Category Archives: US Congress

June 23 Oakland Protest Against Barbara Lee’s Vote for $40 billion to fund War in Ukraine.  Join Us.

On Thursday June 23 people will gather outside Rep Barbara Lee’s office in Oakland at 11:30 am to protest her recent vote for $40 billion for the war in Ukraine. The demonstration is called in conjunction with the International Day of Action for Peace in Ukraine called by the Peace in Ukraine Coalition.  There will be a companion demonstration on the same day in at the Northampton, MA, office of Rep. Jimmy McGovern who also voted for the murderous $40 billion, and accompanied Pelosi in her recent visit to Ukraine.

This massive funding package represents a clear escalation of the war in Ukraine by the government of the United States using the Ukrainian people as cannon fodder in a proxy war with Russia.  The funding pours fuel on the flames of that war.  It will prolong the war, resulting in thousands more Ukrainian and Russian deaths, at the very least.

And this funding is one more step in escalating and widening the scope of the war – up to and including nuclear war.

WHAT: Protest of Barbara Lee’s vote for $40 Billion for the War in Ukraine. This protest is in conjunction with a global day of action against the war, preceding the NATO summit in Madrid, called by the Peace in Ukraine Coalition.

WHERE: 1 Kaiser Plaza, Oakland, California. (Barbara Lee’s Oakland Office)

WHEN: Thursday, June 23rd at 11:30 am.

WHO: Community and AntiWar activists and organizations including Code Pink, Democratic Socialists of American (DSA), East Bay Vets for Peace, Peace in Ukraine Coalition, United Against War & Militarism.

Despite promising just two months ago to “work relentlessly toward de-escalation” of the war in Ukraine, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee voted in lockstep with every Democrat in Congress behind President Biden’s war policy.  This includes not only Barbara Lee but all the other self-styled progressives in Congress, including Bernie Sanders, AOC and the rest of the “Squad.”

Barbara Lee because of her lone vote in opposing the two decade war in Afghanistan, is held up as an icon proving that there are progressive Democratic politicians who will vote for peace.  The promise held out by Lee and her Democratic colleagues that they could be a force for peace now lies in ruins.

Why U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine must be opposed.

One can look at the war in several ways.

If it is a war between Russia and Ukraine, then it is no business of the United States.

If one believes that it is a war by an idealistic to US to defend sovereignty and national borders, ask the people of Iraq if the US respects sovereignty – or the people of Afghanistan or Libya or Vietnam or Venezuela … the list goes on and on.

If one believes that this is a war to defend democracy, then ask the Palestinians suffering under Apartheid imposed by Israel which is supported by the US government or the people of Saudi Arabia or the many other dictatorships around the world that the US has supported.

No, this is a proxy war of the US against Russia being waged to the last Ukrainian.  If that has not been evident since the role of the US in backing the violent coup in 2014 against a duly elected Ukrainian President, then it is beyond doubt now with the declaration of Defense Secretary Austin that the goal of the US is to “weaken” Russia, the declaration of Joe Biden that Putin must not be allowed to govern and the declaration of Nancy Pelosi that the US must have total “victory” over Russia.  The Biden administration has chosen to confront another major nuclear weapons power, Russia – and that confrontation constitutes an existential threat to all of humanity.

Ukraine now wages war only to improve its bargaining power at the inevitable negotiations which will end the conflict admitted David Arakhamia, who leads Ukraine’s negotiations with Russia and is one of Volodymyr Zelensky’s closest advisers. 200-500 Ukrainian soldiers dying each day with a total of 1000 dead or wounded daily, the latest numbers given by Ukraine, simply to improve a negotiating position is a highly immoral exercise.  Ukraine has now become essentially a puppet state at the mercy of the US for arms and aid.  It is naïve beyond belief to believe that Ukraine proceeds in this immoral fashion without approval of the US – or even perhaps coercion by the US to fight on so as to save face for its patron Biden.

The Biden administration can stop the proxy war.  And we have the power to influence the Biden administration and the pols who support it.  It is our right and responsibility to exercise that power and stop this war.

Who benefits from the war and who is damaged?

Cui bono? Billions in funding for the war serves the interests of weapons manufacturers, military contractors, who pocket untold profits from the war in Ukraine.  Some of these dollars go to funding the endless proliferation of hawkish think tanks whose well paid employees show up as talking heads or op-ed writers in the mainstream media doing all in their power to convince us that “the other” is evil and that war is the answer.  These are media manikins and are ideologues driven by a desire for US world domination and therefore very dangerous

At the same time funding cannot be found for the many problems we face in the US – homelessness, inadequately funded schools, crumbling infrastructure, failure to deal adequately with climate change and now even shortages of baby formula!  Inflation in the U.S. was already running at over 7% before the conflict began due to the tragically inadequate response to Covid-19 and out of control “quantitative easing”; i.e., printing money with abandon.  But the war and sanctions have worsened the inflation which is now running at over 8%.  The average American sees this daily at the gas station and supermarket where soaring prices are now the rule.

Beyond that we must look to the entire world and especially the Global South both of which are suffering beyond belief from inflation and food shortages due to the US sanctions and the continuation of the war.  Led by India, China and nations representing the overwhelming majority of humanity, the world has refused to respect the illegal sanctions.  That leaves only the US and its European allies, former colonial powers, in supporting the US proxy war.  It is not Russia but the US that is isolated.

  • No weapons for war in Ukraine
  • No Proxy War with Russia
  • No to Nuclear War
The post June 23 Oakland Protest Against Barbara Lee’s Vote for $40 billion to fund War in Ukraine.  Join Us. first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Memo to Congress: Diplomacy for Ukraine Is Spelled M-i-n-s-k

Peace protest at the White House – Photo credit: iacenter.org

While the Biden administration is sending more troops and weapons to inflame the Ukraine conflict and Congress is pouring more fuel on the fire, the American people are on a totally different track.

A December 2021 poll found that a plurality of Americans in both political parties prefer to resolve differences over Ukraine through diplomacy. Another December poll found that a plurality of Americans (48 percent) would oppose going to war with Russia should it invade Ukraine, with only 27 percent favoring U.S. military involvement.

The conservative Koch Institute, which commissioned that poll, concluded that “the United States has no vital interests at stake in Ukraine and continuing to take actions that increase the risk of a confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia is therefore not necessary for our security. After more than two decades of endless war abroad, it is not surprising there is wariness among the American people for yet another war that wouldn’t make us safer or more prosperous.”

The most anti-war popular voice on the right is Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has been lashing out against the hawks in both parties, as have other anti-interventionist libertarians.

On the left, the anti-war sentiment was in full force on February 5, when over 75 protests took place from Maine to Alaska. The protesters, including union activists, environmentalists, healthcare workers and students, denounced pouring even more money into the military when we have so many burning needs at home.

You would think Congress would be echoing the public sentiment that a war with Russia is not in our national interest. Instead, taking our nation to war and supporting the gargantuan military budget seem to be the only issues that both parties agree on.

Most Republicans in Congress are criticizing Biden for not being tough enough (or for focusing on Russia instead of China) and most Democrats are afraid to oppose a Democratic president or be smeared as Putin apologists (remember, Democrats spent four years under Trump demonizing Russia).

Both parties have bills calling for draconian sanctions on Russia and expedited “lethal aid” to Ukraine. The Republicans are advocating for $450 million in new military shipments; the Democrats are one-upping them with a price tag of $500 million.

Progressive Caucus leaders Pramila Jayapal and Barbara Lee have called for negotiations and de-escalation. But others in the Caucus–such as Reps. David Cicilline and Andy Levin–are co-sponsors of the dreadful anti-Russia bill, and Speaker Pelosi is fast-tracking the bill to expedite weapons shipments to Ukraine.

But sending more weapons and imposing heavy-handed sanctions can only ratchet up the resurgent U.S. Cold War on Russia, with all its attendant costs to American society: lavish military spending displacing desperately needed social spending; geopolitical divisions undermining international cooperation for a better future; and, not least, increased risks of a nuclear war that could end life on Earth as we know it.

For those looking for real solutions, we have good news.

Negotiations regarding Ukraine are not limited to President Biden and Secretary Blinken’s failed efforts to browbeat the Russians. There is another already existing diplomatic track for peace in Ukraine, a well-established process called the Minsk Protocol, led by France and Germany and supervised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The civil war in Eastern Ukraine broke out in early 2014, after the people of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces unilaterally declared independence from Ukraine as the Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR) People’s Republics, in response to the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev in February 2014. The post-coup government formed new “National Guard” units to assault the breakaway region, but the separatists fought back and held their territory, with some covert support from Russia. Diplomatic efforts were launched to resolve the conflict.

The original Minsk Protocol was signed by the “Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine” (Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE) in September 2014. It reduced the violence, but failed to end the war. France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine also held a meeting in Normandy in June 2014 and this group became known as the “Normandy Contact Group” or the “Normandy Format.”

All these parties continued to meet and negotiate, together with the leaders of the self-declared Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR) People’s Republics in Eastern Ukraine, and they eventually signed the Minsk II agreement on February 12, 2015. The terms were similar to the original Minsk Protocol, but more detailed and with more buy-in from the DPR and LPR.

The Minsk II agreement was unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council in Resolution 2202 on February 17, 2015. The United States voted in favor of the resolution, and 57 Americans are currently serving as ceasefire monitors with the OSCE in Ukraine.

The key elements of the 2015 Minsk II Agreement were:

–           an immediate bilateral ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and DPR and LPR forces;

–           the withdrawal of heavy weapons from a 30-kilometer-wide buffer zone along the line of control between government and separatist forces;

–           elections in the secessionist Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR) People’s Republics, to be monitored by the OSCE; and,

–           constitutional reforms to grant greater autonomy to the separatist-held areas within a reunified but less centralized Ukraine.

The ceasefire and buffer zone have held well enough for seven years to prevent a return to full-scale civil war, but organizing elections in Donbas that both sides will recognize has proved more difficult.

The DPR and LPR postponed elections several times between 2015 and 2018. They held primary elections in 2016 and, finally, a general election in November 2018. But neither Ukraine, the United States nor the European Union recognized the results, claiming the election was not conducted in compliance with the Minsk Protocol.

For its part, Ukraine has not made the agreed-upon constitutional changes to grant greater autonomy to the separatist regions And the separatists have not allowed the central government to retake control of the international border between Donbas and Russia, as specified in the agreement.

The Normandy Contact Group (France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine) for the Minsk Protocol has met periodically since 2014, and is meeting regularly throughout the current crisis, with its next meeting scheduled for February 10 in Berlin The OSCE’s 680 unarmed civilian monitors and 621 support staff in Ukraine have also continued their work throughout this crisis. Their latest report, issued February 1, documented a 65% decrease in ceasefire violations compared to two months ago.

But increased U.S. military and diplomatic support since 2019 has encouraged President Zelensky to pull back from Ukraine’s commitments under the Minsk Protocol, and to reassert unconditional Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea and Donbas. This has raised credible fears of a new escalation of the civil war, and U.S. support for Zelensky’s more aggressive posture has undermined the existing Minsk-Normandy diplomatic process.

Zelensky’s recent statement that “panic” in Western capitals is economically destabilizing Ukraine suggests that he may now be more aware of the pitfalls in the more confrontational path his government adopted, with U.S. encouragement.

The current crisis should be a wake-up call to all involved that the Minsk-Normandy process remains the only viable framework for a peaceful resolution in Ukraine. It deserves full international support, including from U.S. Members of Congress, especially in light of broken promises on NATO expansion, the U.S. role in the 2014 coup, and now the panic over fears of a Russian invasion that Ukrainian officials say are overblown.

On a separate, albeit related, diplomatic track, the United States and Russia must urgently address the breakdown in their bilateral relations. Instead of bravado and one upmanship, they must restore and build on previous disarmament agreements that they have cavalierly abandoned, placing the whole world in existential danger.

Restoring U.S. support for the Minsk Protocol and the Normandy Format would also help to decouple Ukraine’s already thorny and complex internal problems from the larger geopolitical problem of NATO expansion, which must primarily be resolved by the United States, Russia and NATO.

The United States and Russia must not use the people of Ukraine as pawns in a revived Cold War or as chips in their negotiations over NATO expansion. Ukrainians of all ethnicities deserve genuine support to resolve their differences and find a way to live together in one country – or to separate peacefully, as other people have been allowed to do in Ireland, Bangladesh, Slovakia and throughout the former U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia.

In 2008, then-U.S. Ambassador to Moscow (now CIA Director) William Burns warned his government that dangling the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine could lead to civil war and present Russia with a crisis on its border in which it could be forced to intervene.

In a cable published by WikiLeaks, Burns wrote, “Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.”

Since Burns’s warning in 2008, successive U.S. administrations have plunged headlong into the crisis he predicted. Members of Congress, especially members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, can play a leading role in restoring sanity to U.S. policy on Ukraine by championing a moratorium on Ukraine’s membership in NATO and a reinvigoration of the Minsk Protocol, which the Trump and Biden administrations have arrogantly tried to upstage and upend with weapons shipments, ultimatums and panic.

OSCE monitoring reports on Ukraine are all headed with the critical message: “Facts Matter.” Members of Congress should embrace that simple principle and educate themselves about the Minsk-Normandy diplomacy. This process has maintained relative peace in Ukraine since 2015, and remains the U.N.-endorsed, internationally agreed-upon framework for a lasting resolution.

If the U.S. government wants to play a constructive role in Ukraine, it should genuinely support this already existing framework for a solution to the crisis, and end the heavy-handed U.S. intervention that has only undermined and delayed its implementation. And our elected officials should start listening to their own constituents, who have absolutely no interest in going to war with Russia.

The post Memo to Congress: Diplomacy for Ukraine Is Spelled M-i-n-s-k first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Combating Islamophobia Act: On Hate Crimes and “Irrational Fears”   

The result of a vote, on December 14, in the US House of Representatives regarding the combating of Islamophobia, may possibly appear to be a positive sign of change, that Washington is finally confronting this socio-political evil. However, conclusions must not be too hasty.

Disquietingly, Congress was nearly split on the vote. While 219 voted in favor of the resolution, 212 voted against it. What is so objectionable about the resolution, which was introduced by Rep. Ilhan Omar, that prompted a ‘nay’ vote by such a large number of American representatives?

The resolution – ‘Combating International Islamophobia Act’ – merely called for establishing the position of a “Special Envoy for monitoring and combating Islamophobia”. Arguably, HR 5665 would have not passed were it not for the embarrassing episode last September, when Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado mouthed off such obscene and racist language, in which she suggested that Rep. Omar was a terrorist.

“So the other night on the House floor was not my first jihad squad moment,” Boebert told a crowd during a campaign event in Staten Island. The other moment, according to Boebert, was when she met Ilhan Omar on an elevator. “What’s happening? I look to my left and there she is, Ilhan Omar, and I said, ‘Well she doesn’t have a backpack, we should be fine,’” suggesting that Omar was a potential bomber.

The fact that Boebert would make such racist references publicly, while being aware of the particular cultural sensitivity that exists in her country at the moment, speaks volumes about the complete disregard that many Americans, whether in power, in the media or on the street, have towards their fellow US Muslim citizens.

However, the disparaging and racist comments, thanks to the tireless efforts of numerous activists throughout the country, made enough impact that helped register a semi-official indictment of such despicable behavior. Of course, much more work would have to be done to convince the 212 objecting representatives that degrading and discriminating against their own people because of religion, culture or attire must not be tolerated.

Whether HR 5665 would prove decisive in condemning Islamophobia or holding Islamophobes accountable, is a different story. Hence, we must not hesitate to confront the term itself, the misleading reference that what Muslims in the US and throughout the world are experiencing is some kind of a pathological phenomenon, that of fear, itself instigated, as some suggest, by Muslims themselves.

Anti-Muslims are outright racists. Though Islam is a religion, in the mind of these racists, Islam is affiliated with brown and black-skinned people and, therefore, the hate of Islam and Muslims is part of the anti-black racism that continues to define many parts of the world, especially the US and Europe.

Anti-Muslims are also capable of being criminals, as numbers have shown that the so-called Islamophobia has resulted in mass killing, as was the case in Canada, New Zealand and the UK.

Less reported than these horrific massacres are thousands of incidents where Muslims are targeted because of their religion, cultural symbols and values.

According to a report released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) last July, hundreds of Anti-Muslim incidents have been reported throughout the country in the first half of 2021. These incidents range from hate crimes, hate speech, targeting mosques and Muslim children being bullied at school.

The US is not the only Western country where Anti-Muslim bias and hate crimes are on the rise. Canada, too, which has witnessed the horrific January 2017 attack on the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec – in which six Muslims were killed and 19 others wounded – is equally culpable.

According to a report by the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) in September, Anti-Muslim incidents in Canada are growing exponentially. Fatema Abdalla, NCCM’s communication coordinator, described Anti-Muslim hate in Canada as “systemic”. “Not only is it growing, but it’s also evolving,” she told Global News, following the release of the report.

Like in the US, Anti-Muslim hate is also fueled by politicians, but not just any politician. In 2015, for example, Canada’s then Prime Minister Stephen Harper pushed to establish a “barbaric cultural practices hotline” where Canadians would be able to call the police to report the ‘disturbing rituals’ of their neighbors. The reference was widely understood to be targeting Muslims, especially as equally disturbing Anti-Muslim measures were proposed, or enacted, in Canada during that period.

Similarly, in the UK and the rest of Europe, Anti-Muslim bias and hate crimes were reported, based on extensive studies and research as well as experiences of ordinary Muslims on a daily basis.

While the vote in Congress to ‘monitor and combat Islamophobia’ is a positive step, the urgency of the situation demands not just symbolic gestures, but the outright criminalization and prosecution of Anti-Muslim hate crimes.

It is time that we stop perceiving ‘Islamophobes’ as people with irrational or, in the mind of some, rational, fear of Muslims – similar to ‘claustrophobia’, ‘arachnophobia’, or ‘agoraphobia’. Indeed, rarely do people in the latter categories gun down innocent people in the street to overcome their fears. Anti-Muslim hate is real and the racists behind it must be punished for their words and actions, as all racists surely deserve.

The post The Combating Islamophobia Act: On Hate Crimes and “Irrational Fears”    first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Trump Thinks He’s Still President: What Is the Evidence?

Donald Trump thinks he’s still president according to no more reliable a source than Rachel Maddow on her February 5th show. This was confirmed in May by Vanity Fair.  Right-wing conspiracy theorists echo this analysis as recently as this month. Left-liberals are smugly confident that Kamala Harris’s running mate is in the White House, snoozing in the presidential bedroom. Inquiring minds ask what is the evidence nearly a year into the alleged Biden presidency that there has been a change of guard in Washington?

+The Obama-Biden union card check proposal was not on Mr. Trump’s political horizon, nor is it on that of the current occupant in the White House.

+The current occupant is ramping up Trump’s unhinged Sino-phobic hallucinations, sanctioning 34 Chinese entities for development of “brain-control weaponry.” Not that the Chinese have been angels. In an egregious suppression of freedom of information, the inscrutable Orientals have made it more difficult for US spies to operate in their country.

+The current occupant nominally withdrew US troops from Afghanistan as negotiated by Mr. Trump, presumably reducing overall military costs. Yet, he continues the Trump-trajectory of lavishing billions of dollars more on the military than even the Pentagon requests.

+Given his priority to feed the war machine, the new occupant is having a hard time finding sufficient funds for Biden-promised student debt forgiveness. Ditto for making two years of community college tuition-free.

+ President Trump slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%; candidate Biden vowed to raise it to 28%; the current occupant proposed a further cut to 15%.

Biden, while campaigning in 2019, pledged to wealthy donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he’s elected. And nothing has changed despite recent drama in the Senate over Build Back Better. Trump’s $4.5 trillion corporate-investor tax cut still appears secure.

+Raising the federal minimum wage to $15-an-hour from $7.25, where it has languished since 2009, was a big selling point for the Biden campaign. Now it is on hold, while billionaire fortunes balloon, leaving the working class broke but woke under the current administration.

+The Obama-Biden nuclear deal with Iran was gutted by Trump. The current occupant, contrary to Biden’s campaign utterances, has not returned to the conditions of the JCPOA. Rather, he has continued Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy against Iran.

+Candidate Biden, calling for a foreign policy based on diplomacy, criticized Trump’s dangerous and erratic war mongering. Yet only a month after his inauguration, the new president capriciously bombed “Iranian-backed militias” in Syria who were fighting ISIS terrorists and posed no threat to the US.

The new president went on to authorize further “air strikes” on “targets” around the world such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Now, the undiscriminating reader might think these are acts of war. But war, according to the “rules-based order” of the new occupant, is best understood as a conflict where US lives are lost rather than those of seemingly more expendable swarthy-skinned foreigners.

+The Obama-Biden normalization of relations with Cuba and easing of restrictions were reversed by Trump. Presidential candidate Biden had signaled a return, but the current occupant has instead intensified the US hybrid war against Cuba.

+Candidate Biden pledged to review Trump’s policy of US sanctions against a third of humanity. The presumptive intention of the review was to ameliorate the human suffering caused by these unilateral coercive measures. Sanctions are a form of collective punishment considered illegal under international law. Following the review, the current occupant has instead tightened the screws, more effectively weaponizing the COVID crisis against countries such as Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela, while adding Ethiopia and Cambodia to the growing list of those sanctioned.

+Among Trump’s most ridiculous foreign policy stunts (and it’s a competitive field) was the recognition of Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela in 2019. The then 35-year-old US security asset had never run for a nationwide office and was unknown to over 80% of the Venezuelans. Contrary to campaign trail inuendoes that Biden would dialogue with the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, the new guy in the White House has continued the embarrassing Guaidó charade.

+The current White House occupant has also continued and expanded on some of the worse anti-immigrant policies of the xenophobe who preceded him. Asylum seekers from Haiti and Central America – fleeing conditions in large part created by US interventions in their countries – have been sent packing. Within a month of assuming the presidency, migrant detention facilities for children were employed, contradicting statements made by candidate Biden who had deplored locking kids in cages.

+President Trump was a shameless global warming denier. Candidate Biden was a refreshing true believer, boldly calling for a ban on new oil and natural gas leasing on public land and water. But whoever is now in the Oval Office opened more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for fossil fuel drilling.

Perhaps the strongest evidence that Trump is practically still in office is the political practice of his left-liberal detractors who solemnly promised to “first dump Trump, then battle Biden.” However, these left-liberals are still obsessing about dumping Trump. Instead of battling Biden, they are fanning the dying embers of the fear of another January 6 insurrection, giving the Democrats a pass.

Of course, the Democrats occupy the executive branch along with holding majorities and both houses of Congress. Yet, despite campaign pledges and spin, the continuity from one administration to the next is overarching as the preceding quick review documented.

The partisan infighting theatrics of the “dysfunctional Congress” is in part a distraction from an underlying bedrock bipartisan consensus. Congress is dysfunctional by design on matters of social welfare for working Americans. It is ruthlessly functional for matters of concern for the ruling elites, such as the military spending, bank bailouts, corporate welfare, and an expansive surveillance state.

The Democrats offer an empty “we are not Trump” alternative. The bankrupt left-liberals no longer stand for substantial improvements to the living conditions of working people, a “peace dividend,” or respite from war without end. Instead, they use the scare tactic that they are the bulwark against a right popular insurgency; an insurgency fueled in the first place by the failure of the two-party system to speak to the material needs of its constituents.

The post Trump Thinks He’s Still President: What Is the Evidence? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Ten Contradictions That Plague Biden’s Democracy Summit

Protest by students in Thailand. AP

President Biden’s virtual Summit for Democracy on December 9-10 is part of a campaign to restore the United States’ standing in the world, which took such a beating under President Trump’s erratic foreign policies. Biden hopes to secure his place at the head of the “Free World” table by coming out as a champion for human rights and democratic practices worldwide.

The greater possible value of this gathering of 111 countries is that it could instead serve as an “intervention,” or an opportunity for people and governments around the world to express their concerns about the flaws in U.S. democracy and the undemocratic way the United States deals with the rest of the world. Here are just a few issues that should be considered:

(1)  The U.S. claims to be a leader in global democracy at a time when its own already deeply flawed democracy is crumbling, as evidenced by the shocking January 6 assault on the nation’s Capitol. On top of the systemic problem of a duopoly that keeps other political parties locked out and the obscene influence of money in politics, the U.S. electoral system is being further eroded by the increasing tendency to contest credible election results and widespread efforts to suppress voter participation (19 states have enacted 33 laws that make it more difficult for citizens to vote).

A broad global ranking of countries by various measures of democracy puts the U.S. at # 33, while the U.S. government-funded Freedom House ranks the United States at # 61 in the world for political freedom and civil liberties, on a par with Mongolia, Panama and Romania.

(2)  The unspoken U.S. agenda at this “summit” is to demonize and isolate China and Russia. But if we agree that democracies should be judged by how they treat their people, then why is the U.S. Congress failing to pass a bill to provide basic services like health care, child care, housing and education, which are guaranteed to most Chinese citizens for free or at minimal cost?

And consider China’s extraordinary success in relieving poverty. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “Every time I visit China, I am stunned by the speed of change and progress. You have created one of the most dynamic economies in the world, while helping more than 800 million people to lift themselves out of poverty – the greatest anti-poverty achievement in history.”

China has also far surpassed the U.S. in dealing with the pandemic. Little wonder a Harvard University report found that over 90% of the Chinese people like their government. One would think that China’s extraordinary domestic achievements would make the Biden administration a bit more humble about its “one-size-fits-all” concept of democracy.

(3)  The climate crisis and the pandemic are a wake-up call for global cooperation, but this Summit is transparently designed to exacerbate divisions. The Chinese and Russian ambassadors to Washington have publicly accused the United States of staging the summit to stoke ideological confrontation and divide the world into hostile camps, while China held a competing International Democracy Forum with 120 countries the weekend before the U.S. summit.

Inviting the government of Taiwan to the U.S. summit further erodes the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, in which the United States acknowledged the One-China policy and agreed to cut back military installations on Taiwan.

Also invited is the corrupt anti-Russian government installed by the 2014 U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine, which reportedly has half its military forces poised to invade the self-declared People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine, who declared independence in response to the 2014 coup. The U.S. and NATO have so far supported this major escalation of a civil war that already killed 14,000 people.

(4)  The U.S. and its Western allies—the self-anointed leaders of human rights—just happen to be the major suppliers of weapons and training to some of the world’s most vicious dictators. Despite its verbal commitment to human rights, the Biden administration and Congress recently approved a $650 million weapons deal for Saudi Arabia at a time when this repressive kingdom is bombing and starving the people of Yemen.

Heck, the administration even uses U.S. tax dollars to “donate” weapons to dictators, like General Sisi in Egypt, who oversees a regime with thousands of political prisoners, many of whom have been tortured. Of course, these U.S. allies were not invited to the Democracy Summit—that would be too embarrassing.

(5)  Perhaps someone should inform Biden that the right to survive is a basic human right. The right to food is recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of the right to an adequate standard of living, and is enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

So why is the U.S. imposing brutal sanctions on countries from Venezuela to North Korea that are causing inflation, scarcity, and malnutrition among children? Former UN special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas has blasted the United States for engaging in “economic warfare” and compared its illegal unilateral sanctions to medieval sieges. No country that purposely denies children the right to food and starves them to death can call itself a champion of democracy.

(6)   Since the United States was defeated by the Taliban and withdrew its occupation forces from Afghanistan, it is acting as a very sore loser and reneging on basic international and humanitarian commitments. Certainly Taliban rule in Afghanistan is a setback for human rights, especially for women, but pulling the plug on Afghanistan’s economy is catastrophic for the entire nation.

The United States is denying the new government access to billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves held in U.S. banks, causing a collapse in the banking system. Hundreds of thousands of public servants have not been paid. The UN is warning that millions of Afghans are at risk of starving to death this winter as the result of these coercive measures by the United States and its allies.

(7)  It’s telling that the Biden administration had such a difficult time finding Middle Eastern countries to invite to the summit. The United States just spent 20 years and $8 trillion trying to impose its brand of democracy on the Middle East and Afghanistan, so you’d think it would have a few proteges to showcase.

But no. In the end, they could only agree to invite the state of Israel, an apartheid regime that enforces Jewish supremacy over all the land it occupies, legally or otherwise. Embarrassed to have no Arab states attending, the Biden administration added Iraq, whose unstable government has been racked by corruption and sectarian divisions ever since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Its brutal security forces have killed over 600 demonstrators since huge anti-government protests began in 2019.

(8)  What, pray tell, is democratic about the U.S. gulag at Guantánamo Bay? The U.S. Government opened the Guantanamo detention center in January 2002 as a way to circumvent the rule of law as it kidnapped and jailed people without trial after the crimes of September 11, 2001. Since then, 780 men have been detained there. Very few were charged with any crime or confirmed as combatants, but still they were tortured, held for years without charges, and never tried.

This gross violation of human rights continues, with most of the 39 remaining detainees never even charged with a crime. Yet this country that has locked up hundreds of innocent men with no due process for up to 20 years still claims the authority to pass judgment on the legal processes of other countries, in particular on China’s efforts to cope with Islamist radicalism and terrorism among its Uighur minority.

(9)  With the recent investigations into the March 2019 U.S. bombing in Syria that left 70 civilians dead and the drone strike that killed an Afghan family of ten in August 2021, the truth of massive civilian casualties in U.S. drone strikes and airstrikes is gradually emerging, as well as how these war crimes have perpetuated and fueled the “war on terror,” instead of winning or ending it.

If this was a real democracy summit, whistleblowers like Daniel Hale, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, who have risked so much to expose the reality of U.S. war crimes to the world, would be honored guests at the summit instead of political prisoners in the American gulag.

(10)  The United States picks and chooses countries as “democracies” on an entirely self-serving basis. But in the case of Venezuela, it has gone even farther and invited an imaginary U.S.-appointed “president” instead of the country’s actual government.

The Trump administration anointed Juan Guaidó as “president” of Venezuela, and Biden invited him to the summit, but Guaidó is neither a president nor a democrat, and he boycotted parliamentary elections in 2020 and regional elections in 2021. But Guaido did come tops in one recent opinion poll, with the highest public disapproval of any opposition figure in Venezuela at 83%, and the lowest approval rating at 13%.

Guaidó named himself “interim president” (without any legal mandate) in 2019, and launched a failed coup against the elected government of Venezuela. When all his U.S.-backed efforts to overthrow the government failed, Guaidó signed off on a mercenary invasion which failed even more spectacularly. The European Union no longer recognizes Guaido’s claim to the presidency, and his “interim foreign minister” recently resigned, accusing Guaidó of corruption.

Conclusion

Just as the people of Venezuela have not elected or appointed Juan Guaidó as their president, the people of the world have not elected or appointed the United States as the president or leader of all Earthlings.

When the United States emerged from the Second World War as the strongest economic and military power in the world, its leaders had the wisdom not to claim such a role. Instead they brought the whole world together to form the United Nations, on the principles of sovereign equality, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, a universal commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes and a prohibition on the threat or use of force against each other.

The United States enjoyed great wealth and international power under the UN system it devised. But in the post-Cold War era, power-hungry U.S. leaders came to see the UN Charter and the rule of international law as obstacles to their insatiable ambitions. They belatedly staked a claim to universal global leadership and dominance, relying on the threat and use of force that the UN Charter prohibits. The results have been catastrophic for millions of people in many countries, including Americans.

Since the United States has invited its friends from around the world to this ”democracy summit,” maybe they can use the occasion to try to persuade their bomb-toting friend to recognize that its bid for unilateral global power has failed, and that it should instead make a real commitment to peace, cooperation and international democracy under the rules-based order of the UN Charter.

The post Ten Contradictions That Plague Biden’s Democracy Summit first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How Congress Loots the Treasury for the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex

Despite a disagreement over some amendments in the Senate, the United States Congress is poised to pass a $778 billion military budget bill for 2022. As they have been doing year after year, our elected officials are preparing to hand the lion’s share – over 65% – of federal discretionary spending to the U.S. war machine, even as they wring their hands over spending a mere quarter of that amount on the Build Back Better Act.

The U.S. military’s incredible record of systematic failure—most recently its final trouncing by the Taliban after twenty years of death, destruction and lies in Afghanistan—cries out for a top-to-bottom review of its dominant role in U.S. foreign policy and a radical reassessment of its proper place in Congress’s budget priorities.

Instead, year after year, members of Congress hand over the largest share of our nation’s resources to this corrupt institution, with minimal scrutiny and no apparent fear of accountability when it comes to their own reelection. Members of Congress still see it as a “safe” political call to carelessly whip out their rubber-stamps and vote for however many hundreds of billions in funding Pentagon and arms industry lobbyists have persuaded the Armed Services Committees they should cough up.

Let’s make no mistake about this: Congress’s choice to keep investing in a massive, ineffective and absurdly expensive war machine has nothing to do with “national security” as most people understand it, or “defense” as the dictionary defines it.

U.S. society does face critical threats to our security, including the climate crisis, systemic racism, erosion of voting rights, gun violence, grave inequalities and the corporate hijacking of political power. But one problem we fortunately do not have is the threat of attack or invasion by a rampant global aggressor or, in fact, by any other country at all.

Maintaining a war machine that outspends the 12 or 13 next largest militaries in the world combined actually makes us less safe, as each new administration inherits the delusion that the United States’ overwhelmingly destructive military power can, and therefore should, be used to confront any perceived challenge to U.S. interests anywhere in the world—even when there is clearly no military solution and when many of the underlying problems were caused by past misapplications of U.S. military power in the first place.

While the international challenges we face in this century require a genuine commitment to international cooperation and diplomacy, Congress allocates only $58 billion, less than 10 percent of the Pentagon budget, to the diplomatic corps of our government: the State Department even worse, both Democratic and Republican administrations keep filling top diplomatic posts with officials indoctrinated and steeped in policies of war and coercion, with scant experience and meager skills in the peaceful diplomacy we so desperately need.

This only perpetuates a failed foreign policy based on false choices between economic sanctions that UN officials have compared to medieval sieges, coups that destabilize countries and regions for decades, and wars and bombing campaigns that kill millions of people and leave cities in rubble, like Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

The end of the Cold War was a golden opportunity for the United States to reduce its forces and military budget to match its legitimate defense needs. The American public naturally expected and hoped for a “Peace Dividend,” and even veteran Pentagon officials told the Senate Budget Committee in 1991 that military spending could safely be cut by 50% over the next ten years.

But no such cut happened. U.S. officials instead set out to exploit the post-Cold War “Power Dividend,” a huge military imbalance in favor of the United States, by developing rationales for using military force more freely and widely around the world. During the transition to the new Clinton administration, Madeleine Albright famously asked Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

In 1999, as Secretary of State under President Clinton, Albright got her wish, running roughshod over the UN Charter with an illegal war to carve out an independent Kosovo from the ruins of Yugoslavia.

The UN Charter clearly prohibits the threat or use of military force except in cases of self-defense or when the UN Security Council takes military action “to maintain or restore international peace and security.” This was neither. When U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Albright his government was “having trouble with our lawyers” over NATO’s illegal war plan, Albright crassly told him to “get new lawyers.”

Twenty-two years later, Kosovo is the third-poorest country in Europe (after Moldova and post-coup Ukraine) and its independence is still not recognized by 96 countries. Hashim Thaçi, Albright’s hand-picked main ally in Kosovo and later its president, is awaiting trial in an international court at the Hague, charged with murdering at least 300 civilians under cover of NATO bombing in 1999 to extract and sell their internal organs on the international transplant market.

Clinton and Albright’s gruesome and illegal war set the precedent for more illegal U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, with equally devastating and horrific results. But America’s failed wars have not led Congress or successive administrations to seriously rethink the U.S. decision to rely on illegal threats and uses of military force to project U.S. power all over the world, nor have they reined in the trillions of dollars invested in these imperial ambitions.

Instead, in the upside-down world of institutionally corrupt U.S. politics, a generation of failed and pointlessly destructive wars have had the perverse effect of normalizing even more expensive military budgets than during the Cold War, and reducing congressional debate to questions of how many more of each useless weapons system they should force U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill for.

It seems that no amount of killing, torture, mass destruction or lives ruined in the real world can shake the militaristic delusions of America’s political class, as long as the “Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex” (President Eisenhower’s original wording) is reaping the benefits.

Today, most political and media references to the Military-Industrial Complex refer only to the arms industry as a self-serving corporate interest group on a par with Wall Street, Big Pharma or the fossil fuel industry. But in his Farewell Address, Eisenhower explicitly pointed to, not just the arms industry, but the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry.”

Eisenhower was just as worried about the anti-democratic impact of the military as the arms industry. Weeks before his Farewell Address, he told his senior advisors, “God help this country when somebody sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do.” His fears have been realized in every subsequent presidency.

According to Milton Eisenhower, the president’s brother, who helped him draft his Farewell Address, Ike also wanted to talk about the “revolving door.” Early drafts of his speech referred to “a permanent, war-based industry,” with “flag and general officers retiring at an early age to take positions in the war-based industrial complex, shaping its decisions and guiding the direction of its tremendous thrust.” He wanted to warn that steps must be taken to “insure that the ‘merchants of death’ do not come to dictate national policy.”

As Eisenhower feared, the careers of figures like Generals Austin and Mattis now span all branches of the corrupt MIC conglomerate: commanding invasion and occupation forces in Afghanistan and Iraq; then donning suits and ties to sell weapons to new generals who served under them as majors and colonels; and finally re-emerging from the same revolving door as cabinet members at the apex of American politics and government.

So why does the Pentagon brass get a free pass, even as Americans feel increasingly conflicted about the arms industry? After all, it is the military that actually uses all these weapons to kill people and wreak havoc in other countries.

Even as it loses war after war overseas, the U.S. military has waged a far more successful one to burnish its image in the hearts and minds of Americans and win every budget battle in Washington.

The complicity of Congress, the third leg of the stool in Eisenhower’s original formulation, turns the annual battle of the budget into the “cakewalk” that the war in Iraq was supposed to be, with no accountability for lost wars, war crimes, civilian massacres, cost overruns or the dysfunctional military leadership that presides over it all.

There is no congressional debate over the economic impact on America or the geopolitical consequences for the world of uncritically rubber-stamping huge investments in powerful weapons that will sooner or later be used to kill our neighbors and smash their countries, as they have for the past 22 years and far too often throughout our history.

If the public is ever to have any impact on this dysfunctional and deadly money-go-round, we must learn to see through the fog of propaganda that masks self-serving corruption behind red, white and blue bunting, and allows the military brass to cynically exploit the public’s natural respect for brave young men and women who are ready to risk their lives to defend our country. In the Crimean War, the Russians called British troops “lions led by donkeys.” That is an accurate description of today’s U.S. military.

Sixty years after Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, exactly as he predicted, the “weight of this combination” of corrupt generals and admirals, the profitable “merchants of death” whose goods they peddle, and the Senators and Representatives who blindly entrust them with trillions of dollars of the public’s money, constitute the full flowering of President Eisenhower’s greatest fears for our country.

Eisenhower concluded, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals.” That clarion call echoes through the decades and should unite Americans in every form of democratic organizing and movement building, from elections to education and advocacy to mass protests, to finally reject and dispel the “unwarranted influence” of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex.

 

 

The post How Congress Loots the Treasury for the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex first appeared on Dissident Voice.

US Politics: We need a Transformation

As if we needed any more evidence of the sorry state of our political system, the long-running battle over the ‘Build Back Better’ bill has provided it. As Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out, an early version of this bill included many proposals that would help Americans live with a sense of security. In addition, these proposals were strongly supported by the US population.

Among these many items were negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to lower the obscenely high drug prices, universal Preschool for all 3- and 4-year olds, support for paid family and medical leave, and the expansion of Medicare to include dental care, hearing aids and glasses. Particularly popular with the public, the funding for this bill would come from taxes and legislative changes affecting the super wealthy who have benefited enormously from previous legislation (including gigantic bailouts) from Congress and the White House.

The corporate media reported this version of the bill had a price tag of $3.5 trillion, but failed to emphasize that this cost was spread over a 10-year period, or $350 billion per year. Many politicians opposed this bill, claiming that the cost was too high.

However, these same politicians didn’t bat an eye at giving about $715 billion a year or, assuming the same funding level, over $7 trillion for 10 years to the US military. It didn’t matter that the military has not passed an annual independent audit since Congress first mandated the audit for federal agencies in 1990. In addition, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the US spending on its military is greater than the sum of the next 11 nations combined and most of these countries are our allies.

In 1957, General Douglas MacArthur, a leading US military figure during the 20th century and hardly a peacenik, explained the support for increasing military budgets:

Our swollen budgets constantly have been misrepresented to the public. Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear … with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.

The situation is worse today than the one President Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address when he pointed out the dangers of the military-industrial complex. The media, universities and think tanks now are also part of this complex and provide even more lobbying clout.

An investigation by Brown University researchers estimated that the cost of US global war on terror since 9/11 at $8 trillion with direct responsibility for about 900,000 deaths. Clearly this war has been counterproductive for the US image around the world. In addition, its illegal attacks have also caused enormous unnecessary devastation and loss of lives particularly in the Middle East. Making matters worse, these illegal interventions, particularly the war crimes committed against Iraq, had very little to do with direct US interests. What a waste of resources! The financial cost to the US would be even far higher if the US were required to pay reparations for the devastation its war crimes caused.

Yet Congress continues to generously fund the Pentagon and to enrich the merchants of death while it is a miser to agencies that actually help the American public achieve the necessities of life. These necessities include housing, education, health care, food, etc. People living in much of Western Europe live much more secure lives having had these necessities for decades. Clearly our system of legalized bribery of politicians enriches the wealthy at the public’s expense.

It is terrible that two recalcitrant Democratic senators have been able to eliminate many of the important items included in the previous version of the Act such that it now costs about $185 billion/year. It is possible that the bill’s costs will be further reduced as other provisions are stripped away. What is even worse is the role of partisan politics where not even one Republican senator will stand up for the security of their fellow Americans and support the Act. What happened to the idea of standing up for the public interest? Do they prefer to see the public continue to suffer rather than to allow the other party to claim success? This system of legalized bribery and intense partisanship is a system that dooms us to disaster.

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Congress, Skulduggery and the Assange Case

Is the imperium showing suspicions about its intended quarry?  It is hard to believe it, but the US House Intelligence Committee is on a mission of discovery.  Its subject: a Yahoo News report disclosing much material that was already in the public domain on the plot to kidnap or, failing that, poison Julian Assange.  Given that such ideas were aired by officials within the Central Intelligence Agency, this struck home.  On the Yahoo News “Skulduggery” podcast, Committee chairman and Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said, “We are seeking information about it now.”

Making sure to put himself in the clear of having any knowledge of plans against Assange, Schiff claimed that the committee had sought a response from “the agencies” (the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence) after the publication of the Yahoo News piece.  As to whether the agencies had responded, Schiff was not forthcoming.  “I can’t comment on what we’ve heard back yet.”

This modest effort might show that Schiff is growing a conscience regarding the US case against the founder of WikiLeaks, centred on charges relating to espionage and computer intrusion.  If so, it is a bit late coming, given ample evidence that US intelligence services not only conducted surveillance on Assange while he was in the Ecuadorian embassy in London but contemplated his potential abduction and assassination.

Had the dozing Schiff cast an eye on last year’s extradition hearings mounted by the US Justice Department in the UK, he would have been privy to the efforts of the Spanish private security firm UC Global, hired by US intelligence operatives, to conduct operations against Assange.  But such humble representatives should not be expected to keep abreast of the news, even as members of a House Intelligence Committee.

For the rest of us who do, one of the former employees of the Spanish company gave testimony at the Old Bailey claiming that he had been asked to pilfer “a nappy of a baby which according to the company’s security personnel deployed at the embassy, regularly visited Mr Assange”.  As UC Global’s CEO David Morales, currently the subject of a criminal investigation in Spain, explained, “the Americans wanted to establish paternity”.  In December 2017, Assange’s lengthy stay at the embassy was proving so irritating that the “Americans … had even suggested that more extreme measures should be deployed against the ‘guest’ to put an end to the situation”.  One way of doing so would be staging an “accident” that “would allow persons to enter from outside the embassy and kidnap the asylee”.  Very School of the Americas, that.

Congress has shown some gurgling interest in dropping the case against Assange.  House Resolution 1175, sponsored by then Democrat House Representative Tulsi Gabbard, expressed “the sense of the House of Representatives that newsgathering activities are protected under the First Amendment, and that the United States should drop all charges against and attempts to extradite Julian Assange.”  On the Republican side, former US Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has also become a convert.  “I made a mistake some years ago, not supporting Julian Assange – thinking that he was a bad guy.”  Since then, she had “learned a lot”. “He deserves a pardon.”

The phalanx of civil society groups is also urging US Attorney General Merrick Garland to stop the prosecution. On October 15, Garland received a letter signed by 25 organisations including the ACLU, PEN America and Human Rights Watch, raising the US intelligence efforts against Assange as imperilling the case.  “The Yahoo News story only heightens our concerns about the motivations behind this prosecution and about the dangerous precedent that is being set.”  As the joint signatories had stated in a previous letter in February, “News organizations frequently and necessarily publish classified information in order to inform the public of matters of profound significance.”

Unfortunately, a good number of the US political classes remain vengefully eager.  Many Democrats will never forgive Assange for releasing the Podesta emails and compromising Hillary Clinton’s shoddy electoral campaign in 2016.  The former CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds up the Republican line, having designated WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”.

And no one should forget that the current US President Joe Biden sought the head of WikiLeaks in a manner that was almost childishly enthusiastic while he was Vice President in the Obama administration.  “We are looking at that right now,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press in December 2010.  “The Justice department is taking a look at that.”  Assange exposed and therefore, we depose.  It took some of the more sober individuals in the Obama administration to throw cold water on the effort, arguing that any prosecution of WikiLeaks raised thorny First Amendment issues.  You go for this Australian’s scalp, then where do we stop?  The editorial staff of the New York Times?  The news foragers at the Washington Post?  The opportunities were endlessly dangerous.

The US prosecution of Assange, centred on that First World War relic of suppression called the Espionage Act, is about to enter its next phase in what can only be described as torture via procedure.  (To date, Assange has been refused bail and left to languish in Belmarsh Prison.)  In the UK High Court, prosecutors are hoping to overturn the findings made by Judge Vanessa Baraitser in her January 4 ruling against extradition, impugning expert evidence on Assange’s mental health and the court’s assessment of it.  These grounds are almost criminally flimsy, but then again, so is this entire effort against this daring, revolutionary publisher.  Assange’s defence team will have much to work with, though Schiff and his colleagues may be asleep as matters unfold.

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Racial Justice Vs. The Israel Lobby: When Being Pro-Palestine Becomes the New Normal  

There is an unmistakable shift in American politics regarding Palestine and Israel, a change that is inspired by the way in which many Americans, especially the youth, view the Palestinian struggle and the Israeli occupation. While this shift is yet to translate into tangibly diminishing Israel’s stronghold over the US Congress, it promises to be of great consequence in the coming years.

Recent events at the US House of Representatives clearly demonstrate this unprecedented reality. On September 21, Democratic lawmakers successfully rejected a caveat that proposes to give Israel $1 billion in military funding as part of a broader spending bill, after objections from several progressive Congress members. The money was specifically destined to fund the purchase of new batteries and interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

Two days later, the funding of the Iron Dome was reintroduced and, this time, it has successfully, and overwhelmingly, passed with a vote of 420 to 9, despite passionate pleas by Palestinian-American Representative, Rashida Tlaib.

In the second vote, only eight Democrats opposed the measure. The ninth opposing vote was cast by a member of the Republican party, Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

Though she was one of the voices that blocked the funding measure on September 21, Democratic Representative, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, switched her vote at the very last minute to “present”, creating confusion and generating anger among her supporters.

As for Massie, his defiance of the Republican consensus generated him the title of “Antisemite of the Week” by a notorious pro-Israel organization called ‘Stop Antisemitism’.

Despite the outcome of the tussle, the fact that such an episode has even taken place in Congress was a historic event requiring much reflection. It means that speaking out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine is no longer taboo among elected US politicians.

Once upon a time, speaking out against Israel in Congress generated a massive and well-organized backlash from the pro-Israeli lobby, especially the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), that, in the past, ended promising political careers, even those of veteran politicians. A combination of media smear tactics, support of rivals and outright threats often sealed the fate of the few dissenting Congress members.

While AIPAC and its sister organizations continue to follow the same old tactic, the overall strategy is hardly as effective as it once was. Members of the Squad, young Representatives who often speak out against Israel and in support of Palestine, were introduced to the 2019 Congress. With a few exceptions, they remained largely consistent in their position in support of Palestinian rights and, despite intense efforts by the Israeli lobby, they were all reelected in 2020. The historic lesson here is that being critical of Israel in the US Congress is no longer a guarantor of a decisive electoral defeat; on the contrary, in some instances, it is quite the opposite.

The fact that 420 members of the House voted to provide Israel with additional funds – to be added to the annual funds of $3.8 billion – reflects the same unfortunate reality of old, that, thanks to the relentless biased corporate media coverage, most American constituencies continue to support Israel.

However, the loosening grip of the lobby over the US Congress offers unique opportunities for the pro-Palestinian constituencies to finally place pressure on their Representatives, demanding accountability and balance. These opportunities are not only created by new, youthful voices in America’s democratic institutions, but by the rapidly shifting public opinion, as well.

For decades, the vast majority of Americans supported Israel. The reasons behind this support varied, depending on the political framing as communicated by US officials and media. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, Tel Aviv was viewed as a stalwart ally of Washington against Communism. In later years, new narratives were fabricated to maintain Israel’s positive image in the eyes of ordinary Americans. The US so-called ‘war on terror’, declared in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, for example, positioned Israel as an American ally against ‘Islamic extremism’, painting resisting Palestinians as ‘terrorists’, thus giving the Israeli occupation of Palestine a moral facade.

However, new factors have destabilized this paradigm. One is the fact that support for Israel has become a divisive issue in the US’ increasingly tumultuous and combative politics, where most Republicans support Israel and most Democrats don’t.

Moreover, as racial justice has grown to become one of the most defining and emotive subjects in American politics, many Americans began seeing the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation from the prism of millions of Americans’ own fight for racial equality. The fact that the social media hashtag #PalestinianLivesMatter continues to trend daily alongside the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter speaks of a success story where communal solidarity and intersectionality have prevailed over selfish politics, where only money matters.

Millions of young Americans now see the struggle in Palestine as integral to the anti-racist fight in America; no amount of pro-Israeli lobbying in Congress can possibly shift this unmistakable trend. There are plenty of numbers that attest to these claims. One of many examples is the University of Maryland’s public opinion poll in July, which showed that more than half of polled Americans disapproved of President Joe Biden’s handling of the Israeli war on Gaza in May 2021, believing that he could have done more to stop the Israeli aggression.

Of course, courageous US politicians dared to speak out against Israel in the past. However, there is a marked difference between previous generations and the current one. In American politics today, there are politicians who are elected because of their strong stance for Palestine and, by deviating from their election promises, they risk the ire of the growing pro-Palestine constituency throughout the country. This changing reality is finally making it possible to nurture and sustain pro-Palestinian presence in US Congress.

In other words, speaking out for Palestine in America is no longer a charitable and rare occurrence. As the future will surely reveal, it is the “politically correct” thing to do.

The post Racial Justice Vs. The Israel Lobby: When Being Pro-Palestine Becomes the New Normal   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Iron Dome: Don’t be deceived, US aid to Israel is not about saving lives

Battles in the US Congress that erupted again this week, holding up an extra $1bn in military funding for Israel, underscored just how divorced from reality the conversation about US financial aid to Israel has become, even among many critics.

For 48 hours last month, a small group of progressive Democrats in the US House of Representatives succeeded in sabotaging a measure to pick up the bill for Israel to replenish its Iron Dome interception missiles. The Iron Dome system was developed by Israel, with generous financial backing from successive US administrations, in the wake of the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Today, it ostensibly serves to protect Israel from short-range, largely improvised rockets fired intermittently out of Gaza.

Supplies of the Iron Dome missiles, each of which cost at least $50,000, were depleted back in May, when Israel triggered widespread confrontations with Palestinians by intensifying its settlement of Palestinian neighbourhoods near Jerusalem’s Old City and violently raiding al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinian militant groups fired large numbers of rockets out of Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel for the past 15 years. Iron Dome intercepted the rockets before they could land in Israel.

The group of progressive Democrats, known popularly as the Squad, scotched an initial move by their congressional leadership to include the $1bn assistance to Israel in US budget legislation. But the money for Iron Dome was quickly reintroduced as a stand-alone bill that passed overwhelmingly, with 420 votes in favour and nine against. Two representatives, one of them the prominent Squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,  voted “present” – counting effectively as an abstention.

This week, the furore moved to the Senate when Rand Paul, a strong Republican critic of US foreign aid, refused to nod through the bill and thereby give it unanimous assent. It will now need to go through a more complicated legislative process.

The latest funding for Iron Dome comes in addition to the $3.8bn Israel receives annually from the US in military aid, which has made Israel the biggest recipient, by far, of such largesse. Putting the new tranche of Iron Dome aid into perspective, it is twice what Washington contributes annually to Nato’s budget.

The previous administration, under former President Donald Trump, turned US funding for Nato into a big domestic controversy, arguing that the US was shouldering too much of the burden. But there has been barely a peep about the massive military bill the US is footing for Iron Dome.

Debate stifled

The Squad’s main achievement in launching its brief blocking move was to force out into the open the fact that the US is paying for Israel’s stockpile of missiles. Like the House leadership, the Israel lobby had hoped the money could be transferred quietly, without attracting attention.

What little debate did ensue related to whether Israel really needs US military assistance. A few commentators asked why Washington was kitting out one of the richer countries on the planet with missiles in the midst of a pandemic that has hit the US economy hard.

But the lobby quickly stifled a far more important debate about whether the US should be encouraging Israel’s use of Iron Dome at all. Instead, US funding for the interception missile system was presented as being motivated solely by a desire to save lives.

In attacking Paul’s decision to block the bill, the biggest pro-Israel lobby group in Congress, AIPAC, argued this week that his move would “cost innocent lives, make war more likely, and embolden Iran-backed terrorists”.

It was precisely the claim that the Iron Dome is defensive that appeared to push Ocasio-Cortez, usually seen as one of the few US politicians openly critical of Israel, into a corner, leading to her abstention.

Images from the House floor showed her tearful and being given a hug by another representative after the vote. She later attributed her distress in part to how Iron Dome funding had a polarising effect at home, noting that the House bill was a “reckless” move to “rip our communities apart”.

That was an apparent reference to factional tensions within the Democratic Party between, on one side, many Jewish voters who back what they see as Israel’s right to defend itself and, on the other, many Black and Hispanic voters who think it is wrong for the US to financially support Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.

Some saw her indecision as evidence of her ambitions to run for the Senate, where positions critical of Israel would be more likely to damage her prospects of success.

Expiring in silence

In Israel, and in Jewish communities beyond, the conversation about US support for Iron Dome is even more detached from reality. The nine US representatives who voted against were roundly castigated for willing the deaths of Israelis by voting to deny them protection from rockets fired from Gaza. In predictable fashion, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, called those who voted against “either ignorant or antisemitic”.

But some liberals took the argument in a different, even more fanciful direction. They called the Squad “hypocrites” for voting against the $1bn funding, arguing that Iron Dome missiles not only save Israelis, but Palestinians too. One Haaretz commentator went so far as to claim that Palestinians were actually the main beneficiaries of the Iron Dome system, arguing: “The fact Israel has a defensive shield against rocket attacks makes a wide-scale military operation with thousands of – mainly Palestinian – casualties less likely.”

Of course, there is the small question of whether Israel has indeed been “forced” into its attacks on Gaza. It is precisely its military superiority – paid for by the US – that has freed it to carry out those massive attacks, in which large numbers of Palestinians, including hundreds of children, are killed, rather than negotiate an end to its decades-long occupation.

Just as in life, bullies resort to intimidation and violence because they feel no need to compromise. But even more to the point, Iron Dome is central to Israel’s efforts to keep Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza, entirely subjugated and stripped of any power to resist.

With Israel patrolling tiny Gaza’s land borders and coast, sealing off the enclave from the rest of the world, Palestinians have few options to protest their slow starvation – or to gain attention for their plight. Israeli snipers have fired on Palestinians staging unarmed, mass protests at the fence caging them in, killing and wounding thousands. The Israeli navy fires on or sinks Palestinian boats, including fishing boats, in Gaza’s waters if they stray more than a few kilometres from the shore.

Iron Dome, far from being defensive, is another weapon in Israel’s armoury to keep Palestinians subdued, impoverished, corralled and silent. For those claiming to want peace in Israel-Palestine, the extra funding for Iron Dome just made that prospect even less likely. As long as Palestinians can be made to slowly expire in silence – their plight ignored by the rest of the world – Israel is free to seize and colonise yet more of what was supposed to become a future Palestinian state.

Systems of domination

But there is another reason why Ocasio-Cortez should have voted against the Iron Dome resupply, rather than tearfully abstaining – and that is for all our sakes, not just the sake of Palestinians.

The US foots the bill for Iron Dome, just as it does for most of Israel’s other weapons development, for self-interested reasons: because it helps its own war industries, as Washington seeks to maintain its military dominance globally.

With western populations less willing to sacrifice their sons and daughters for the sake of modern wars, which seem less obviously related to defence and more transparently about the control of key resources, the Pentagon has worked overtime to reframe the public debate.

It is hard to disguise its global domination industries as anything but offensive in nature. This is where Israel has played a critical role. Not only has Israel helped to develop weapons systems like Iron Dome, but – despite being a nuclear-armed, belligerent, occupying state – it has leveraged its image as a vulnerable refuge for the long-persecuted Jewish people. It has been able to make more plausible the case that these domination systems really are defensive.

In recent decades, Israel has developed and tested drone technology to surveil and assassinate Palestinians, which has proved invaluable in the US and UK’s long-term occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel’s latest “swarm” technology – making drones even more lethal – may prove particularly attractive to the Pentagon.

Israel has also been the ideal partner for the Pentagon in testing and refining the battlefield use of the new generation of F-35 fighter planes, the most expensivemilitary product in US history. Uniquely, Israel has been allowed to customise the jet, adapting its capabilities in new, unforeseen ways.

Bowing to US hegemony

The F-35’s ultimate role is to make sure major rival airforces, such as Russia’s and China’s, are elbowed out of the skies. And Israel has been at the forefront of developing and testing a variety of missile interception systems, such as Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow, which are intended to destroy incoming projectiles, from short-range rockets to long-range missiles.

Last December, Israel announced it had successfully launched Iron Dome interception missiles for the first time from the sea. Reports noted that the US arms maker Raytheon and the US defence department were involved in the tests. That is because, behind the scenes, the US is not only paying for the development and testing of these systems; it is also guiding the uses to which they will be put. The Pentagon has bought two Iron Dome batteries, which, according to Israeli media, have been stationed in US military bases in the Gulf.

The US has its own interception systems under development, and it is unclear which it will come to rely on most heavily. But what is evident is that Washington, Israel and their Gulf allies have Iran in their immediate sights. Any country that refuses to bow to US global hegemony could also be targeted.

US interest in these missiles is not defensive. They are fundamental to its ability to neutralise the responses of rivals to either a US military attack, or more general moves by the US to dominate territory and control resources.

Just as Palestinians have been besieged by Israel for 15 years, the US and Gulf states may hope one day to deal a knockout blow to Iran’s oil exports. Washington would be able to ignore current concerns that Tehran could retaliate by firing on shipping through the Strait of Hormuz or on hostile Middle Eastern capitals. If Iran’s missiles can be intercepted, it will be incapable of defending itself against increasing economic or military aggression from the US or its neighbours.

Less safe world

Following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan this summer, there has been plenty of naive talk that the US is seeking a diminished role in the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ultimately, the US is seeking global dominance at arm’s length – through a combination of long-range military power, cyber warfare, robotics and artificial intelligence – that it hopes will lift the restraints imposed by American casualties and domestic opposition.

Israel’s playbook with regards to Palestinians is one that elites in Washington trust can be exported to other corners of the globe, and even outer space. Interception missiles lie at the heart of that strategic vision, as a way to neutralise and silence all resistance. This is why no one who cares about a less violent, exploitative and dangerous world should be indifferent to, or neutral on, congressional funding for Iron Dome.

Missile interception systems are the face not of a more defensive, safer world, but of a far more nakedly hostile, aggressive one.

• First published at Middle East Eye

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