote in a recent column for The Washington Post. This was in response to the president selecting John Bolton, an advocate of invading ‘bout everywhere, to be his national security advisor. “The candidate who promised to get us out of stupid wars is now loading up for war,” she lamented — “a far cry from the foreign policy Trump claimed to support during the campaign.”

On that campaign trail, Trump did rail against “nation building,” and he claimed (falsely, vanden Heuvel notes) that he was an opponent of the Iraq war. He also regularly talked about his desire to “get along” with the Russian government, which was juxtaposed with the Democrats’ post-hacking drive for a new Cold War.

But if the Iraq war was on some progressives’ minds, what came immediately before it was not: George W. Bush campaigning against what he called nation building. Every Republican does this, “nation building” a term that serves as partisan shorthand for liberals’ alleged tax-and-spend desire to spread gender equality with boots on the ground.

Trump also ran on more frequent and brutal air raids in any country with a terrorist cell. He promised to kill off the families of any extremist he had tortured by a CIA he now wants run by an alleged Bush-era torturer. And Bolton’s was the first name he spewed when asked, back in August 2015, to whom he turns for advice on foreign policy.

“I like Bolton,” the future president said. “I think he’s, you know, a tough cookie.”

So why might anyone feel betrayed? Because what some on the left conflated with a desire for fewer wars — “A jolt of realpolitik from an isolationist Republican would be no bad thing,” wrote The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins in his July 2016 column, “At least President Trump would ground the drones” — was Trump’s stated policy on Russia: to cede it a sphere of imperialism while bombing the hell out of terrorists, together.

The fact that Trump might have the world’s most dangerous mustache brushing up against him, foreign death tolls moistly whispered in his ear, was drowned out by the chorus of pundits who argued that collusion with Russian militarism was suggestive of a preference for diplomacy.

Weeks before the 2016 election, it was braying about Russian electoral interference that led some to argue that the man who would be president had already shown himself to be a statesman, in his own unique way. In an August 2016 column, vanden Huevel chided Democrats for “peddling unsubstantiated claims of collusion,” pointing to a story about the hack of the DNC possibly having been ordered by the Russian government, to which members of the Trump campaign had some curious ties. Democrats, she wrote, were “on the verge of becoming the Cold War party, with Trump, ironically, becoming the candidate of détente.”

“It is simply sober realism,” vanden Heuvel continued, “not pro-Russia or pro-Putin to make the case that the United States has a real stake in working with Russia,” especially on matters such as “the Islamic State and terrorism.”

That Trump promised to “bomb the shit out of” that same Islamic State was not lost on vanden Huevel, but she characterized that as a “ridiculous” pledge “no more credible” than Democrats’ fear-mongering over the next president’s fondness for Vladimir Putin. But both claims were credible — and how else would one expect an avowed militarist to deal with militant extremists? By the summer of 2016, Russia had already shown what it meant by fighting terrorism in Syria, with thousands of civilian dead a testament.

While some were uncomfortable with Trump’s vulgarity, an unreasonably wide consensus, stated with various degrees of comfort, was that bombing the hell out of Syria would be a lesser evil, just as it’s a lesser evil when others do it. The greater evil was Hillary Clinton’s Syria no-fly zone — the likes of which already exists over the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces forces in northern Syria — that threatened to “start an air war with Russia,” in the words of the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

“Under Hillary Clinton, we could slide into nuclear war very quickly from her declared policy in Syria,” argued Stein, whose campaign website had stated that the U.S. should work with Russia and Syrian governments to fight terrorism. “On the issue of war and nuclear weapons, it is actually Hillary’s policies which are much scarier than Donald Trump, who does not want to go to war with Russia. He wants to seek modes of working together.”

That the anti-establishment subversion on display here reflected the then-dominant strain of neoliberal elite thinking was an argument others made, in its defense.

Like Trump, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald observed in an August 2016 post, Obama sought “to work in cooperation with, not in opposition to, Russia.” Indeed, Obama had even “proposed a partnership to achieve that,” spending his last year in office seeking an agreement with the Russian government that would have seen Washington and Moscow swapping intelligence and jointly striking Sunni jihadists in Syria; this, instead of Hillary’s global conflagration (Obama, according to a former State Department official, would himself “caricature” critics of his Syria policy as desiring “something between World War III and an open-ended, treasury-draining American commitment”).

The inability to think beyond the conventional wisdom, gratingly framed as adversarial truth-telling, is a reflection of the extent to which left thought on foreign policy has been captured by the faux-sophistication of narrowly geopolitical analysis. Instead of a progressive alternative to overlapping imperialisms, some progressives have chosen to answer a bleeding-heart liberal interventionism constructed of straw with a cold-hearted realism that sees other states but not other people, “getting along with Russia” a ghastly euphemism for two governments dropping bombs on mutually agreed upon targets.

The outrage is dialed up, and only momentarily, when Trump seeks to one-up his predecessor with cosmetic strikes on empty runways in response to the Syrian regime killing civilians with the wrong kind of weapon. Nearly four years of U.S. airstrikes on non-regime targets have killed scores, but at least Russia was happy.

Bomb or be nuked — we wish there were other options — was the manipulative argument of those who advocated invading Iraq, so it is as poetic as it is horrific that Trump has betrayed the shallow, stubborn and blind by choosing a leading proponent of that war to be his first line of advise on who to kill next. But as with the tripling of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, paired with the isolationism of not wanting to rebuild that which was just destroyed, this is what Trump always promised.

Russian Roulette: No Smoking Gun, Six Key Flaws

Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump (New York” Twelve, March 13, 2018)

Do you like complicated mystery novels that make you keep a list of names and dates so as not to get overwhelmed by clues and complex chronologies (unless you have a super-strong memory)? Are you prone to conspiratorialism? Do you blame Donald Trump’s presence in the White House on Russia and particularly on Vladimir Putin? Do you like to jump to conclusions before all the facts are in? Do you like to get mad at other countries for the nasty things they do (or may have done) while turning a blind eye to the nasty things the United States does?  Are you a “progressive” fan of the U.S. “intelligence community” – the FBI, the CIA, NSA and the rest?

If you answered yes to all these questions, then boy, do I have a book for you: Democratic Party journalists Michael Isikoff (Yahoo News) and David Corn’s (The Nation) new volume Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.  

Don’t get me wrong. Russian Rouletteshould be read by anyone interested in the peculiar and fascinating story of Donald Trump’s weird and disturbing relationship with Russia. It’s a riveting account. It’s the best treatment yet in book form of numerous knotty and bizarre chapters in the strange Trump-Russia saga, including:

+ Trump and top Trump associates’ financial, political, and espionage entanglement with Russian oligarchs, officials, and agents.The list of associates includes Trump’s slimy former campaign director Paul Manafort, Trump’s creepy former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s longtime crypto-fascistic political adviser Roger Stone, Trump’s despicable son-in-law Jared Kushner, and candidate Trump’s goofball foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.

+ Trump’s fabled 2013 Miss Universe trip to Moscow and the mysterious sealed letter (its contents have never been revealed) Trump received inside “a black lacquered box” from Putin after the pageant.

+ A Russian journalist’s discovery of the infamous Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm” (or was it a “troll factory”?) employing hundreds of proletarianized Russians creating and working with fake Web identities to influence U.S. and Western politics.

+ The alleged Russian Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear-Guccifer 2.0-WikiLeaks- hackings of the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton campaign, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2015 and 2016.

+ “Moscow’s …clandestine propaganda endeavor, stretching across social media platforms, and in sync with the cyberattacks and the output of [Russian state media outlets] RT and Sputnik …to persuade U.S. voters to elect a president who would adopt a softer approach to Russia.”

+ Donald Trump, Jr, Manafort, and Kushner’s infamous meeting with Russian nationals promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton in Trump Tower in June of 2016.

+ The famous and controversial Steele Dossier, a summer 2016 report by Britain’s former top Russian intelligence expert alleging that Russia had cultivated Trump for at least five years and possessed compromising and salacious (yo, golden shower video!) information with which to blackmail the future president.

+ The Trump campaign’s squashing of a Republican Party platform amendment that would have called for arming Ukraine in its war with Russia.

+ The Democratic Party’s panicked, paralyzed response to the “intelligence community’s” reports that that it was under Russian cyber-assault.

+ The Obama administration’s reluctance to forcefully and openly confront Russia on the Kremlin’s alleged subversion of U.S. “democracy.”

Anyone who thinks there’s nothing strange or disturbing about Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin has got their head in the sand. Is Trump messed up with Russia? Are you serious? Of course he is. This book is a good place to start on that.

But read it with your bullshit detectors on.  Russian Roulette has six basic flaws. First, it does not live up to its sub-title’s promise on Russian president Vladimir Putin. It comes nowhere close to offering smoking-gun evidence of Putin’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or his motives. As the authors admit near the end of the volume, Putin’s role remains “shrouded in mystery.”

Second and related, the volume is technically premature. Special federal prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation of the book’s topic is still ongoing. Who really knows what Mueller’s got – or doesn’t?  Collusion? Golden Don and/or Putin’s smoking gun fingerprints? I don’t know.  Do you, dear reader?  Do Isikoff and Corn? Maybe they should have held off.

Third, Isikoff and Corn refer to Putin’s alleged subversion of something that doesn’t really exist: “American democracy” (a mythical phenomenon, mentioned at least twice – see pages xi and 275). Let’s be honest: The United States is a plutocracy and perhaps now even a full-on capitalist oligarchy. If you think I’m lying, read these two books by eminent liberal U.S. academics: Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens, Democracy in America? What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About it  (University of Chicago Press, 2017) and Ronald Formisano, American Oligarchy: The Permanence of the Political Class (University of Illinois, 2017). Read my recent Counterpunch essay, “Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?” and my bookThey Rule: The 1% vs. Democracy(Routledge, 2014).

Fourth, and intimately related to the third problem, Isikoff and Corn leave out a critical part of inside story behind Trump’s election: the influence of U.S.-American oligarchs. This missing and big piece of the puzzle includes the remarkable influx of campaign cash Trump received from right-wing U.S. billionaires and equity capitalists in the late summer and fall of 2016.  Even more significant, perhaps, is the way that Hillary Clinton’s remarkable funding by big financial and other business interests (including corporate sectors that normally supported Republicans but o came over the Democrats’ side thanks largely to candidate Trump’s declared protectionism and isolationism) helped create the dismal centrist awfulness and deafening policy silence of Mrs. Clinton’s miserable campaign. A useful source here is leading political scientist and money and politics analyst Thomas Ferguson’s recent study (co-authored with Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen) “Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games:Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election” (Institute for New Economic Thinking, January 2018).  Ferguson’s research suggests strongly that Putin and Russian oligarchs’ impact on the election was tiny compared to that of U.S. corporate and financial oligarchs who sit atop “America, the Best Democracy Money Can Buy.” “Putin’s war on America” is nothing compared the American ruling class’s war on America when it comes to the inside story of how “American democracy” was pre-empted yet again during and by the last “quadrennial electoral extravaganza.”(Noam Chomsky’s phrase).

Fifth, Isikoff and Corn fail to provide any serious historical context (certainly part of the “inside story” of Russia and Trump) on why the Kremlin might very well have wanted to influence U.S. politics and particularly to (a) help a candidate (Trump) who promised (for whatever reasons, very likely including highly venal ones) to roll-back America’s New Cold War on Russia and (b) defeat a candidate (Hillary Clinton) who stood in the vanguard of that  U.S. policy. A serious accounting of that context would include:

* President Bill Clinton’s decision to annul a 1990 agreement with Moscow not to push North Atlantic Treaty Organization further east after the reunification of Germany and not to recruit Eastern European states that had been part of the Soviet-ruled Warsaw Pact.

* Widespread U.S. interference in Russian electoral politics and civil society before, during, after, and ever since the collapse of Soviet socialism.

* NATO’s decision to renege on its 1997 pledge not to install “permanent” and “significant” military forces in former Soviet bloc nations.

* NATO’s decision two years ago to place four battalions on and near the Russian border.

* The 1999 U.S.-NATO military intervention in the Yugoslav civil war, leading to the dismemberment of Serbia and the building of a giant U.S. military base in the newly NATO-/U.S.-created state of Kosovo.  (This remarkable development has not stopped Washington from shaming Russia for “forcibly redrawing borders in Europe” by annexing Crimea.)

* President George W. Bush’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

* President Obama’s decision to deploy anti-missile systems (supposedly aimed at Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons and really meant to intercept Russian missiles) in Romania and Poland.

* Obama’s decision to invest more than of $1 trillion on an upgrade of the U.S nuclear weapons arsenal, which was already well enough stocked to blow up the world fifty times over. The upgrade involves “strategic’ bombs with smaller yields, something that dangerously blurs the lines between conventional and nuclear weapons. It has certainly helped spark a new nuclear arms race with Russia and, perhaps, China.

* Longstanding U.S. efforts “to move Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit and integrated it into the West” (to quote U.S. foreign relations John Mearsheimer).

* U.S. provocation and endorsement of a right-wing 2014 coup against the pro-Russian government in Ukraine, right on Russia’s repeatedly invaded western border – a development that predictably created war in eastern Ukraine and a crisis that led to numerous dangerous incidents between NATO and Russian forces.  (As Diana Johnstone notedhere in June of 2014: “With astonishing unanimity, NATO leaders feign surprise at events they planned months in advance. Events that they deliberately triggered are being misrepresented as sudden, astonishing, unjustified ‘Russian aggression.’  The United States and the European Union undertook an aggressive provocation in Ukraine that they knew would force Russia to react defensively, one way or another…They could not be sure exactly how Russian president Vladimir Putin would react when he saw that the United States was manipulating political conflict in Ukraine to install a pro-Western government intent on joining NATO.  This was not a mere matter of a ‘sphere of influence’ in Russia’s ‘near abroad.’ but a matter of life and death to the Russian Navy, as well as a grave national security threat on Russia’s border.”)

* Washington’s self-righteous denunciation and slandering of Russia’s reasonable and defensive annexation of Crimea, which was overwhelmingly supported by Crimeans as a natural response to the United States’ installation of a right-wing pro-NATO and anti-Russian government in Kiev.

One does not have be either a fan of Vladimir Putin (I’m not) or (something quite different) a Left critic of U.S. imperialism (guilty here) to understand the logic behind the Russian president’s concerns with U.S. and Western policy – and the popularity of Putin’s resistance to that policy among millions of Russians. As the mainstream “realist” U.S. foreign relations scholar John Mearsheimer argued in a 2014 article published (under the title “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault”) in the establishment (Council on Foreign Relations) journal Foreign Affairs, Putin reasonably viewed Washington’s commitment to NATO expansion and NATO’s U.S.-led recruitment of Ukraine as “a direct threat to Russia’s core interests…Who can blame him?”  Mearsheimer asked, adding that “The United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying forces anywhere in the Western hemisphere, much less on its borders(emphasis added).”

“We need not ask,” Noam Chomsky wrote two years ago, “how the United States would have reacted had the countries of Latin America joined the Warsaw Pact, with plans for Mexico and Canada to join as well. The merest hint of the first tentative steps in that direction would have been ‘terminated with extreme prejudice,’ to adopt the CIA lingo.”  Indeed.

If you don’t want other countries messing, or trying to mess with your nation’s internal politics, don’t mess with theirs and don’t set up armies and hostile regimes on their borders.

If Putin did in fact undertake a “war” on supposed U.S. “democracy” (well, on U.S. major party and big money-big media elections, which should never be confused with real popular sovereignty[please see the sources hyperlinked under points three and four, above]), American imperialism is at the heart of the “inside story” of why the Kremlin took that dangerous step. (Motive is a key part of any good detective story and prosecution, no?)  In Russian Roulette, deadly U.S. and NATO aggression appears primarily if somewhat offhandedly as a figment of evil Putin’s paranoid imagination.  That’s a big mistake.

Isikoff and Corn’s silence on U.S. aggression seem driven by imperial ideology and Western arrogance. Russian Roulette boasts a major back-cover blurb from the leading liberal paranoid-style Russian conspiratorialist and New Cold Warrior Rachel Maddow.  To make matters worse, Isikoff and Corn say nothing about the neo-Nazi affiliations of the pro-Western Ukraine coup regime Putin and Russia quite reasonably feared. That’s a little disturbing.

Sixth, Isikoff and Corn’s reference to Russian election help as the “original sin” of Trump’s presidency is insulting to people of color, immigrants, women, and environmentalists, many of whom could reasonably argue that racism, nativism, sexism, and/or rapacious eco-cidalism are the true original sins of the Trump presidency.

Though they were strong pro-Clinton Democrats in 2016 (I recall Corn telling NPR that people who couldn’t make themselves vote for Hillary Clinton had no business protesting Trump’s inauguration), Isikoff and Corn deserve credit for reporting something we can expect many Democratic Party-affiliated readers to quickly forget on pages 30 and 31 of Russian Roulette:

“The day after …Russian spies were arrested [on June 27, 2010], Bill Clinton arrived in Moscow to deliver the keynote speech at a conference sponsored by Renaissance Capital, a Russian investment banking firm with links to the Kremlin. Clinton was paid a whopping $500,000 for his ninety-minute appearance, which drew an audience of top Russian government officials. Though his wife was secretary of state, the former president had not curbed his lucrative overseas speech-making, even when the gigs were underwritten by groups that might have interests before the State Department…In the case of Renaissance Capital, the firm at that time was promoting a stock offering of a company called Uranium One—a mining firm that controlled about 20 percent of uranium production capacity within the United States. And Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, was in the process of purchasing a controlling interest in Uranium One, pending approval of a U.S. government foreign investment review board on which Hillary Clinton sat with eight other senior U.S. officials…Around the time of the Uranium One deal, the company chairman’s family foundation donated about $2.35 million to Clinton Foundation programs.”

That raises an interesting question: if Hillary Clinton had run a better campaign and fended off the Trump-Steve Bannon-Robert Mercer-Sheldon Adelson- (and Putin/Russian?) assault in the late summer and fall of 2016, would a Clinton45 presidency now be facing Congressional inquiries into the Clinton crime family’s Russian entanglements – as well as Hillary’s 30,000 lost emails and use of a private email server to official government business during her years as Secretary of State?

Will Isikoff and Corn follow up their study of Russia’s subversion of U.S. “democracy” with an equally ambitious account of the United States’ epic, longstanding, and ongoing interference in other nations’ sovereign political affairs (elections and Russia included) across the planet? Don’t hold your breath.

Trump Vowed to Make Assad Pay a Price, But It Probably Won’t Make Any Difference

Photo by Freedom House | CC BY 2.0

The crises in the Middle East are beginning to join up and cross-infect each other. Israeli aircraft fired missiles at Syria’s T4 military airbase east of Homs early on Monday, just as other Israeli jets were making attacks on Gaza. President Donald Trump must decide whether or not he will order air strikes targeting Syrian government forces as a punishment for the alleged dropping of bombs filled with chlorine gas on a rebel-held part of the city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta that killed at least 40 civilians on Saturday night.

Trump will have difficulty not doing something impressive after denouncing “Animal Assad” and promising that the Syrian leader would “pay a price” for the gas attack. Trump has also denounced President Barak Obama for his timidity in his use of US military strength against President Bashar al-Assad, so the US may do something spectacular.

What is more doubtful is whether or not US air strikes will have much impact in the long term. In many respects, the political situation on the ground in Syria has gelled as Assad asserts his control over most of populated Syria. The last rebels are being evacuated from Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. Syrian troops and tanks are reported to be massing to overrun an Isis held stronghold in the south of the capital.

Syria is being divided into three zones of unequal size: Assad backed by Russia and Iran in much of the country; Sunni Arab factions backed by Turkey in Idlib, newly captured Afrin and territory north of Aleppo; and in the north and east, a large triangle of land east of the Euphrates held by the Kurds supported by 2,000 US troops able to call in massive air power. Even heavy US air strikes on a one-off basis will not significantly change this balance of power.

It remains mysterious why Assad should provoke the US and Europeans just at his moment of victory in Damascus and when the rebels are on the point of surrender or have already done so. Remarkably, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, says that Russian experts were able to enter the hospital in Douma where the chemical attack occurred – something which suggests the city has fallen – and interview eyewitnesses. He said: “Our military specialists have visited this place … and they did not find any trace of chlorine or any other chemical substance used against civilians.” But the US state Department has said that Syrian forces are denying entry to international inspectors.

Just because a poison gas attack at this stage would be an extremely stupid thing for the Syrian government to do, however, does not mean that they did not do it. As with many other atrocities in the Syrian war, there is always a residue of doubt about what really happened because of the lack of independent non-partisan reporting and investigation.

Trump is finding that there are limits to US power in Syria, which primarily depends on launching air strikes while the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) act as a mopping up force on the ground. But after the fall of their enclave at Afrin, the Kurds are mobilising to hold back the Turkish army and its Arab auxiliaries, many of them jihadis. In the long term, the Kurds are looking for a deal with Assad and have no intention of fighting him. In general, Trump’s instinct to get out of Syria is a sound one, and the interventionist ambitions of the Washington foreign policy establishment depend heavily on wishful thinking.

What makes the present situation potentially even more dangerous than it looks is the presence of various wild cards. Trump is clearly at odds with the Pentagon over a US military withdrawal from Syria, once Isis is finally eliminated. Nobody knows the final shape of US policy or whether it will finally take a concrete shape or remain fluid.

Washington could become more aggressive as the new national security adviser John Bolton and secretary of state Mike Pompeo take office. But the swift demise of their predecessors may argue that these super-hawks will have less leeway to exert their influence than they had hope and others feared.

As for Israel, the latest crisis in Syria comes as a useful diversion from the escalating crisis in Gaza, but the latter is not going to go away. The two Israeli F-15s fired their missiles at the T4 airbase from inside Lebanese airspace, showing a degree of caution. As Assad becomes stronger and gains control of more and more of Syria, Israel will want to flex its military muscles but this does not necessarily mean that Israel wants to fight a war with Syria or Hezbollah, despite the belligerent rhetoric on all sides.

As we get closer to 12 May – when Trump has to decide if he will effectively pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – different crises contribute to raising the political temperature in the region. In a situation as complex as this, no country may want a wider war, but they could easily stumble into one.

Will Bolton and Trump Start the First Sino-American War?

Photo by Christopher Michel | CC BY 2.0

When America launches a preemptive attack on North Korea, will the US find itself at war with China?

This is not an idle question.  On Monday, the fiercest advocate of a preemptive attack on North Korea, John R. Bolton, joined the Trump Administration.  Bolton, a former US Ambassador to the UN, replaces H. R. McMaster as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.

Bolton is the gold standard against which all other hawks are measured.  Bolton pushed for war in Iraq and continues to think that invading Iraq was the right thing to do.  He has long clamored for regime change in North Korea (and Iran…and Syria…and Cuba).

Boltonknows that North Korea relies on nuclear weapons for its continued survival.  You will hear the same from anyone on the left.  But Bolton adds that North Korea also has nukes because the North Koreans “still want to reunifythe Korean peninsula under their control.” This prospect naturally upsets Bolton who wants a reunified Korea that is under American hegemony.[1]

Bolton insists that North Korea’s nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to the US which cannot be tolerated.  Bolton claims that within months North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will have ballistic missiles which can reach the continental US.  Once that happens, will the US be willing to go to war to save South Korea at the price of one or more American cities? The question, however, glosses over the fact that Kim would have to be suicidal to use nuclear weapons against the US.

Bolton shared his perspective on China in a December 20, 2017 interview on the FOX Business Network.  Bolton may well owe his appointment as national security adviser to his frequent appearances on FOX, Trump’s cracked window on the world.

Bolton was asked about reports that Russian and Chinese armed forces are training together in anticipation of a US attack on North Korea.  Bolton was unfazed, pronouncing the “odds” of a joint Russian-Chinese military response “between slim and none.”  Who’s your oddsmaker, John?  General Douglas MacArthur thought there was no chance China would intervene in the first Korean War.

“There is one diplomatic [sic] play left with China,” Bolton told FOX Business. “To say:  ‘You want to get rid of the North Korean nuclear threat?  The way to do that is to get rid of this regime.’” Why Bolton calls this a “diplomatic play” is beyond me inasmuch as Bolton is calling on China to use force against the North Koreans, either alone or partnered with the US.[2]  Bolton said that “even in China there have been public pieces written recommending joint Chinese-American military intervention in North Korea to bring down the Kim Jong Un regime.”[3]

Since Bolton’s FOX Business interview in December, Bolton has abandoned hopes for a Chinese-American pile up on Kim.  The Atlantic’s Uri Friedmansays that Bolton “doubt[s] the Chinese could be convinced to reverse their longstanding policy of resisting regime change in North Korea.”

Maybe.  Professor Oriana Skylar Mastro of Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service has a different view.  “China is no longer wedded to North Korea’s survival,” Mastro writes in the January-February issue of Foreign Affairs.  “Over the last two decades, Chinese relations with North Korea have deteriorated drastically … as China has tired of North Korea’s insolent behavior.”  “[T]oday, China and North Korea can hardly be characterized as friends, let alone allies.”

How Will War on the Korean Peninsula Play Out?

According to Mastro, China will intervene in a war on the peninsula not to save Kim’s regime, but in order to safeguard China’s own interests—first and foremost, preventing Kim from using his nuclear weapons. Mastro predicts that China will intervene early on to seize North Korean nuclear sites.  Kim’s principal nuclear installations and two-thirds of his missile sites are within 60 miles of the Chinese border.  China will also see to it that Kim’s nukes do not fall into the hands of the South Koreans.

The US also wants to disarm Kim.  Kim’s nuclear facilities are numerous and widely dispersed throughout the DPRK.  Nor does the US know the locations of all of them.  To secure all of them will require a ground invasion.  That will require a US invasion force of anywhere between 200,000 and 690,000 troops.  This will create the frightening possibility of accidental armed clashes between US and Chinese forces as both nations attempt to seize Kim’s nuclear sites.  These clashes could easily escalate to all-out war.

Mastro writes that communication and coordination between China and the US are essential to keep the two superpowers from coming to blows.  Is Bolton the right person to ensure communication and coordination with the Chinese?  We have already seen how Bolton has written the Chinese off as a US partner.  In any event, Beijing may be less than enthusiastic about working with a country that has opened a trade war against it.

The picture becomes more terrifying when we consider that Chinese, American, and South Korean forces may not make it to Kim’s nuclear sites in time.  Bruce Bennett, an expert on North Korea at the RAND Corporation, references the Cold War concept “Use ‘em or lose ‘em.” If Kim concludes that he is in danger of losing his nukes to his enemies, he may use them.  The Second Korean War will have gone nuclear.

The war may go nuclear in any case.  The North’s nuclear weapons (and biological and chemical weapons) may be Kim’s first resort rather than a desperate last resort for a Kim Jong Un facing defeat.  Kim would have no trouble finding uses for his nukes in the event of an American invasion.  For instance, nuclear bombs could destroy the South Korean harbor of Busan in order to head off US troop and supply ships.

A Season for Summits

On March 8, Trump accepted Kim Jong Un’s invitation for a summit which is expected to take place before the end of May.  Trump’s new national security adviser believes that “Talking to the North Koreans is a waste of time.”  Bolton is certain that the summit will accomplish nothing other than to demonstrate that Kim has no intention of giving up his nuclear weapons.

On March 25-28, Kim Jong Un traveled to Beijing at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.  This was Kim’s first trip outside the country since he became DPRK leader in 2011 and his first meeting with Xi.  What was Kim doing there?  One possibility is that Kim was in Beijing to eat crow.  Facing a US attack, Kim needs to get China back in his corner.  “What I’m guessing happened in the meeting,” Professor Oriana Skylar Mastrotold Vox, “is that Xi chastised Kim for his nuclear and missile tests and made him promise not to do them again.”

Another view has Kim, not as a cringing supplicant to China, but as master of the situation.  Sung-Yoon Leeof the Fletcher School for Law and Diplomacy calls Kim an “Impresario” who is playing Washington and Beijing against each other.  The summit with Xi, like Kim’s invitation to meet with President Donald Trump, is just the latest in a series of “faux peace gesture[s].”

As China has gained in strength and confidence, its need for the DPRK as a buffer state has declined.  That is one reason China might be willing to sacrifice the DPRK. Still, China has no WELCOME mat out for the US military.  Recall that most of Kim’s nuclear installations are within 60 miles of the Yalu River which separates North Korea from China.  In order to secure Kim’s nuclear sites, US and South Korean forces will have to approach the Yalu.  The last time the US Army approached the Yalu was in October 1950.  That triggered China’s full-scale entry into the war. Professor Robert Farleyof the University of Kentucky points out that even after China entered the war, President Harry Truman was careful not to allow US forces to cross the Yalu.  This time, Farley believes, the US would not declare Chinese territory off limits from attack.  American bombing and invasion of China could easily escalate to a nuclear World War Three.

The US needs to do several things:

+ Reject an attack on North Korea.

+ Accept China’s proposal of a “double freeze,” e., Kim suspends his nuclear program and missile testing; the US and South Korea suspend their annual joint war games.

+ Conclude a peace treaty to finally bring the Korean War officially to a close.

Cool-headed, cautious diplomacy will be essential to achieve these ends.  Cool-headedness and caution are the last thing we can expect from Trump and Bolton.

Over time, all parties should work for a reunified Korean Peninsula.  China would accept South Korea as the government of a reunified Korean Peninsula so long as US troops were withdrawn and the US-South Korean military alliance terminated.  North Korea’s nukes would be destroyed and US nuclear-armed submarines banned from the region.  The US empire would be dealt a resounding blow.  This may all be a pipe dream, but it is the only way to preserve peace on the peninsula long-term.

Notes.

[1] On the other hand, in his December 20 FOX Business interview (see below), Bolton magnanimously said that Beijing could install any successor government it likes, so long as a post-Kim government does not have nukes.  This may be Bolton’s fallback position if the US is unable to conquer the DPRK.

[2]  There is an historical parallel here.  In the early 1960s, the Kennedy Administration tried to enlist the Soviet Union in a joint attack on Communist China’s swiftly-advancing nuclear weapons program. The Soviets were not interested and the US was loath to carry out the attack alone.  China detonated its first nuclear bomb on October 16, 1964.

[3]  Bolton’s statement is confirmed by Gideon Rachmanof the Financial Times(London).  Rachman adds that some security experts in China argue that their country has strong reasons to attack North Korea.  North Korea’s nuclear arms could spur South Korea and Japan to acquire their own nuclear arms in self-defense, a development China wishes to avoid.  China also faces the danger of radioactive fallout in the event of a North Korean nuclear accident.  On the other hand, fall of the Kim regime would result in a flood of up to two million North Korean refugees attempting to enter China.

Donald the Animal Stays In Syria

Photo by Graham C99 | CC BY 2.0

Another chemical weapons at the hands (supposedly) of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The public was bombarded with images of victims of the attack. Where have been the images of Donald Trump’s victims? If the liberal media really is opposed to Trump as they say, why haven’t they been as outraged about Trump’s crimes?

Donald Trump went on to call Assad an animal. But what has been Donald Trump’s record in the region? Historically awful. He now is responsible for over three-quarters of the civilian’s deaths in the U.S. war against ISIS. What seemed unspeakable under Barack Obama has proved to be too soft under Trump.

For all the media’s hatred of Donald Trump, where is the coverage of the civilians he has killed? Where are the photographs of those dead children? If anything, they want Trump to be more bloodthirsty. When Trump contemplated leaving Syria last week, The New York Times ran two op-eds on the subject, both critical of the move. One article proposed that Trump was creating ISIS 2.0 by pulling out of the region and the other said that Trump’s strategy was “no way to run a war.” Isn’t that the point though? We should have no interest in running a war in Syria. The Washington Post also warned about the U.S. emboldening ISIS by pulling out of Syria in two separate op-ed pieces last week. Horrified by my findings, I dug further. CNN also was no fan of Donald Trump’s plan to leave Syria. A sinister headline read: “Is Vladimir Putin Trump’s top adviser on Syria?” Next I looked onto MSNBC, who showed a clip from last week titled “We should not abandon the fight”. Still, astoundingly, the liberal media was in consensus against Trump’s plan to withdraw. Fox News was no better. They claimed that Trump was repeating Obama mistake’s by leaving Syria. I dug through arguably America’s five most trusted media sources and none of them ran an opinion that supported the President’s plan to leave Syria.

The left, at its worst, gets too caught up in the details of these blackouts. The timing of the chemical weapons attack is of course, rather curious. Why would Assad use chemical weapons right after Trump said he wanted to leave Syria? And why did the same sequence occur a year ago? On March 30th, 2017, Trump softened on Syria. On April 4th, 2017, a chemical weapons attack occurred. The signs point to the U.S. and their friends being behind these attacks if we strictly look at the timing. But this is all rather flimsy. These attacks both also occurred around April Fool’s Day, and no one would ever read into that. Now maybe Assad knows that the U.S. presence is essential to destabilizing the region. Or quite possibly, Assad had nothing to do with the attacks. I always lean towards blaming the U.S. but Russia’s presence within Syria has been brutal too. We just don’t know. So rushing to judgement, let alone military intervention, seems absurd. No matter who one “feels” is responsible. This is all assuming too that military intervention would help even if we did know the details. It hasn’t before and it won’t here.

It is important to remember though, even if we can’t read into the details, that the U.S. media was against withdrawal from Syria even before these attacks. It is awfully convenient to proclaim to be heroes now. But the media gave Syria no chance in the first place. With or without these chemical attacks, the U.S. wanted war.

Now the U.S. will be in Syria for much longer, killing civilians at an unprecedented rate. Happy now liberal media? Who knew that Donald Trump would have to prove to you that he wasn’t a pansy when it came to war? How much more damage do you want him to do?

Why do they assume that Donald Trump, the most ignorant, arrogant, reactionary, short-fused, power hungry man (their words but also mine) is now fit to decide the fate of Syria? Have they seen how he is running our country? Of course they have. And they don’t like it. But he can handle Syria they say. Anybody can run that “shithole”. They don’t recognize that the chaos in Syria is not a matter of incompetence by their people, it is a matter of a cruel world order that has put them at the bottom. With climate change turning things from bad to worse.

Donald Trump is an animal. He kills civilians without thinking twice. He is a strictly reactionary creature, moved by monsters and their victims. His view of the world is simplistic. He has no regard for human life. He is not even bloodthirsty per se, he just dismisses everything. He is a complete idiot. Over his head. He lacks empathy, courage, and insight. The whole world has always been in his hands and he cares little about the actors inside. He believes he can get away with anything. There is no morality, curiosity or thoughtfulness within this decrepit creature. He only thinks about winning. Why on earth do we want him active in Syria? It is one thing to urge on a thoughtful psychopath like Barack Obama, but to urge on this beast seems completely irresponsible. Such are the contradictions of the liberal media. They think that while Trump is unfit to serve this country, he is perfectly fit to serve the dystopian Syria. Liberals, like Trump, see monsters over there and saviors over here. The elites, no matter their cultural differences and squabbles, can always bond over the destruction of the poor. Indeed, their existence depends on it.

Still Smearing Jeremy Corbyn

Photo by Garry Knight | CC BY 2.0

My previous piece in CounterPunch indicated how Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of UK’s opposition Labour Party, has in recent weeks endured several media-driven accusations about being a Czech spy in Cold War days; that he is a “Putin stooge” for wanting detailed evidence when a Russian double agent, exiled in the UK, and his daughter visiting from Russia, were attacked by toxic nerve agent;  and that Corbyn is somehow “a figurehead for antisemitism” or has a “blindspot for antisemitism” where his party is concerned.

The Czech spy charge resulted in Corbyn’s main accuser, a Conservative MP, settling out of court for damages.

The “Putin stooge” accusations have subsided for now.  In a pointed editorial in Le Monde Diplomatique (now republished in CounterPunch), titled “License to Kill”, Serge Halimi mentioned that Russia is only one among several countries using “extraterritorial assassination” as a way to liquidate supposed traitors or opponents.

Few of these countries, apart from Russia, have incurred international condemnation.

Foremost among the deployers of “extraterritorial assassination” are Israel and the US (Obama, the winner of the Nobel Peace (sic) Prize, alone authorized more than 2,300 such killings during his presidency).

Other countries resorting to state-sponsored assassinations include France (at least one a month during the presidency of the “socialist” Hollande), Germany, and Chile.

Orlando Letelier, a minister under the assassinated Chilean president Salvador Allende who subsequently took up exile in the US, was murdered in Washington DC by a car bomb placed by agents of Allende’s killer Augusto Pinochet.

It was later revealed that the CIA had advance knowledge of the attempt to be made on Letelier’s life but did nothing to stop Pinochet’s henchmen.

The murder of Letelier, and an American co-worker who was a passenger in the bombed car, did not stop Margaret Thatcher from visiting Pinochet for afternoon tea and presenting him with a silver platter when the dictator was under house arrest in London, while he was being charged in a Spanish court with responsibility for the murders of Spanish-Chilean dual citizens during his brutal dictatorship (the UK’s Labour government was respecting the terms of an extradition agreement with Spain).

No one today seems to be reminding the current prime minister, Theresa May, of her Tory predecessor’s sordid admiration for the assassin Pinochet.

Putin, if he was responsible for poisoning the Russian exile and his daughter, was only emulating the example of someone enshrined in the pantheon of rightwing dictators long admired by UK Conservatives.

However, there still remains no conclusive evidence that responsibility for the attack on the two Russians in the UK lies with Putin and his associates.

The UK government’s chemical and biological weapons establishment at Porton Down has just said there is no decisive evidence that the toxic agent originated in Russia.

Meanwhile, Corbyn and his associates continue to be accused of “antisemitism” by the media and the Blairite cobras in his own party.

While it is impossible to deny that there are some antisemites in the Labour Party, and that every effort must therefore be made by the party to sever links with them, it is equally clear that Corbyn is being smeared by his accusers.

Hardly a month goes by without some member of the UK elite being discovered to have a fondness for Nazi uniforms (or hanging-out with those who wear them) or being caught enjoying the company of proven antisemites.

The latest in this line of antisemitic infamy is Jacob Rees-Mogg, an antediluvian Tory MP widely referred to in the media as “the Hon Member for the 18th Century”, but somehow viewed as a leading contender to replace the hapless May the Maybot as the next Tory leader.

Rees-Mogg, whose self-caricature is that of an upper-class twit in a Monty Python skit (somehow we Brits just love these types in real life!), has a deep personal enthusiasm for off-shore tax dodging schemes, wants abortions to be outlawed even for those who are victims of rape and incest, and has said that health and safety standards which are “good enough” for India would be just fine for molly-coddled British workers.

If only a Bhopal-standard chemical plant could be built right next to Wentworth House, the twit’s palatial country mansion!

Rees-Mogg was reported in The Mirror newspaper in January this year as “deeply regretting” attending a dinner five years ago at which he was photographed sitting next to Gregory Lauder-Frost, vice-president of the Traditional Britain Group.  Rees-Mogg had been warned beforehand of Lauder-Frost’s open racism and antisemitism, but still chose to sup with him.

According to The Mirror, Lauder-Frost had been caught on tape referring to the anti-racist campaigner Baroness Doreen Lawrence (whose son Stephen was murdered by a white racist gang in 1993) as “a n*****”, and saying of the broadcaster Vanessa Feltz: “She’s a fat Jewish s**g, she’s revolting, revolting. She lives with a negro. She’s horrible”.

Such disclosures about Rees-Mogg have not been taken-up en masse by the UK’s mainstream media, and the Hon Member for the 18thCentury continues to be a frontrunner to replace the Maybot.

Rees-Mogg, who consorts with known antisemites, is of course a prominent member of the Conservative Friends of Israel– as I mentioned last week, pro-Zionism and antisemitism are not mutually exclusive, and can and do accompany each other in American and European rightwing politics.

Also not publicized by the mainstream media are the links rightwing UK Conservative politicians have with their equally rightwing antisemitic counterparts in Poland and Hungary.

UK Conservative politicians who are members of the European parliament bloc-vote there with openly antisemitic rightwing parties from Hungary and Poland in the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

The above was pointed out by the more than forty senior UK-based academics, including CounterPuncherNeve Gordon, who wrote to condemn what they view as an anti-Corbyn bias in media coverage of the “antisemitism” debate.

Further indication that the charge of “anti-semitism” is a cloak used to stigmatize Corbyn for his longtime anti-Zionism came from the criticism he incurred this week for spending the Passover Seder with the radical-left and anti-Zionist Jewish group Jewdas.

Corbyn’s attendance at the Jewdas event was portrayed in most of the media as the equivalent of a finger-flip to “mainstream Jews” — as if to imply that principled opposition to Israel’s illegalities vis-à-vis the Palestinians, which lies at the heart of the anti-Zionism of a Jewish group like Jewdas, is somehow incompatible with being a “mainstream Jew”.

Moreover, if Corbyn is an “antisemite”, why would he attend an important event in the Jewish religious calendar?

Rees-Mogg, endlessly fawned over by the media, would probably not be seen dead at a Passover Seder!  Dining with white English xenophobes and racists is clearly more his sort of thing.

The controversy over Jewdas lets the proverbial cat out of the bag.  Many of us know that accusations of “antisemitism”, and worse, are used by Zionists to let Israel off the hook for its grievous breaches of international law.  It is impossible to state the matter in a more obvious way.

Meanwhile, The Huffington Post reports that membership of the Labour Party, already the largest in Europe, has grown by nearly 1,000 since the antisemitism protest in Parliament Square on March 26 (though 470 actively quit in that time).

Also noteworthy is the silence of the Labour politicians who accuse Corbyn of being “soft” on antisemitism, regarding last week’s Land Day demonstration in Gaza, where the Israeli army killed 18 Palestinian civilians and wounded 773 more, many reportedly shot in the back.

A second demonstration in Gaza this week resulted in the deaths of another 8 unarmed Gazans (including a journalist covering the protests) with scores injured.

Shooting unarmed protesters resisting the illegal occupation of their land is a clear violation of international law, and yet the Labour politicians accusing Corbyn of “antisemitism” have not spoken out about this deadly breach of international law, which of course is only one of many tens of thousands since Israel declared its illegal independence in 1948.

This silence speaks volumes about the priorities of these de facto pro-Zionist Labour politicians.

Despite Gaza Massacre, Israel Remains Immune From Criticism

Photo by Swithun Crowe | CC BY 2.0

Thousands of protesters returned to the border last Friday, burning great heaps of tyres to produce a black smokescreen which they hoped would hide them from Israeli snipers. Gaza’s health ministry has said that five people were killed and 1,070 people were wounded on Friday, including 293 by live fire.

The demonstrators know what to expect. A video from the first day of the march shows a protester being shot in the back by an Israeli sniper as he walks away from the fence separating Gaza from Israel. In other footage, Palestinians are killed or wounded as they pray, walk empty-handed towards the border fence, or simply hold up a Palestinian flag. All who get within 300 yards are labelled “instigators” by the Israeli army, whose soldiers have orders to shoot them.

“Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed,” claimed a tweet from the Israeli military the day after the mass shooting on 30 March at the start of 45 days of what Palestinians call the “Great March of Return” to the homes they had in Israel 70 years ago. The tweet was deleted soon after, possibly because film had emerged of a protester being shot from behind.

The sheer scale of the casualties on the first day of the protest a week ago is striking, with as many as 16 killed and 1,415 injured, of whom 758 were hit by live fire according to Gaza health officials. These figures are contested by Israel, which says that the injured numbered only a few dozen. But Human Rights Watch spoke to doctors at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City who said that they had treated 294 injured demonstrators, mostly “with injuries to the lower limbs from live ammunition”.

Imagine for a moment that it was not the two million Palestinian in Gaza, who are mostly refugees from 1948, but the six million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan who had staged a march to return to the homes that they have lost in Syria since 2011. Suppose that, as they approach the Syrian border, they were fired on by the Syrian army and hundreds of them were killed or injured. Syria would certainly claim that the demonstrators were armed and dangerous, though this would be contradicted by the absence of casualties among the Syrian military.

The international outcry against the murderous Syrian regime in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin would have echoed around the world. Boris Johnson would have denounced Assad as a butcher and Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, would have held up pictures of the dead and dying before the Security Council.

Of course, Israel would furiously deny that there was any parallel between the two situations. Its government spokesman, David Keyes, rebuked CNN for even using the word “protest” when “what actually happened is that Hamas engineered an event where they wanted thousands of people to swarm into Israel, to crush Israel, to commit acts of terror. Indeed, we have captured on camera pictures of people shooting guns, people placing bombs, people shooting rockets.”

In the event, no pictures of these supposedly well-armed protesters ever emerged. But four days later, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled Israel: Gaza Killings Unlawful, Calculated. Officials Green-Light Shooting of Unarmed Demonstrators, which said that it “could find no evidence of any protester using firearms”. It added that footage published by the Israeli army showing two men shooting at Israeli troops turned out not to have been filmed at the protest.

Israeli ministers are unabashed by the discrediting of claims that the demonstrators pose a military threat to Israel. Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israeli soldiers had “warded off Hamas military branch operatives capably and resolutely … They have my full backing.” The free-fire policy is continuing as before and, as a result, the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, has launched a campaign called “Sorry Commander I Cannot Shoot”, which encourages soldiers to refuse to shoot unarmed civilians on the grounds that this is illegal.

Why is the surge in Palestinian protests coming now and why is Israel responding so violently? There is nothing new in Palestinian demonstrations about the loss of their land and Israel’s aggressive military response. But there may be particular reasons that a confrontation is happening now, such as Palestinian anger at President Trump’s decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the move of the US embassy to there from Tel Aviv. This trumpeted Washington’s unconditional support for the Israeli position and the US disregard for the Palestinians and any remaining hopes they might have to win at least some concessions with US support.

Strong support from the Trump administration is reported by the Israeli press to be further reason why the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, feels that bad publicity over the shootings in Gaza will not damage Israel’s position in the US. In the past, controversy over the mass killings of Palestinian or Lebanese by Israel has sometimes provoked a negative US response that has curbed Israel’s use of force.

So far, Israel has faced little criticism from an international media uninterested in the Gaza story, or else is happy to go along with Israel’s interpretation of events. The vocabulary used by news outlets is often revealing: for instance, the BBC website on 31 March had a headline reading “Gaza-Israel border: Clashes ‘leave 16 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured”. The word “clashes” implies combat between two groups capable of fighting each other, though, as Human Rights Watch says, the demonstrators pose no threat to an all-powerful Israeli military machine – a point reinforced by the fact that all the dead and wounded are Palestinian.

Possibly, the Israelis are miscalculating the impact of excessive use of force on public opinion: in the age of wifi and the internet, graphic images of the victims of violence are immediately broadcast to the world, often with devastating effect. As in Syria and Iraq, the political price of besieging or blockading urban areas like Gaza or Eastern Ghouta is rising because it is impossible to prevent information about the sufferings of those trapped inside such an enclaves becoming public, though this may have no impact on the course of events.

Contrary to Keyes’ claims, the idea of a mass march against the fence seems to have first emerged in social media in Gaza and was only later adopted by Hamas. It is the only strategy likely to show results for the Palestinians because they have no military option, no powerful allies and their leadership is moribund and corrupt. But they do have numbers: a recent report to the Israeli Knesset saying that there are roughly 6.5 million Palestinian Arabs and an equal number of Jewish Israeli citizens in Israel and the West Bank, not counting those in East Jerusalem and Gaza. Israel has usually had more difficulty in dealing with non-violent civil rights type mass movements among Palestinians than it has had fighting armed insurgencies.

Keyes claims that the demonstrations are orchestrated by Hamas, but here again he is mistaken on an important point because witnesses on the spot say that the impetus for the protests is coming from non-party groups and individuals. They voice frustration with the failed, divided and self-seeking Palestinian leaders of both Hamas and Fatah. The most dangerous aspect of the situation in terms of its potential for violence may be that nobody is really in charge.

Hill and Don’s Honduran Caravan

Photo by Phillip Pessar | CC BY 2.0

Two Right-Wing Coups in the Americas

You’ve got to hand it to Hillary Clinton.  In 2016, she helped put the right-wing racist, sexist, nativist, authoritarian, and nationalist oligarch Donald Trump in the White House.  She and her operatives did this in two ways: (1) by rigging the presidential primaries against the popular progressive Democrat Bernie Sanders, the Democrats’ best chance to prevail over Trump; (2) by mounting a dreadfully uninspiring and transparently tone-deaf, neoliberal general election campaign – a reflection of her massive funding by the nation’s corporate and financial establishment, including big business money normally slated for Republican presidential candidates.

It was the second time in seven-and-a-half years that Hillary had helped install an authoritarian, racist, oligarchic and right-wing government in the Americas.  In the spring of 2009, she had used her position as Barack Obama’s first Secretary of State to help the right-wing Honduran military and business class overthrow the democratically elected government of Honduras’s then president Manuel Zelaya.  Mrs. Clinton did this because she was a right-wing corporate and imperial Democrat who naturally opposed Zelaya’s shift to the populist left.  She was irritated by his opposition to the United States-led so-called War on Drugs.  She did not like his call for the United States’ large Honduran Air Force base to be turned into a civilian airport.  She hated his movement toward alliance and cooperation with left-populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.  She disdained Zelaya’s efforts to overcome the interrelated problems of Honduran poverty, Honduran inequality, and Honduras’s long neocolonial subordination to Washington.

With the approval of Mrs. Clinton and her boss Obama, the Honduran military seized Zelaya at gunpoint and exiled him to Costa Rica in his pajamas.  After the coup, sold on preposterously false legal and constitutional grounds for which Hillary provided political cover, the new Honduran regime staged a rigged election that placed the clownish, racist, and right-wing landowner Porfirio “Pepe Lobo Sosa” in the Honduran presidency. Madame Secretary Clinton hailed this farce as a “free, fair, and democratic election with a peaceful transition of power.”  Never mind that the election proceeded amidst interim coup president Roberto Micheletti’s suspension of basic civil liberties and in a climate of harsh police-state intimidation.  Later, as Diana Johnstone noted in her book Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton, “The governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela refused to recognize the result, but Washington was content…President Lobo described his regime as a ‘government of national reconciliation.’ Hillary Clinton [deplorably] praised it as a ‘resumption of democratic and constitutional government.’”

The results were not pretty: murderous paramilitary repression of peasants, workers, trade unionists, feminists, and intellectuals; a deepening of mass poverty; assassinations of opposition candidates; expanded corruption and gang violence; “social cleansing” of poor children; a massive flight of unaccompanied minors to Mexico and the U.S. in 2014. And the purported “children’s advocate” Hillary Clinton called for the closing of U.S. borders to thousands of children fleeing the vicious regime she helped impose on Honduras. As the Central American child migrant crisis became front-page news in the summer of 2014, Hillary called for most of the tens of thousands of children and teenagers seeking refuge to be sent back to the miserable conditions they had fled in their home countries. “We have to send a clear message,” Clinton deplorably told a CNN town hall: “just because your child gets across the border doesn’t mean your child gets to stay.” So what if half or more of the kids showing up at U.S. border could have qualified for humanitarian protection under international and US law?

Never Mind: “The Caravans are Coming!”

Here we are nine years after the U.S.-backed overthrow of Zelaya. The newly emboldened “America First” nationalist Donald Trump has just this week warned the U.S. citizenry to watch out for criminal and asylum-seeking Central American hordes. “The Caravans are coming,” El Donito Tweeted at the start of the week.  He fretted about how “our country is being stolen” by illegal immigration, blaming Democrats for feckless border policies and urging Mexico to bar “these large ‘Caravans’ of people.”

The Great God Trump saw it on FOX News: a marching mass of Central Americans approaching to “take advantage of DACA” and “our weak border security.” The brown-skinned horde wants, Trump claimed, to exploit “liberal [Democrat] laws like Catch and Release.”

This, Trump said, is why we need a big beautiful border Wall – to block evil marauders like these caravan creeps before they bring their devilish drugs and criminality to stop Hair Fuhrer from “Making America Great Again.”

Since the Democrats have blocked the Wall, Trump said, “DACA is dead,” and the U.S. military will have to be deployed to secure the border. It’s time to take a stand!

Never mind that Mexico and Central America are parts of “America” too – and that people from south of the U.S. border are Americans who also want to live “great” lives, or at least to get away from crushing terror and poverty.

Never mind that the “large caravan” Trump thinks he saw on FOX News will probably number 700 people or less by the time it reaches northern Mexico – if it ever does (Subsequent reports indicate that the caravan will stop south of Mexico City).

Forget the moronic nature of the idea that anyone would enter the U.S. in 2018 to “take advantage of DACA,” a federal policy that applies only to immigrant children brought to the country by undocumented parents before 2007.

Forget how sadistic it is for the orange-tinted beast to make Dreamers’ chances of remaining in the only country they know as home depend on Congress’s willingness to back a racist Wall most of the U.S. population rejects.

Forget that it was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who started building a physical wall on the U.S. southern border, in anticipation of the flood of Mexican migrants expected to result from the North American Free Trade Agreement’s devastating impact on Mexican farmers.

Forget that there’s no “catch and release” edicts in U.S. immigration law.

Forget that very few among the 1200 or so Central American migrants travelling in what is now an annual Easter time caravan through Mexico have any intention of seeking asylum in the U.S. (As KCUR radio reported three days ago, “The annual event organized by activists” is “designed to keep migrants safe and share information about their rights” inside Mexico.)

Forget that the number of “illegal immigrants” caught at the U.S. border (310,000 last year, down from a peak of 1.6 million in 2000) is currently at its lowest level since 1971.

Forget that the Caravan marchers are running away from drug violence and organized crime, among other scourges, in countries that have been ravaged by U.S. policy (including U.S. foreign, political, economic, military, drug, and climate policy) for decades.

“Fuera JOH”

Put all that Trumpian madness aside for a moment and reflect on Hillary and the Obama administration’s role in generating the annual ragged and desperate march of deeply impoverished Central Americans through Mexico. Most of the caravan participants that Washington’s Orange Dotard railed against are Hondurans fleeing repression, violence, and extreme poverty imposed by a right-wing regime Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama helped put in place in the spring of 2009 – a government the U.S. has funded and equipped ever since.

Organized caravans of largely Honduran Central American migrants have been marching across Mexico since 2010. Why since that year?  Primarily because of the U.S-backed Honduran coup, which unleashed mass violence against ordinary Hondurans and Honduran activists.

The repression continues through the present, seen in “the violent [Honduran] suppression of political protests that erupted after last year’s presidential election” (New York Times, April 2, 2018) – more bloody cruelty from the malicious regime Hillary aided and abetted nine years ago. The 2017 Honduran election was transparently rigged to keep the military coup regime in power. That’s why many of the caravan marchers can be heard chanting “Fuera JOH” (“Out JOH”) a reference to the incumbent president, Juan Orlando Hernández, whose right wing National Party fixed the vote in his favor. The Trump administration nonetheless immediately recognized the results as legitimate, waiving off calls to cut off U.S. military and economic assistance to the Honduran government on human rights grounds – this while the Honduran military imposed a national curfew and a state of emergency.

Playing to the Amerikaner Roseanne Base

Why did Trump go ape-shit over the caravan this week? Because his favorite white nationalist television network has been highlighting the mass march and thanks to political calculations leading up to the mid-term elections this year. As the New York Times reports: “Stung by a backlash from his conservative supporters [e.g, the sallow neo-Nazi Anne Coulter] over his embrace of a trillion-dollar-plus spending measure that did not fund his promised border wall, and lacking a legislative initiative to champion with the approach of midterm congressional elections this fall, Mr. Trump has reverted to the aggressive anti-immigration messaging that powered his presidential campaign…”

He’s playing to his basebase.  He’s counting on its white-nationalist Amerikaner loyalty to the cult of Trump (with the revolting  right-wing conspiracy nut and former progressive icon Roseanne Barr as a leading Kool Aid drinker) to combine with Republican gerrymandering, racist voter suppression, the reach of the vast right-wing media ecosphere (including the vast Sinclair broadcast network as well as FOX, right-wing talk radio, and Breitbart et al.), a tight job market, the frazzled electorate’s inability to follow Rachel Maddow and Robert Mueller’s (and Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s) endless and complex RussiaGate detective story, and the dismal and elitist nothingness of the neoliberal Democrats (the nation’s Inauthentic Opposition and Fake Resistance leaders) to keep Congress impeachment-proofed in 2019 and 2020.

MoveOn and Off That Page

Look for “liberal [Democrat]” pundits and politicos to deride Trump’s military deployment on the border while conveniently failing to mention that President Barack “Deporter-in-Chief” Obama sent 1,200 National Guardsmen (in “Operation Phalanx”) to patrol the southern border in 2010.

It’s okay whenyourparty and president do nativist, nationalist, and other nasty things. It’s deplorable when presidents from the bad other of the only two electorally viable and (by the way) capitalist-imperialist U.S. political parties do those things. Which reminds me, are you concerned about Russian interference in U.S. politics? Here’s a curious passage you can expect “liberal [Democrat]” pundits and politicos to disregard in Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s new book Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump:

“The day after …Russian spies were arrested [on June 27, 2010], Bill Clinton arrived in Moscow to deliver the keynote speech at a conference sponsored by Renaissance Capital, a Russian investment banking firm with links to the Kremlin. Clinton was paid a whopping $500,000 for his ninety-minute appearance, which drew an audience of top Russian government officials. Though his wife was secretary of state, the former president had not curbed his lucrative overseas speech-making, even when the gigs were underwritten by groups that might have interests before the State Department…In the case of Renaissance Capital, the firm at that time was promoting a stock offering of a company called Uranium One—a mining firm that controlled about 20 percent of uranium production capacity within the United States. And Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, was in the process of purchasing a controlling interest in Uranium One, pending approval of a U.S. government foreign investment review board on which Hillary Clinton sat with eight other senior U.S. officials…Around the time of the Uranium One deal, the company chairman’s family foundation donated about $2.35 million to Clinton Foundation programs.”

Huh. Oh well. Turn the page. Good Democrats know that all good Americans need to move on, I mean MoveOn, from that kind of Old News.

I suppose we ought to be grateful to “liberal [Clinton Democrats]” Isikoff and Corn for honestly including that information in their new volume. I recall hearing Corn on National Public Radio when the big marches took place against the Inauguration of Trump. He didn’t think ragged anarchists, Marxists, and other suspect sorts who hadn’t been able to make themselves vote for the “lying neoliberal warmonger” (Adolph Reed, Jr’s accurate phrase, not Corn’s) and proud former Goldwater Girl Hillary Clinton had any right to be in the streets. That was like telling people that they couldn’t oppose the Gambino crime family if they didn’t openly support the Bonanno crime family.

I wonder: if Hillary had run a better campaign and fended off the Trump-Steve Bannon-Robert Mercer-Sheldon Adelson assault in the late summer and fall of 2016, would a Clinton45 presidency now be facing Congressional inquiries into its ugly Russian entanglements while monitoring caravan movements driven by the ugly regime Mrs. Clinton helped create in Tegucigalpa in 2009?

Single-Payer Caravan to Canada?

I would roll out a welcome mat to any Central American caravans who make it to the U.S. upper Midwest.  Perhaps I would ask them to accompany me on a trek to Canada, home to the single-payer national health insurance that most U.S.-Americans want and deserve.  That’s the insurance system Harvard medical professor David Himmelstein, head of Physicians for a National Health Program, tried to tell First Lady Hillary Clinton about when she headed the White House’s health reform initiative in 1993.  Himmelstein related the remarkable possibilities of a comprehensive, single-payer “Canadian-style” health plan, supported by more than two-thirds of the U.S. public.  Beyond backing by a citizen super-majority, Himmelstein noted, single-payer would provide comprehensive coverage to the nation’s 40 million uninsured while retaining free choice in doctor selection and being certified by the Congressional Budget Office as “the most cost-effective plan on offer.”

Hillary responded by dismissing Himmelstein with a weary and exasperated comment: “David, tell me something interesting.” There was no dishonesty in Hillary’s  remark. Consistent with her neoliberal world view, she really was bored and irritated by Himmelstein’s pitch. Along with the big insurance companies they deceptively railed against, the Clintons decided from the start to exclude the popular, social-democratic health insurance alternative (single-payer) from the national health care “discussion.” (Obama would do the exact same thing in 2009.)  What the First Lady deplorably advanced instead of the Canadian system that bored her was a hopelessly complex, secretly developed and corporatist system called “managed competition.”

We have our own oligarchs in the United States – and a richly bipartisan permanent political class dedicated to serving those oligarchs. Maye we should start a caravan, if we’re not too busy working multiple low-wage jobs in the “booming” economy owned and operating for the United States’ corporate oligarchy.