Saturday, February 25, 2017

Israeli Opposition Leader's 10-point-plan for Peace Missing 11th Point

Isaac Herzog's plan is an abomination.

from Haaretz
Gideon Levy Feb 26, 2017 1:27 AM

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog deserves praise for the 10-point plan he published in Haaretz on Thursday. His 10 points reveal a vision and create a horizon of great hope. I would like to add just one tiny additional point to them, one that would turn his plan into the peak of perfection: the 11th point.
The parties should announce a 10-year period during which Isaac Herzog will remain in a cage. During this time, they will move toward realizing the two-state vision. At the same time, the economic development of the cage will be accelerated dramatically, among other things through regional and international assistance.
Pieces of bread will be thrown into Herzog’s cage from time to time, and over the years the addition of various spreads will be considered. The parties will work to renovate the cage, including building a seesaw (subject to strict security arrangements).

If his behavior conforms to expectations, Herzog will be entitled to declare his cage a state with temporary borders. At the end of the 10-year period (if Herzog is still alive), and on condition that he has behaved properly, the jailors will begin direct negotiations with the cage’s occupant, backed by the countries of the region and the international community, with no preconditions, as equals, seriously and resolutely, while moving toward a full and final peace agreement.
If Herzog would just agree to this provision – and why shouldn’t he? – it would be possible to put his plan into action immediately. Nothing would stand in its way, and at the end of 10 years we would have peace.
But if Herzog objects to the addition of this 11th point, we will have to declare his plan one of the most despicable plans ever proposed by an Israeli politician.

Without this 11th point, Herzog’s proposal is a plan for another 10 years of occupation, after which ... we’ll see. It’s a proposal for another Oslo, without learning anything from the Oslo fiasco. It’s another interim agreement on the way to nowhere. It’s a proposal for the rapist to continue raping his victim without let or hindrance for at least another 10 years. And then, perhaps, negotiations will be opened between them – direct, equal, without preconditions, blah, blah, blah, all the lies.
It’s a trial period for the rape victim, of all people, during which the rapist will continue his crimes (“The IDF will continue acting throughout the West Bank up to the Jordan River, and around the Gaza Strip”). And this will be called “a new, realistic process ... to implement the two-state vision.” There is no limit.
For the leader of Israel’s center-left, the true victory of Zionism is retaining the settlement blocs – so says Herzog. From now on, the settlements are a victory for Zionism – not just for the Zionism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, but for that of Herzog as well. With a center-left like this, it’s better to be on the right. With a Zionism like this, it’s better to be anti-Zionist.
But beyond this not terribly important argument with Herzog, a petty politician on borrowed time, his proposal once again highlights Israel’s moral blindness – on both right and left, from wall to wall – in all its shame. Israel does not see that every additional day in which the occupation continues to exist is a day in which additional crimes are committed: an infinity of daily crimes of dispossession, destruction, arrest, killing and humiliation. At any given moment.
Therefore, the immediate end of the occupation is the only thing a man of conscience and culture is permitted to discuss. There is no other legitimate topic. To tell the victim, “Wait, remain with the rapist for now and, if you behave nicely, we’ll talk in another 10 years,” is an abomination.
Similarly, the idea that the abyss can be crossed in stages, rather than with a single leap – a crazy idea that has been tried so many times, and each time merely further entrenched the injustice – is outrageous. Proponents of interim arrangements or of economic peace are always either cowardly or led astray.
So instead of Herzog’s 10-point plan, I hereby offer a more modest proposal, consisting of a single point: end the occupation. Yesterday. Today. Immediately. There is no alternative.

read more:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Black Bloc is not part of the Movement, Its actions only help those in Power

The response to the Trump election and his overtly racist and misogynist agenda has been heartening. Mass mobilizations on a scale not seen on a sustained basis since the days of the Vietnam war portend the development of an important mass movement that can fight back against the rightist/anti-democracy forces that have seized the US government. It's not just about the usual suspects of the left getting more support, there is an influx of new people. Many who have not paid attention to politics, or who have never participated in a protest march have been inspired to fight back.

What can derail this movement? The more Trump and his Republican underlings rant and rave, the more people push back. Full-scale repression by the police? Banning of all protests? These are things that the administration wants to do but knows that it would backfire. The more thuggish elements of the Trump coalition would do it anyway, but it doesn't seen in the offing. A spectacular terrorist attack (real or staged) could open the door to mass repression. No one knows what might happen in this regard. But it's important that any justification for repression doesn't come from our side.

Enter the "Black Block." In Washington DC during the huge women's march a small group of self-styled anarchists, dressed in black, who are opposed to the tactics of peaceful protest and mass action, played into the police and right wing politicians desire to smear all protest as destructive. Breaking windows and inflicting other property damage (which is totally irrelevant to the actual protest at hand) they fought with the police and were arrested. These so-called protesters were isolated from the main march and was on such a small scale that it was basically an irrelevant side-show.

Later on, in Berkeley, CA there was a mass protest of students against a Breitbart/alt right neo-fascist who was scheduled to speak on campus. While the peaceful protest was large, it was over-shadowed by black bloc members throwing molotov cocktails and fighting with the police. The lead story in the news was about "violent protesters." Is this a plus? What purpose did it serve? It helped the right and the police who want excuses to repress all protest.

What are the motivations of the Black Bloc? In a way, it's not that relevant. Whatever they think they are doing, the effect of their actions helps the police and right wing. If they didn't exist, then the strategic thinkers among the police and FBI would invent them. In fact this is probably what's happening. Not that the rank and file Black Bloc participants are all cops, but it's a certainty that there are police agent in the group that egg on the most violent actions. This method of operation has been around for a long time. The Black Panther Party of the 1960s was the target of local police and FBI infiltration. The objective was to have undercover police agents provoke violence. In Los Angeles, police agents provoked a shooting war between the Panthers and a Black Nationalists organization US (United Souls) led by Ron Karenga (as he was known then). People from both groups were killed. Documents released to the public under the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) show a long history of illegal undercover disruption of the rights of protest and free speech).

Ultra-radical groups that engage in naive and immature rhetoric about "smashing the state," dress up to look like military combatants and carry hammers and ice picks are not doing anything progressive. They are aiding the police and rightist politicians. They are also parasites; unable to assemble many people themselves, or attract much of a following, they latch on to the legitimate mass protests to try and steal the spotlight. People who want to protest against what is happening in this country will not join protests if they think that fighting the police or any form of violence, or advocacy of violence is part of the protest.

The way to winning victories over Trump's police state agenda is to win over masses of people. Organizing only people who are already leftist, who already agree with you will not succeed. We have to have a realistic understanding of the political level and consciousness of the majority of the people. A movement that defends free speech (with no, repeat, no exceptions, and rejects violence as a tactic (this is NOT ideological pacifism --just common sense) and advances clear, understandable demands (such as no anti-immigrant xenophobia, no to racism, sexism, homophobia, defend basic democratic rights...) can win.

Ultra-radicals say "your demands are not radical enough," or "fascism is here, or around the corner, so only our tactics will work."

The most radical demands, that is to say, effective demands are the ones that motivate large numbers of people. "Smash the State," is not a crowd-pleaser. Defend our democratic rights is a winner. It works. Those who think we have fascism now are hard to answer because they are delusional to the point of not living in this world. If there was fascism right now I couldn't write this article and all of us would be in concentration camps or dead.

What if things were leading toward fascism? It's possible. Not fascism as it played out in Italy or Germany, but, let's say, dictatorship, a totalitarian police state. Are there any special, super anti-fascist tactics or strategy to use? Something super special? I'd say that the best way to combat incipient tyranny or supposed fascism is to use the methods we are already seeing: grass roots organizing, mass actions that are inclusive and able to win over a majority, demands to defend and expand democracy.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Trump-Netanyahu meeting lays ground for one-state solution

electric intifada
Ali Abunimah

15 February 2017

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference at the White House on 15 February. Michael Reynolds EPA
US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a joint press conference at the White House on Wednesday morning, before going into their much-anticipated bilateral meeting.

Asked about whether the US was still wedded to a two-state solution, Trump broke with longstanding orthodoxy.

“I am looking at two states or one state, and I like the one that both parties like,” the president said. On settlements, Trump reaffirmed to Netanyahu, “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

Advocates of a two-state solution, including the previous US administration and European governments, see it as the only way to rescue Israel as a racist state that ensures its Jewish demographic majority through a battery of racist laws – a situation they refer to as “peace.”

Netanyahu stuck to his usual script. He attacked the Iran nuclear deal and blamed Palestinians for the absence of peace, repeating tired allegations about “incitement” in schools. Capitalizing as he always does on Islamophobia, the Israeli leader declared that the US and Israel were “under attack by one malevolent force, radical Islamic terror.”

Netanyahu would not commit to a two-state solution, saying he didn’t want to focus on “labels.” But the Israeli leader reaffirmed two conditions for “peace”: Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and Israel “must retain overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.”

This formula amounts, at best, to a Palestinian bantustan under continued Israeli supremacy.

“Shared values”
For most of his opening remarks, Trump appeared to be reading from notes – which may explain why the words he spoke could have been uttered verbatim by his predecessor President Barack Obama.

Trump reaffirmed the “shared values” and “unbreakable bond” of Israel and the US and vowed to oppose “unfair actions” against Israel at the United Nations, “as well as boycotts that target Israel.”

Trump noted that “our security assistance to Israel is currently at an all-time high,” though he did not acknowledge that this was thanks to Obama’s record-breaking $38 billion military aid package.

Trump and Netanyahu also spoke about a vague new concept for a regional approach – Trump called it a “big deal” that would involve Arab states in making peace. This so-called “outside-in” approach is being heavily promoted by Israel lobby groups.

No one should get excited. It’s simply another way to consolidate Israel’s alliance with so-called “Sunni Arab” states led by Saudi Arabia, while generating diplomatic activity to buy time and distract from the core issue: Israel’s adamant refusal to voluntarily end its regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid over Palestinians.

One state
Conventional opinion views any Trump abandonment of the two-state solution as capitulation to Israel’s far right wing that is pressuring Netanyahu from within his coalition to annex the West Bank outright.

The annexationists may hope that the Palestinians could eventually be pushed out, or forced to live under some form of Jordanian jurisdiction – the so-called Jordanian option.

That may even be the motivation of the anti-Palestinian extremists in the Trump administration, but the analysis fails to take into account the growing support amongst Palestinians for a democratic one-state solution.

Trump has at least acknowledged that Palestinians must agree to the terms of any agreement. And Palestinians will not submit voluntarily to Netanyahu’s conditions.

Israel could not just annex the West Bank on its own terms. Pressure would escalate – as it did on South Africa – to end openly declared apartheid. Indeed there could be no greater boost to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Even the Israeli president recognizes this. Speaking at a conference on Monday, Reuven Rivlin argued for annexation of the West Bank, but said it must mean full citizenship for Palestinians.

“Applying sovereignty to an area gives citizenship to all those living there,” Rivlin said. “There is no [separate] law for Israelis and for non-Israelis.”

“It must be clear: If we extend sovereignty, the law must apply equally to all,” Rivlin added.

PA needs status quo
On Tuesday night, an unnamed senior US official previewed the shift away from the two-state solution, causing alarm in the Palestinian Authority.

The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported that CIA director Mike Pompeo met with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank earlier on Tuesday.

“The Palestinians heard reassuring messages about the two-state solution at the meeting,” Haaretz reported, citing an unnamed Palestinian Authority source. These messages “were not in line with the statement later made by an anonymous White House official,” the paper added.

The Palestinian Authority also reportedly used the occasion to argue for its continued existence as a subcontractor for Israeli and American interests.

“The Americans needed to understand that the collapse of the PA – in such a manner that there will be no way to implement the two-state solution, as quite a few elements in the Netanyahu government are striving for – will lead to the entry of extremist elements, perhaps associated with Iran,” the Palestinian Authority source told Haaretz, recounting arguments used to try to impress the CIA director.

The PA is willing to invoke sectarian conflict in the region for its own self-preservation, placing itself squarely on the side of the burgeoning Israeli-Saudi alliance that aims for greater confrontation with Iran.

No more fig leaf for apartheid
Preserving the illusion of the two-state solution is key to the PA justifying its existence.

But even more so it is a way for Israel’s liberal Zionist supporters to avoid confronting the inherent racism of Israel as a “Jewish state.”

Ironically, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman – a die-hard supporter of the two-state solution – expressed this with the greatest clarity in his column on Tuesday.

“As long as the two-state solution was on the table, the debate among Jews on Israel was ‘right versus left’ and ‘more security versus less security,’” Friedman writes. While there were differences, “we could mostly all agree that for Israel to remain a Jewish democratic state, it had to securely separate from most of the 2.7 million West Bank Palestinians.”

Friedman makes no mention of the two million Palestinians caged in Gaza, let alone those living in refugee camps in the diaspora. But he warns that if the two-state solution is off the table, then the debate “within the Jewish community will move from ‘left versus right’ to ‘right versus wrong.’”

It would become a debate about “whether the state is worth defending in moral terms” – a debate that Friedman must know cannot be won without abandoning any pretense of supporting universal human rights.

This debate is already happening within the Jewish community, albeit along generational lines.

What Friedman surely fears is that the end of the two-state delusion brings into focus the reality that the price of a “Jewish state” is the perpetual violation, frequently in horrific ways, of the rights of millions of Palestinians.

The way out now cannot be clearer: rights for everyone in a unified country.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

This Isn't Just Trump. This Is Who the Republicans Are.

by Dave Johnaon
OpEdNews Op Eds 2/17/2017 at 23:40:18

So far President Donald Trump has signed very few bills. One lets coal companies dump waste into streams. Another lets oil companies bribe foreign dictators in secret. Now he is moving to block a Labor Department "fiduciary rule" that requires financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients when advising on retirement accounts.
Here's the thing: this isn't just Trump doing this. The Republican-controlled House and Senate passed those two bills, and the Republicans have been fighting that fiduciary rule tooth and nail.
It's not just Trump, Republicans as a party are using Trump to engage in a general assault on protections from corruption, pollution, corporate fraud and financial scams.
This is who they are.
"We Just Need A President To Sign This Stuff"
This is not just Trump. What we are seeing happening to our government is the end result of a decades-long effort by the corporate-and-billionaire-funded "conservative movement" to capture the Republican party, and through them to capture the country -- for profit. And here we are.
Are Republicans dismayed that they have put a loathsome, deranged, misogynistic, racist, psychopathic, uninformed, self-promoting, corrupt, insulting, genital-grabbing, conspiracy-theory-peddling, Jew-baiting, narcissistic-behaving, country-destroying, Putin-loving, generally disgusting, fascist, loofa-faced sh*t-gibbon into power in our White House?
No, they are not. They like it that he's squatting in the Oval Offic.
Grover Norquist, one of the key leaders and strategists of the conservative movement, worded it clearly and succinctly, "We just need a President to sign this stuff." "Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become President of the United States."
Stream Protection Rule
After waiting eight years, (yes, they waited that long), the Obama administration finally put a rule in place to protect "streams, fish, wildlife, and related environmental values from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations."
"The stream protection rule requires the restoration of the physical form, hydrologic function, and ecological function of the segment of a perennial or intermittent stream that a permittee mines through. Additionally, it requires that the postmining surface configuration of the reclaimed mine site include a drainage pattern, including ephemeral streams, similar to the premining drainage pattern, with exceptions for stability, topographical changes, fish and wildlife habitat, etc. The rule also, requires the establishment of a 100-foot-wide streamside vegetative corridor of native species (including riparian species, when appropriate) along each bank of any restored or permanently-diverted perennial, intermittent, or ephemeral stream."
Sounds great right? Well, protecting the environment and protecting people costs money that would otherwise go into the pockets of executives of and investors in coal companies, so...uh uh.
By the way, the rule would have created at least as many jobs as it might have "cost."
Oil Company Transparency Rule Repeal
Saying, "We're bringing back jobs big league," Trump signed a bill repealing a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule written under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The rule required oil companies to disclose if they are bribing dictators who steal form their country.
The Hill reports on this, in Trump signs repeal of transparency rule for oil companies...
"The legislation is the first time in 16 years that the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been used to repeal a regulation, and only the second time in the two decades that act has been law.
"[The CRA] was meant to fight corruption in resource-rich countries by mandating that companies on United States stock exchanges disclose the royalties and other payments that oil, natural gas, coal and mineral companies make to governments."
THIS was the priority of the Republican congress.
Retirement Advice Fiduciary Rule
When people ask financial advisers and brokers for retirement advice they get sold high-priced "products" that do not benefit them, but benefit the financial advisers and brokers a lot. (For more on this phenomenon, read Motley Fool's Where are all the customer's yachts?)

These scams siphon an estimated $17 billion a year from the retirement accounts of working people.
So Obama's Labor Department staff (after waiting years and years) wrote a rule requiring these advisers and brokers to act in their clients' best interest. The Washington Post explained the new rule last year, in Labor Department rule sets new standards for retirement advice,
"The Labor Department announced sweeping rules Wednesday that could transform the financial advice given to people saving for retirement by requiring brokers and advisers to put their clients' interests first.
"The long-awaited 'fiduciary rule' would create a new standard for brokers and advisers that is stricter than current regulations, which only require that brokers recommend products that are 'suitable,' even if it may not be the investor's best option."
For obvious reasons ($17 billion swiped from working people each year) Wall Streeters didn't like the new rule one bit. They put a ton of money into killing it. And now Trump is gutting the rule.
This is the classic way people get fucked by a rigged system. Trump is giving Wall Street the freedom to go back to screwing people.
Here is the Google link to a fact sheet on the rule. Click it to see how your government works for you in the Trump era: Fact Sheet: DOL Finalizes Rule to Address Conflicts of Interest...
This Is Who They Are
Up next on the agenda is gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The government agency's name sort of says it all, doesn't it? Of course Wall Street and the Republican Party want it gone.
The New York Times explains, in Consumer Watchdog Faces Attack by House Republicans...
"The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee will move forward on legislation to neuter the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and its power to crack down on predatory business practices, according to a leaked memo that emerged on Thursday and infuriated Democratic defenders of the bureau."
THIS is a top priority of the Republican-dominated Congress and the Republican president. It's not just Trump.
What else is there to say? This is who they are.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Campaign to Crush Muslim Civil Society Organizations in the U.S. Escalates

Posted on Feb 15, 2017

By Sarah Lazare / AlterNet

President Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz reportedly are in alignment when it comes to targeting Muslim groups in the United States. Fox Business

A new initiative advanced by right-wing Republicans in Congress and reportedly backed by the Trump administration puts American Muslim civil society groups in the government’s crosshairs. Without the same outraged protests or condemnatory press conferences inspired by Trump’s travel ban targeting visitors and dual citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, the lesser-known effort is aimed at crushing robust Muslim civil society organizing in the United States, using the framework of the war on terror.

The initiative aims to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, a designation that in practice, is likely to provide a vehicle for a network of anti-Muslim crusaders to hound unaffiliated, mainstream Muslim organizations and potentially criminalize their leadership.

The effort emanates from fringe conspiracy theorists who, backed by a well-heeled Islamophobia industry, espouse the unfounded claim that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the far reaches of the U.S. government. These fringe figures charge that prominent political players, from Huma Abedin to Grover Norquist to Keith Ellison, are operating as secret agents of the organization.

Arjun Singh Sethi, a civil rights lawyer and professor at Georgetown University Law Center, told AlterNet that this effort represents “version 2.0 of the Muslim ban and will be used as a vehicle to attack and smear Muslim civic and political organizations in the United States. The $57 million Islamophobia industry will do anything in its power to arbitrarily and erroneously link groups in the United States to the Muslim Brotherhood. These accusations alone can destroy reputations and tarnish organizations forever.”

Today, this fringe theory has a direct line to the White House.

This January, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Sen. Ted Cruz introduced the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act in both congressional chambers. The bill also demands the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, a longstanding goal of neoconservative and pro-Israel elements in Washington.

In a press release championing the legislation, Cruz invoked a supposed clash of civilizations. “I am proud to reintroduce these bills that would codify needed reforms in America’s war against radical Islamic terrorism,” he said. “This potent threat to our civilization has intensified under the Obama administration due to the willful blindness of politically correct policies that hamper our safety and security.”

Alongside this legislative push, advisers to Trump are reportedly weighing an executive order to declare the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization.

Conspiracy theory backed by Islamophobia industry

“One of the favorite smear tactics of the Islamophobia industry for years has been to accuse individuals and institutions in the U.S. of supporting the mythical Muslim Brotherhood bogeyman,” said Sethi, the civil rights lawyer. “If the Muslim Brotherhood is designated a foreign terrorist organization, this industry will double down on the tactic. This designation could spark a witch hunt similar to what we saw during the red scare. Innocent institutions and individuals could be tarnished and impugned. In addition, the government could invoke expansive material support laws and seek to prosecute individuals and institutions, forfeiting their assets.”

Sethi underscored that this political campaign comes despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood does not have a known presence in the United States.

In a report released in 2011, the Center for American Progress determined that seven foundations shelled out $42.6 million between 2001 and 2009 to think tanks advancing anti-Muslim policies. In a separate study published in 2015, CAP identified what it called a $57 million industry that is predicated on the spreading of anti-Muslim sentiment. This industry directly supports concrete policy measures targeting Muslim communities in the United States, including the NYPD’s invasive surveillance system and the more than 100 anti-Sharia bills that have been introduced at the state level across the country.

The unfounded claim that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. government plays a key role in this industry and is espoused by major figureheads. Among them is Frank Gaffney Jr., who founded the Center for Security Policy, the think tank that produced the shoddy research behind Trump’s campaign pledge to ban Muslims. A prominent anti-Muslim activist and conspiracy theorist, Gaffney served as an adviser to Cruz’s failed presidential campaign and is close colleagues with many in Trump’s cabinet, including Steve Bannon.

Without producing any evidence, Gaffney has repeatedly claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. government, levying accusations that numerous officials are agents of the organization, including Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide Huma Abedin. In 2011, Gaffney was temporarily barred from the Conservative Political Action Conference for accusing the right-wing activist Grover Norquist of being an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Citing the supposed Muslim Brotherhood takeover, Gaffney has repeatedly called for McCarthy-ite investigations targeting Muslim-Americans. “So pervasive now is the MB’s [Muslim Brotherhood’s] ‘civilization jihad’ within the U.S. government and civil institutions that a serious, sustained and rigorous investigation of the phenomenon by the legislative branch is in order,” he argued at the Center for Security Policy in October 2011.

Notably, this is not the only conspiracy theory Gaffney clings to. He has also argued that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim who was not born in the United States and that Saddam Hussein was likely behind the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings.

Gaffney is not alone. Steven Emerson, a notoriously Islamophobic author and pundit, has played a key role in perpetuating the notion that the Obama administration was infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Emerson has spread baseless propaganda for years, alleging in 1995, for instance, that the Oklahoma City Federal Building had been bombed by Arab “terrorists.” Moments later, the bomber was revealed as white nationalist Timothy McVeigh. Two decades later, Emerson appeared on Fox News to make bogus claims about the existence of Muslim no-go zones in the U.K. Fox was forced to issue numerous corrections and apologies for Emerson’s statements, which then-London Mayor Boris Johnson dismissed as “total nonsense.”

While both Gaffney and Emerson are designated anti-Muslim extremists by the Southern Poverty Law Center, their views have been espoused by those in the highest echelons of power. A decade ago, Bannon proposed a documentary-style movie blaming a coalition of liberal Jewish groups and Muslim civil rights organizations for importing terror into America, The Washington Post recently revealed.

Two other former contributors to the white nationalist publication Breitbart—Sebastian Gorka and Katharine Gorka—have recently joined Trump’s cabinet. The pair have built their careers fear-mongering over Muslims. Gorka, who now serves as deputy national security assistant, has previously argued that the United States is a Christian nation. “We don’t know where the refugees from war zones are living in America,” he said in a July 15 appearance on Fox News. “We’re a Christian nation; we should be charitable to those in need. But charity is not an excuse for suicide.” Katharine Gorka has previously supported far-reaching legislation to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

“You have these right-wing fringe theorists who think every Muslim has links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that’s reason to distrust them,” Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, told AlterNet. “But now they are close to the center of power and able to push conspiracy theories out there. This could be really used as a way to clamp down on Muslim groups as well as prominent activists.”

Brant Rosen, the founder of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace, told AlterNet, “As a Jew, I would say this is the targeting of people because of their religion and identity. Jews know all about that. This would be the Muslim registry. This would give the government the opportunity to carry through formally on what it’s threatened to do.”

Muslim civil society is the real target

Anti-Muslim extremists have repeatedly and without evidence targeted Muslim civil society organizations as supposed agents of the Muslim Brotherhood, with Breitbart providing a key mouthpiece. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a major target of this campaign, with Breitbart running articles titled, “FBI Chart and Documents Portray CAIR as Hamas-Related Organization” and “10 Reasons to Be Suspicious of CAIR.” Breitbart has also repeatedly targeted the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim Students Association. Breitbart has even accused the New York Times of generating Muslim Brotherhood propaganda.

In 2014, Rep. Michele Bachmann introduced legislation to “impose sanctions against persons who knowingly provide material support or resources to the Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliates, associated groups, or agents, and for other purposes.” The legislation named key Muslim civil society organizations, including ISNA and CAIR.

Fear-mongering over the Muslim Brotherhood has also provided fodder for targeting Palestinian human rights organizations. “Israel advocacy groups in the U.S. have been at the forefront of efforts to label Muslim, Arab and other groups that advocate for Palestinian rights as ‘terrorist’ with the scantest of evidence and the thinnest threads of association,” Dima Khalidi, the director of Palestine Legal, told AlterNet over email. “David Horowitz, for example, has gone after the student groups the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) together for alleged association with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“Notably, Black Lives Matter, which was severely attacked by Israel advocacy groups for its expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian freedom movement, has also been called ‘terrorist,’ with calls to designate it as a terrorist organization,” Khalidi continued. “The slope is ever steeper and more slippery with an administration that has a blatantly anti-Muslim and anti-black agenda.”

Despite previous political efforts to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, both the Bush and Obama administrations declined. As journalist Waqas Mirza recently noted, the “British government had also rebuked such calls and a report published by the U.K. House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee last year concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood did not engage in ‘terrorism.’”

Yet, authoritarian governments have continued to exert pressure on the United States to impose the designation, among them the UAE and Egypt. In 2013, Egypt’s determination that the Muslim Brotherhood was a terrorist organization was used to justify a violent and large-scale crackdown on dissent, including mass torture, disappearances and the unfounded arrests of tens of thousands of people. The crackdown followed the massacres of over 2,000 protesters in the Cairo suburb of Rabaa.

Human Rights Watch cited this Egyptian precedent in condemning the political campaign in the U.S. “If the U.S. government designates the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist group, then not only its members, but anyone either in the United States or abroad suspected of providing support or resources to the group would be at risk of removal from the U.S. if they are non-citizens and having their assets frozen,” the organization stated. “They would also risk unfairly being targeted for prosecution under various laws, including those banning material support for terrorism.”

Arun Kundnani is the author of “The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror” and an adjunct professor at New York University. He told AlterNet, “We can have a debate about the Muslim Brotherhood and what the nature of the organization is, but the proposed designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s a paranoid fantasy.”

“The effect would be to criminalize many of the leading figures leading the protests against Trump,” Kundnani continued. “It would effectively criminalize Muslim organizations that constitute the main opposition to the wider Trump agenda, in terms of the Muslim ban and civil rights. Primarily, it would remove opposition to the wider Islamophobic agenda.”

“This is more terrifying than the Muslim ban,” said Hoda Katebi, an organizer and artist with For The People Artists Collective and communications coordinator for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “When you add the word ‘terrorist’ to anything, you have been branded by the state and everyone is too afraid to help. Unlike a blanket ban on Muslims that is easy to identify as wrong and rally support against, being called a terrorist as a Muslim essentially erases you and alienates you from support.”

“This is particularly important to be rallying against, particularly important to show up as allies, because this is where most allies will drop off. This is the point where allies will be too afraid and unsure about what to do. Let me tell you now: You must show up and do everything in your power to support Muslims and Muslim civil rights organizations who will be isolated and shut down unjustly by this racialized designation. Never let the state define your enemies.”

Israel interferes in our politics all the time, and it’s never a scandal

from mondoweiss

Israel interferes in our politics all the time, and it’s never a scandal
Philip Weiss on February 15, 2017

I completely believe that Donald Trump was in bed with the Russians before the election and the campaign may well have intrigued with Vladimir Putin with respect to Wikileaks and that helped defeat Hillary Clinton. I believe that because that’s how the world works; because a lot of very smart people in the liberal establishment believe it; and because the New York Times and Washington Post are documenting some of it, with the fervor of Watergate.

Maybe it will bring the liar in chief down some day and end this short national nightmare. I certainly hope so.

But there are two large exceptions to the Russian conspiracy. The first is that it is good policy for the United States to be talking to Russia. If Clinton were president today, there might be dogfights over Damascus. Her gang was all for regime change in Syria, and for confrontation over the Ukraine. That’s bad policy. I’m glad they’re not running the show– though they are certainly running this story. Before you get too upset about Russia winking at the sanctions, the scandal that brought down Michael Flynn, please recall that in 2012, President Obama sent secret signals to Iran to ignore congressional sanctions, we’ll be talking to you once I’m reelected. Obama got reelected; and his deal with Iran is one of the greatest achievements of a very good presidency. Again, this is how the world works.

Which brings up the second exception. Israel tried to interfere in that 2012 election, as Chris Matthews sensibly reminded his audience recently: Benjamin Netanyahu tried to help Mitt Romney beat Obama. Sheldon Adelson held a fundraiser in Jerusalem for Romney.

Netanyahu didn’t stop there. After Romney lost, Netanyahu came to Congress to tell the Congress to reject President Obama’s nuclear deal. That was an unprecedented interference of a foreign leader in our policy-making, enabled by the Israel lobby; but there were never any investigations about that. Subsequently Chuck Schumer said he was torn between a Jewish interest and the American interest, before voting against the president, and he paid no political/reputational price for it; while President Obama said that it would be an “abrogation” of his constitutional duty if he considered Israel’s interest ahead of the U.S.; for which Obama was called an anti-semite.

Throughout those negotiations, Obama could never address the fact that Israel has nukes. This lie is honored by the press, in a way that it would never honor Trump’s lies. And the manner in which Israel got nukes, including thefts from an American company with the complicity of the White House, is only investigated by peripheral figures.

The Israeli interference in our politics is the conspiracy in plain sight that no one in the media talks about because they’re too implicated themselves. The two top executives at the largest media company, Comcast, are pro-Israel; one of them, David Cohen, raised money for the Israeli army. Netanyahu’s speeches to Congress were written by Gary Ginsberg, an executive at another media company, Time Warner, but hey, that’s not an issue. Four New York Times reporters have had children serve in the Israeli army. One of them is columnist David Brooks, who says that he gets gooey-eyed when he visits Israel. He is one of several Zionists with columns at the Times. Tom Friedman justified the Iraq War because suicide bombers were going into Tel Aviv pizza parlors. (Huh?) Yesterday Martin Indyk said on National Public Radio that Jared Kushner’s strong Jewish background was an asset for his being a Middle East mediator, a job that Aaron David Miller, who also has a strong Jewish background, defined as being Israel’s lawyer. Indyk, himself a mediator, started a pro-Israel thinktank with Haim Saban, an Israeli-American who was Clinton’s biggest funder and who lately smeared Keith Ellison at a giant gathering at Brookings, which he also helps fund, as “clearly an anti-semite” and “anti-Israel;” and Jake Tapper of CNN moved on to the next question, presumably because smearing a public official in that manner is not news. Saban is also chummy with Jeffrey Goldberg, one of whose qualifications for being the best journalist in his generation, according to the Atlantic’s publisher, is that he served in the Israeli Defense Forces, because he felt that America was unsafe for Jews. One of Goldberg’s first hires as editor at the Atlantic is Julia Ioffe, who hates Russia, and who told a synagogue audience last year after she was attacked as a Jew by Trump supporters: “Personally I was kind of glad to see the outpouring of antisemitism” because people had forgotten that Jews and Israel are the “underdog.” At another NY synagogue, believing that he was speaking off the record, Dennis Ross, the longtime White House “mediator” of the peace process, said that American Jews must be “advocates” for Israel, not for Palestinians. Again, not a scandal. But when Rashid Khalidi, who wrote a book about the U.S. being imbalanced in the peace process, warned that neoconservatives would “infest” the Trump administration, he was smeared up and down as an anti-semite.

I could go on and on. I can’t because Netanyahu is in the White House today, and I need to get on the news. Netanyahu who President Obama met with countless times, Netanyahu who John Kerry talked to as secretary of state four times as often as he spoke to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Which is hardly surprising, because as Kerry complained to Jeffrey Goldberg, we give Israel more military aid than we give the rest of the world combined, and meantime they ignore our warnings. They can ignore us because of the Israel lobby, including AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which doesn’t have to register as a foreign agent because of sleight-of-hand they pulled back in the 60s, defying Senator Fulbright. AIPAC never gets called for this because the two countries are viewed to have completely congruent interests– when we don’t. So Phil Gordon leaves the State Department and goes to a conference in Israel just like Super Bowl winners going to Disneyland; all the Israeli ambassadors grew up in the States; and Benjamin Netanyahu came of age here, a subject that is never considered problematic; because we have a political discourse in which a leading liberal journalist, Eric Alterman, brags: “I was raised dually loyal my whole life.”

Alterman told a Jewish audience in New York he was alright with that because the U.S. can take a hit but Israel can’t. He then conceded that “bin Laden and 9/11 were to some degree inspired by U.S. support of Israel,” and so are the “pool of potential terrorists who want to attack the United States.” Though: “Dammit, if that’s the price we have to pay, then I’m willing to pay it.”

Other Americans may make a different calculation of U.S. interests. But let’s talk about Russia.

Thanks to Annie Robbins for guidance on this story, particularly the 2012 Iran/Obama detail.

- See more at:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The ACLU Explains Why They're Supporting The Rights Of Milo Yiannopoulos

February 12, 20177:45 AM ET
Heard on Weekend Edition Sunday
The American Civil Liberties Union defends free speech, even if it's hateful. That has some of their supporters upset. Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU.


Now we're going to turn to another issue on a lot of people's minds, free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union has raised a lot of money, $24 million in donations in just one weekend in fact, after President Trump announced his executive order on immigration. Hundreds of thousands of people were motivated by the organization's work to defend people who were detained at airports. And then this week, the ACLU expressed support for a free speech case. This one involves Milo Yiannopoulos. He's the divisive editor of the far-right website Breitbart News, and he's said things like feminism is a cancer.

He was recently supposed to speak at UC Berkeley, but intense protests led the school to cancel the event last minute. The ACLU says no matter how much you might dislike what he has to say, it's protected free speech, and that makes some of its newest supporters upset. Joining me now to talk about this is Lee Rowland. She's a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

Welcome to the program.

LEE ROWLAND: Hi. Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what's the case for defending Mr. Yiannopoulos in your view?

ROWLAND: Well, the case for Mr. Yiannopoulos is the same as it would be for any speaker, no matter how despicable or offensive we might find them, which is the First Amendment protects our right to speak out on matters of public concern, to talk about things that are as offensive as the things that Mr. Yiannopoulos says without censorship by the government. And ideally, as in his case, without people physically preventing him from speaking at a place where he had every right to speak.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the ACLU and you specifically, actually, have received criticism on social media about this. Does the ACLU need to do a better job explaining why it's defending him and other cases like this, where someone is committing what some would consider hate speech?

ROWLAND: Well, look, I certainly understand that, especially for many of our new members, they may be surprised by the ACLU's robust First Amendment positions, but it's certainly not new. Indeed, one of our most high-profile and controversial moments in the ACLU's history was defending the rights of literal self-proclaimed Nazis to march through the streets of Skokie, a town made up largely of Holocaust survivors. What's amazing about the First Amendment is it protects us, regardless of our viewpoints, regardless of the causes we hold dear.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But isn't hate speech different?

ROWLAND: There's no question that the things that Mr. Yiannopoulos says are unbelievably hateful in nature. But the phrase hate speech is a form of free speech. Again, in defending the rights of others to speak, whether or not we agree with them, we must all reach out and protect the speech that we most disagree with or else the First Amendment is just reduced to a popularity contest and has no meaning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At a time like this, when the country's so divided, many see the ACLU as a check on the Trump administration. You've been at the forefront of several important battles. Are you worried that taking controversial positions like this will erode your support, especially among new members?

ROWLAND: Well, I certainly hope not. I mean, as our - as my colleagues' incredible work as of late has shown, we at the ACLU consider ourselves the first responders for the Constitution. That's a core part of our identity here at the ACLU. And look, we often say - if you disagree with us 20 percent of the time, it means you're a thinking person. If you disagree with us 50 percent of the time, you should consider coming to work for us.

So we respect diversity. No one has to fall in line with all of the ACLU's positions. But I do believe that our defense of the First Amendment is an integral part of our fight for civil rights, for equality and liberty for all.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU, thanks so much for being with us.

ROWLAND: Thank you very much.

Israel fumbles goodwill visit of NFL players

Feb. 15, 2017 11:37 AM EST

JERUSALEM (AP) — It was supposed to be a feel-good visit by a group of professional football players to give a boost to image-conscious Israel.

But in an embarrassing fumble by the Israeli government, only five of 11 NFL players in the delegation showed up after being blitzed by Palestinian activists opposed to the visit.

Israel's ministry for strategic affairs and public diplomacy issued a press release after the Super Bowl boasting that the visit would bring "influencers" who would serve as "goodwill ambassadors" when they returned home.

The announcement led Seattle Seahawks defense lineman Michael Bennett to pull out. In a lengthy Twitter post, he accused the government of trying to use him for PR purposes and cited sympathy for the Palestinians.

"I will not be used in such a manner," he wrote, adding that he still intends to visit Israel, but only on a trip that includes stops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to meet Palestinians.

Citing the example of Muhammad Ali, and the late boxing legend's support for the Palestinians, Bennett said he too wants to be a "voice for the voiceless."

"I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel," he said.

Several others players followed suit, and at the delegation's first official stop on Tuesday at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, only five players were present, said hospital spokesman David Ratner. He said the players were given a tour of the hospital and shown a presentation of a device developed by one of Rambam's researchers that detects concussions in real time.

Among those who also dropped out were Bennett's brother Martellus, of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, Seahawks' Cliff Avril, San Francisco 49er Carlos Hyde and Justin Forsett of the Denver Broncos.

Public Diplomacy Minister Gilad Erdan, whose office spearheaded the visit, had enthusiastically promoted it, saying the NFL players would help boost Israel's image and counter the influence of an international boycott movement.

"I hope that, through their visit, they will get a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world," he said. "I hope that the players will present the beautiful face of Israel to their tens of millions of fans in the United States."

But since Bennett's post on Saturday, the ministry has gone silent. After promising various updates on the delegation, Revital Yakin-Karkovsky, the executive director for communications and strategy in the ministry, said Wednesday it would not comment on the visit. The Tourism Ministry and the nonprofit America's Voices in Israel organization, which were also involved in the planning, have also distanced themselves.

The five players who did make the trip — Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans, Mychal Kendricks of the Philadelphia Eagles, Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints, Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals and Dan Williams of the Oakland Raiders — have also noticeably kept quiet on social media.

The only evidence of the visit is an Instagram video of Kendricks from a local restaurant, where he sings along to Marvin Gaye's "Let's get it on" and asks locals to say hello to the camera in Hebrew.

An open letter published in The Nation that was signed by pro-Palestinian activists and supporters such as Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover and Alice Walker had urged the players to skip the trip.

"The Israeli government sought to use these NFL players, who have tremendous platforms due to their popularity, in an effort to whitewash Israel's ongoing denial of Palestinian rights," said Yousef Munayyer, director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who initiated the open letter. "It was heartening to see so many players choose not to sit on the sidelines but instead to stand on the right side of history."


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Israel's masters of war set their sights on Gaza - again

Gaza cries out, but the warmongers don't listen. For them, the Strip is just an opportunity to advance their careers.

By Gideon Levy | Feb. 12, 2017 | 12:30 PM | 3

“Come you masters of war, … I can see through your masks… You lie and deceive, a world war can be won, you want me to believe, but I see through your eyes, and I see through your brain. … You’ve thrown the worst fear that can ever be hurled, fear to bring children in to the world.” (From Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”)
And look, they’re back, our masters of war. Here they come, those warmongers. They don’t pass up a single chance to grab a microphone and threaten to push toward another war. Yet no one asks them: Why? What for? The north is quiet, as is the south, relatively speaking.
But it’s been two and a half years since the last war in Gaza and the Israeli DNA demands another round of bloodshed. And their current jobs – construction minister or education minister – are also boring for those with a mind for it. Encouraging high school students to take advanced math or building new public housing is deadly dull. They need another war, after which they may get the positions they covet.
The Gaza Strip is dying. Its inhabitants have just three years to live, according to a United Nations report that predicted that in 2020, Gaza will cease to be a place fit for human life. It has long ago become a cage unfit for life. But when they’re not shooting at Israel from Gaza, no one takes an interest in its fate. Hamas is holding its fire, but it’s enough for two rebel rockets to be fired to prompt 19 (!) Israeli aerial attacks and to extract all of our warmongers from their holes.
Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant’s eyes lit up and the color seemed to return to his face when he talked about Gaza. “I believe we should be prepared by spring,” determines this master of war, who dreams of returning to Gaza and killing more, as he did so well in Operation Cast Lead eight year ago. Why in the spring? Don’t ask. There’s a reason you don’t know. Maybe it’s because Charles Aznavour sang about returning in the spring.
Last week, Galant didn’t pass up a single media opportunity anywhere but on the Kol Hamusica classical music station to fan the flames and push for a war. And who would bother interviewing this failing, boring construction minister whose party colleague Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon also detests him if it were not about Gaza? Since he has not chalked up accomplishments in building, Galant, a former military man is trying to get back to destroying. The Likud party is waiting for him.
The Defense Ministry is also coveted by Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Getting there, however, requires fanning the flames. No official report about the failure to deal with Hamas tunnels in Gaza will suffice, so Bennett is also dreaming about another war. “The next round of war is approaching,” he said, making a prediction that always comes true in Israel. He hasn’t concealed the extent to which he is in a hurry to return to the killing fields of Shujaiyeh and the confidential briefings with army officers.
And then, of course, there is the current defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who even in his new temporary role as a moderate, also won’t pass up a chance. “Until the other side cries gevalt, we’re not stopping,” said the minister of arrogance. Again came the hollow promises of decisive victory that will never come about and yet again everyone is willing to buy the argument. Again everyone is waiting for the next war, as if it were fate handed down by the almighty when it isn’t even handed down from Gaza.
Gaza actually is crying gevalt, but none of the warmongers are listening. Gaza for them is an opportunity to advance their careers, to get the forces moving and to conceptualize a war against an enemy that is nothing but an army of hooligans, nothing but an assault on the powerless. Gaza would bring the warmongers back into the headlines, back into their glory, the return of the good old days of combat jackets. Otherwise, there would be no reason to embark on another attack on Gaza.
The deterioration could be quick. Just another few declarations of war, another few disproportionate responses by the Israel Defense Forces for every cap gun or kite fired from Gaza and we’re there. Israel also pushed for the wars in Gaza in 2008 and 2014 more than Gaza did. Before you can say “cigars and champagne,” the IDF is in Gaza.
And there is no one to yell “stop,” no one to say that those who don’t want war in Gaza should open it rather than destroy it a third, fourth and fifth time. But saying so requires courage, which is the quality most lacking among our masters of war, whom, as Dylan’s lyrics state, will never be forgiven.

After Mega-Lies by Trump Adviser Stephen Miller, It’s Time to Rev Up the Reality-Based Community

from Truthdig

Posted on Feb 13, 2017

By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

Stephen Miller a snot-nosed kid with a bad attitude, advertised as White House senior policy adviser, delivered himself of some stern jeremiads on Sunday on Meet the Press, along with many Big Lies of which Joseph Goebbels would be jealous.

It is dreary to see a Republican White House once again fall into the clutches of grandiose fantasists and drooling conspiracy theorists. We saw this with Karl Rove and Irv “Scooter” Libby in the Bush years. The arrogance, the big globe-straddling ambitions, the spit in the face of average people, and above all the Big Lie. What is it about today’s Republican Party that drives it into the arms of high-end hucksters and confidence men? Maybe it’s the cognitive dissonance of being a servant to the .01% but pretending to want to help average folks.

After denouncing the third branch of government, given powers of legislative review by the Constitution, Miller said:

“our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

We have seen these unimaginative scenarios so many times. The media as the enemy (you can’t outdo tricky Dick Nixon on that one). The whole world having to be impressed. Have you *met* any French people? Believe me, Stephen, they aren’t impressed. They can’t get past those ears, and wonder what happened to your hair. And we haven’t even gotten to your boss. And, then, sigh, the unquestioned power of the president. What’s the matter, “unitary executive” too hard for you to say?

Then there were Miller’s Giga-lies about undocumented people voting in the millions. Or maybe they are tera-lies. A lot of bytes go into a lie that huuuje.

But it is banal and ennui-inducing by now. We’ve been there, done that. We had to form a whole new internet group the last time, the “Reality-Based Community.” I guess it is time to dust back off that comment section from 2004.

The key quote that kicked off the Community appeared in an article by Ron Suskind on October 17, 2004 in the New York Times entitled, “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush.” It is said that the Bush administration official who delivered himself of this famous quote was strategist Karl Rove, who connived at a Permanent Republican Majority and urged a war on Iraq as a way to make sure George W. Bush got to be a two-term president (the longer in office, the more money to be made). So this is what is attributed to him:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Rove did not mean to admit that he is detached from reality, any more than Kellyanne Conway intended to admit that she maintains a whole warehouse of alternative facts. Rove meant to say that George W. Bush had a big ol’ reality-creation machine on the back of his flatbed truck, and when you ran it, why it tinkered with dimensional space and made things turn out right for rich old cranky white men.

As for being an empire, no. The days of empire are over with. The “natives” or “wily oriental gentleman” as the Victorians called them all seem to have C4 plastic explosives now, if not, as with Pakistan and India and China, hundreds of nuclear warheads. Sticky wicket, old man, wot? Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf in Iraq, an elderly Iranian gentleman, pushed you and George around like the paper tigers you were, and he even did it nonviolently. Other impudent imperial subjects regularly blew up the poor 18-year-olds you sent over there to do God knows what. Since you were so big on turning Iraq into a shining beacon on the hill, I hear they need a good electoral consultant in Falluja these days, and maybe you’d be so kind as to volunteer?

In other words, that reality creation machine on W’s flatbed truck was on the blink. So it got Rove and Bush into an Iraq War that is still going on and will cost us $6 trillion and which even other Republicans won’t stand behind. It deregulated the hell out of Wall Street and so sent the big investment banks right to hell, along with millions of mortgages, leaving average people so impoverished that a lot of them are still drinking themselves to death or hanging themselves in the closet over it. And then your attempt to punish Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame for questioning your phony cover story of Iraqi nuclear weapons (“WMD”) got your aide Scooter Libby in big doodoo. Very judicious doo doo. And your climate denialism will drown your great grandchildren, or give them heat stroke. See if you can please re-set that particular reality you created with 5-6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year from our one country.

So yes, Karl, I get to study what you wrought to the universe, and the resets and the twists and turns. I even wrote a whole book, Engaging the Muslim World, about what you got wrong in one part of the globe. There are lots of such books to be written. We writers will write them for a long time. But alas reality is a harsh mistress and doesn’t like to be fucked with. Guess what happens to people who try to create an alternate reality?

I don’t even understand the ambition. Reality is all we have to hold on to. We shouldn’t want to mess with it. But it is just as well, since even “empires” can’t. Especially when the whole idea of empire is past its expiration date and smells like a pile of two-week-old corpses.

And I see your whippersnapper of a protegé, Mr. Miller, out before the cameras just like you were 13 years ago, strutting like a meerkat that caught a cobra by the tail, and lying his bony ass off. Brings a tear to my eye. Not nostalgia. It’s just, I know how this movie ends.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

NFL players pull out of Israel propaganda tour

from the electric intifada
Michael F. Brown Activism and BDS Beat 11 February 2017

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, left, talks to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, following a 37-18 Seattle victory at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, 25 September 2016. In solidarity with Palestinians, Bennett this week pulled out of an Israeli-government backed propaganda junket for NFL players. Joe Nicholson USA TODAY Sports
Immediately after contributing to his team’s Super Bowl victory last Sunday, Martellus Bennett of the New England Patriots was asked what he thought about an upcoming visit to Mexico to represent the National Football League (NFL).

“Tear down the wall! Tear down the wall! That’s what I think about going to Mexico,” he cried.

Bennett then became the first of a number of Patriots players who confirmed they would skip a visit with President Donald Trump at the White House.

Hasbara tour
But The Forward reported that Bennett would be taking a different trip. Along with 11 other NFL players he would be “heading to Israel after the team’s historic win on a hasbara, or Israeli public relations tour for American football players.”

The headline even quoted Bennett purportedly declaring, “I’m going to Israel.”

Palestinians living under a system Human Rights Watch has labeled “separate and unequal,” would surely wonder how Bennett could oppose Trump’s plans to extend the wall on the US-Mexico border, but be unconcerned about the impact of Israel’s wall on occupied Palestinian land. Trump has explicitly praised Israel’s wall-building as his model.

But in a week of sudden reversals, Dave Zirin reported for The Nation that despite media reports that Bennett would go to Israel, he had “confirmed that this is not the case.”

Zirin noted that other players named in a Times of Israel report on the planned junket “are reevaluating whether they will attend.”

By Friday night three of the players named as potential participants – Martellus Bennett, his brother Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks and Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins – had repudiated the trip.

Players pull out
In an open letter published by The Nation on Thursday afternoon, activists, writers and athletes, including Angela Davis, Alice Walker, John Carlos and Craig Hodges, appealed to the NFL players to reconsider participation in the trip. Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover later signed the letter.

They praised the athletes for using their celebrity “to shed light about and support various struggles including Black Lives Matter,” and lauded those who had announced they would not go to the White House.

They urged the players not to allow themselves to be used as part of a propaganda campaign “to help the Israeli government normalize and whitewash its ongoing denial of Palestinian rights.”

The same day, NFL player and rights activist Michael Bennett tweeted he would not be going.

In a fuller statement released on Twitter and Instagram Friday night, Michael Bennett said he would “not be used” by Israel’s government. He recalled that the late Muhammad Ali, one of his heroes, “always stood strongly with the Palestinian people.”

“I want to be a ‘voice for the voiceless,’” Bennett added, “and I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel.”

The Dolphins’ Kenny Stills retweeted Bennett’s statement, adding, “Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m in!” – indicating he was also bowing out of the trip.

Martellus Bennett also retweeted his brother’s statement.

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) thanked Michael Bennett “for standing on the right side of history, for justice and equality.”

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who is not going, but has been in the public eye due to his decision not to stand for the national anthem in support of Black Lives Matter activists, retweeted to his one million followers a tweet stating that anyone protesting Trump’s Muslim ban, would surely also have to be “livid about the apartheid tactics Israel forces on Palestinian Muslims.”

Denver Broncos running back Justin Forsett also announced on Saturday via Twitter that he would not be going on the trip, and shared Michael Bennett’s statement. But Forsett added that “we made the decision before all this info came out” – an apparent reference to the Israeli government’s propaganda goals.

Other players named as participants in the junket are Cliff Avril, Delanie Walker, Mychal Kendricks, Cameron Jordan, Calais Campbell, Carlos Hyde, Dan Williams. Former NFL linebacker Kirk Morrison is also expected to participate.

Damaged brand
Several days ago the Israeli parliament passed legislation retroactively legalizing the theft of large tracts of private Palestinian land for Israeli colonization.

This generated a storm of international protests, even from Israel’s closest allies such as the European Union, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Israel’s propaganda officials hope the American football players’ visit will be a welcome distraction and a chance to burnish Israel’s badly damaged brand.

“I see great importance in the arrival of this delegation of NFL stars to Israel,” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s strategic affairs minister who is in charge of combating the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, said.

The junket is an initiative of Erdan’s own ministry along with the tourism ministry and America’s Voice in Israel, a group whose mission is “to bolster Israel’s image in the United States by bringing media and radio personalities” to the country.

Erdan confirmed the overtly propagandistic intent of the visit, stating that the NFL players would “present the beautiful face of Israel to their tens of millions of fans in the United States,” to help offset the impact of BDS.

Israel has allocated a huge budget to this effort with little effect. In a recent strategic document, the Anti-Defamation League and the Reut Institute, two key organizations that oppose Palestinian rights, reportedly conclude that the fight against BDS has failed.

Meanwhile, despite a multi-million dollar advertising campaign by the tourism ministry – including celebrity junkets – the number of visitors to Israel has continued to fall.

Commenting on Israel’s faltering strategy, Clayton Swisher observed, “You’re losing when your country legalizes apartheid and then invites a mishmash of NFL players to try and make it look normal.”

Swisher, an investigative reporter for Al Jazeera, recently presented a four-part film called The Lobby shedding light on Israel’s covert efforts in the UK to win friends and punish perceived enemies.

Imbruglia cancels
Activists hoping that there is still time to persuade more NFL players to bow out will be encouraged by what looks like another victory.

BDS campaigners have been urging Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia to cancel a 1 March concert in Israel.

The Tel Aviv date appears to have been recently removed from her official tour schedule and is marked as “canceled” on her Facebook page.

This article has been updated since initial publication.

Email fro

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Tom Perez Apologizes for Telling the Truth, Showing Why Democrats’ Flaws Urgently Need Attention

the intercept

Glenn Greenwald

February 9 2017, 8:21 a.m.

THE MORE ALARMED one is by the Trump administration, the more one should focus on how to fix the systemic, fundamental sickness of the Democratic Party. That Hillary Clinton won the meaningless popular vote on her way to losing to Donald Trump, and that the singular charisma of Barack Obama kept him popular, have enabled many to ignore just how broken and failed the Democrats are as a national political force.

An endless array of stunning statistics can be marshaled to demonstrate the extent of that collapse. But perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence is that even one of the U.S. media’s most stalwart Democratic loyalists, writing in an outlet that is as much of a reliable party organ as the DNC itself, has acknowledged the severity of the destruction. “The Obama years have created a Democratic Party that’s essentially a smoking pile of rubble,” wrote Vox’s Matthew Yglesias after the 2016 debacle, adding that “the story of the 21st-century Democratic Party looks to be overwhelmingly the story of failure.”

A failed, collapsed party cannot form an effective resistance. Trump did not become president and the Republicans do not dominate virtually all levels of government because there is some sort of massive surge in enthusiasm for right-wing extremism. Quite the contrary: This all happened because the Democrats are perceived — with good reason — to be out of touch, artificial, talking points-spouting automatons who serve Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and the agenda of endless war, led by millionaires and funded by oligarchs to do the least amount possible for ordinary, powerless citizens while still keeping their votes.

What drove Bernie Sanders’s remarkably potent challenge to Hillary Clinton was the extreme animosity of huge numbers of Democrats — led by its youngest voters — to the values, practices, and corporatist loyalties of the party’s establishment. Unlike the 2008 Democratic primary war — which was far more vicious and nasty but devoid of any real ideological conflict — the 2016 primary was grounded in important and substantive disputes about what the Democratic Party should be, what principles should guide it, and, most important of all, whose interests it should serve.

That’s why those disputes have not disappeared with the inauguration of Trump, nor should they. It matters a great deal, perhaps more than anything else, who leads the resistance to Trump and what the nature of that opposition is. Everyone knows the popular cliché that insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting different outcomes; it illustrates why Democrats cannot continue as is and expect anything other than ongoing impotence and failure. The party’s steadfast refusal to change course even in symbolic ways — We hereby elevate by acclimation Chuck “Wall Street” Schumer and re-install Nancy “I’m a multimillionaire and we are capitalists” Pelosi — bodes very poorly for its future success.

In sum, demanding that one refrain from critiquing the Democratic Party in order to exclusively denounce Trump over and over is akin to demanding that one single-mindedly denounce cancer without worrying about who the treating doctor is or what type of research is being conducted to cure it. Trump happened because the Democrats failed. And he and similar (or worse) phenomena will continue to happen until they are fixed.

THE OBVIOUS DETERMINATION of Democratic establishment leaders to follow the same failed and dreary course explains why the race for DNC chair has become so heated. In reality, that position is little more than a functionary role — mostly focused on fundraising and building the party apparatus at the state level — but whoever occupies it does serve as a leading public face of the party.

For the last five years, the face of the DNC was the living, breathing embodiment of everything awful about the party: the sleazy, corrupt corporatist, and centrist hawk Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who — as a result of WikiLeaks’ publication of DNC emails — had to resign in disgrace after she got caught engaging in sustained cheating in order to ensure that Hillary Clinton would be the party’s nominee.

But her disgrace was short-lived: Upon resigning, she was quickly rewarded for her corruption by being named to a high position with the Clinton campaign, as well as having the D.C. establishment Democrats, led by Joe Biden and Clinton herself, support her in vanquishing a Sanders-supported primary challenger for her seat in Congress. As a result of the support from the party establishment (as well as massive funding from corporate and banking interests), she defeated that challenger, Tim Canova, and the nation rejoiced as she returned for her seventh term in Congress.

Wasserman Schultz was replaced as DNC chair on an interim basis by longtime party operative Donna Brazile, who was quickly engulfed by her own scandal when she got caught secretly passing CNN debate questions to the Clinton campaign, then repeatedly lying about it by denying it and insinuating the emails were forged by the Russians. For that misconduct, CNN fired her, as anchor Jake Tapper denounced her cheating as “horrifying” and CNN said it made the network “completely uncomfortable.”

But Brazile continues to this day to run the DNC. Think about that: Her behavior was so unethical, dishonest, and corrupt that Jeff Zucker-led CNN denounced it and publicly disassociated itself from her. But the DNC seems perfectly comfortable having her continue to lead the party until the next chair is chosen.

Perhaps worse than the serial cheating itself was that it was all in service of coronating a candidate who — as many of us tried to warn at the time — all empirical data showed was the most vulnerable to lose to Donald Trump. So the very same people who bear the blame for Trump’s presidency — by cheating to elevate the candidate most likely to lose to him — continue to dominate the Democratic Party. To describe the situation is to demonstrate the urgency of debating and fixing it, rather than ignoring it in the name of talking only about Trump.

EARLY ON IN the race for DNC chair, Keith Ellison — the first American Muslim ever elected to the U.S. Congress and an early Sanders supporter who resides on the left wing of the party — emerged as a clear favorite. He racked up endorsements not only from progressives like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Jesse Jackson but also party stalwarts such as Walter Mondale, John Lewis, and even Schumer himself, who seems to recognize that throwing a few symbolic crumbs to the Sanders wing of the party is strategically wise in light of the enduring bitterness many of them harbor toward the DNC’s behavior and the party’s centrist, neoliberal, pro-war policies.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. joins low-wage workers at a rally outside the Capitol in Washington, Monday, April 28, 2014, to urge Congress to raise the minimum wage as lawmakers return to Washington following a two week hiatus. Democrats been pushing to lift the minimum wage but even if any legislation is passed in the Senate, it is certain to be ignored in the Republican-controlled House. (AP Photo) Photo: APBut then panic erupted among the Democratic establishment. It began when Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban — the largest single funder of both the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign — smeared Ellison as “an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual” and said his election “would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.” In the minds of D.C. mavens, you can’t have someone as chair of the DNC who is disliked by billionaire funders. That is the Democratic Party.
The knives were then out for Ellison, as operatives began dumping controversial college-age comments about Louis Farrakhan and Israel into the media. The New York Times began running articles with headlines such as “Jewish Groups and Unions Grow Uneasy With Keith Ellison” — a strange headline given that Ellison has been endorsed by multiple unions, including the AFL-CIO, the United Steelworkers, UNITE HERE, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, among others. Even unpaid parking tickets from the 1990s made an appearance thanks to Democratic slime artists.

The assault on Ellison’s candidacy was formalized when the Obama White House recruited and promised to back one of its loyalists, Labor Secretary Tom Perez. As he did with his endorsement of Wasserman Schultz, Biden made the establishment’s support for Perez official by publicly endorsing him last week.

Perez is a pleasant liberal and loyal party stalwart: Before the first primary vote was cast, he endorsed Clinton over Sanders and became one of her most outspoken surrogates. Despite claiming to be devoted to American workers, he was a loyal supporter of TPP even after Clinton was forced into insincere opposition.

It’s not hard to see why the Obama and Clinton circles want him to run the party instead of Ellison. He’s acceptable to big donors. He has proven himself loyal to the party establishment’s agenda. He is a reliable party operative. And, most importantly of all, he will change nothing of substance: ensuring that the same policies, rhetoric, and factions that have prevailed continue to do so, all while protecting the power base of the same people who have run the party into the ground.

TWO RECENT INCIDENTS vividly highlight why Tom Perez so perfectly embodies the Democratic Party status quo. The first occurred two weeks ago, when my colleague Zaid Jilani attended an event where Perez was speaking and politely but repeatedly asked him about Israeli human rights abuses — which had been in the news that week because of new demolitions by the IDF of Palestinian homes, and because Perez had been asked about his views on boycotting Israel as a way of stopping its decadeslong occupation.

With the domination of the Democratic Party by Saban and others looming, just watch how this profile in courage who wants to lead the Democratic Party responded to being asked about his opinions on this matter:

Zaid Jilani @ZaidJilani
Tom Perez condemned BDS at the DNC Chair Debate so I asked him what he thought about Israeli home demolitions..
5:15 PM - 21 Jan 2017
2,308 2,308 Retweets 2,891 2,891 likes
An even more illustrative episode occurred late Wednesday. Perez was in Kansas campaigning for votes from county leaders and was asked about the need for the party to retain the support of the Sanders contingent. Perez unexpectedly blurted out a truth that party functionaries to this day steadfastly bury and deny even in the face of the mountain of evidence proving it. This is what Perez said:

We heard loudly and clearly yesterday from Bernie supporters that the process was rigged and it was. And you’ve got to be honest about it. That’s why we need a chair who is transparent.

That’s quite an admission from the party establishment’s own candidate: “The process was rigged.” And he commendably acknowledged how important it is to admit this — “to be honest about it” — because “we need a chair who is transparent.”

But Perez’s commitment to “transparency” and “being honest” had a very short life-span. After his admission predictably caused controversy — with furious Clinton supporters protesting the truth — Perez demonstrated the same leadership qualities that were so evident when Zaid Jilani asked him about Israeli human rights abuses.

He quickly slinked onto Twitter with a series of tweets to retract what he said, claim that he “misspoke” (does anyone know what that word means?), apologize for it, and proclaim Hillary Clinton the fair and rightful winner:

Tom Perez ✔ @TomPerez
I have been asked by friends about a quote and want to be clear about what I said and that I misspoke.
10:48 PM - 8 Feb 2017
118 118 Retweets 256 256 likes
Tom Perez ✔ @TomPerez
I have been asked by friends about a quote and want to be clear about what I said and that I misspoke.
Tom Perez ✔ @TomPerez
As I've said repeatedly, we can't have a primary process where it is even perceived that a thumb was on the scale.
10:49 PM - 8 Feb 2017
52 52 Retweets 217 217 likes
Tom Perez ✔ @TomPerez
I have been asked by friends about a quote and want to be clear about what I said and that I misspoke.
Tom Perez ✔ @TomPerez
Hillary became our nominee fair and square, and she won more votes in the primary—and general—than her opponents.
10:48 PM - 8 Feb 2017
565 565 Retweets 1,556 1,556 likes
To ensure there was no mistaking his loyalty oath, he made that last tweet his pinned tweet, ensuring it would sit at the top of his Twitter page. (He also included a couple of scripted, empty banalities about the importance of transparency, objectivity, and “fighting like hell.”)

So in Tom Perez’s conduct, one sees the mentality and posture that has shaped the Democratic Party: a defense of jobs-killing free trade agreements that big corporate funders love; an inability to speak plainly, without desperately clinging to focus-group, talking-points scripts; a petrified fear of addressing controversial issues even (especially) when they involve severe human rights violations by allies; a religious-like commitment never to offend rich donors; and a limitless willingness to publicly abase oneself in pursuit of power by submitting to an apology ritual for having told the truth.

That is the template that has driven the Democratic Party into a ditch so deep and disastrous that even Vox acknowledges it without euphemisms. That is the template that has alienated voters across the country at all levels of elected office and that enabled the Donald Trump presidency. And it is the template that Democratic Party establishment leaders are more determined than ever to protect and further entrench by ensuring that yet another detached, lifeless functionary who embodies it becomes the next face of the party.

One can spend all of one’s time and energy denouncing Donald Trump. But until the systemic causes that gave rise to him are addressed and resolved, those denunciations will do little other than generate social media benefits and flattering applause from those already devoted to opposing him. Focusing on and attempting to counter the fundamental flaws of the Democratic Party is not a distraction from #TheResistance; it is a central priority, a prerequisite for any kind of success.

Forecasting Trump’s Presidency: The Republican Party’s Decline, and What Comes Next?

from counterpunch

FEBRUARY 9, 2017


Now seems as good a time as any to predict where the Trump presidency is headed. In my last CounterPunch piece, I called for the president’s impeachment for violations of the Constitution, and as related to his fascistic Muslim ban.

But let’s be honest – there’s very little chance the Republican party will remove Trump from office. Despite the lightning rod of controversy that is “The Donald,” Republicans see unified government as too valuable for pushing through reactionary, pro-business reforms, to simply give up on this president. True, Trump’s impeachment would mean Pence’s ascendance, and the emergence of a leader who is much preferred by the Republican establishment. But the embarrassment of having to remove a sitting president for fascistic policies would be a long, drawn out process, and would greatly harm the party and its ability to govern. Since Trump seems to be here to stay, the questions become: how will his term will play out? If we can’t get rid of Trump, how do we at least limit his impact on the country?

Trump has committed himself to a scorched earth approach to “governing” via executive order and assaults on the rule of law. But at their current pace, there is little chance that he and his party are re-elected in 2018 and 2020. I believe this to be the case for several reasons. Presidents naturally see declining support over time, even those not suffering from Trump’s brazen buffoonery. Furthermore, the Republican Party’s policy proposals are deeply unpopular, and its stance on tax cuts, deregulation, and health care will hurt it among voters. There’s also “The Donald” factor to keep in mind, as Trump is a lightning rod for controversy. His penchant for scandal will only hurt the party brand even more than it already has in the coming months and years. Finally, add to all this the poverty of Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” by bringing back middle class jobs, and one has a recipe for disaster, ending in the Republican Party’s steady decline.

Donald Trump and the Threat of Time

It’s well known among presidency scholars that presidents are far less popular by the end of their terms than the beginning. There’s a well-known “honeymoon effect” that characterizes the presidency, occurring within the first year. Most presidents come into office with a job approval rating over 50 percent. They’ve made a lot of promises during the campaign, and most of the public wants them to succeed and fulfill at least some of their pledges. This relatively high approval rating steadily falls throughout a president’s term. The reason appears obvious: over time people tire of the president. Politicians make many promises and follow through with very few of them, so it’s not surprising to see job approval ratings fall over time.

A quick look at past numbers: Obama started office with a 67 percent job approval, and by the end of his first term, fell more than 20 percentage points. George W. Bush started at 62 percent, and fell to about 50 percent by the 2004 re-election, and down to just over 30 percent when he left office in 2009. George H. W. Bush came into office with the same rating as his son, but fell to under 40 percent by the 1992 election.

This pattern of decline fits pretty much every president in the post-World War II era, except for Bill Clinton, who held a 54 percent approval rating in January 1993, but finished office at 66 percent. But Clinton’s growing approval had little to do with what he did to help working Americans. The few liberal policies he pursued – raising the minimum wage and supporting the Earned Income Tax Credit, were far from enough to compensate for his assault on organized labor via NAFTA, and his war on the poor via “welfare reform” and the destruction of Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Clinton had the good luck of presiding over an 8-year period conveniently positioned between two recessions (one from the early 1990s and one from the early 2000s), and at a time of low inflation and modest household income growth. This growth in income had nothing to do with Clinton policies (particularly NAFTA), which eviscerated average male incomes. Rather, it was likely the rise of dual income earners in the U.S. that accounts for the growth in family incomes during this period.

Setting aside Clinton, my point is that Trump has nowhere to go but down. He started his office with a job approval rating of 46 percent – unprecedentedly bad in modern history – and has already fallen to 42 percent just a few weeks into his term. The decline in job approval for Obama and Bush between their first month in office and their re-election averaged 16 percentage points. Using this benchmark means Trump’s approval rating may be as low as 30 percent come re-election time. Furthermore, this may be too generous a prediction. Neither Bush nor Obama were anywhere near as obnoxious in their demeanor as Trump, who has consistently gone out of his way to insult large segments of the public. Factoring in Trump’s personality, we may be talking about a president with an approval rating in the 20s come re-election time. In modern history, no president has ever been re-elected with an approval rating under 40 percent.

Health Care Reform: The Ticking Time Bomb

Few issues are closer to the hearts and pocketbooks of American voters than their health care, and Republican health care reform proposals will likely hurt the party’s re-election chances significantly. Weeks into the Trump presidency, the party is split regarding what to do with the Affordable Care Act. The most reactionary Republicans are pushing hard for repeal, even though the party has not come up with a realistic replacement. Other members of the party are worried, rightly, that they will be blamed after a repeal if tens of millions of Americans lose their health insurance and federal subsidies offered through state health insurance exchanges disappear. The Urban Institute estimates as many as 30 million Americans may lose insurance with the collapse of the exchanges and the scaling back of Medicaid (previously expanded under the ACA).

Talk about a replacement plan that will allow a smooth transition to insurance plans that cost less and provide better care, as Trump promised, was always a red herring. If Republicans failed to develop a workable alternative in the last 7 years, it’s highly unlikely they will come up with one in the next few weeks. And many Republicans are getting squirrely about the repeal. Countless calls from constituents who are anxious about losing health insurance have given Congressional Republicans the jitters about what all this means for the re-election prospects in 2018. Political scientists have long documented the practice of “pocket book voting,” in which many Americans punish the party of the president during periods marked by growing economic insecurity. Many Americans are likely to punish the Republican Party in 2018 if they lose their insurance, while facing spikes in health care premiums and other costs.

Outside the ACA repeal, Republicans are also in a tough spot regarding their support for privatizing Medicare. This proposal, the pet project of Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, has long been unpopular with the public.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans opposed Medicare privatization in 2012, including most Republicans, independents, and Democrats. Americans fear the unknown when it comes to health care. And seniors are right to oppose privatization when they will be forced to bare the cost of buying in a health care market by premium costs that will rapidly outpace the rates of health care subsidy increases provided by government. Seniors live on fixed incomes, and will be unable to endure a parasitic health care market that prioritizes ever-increasing profits over public health. Seniors are by far the most expensive demographic group to cover in the U.S., for obvious reasons, so placing responsibility into their hands for purchasing health insurance is a disaster waiting to happen. Even talk of Medicare privatization is likely to hurt Republicans moving into 2018. Retirees and near retirees vote in overwhelming numbers, and they will not forget the Republican Party’s betrayal when they enter the ballot booth.

Make America Great Again: Trump’s False Promise

Trump was elected promising to “drain the swamp” of big business power in Washington. He promised to usher in a golden age of prosperity for working Americans. But Trump was never more than a used-car salesman, his election campaign laden with cheap talk, heavy on the promises, and light on the details. Now that Trump is in office, he’s presented no realistic plan for how to create decent-paying jobs. His belligerence toward China, seen in White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s promise that the U.S. will go to war over the South China Sea, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s calls for a military blockade, threaten nuclear Armageddon. They certainly do nothing to help workers who have suffered from outsourcing.

Trump’s call for a 20 percent tax on Mexican goods entering the U.S. will do little to aid American workers. Companies relying on sweatshops in Mexico have numerous options for avoiding the tax. One way is to shift the cost of the tax to consumers, while U.S. corporations continue to benefit from low-pay Mexican sweatshop labor. A second option is to simply shift production to another country that is not subject to the 20 percent tax. Either way, there is little in Trump’s plan to guarantee jobs returning to the U.S. If Trump were willing to take the strong steps needed to rein in corporate power, perhaps progress could be made. But there is zero chance that he’s going to call for the revocation of corporate charters for companies that have outsourced jobs or propose to do so in the future, or call for a ban on goods produced in sweatshops. Even if he wanted to ban those goods, there’s no chance corporate establishment Republicans in Congress will play along.

Trump’s economic promises are important because they are one of the primary reasons he was elected. He came into office on a very short leash, with working Americans expecting that he make good on claims that he will help a middle class eviscerated by four decades of neoliberal, anti-worker reforms. He won this election based on his status as an “outsider” who could fix Washington. He is an outsider no more, and Americans are going to judge him and the party come 2018 based on their track record in office.

Even with a positive agenda that focuses on re-unionization and a living wage, making significant headway toward restoring the middle class in the two-to-four-year window between elections is daunting. But this goal is all but impossible without progressive policies aimed at helping working Americans. Americans saw significant growth in inequality and declining wages throughout most of Obama’s presidency. And the vast majority of new jobs created under Obama – 94 percent – were low-pay, temporary, or contingent positions. Expect these trends to continue and intensify under Trump. By passing a multi-trillion-dollar tax cut plan for the wealthy, Republicans will greatly increase inequality, while doing nothing for working families. Many Americans vote based on their economic experiences, punishing the party in power in times of growing economic insecurity. Expect this practice to continue in 2018 and 2020.

“The Donald” Factor

Trump’s presidency has all the makings of a slow-motion heart attack. Every incendiary twitter post sends liberals into cardiac arrest. As polls have long shown, many conservatives ignore Trump’s absurdities and bigotry, since he “speaks their language” by adopting reactionary and bigoted stances on various social issues. But Trump’s callous attacks on large numbers of Americans will probably take a toll on his approval rating among “independent” and “moderate” swing voters who do not identify as racists, sexists, or xenophobes, but who found Trump’s populist economic rhetoric appealing. Trump goes out of his way to insult just about anyone and everyone he can. This is no way to govern a country, and much of middle America will grow tired of his bullshit promises and shock politics in the coming months and years. Trump certainly has redefined the boundaries of “acceptable” discourse for the worse, but even his brand of shouting and tweeting blatant absurdities will only remain novel for so long.

It would be naïve to say that Trump’s brand and popularity will not decline based simply on future scandals. U.S. or foreign intelligence agencies may continue to derail the Trump presidency via their own attacks – substantiated or not. Trump’s black-hole finances may come back to haunt him, creating constitutional conflicts of interest related to his business profits and obligations as president. As details about Trump’s income are revealed moving forward, the president may find himself in the middle of a media storm of corruption charges. Finally, one should expect future scandals simply by way of “Donald being Donald.” Whether future controversies involve revelations of racism (there are still countless hours of “The Apprentice” footage left unchecked), unwanted sexual advances, or other types of lewd “locker room talk,” it’s likely that this presidency will be one for the record books in terms of the number of tabloid scandals. Trump is a shameless reality TV star and vulgarian, and we should expect more of this from him moving forward.

The Sleeping Giant

It’s unclear how much more damage Trump’s Muslim ban can hurt his approval ratings. If there are people out there who don’t know Trump is an Islamophobe, future news stories about it are unlikely to have much effect. But Trump’s backhanded attacks on minority groups – including Hispanics, African Americans, Muslims and others, are likely to hurt the party come 2018 and 2020. Political scientists have long spoken of “disturbance theory,” in which citizens awaken from their political apathy in the face of assaults on their privileges and rights. People are more likely to act against political repression when confronted with a blatant threat staring them in the face. For many Americans – Trump’s presidency is just such a threat. And the mobilization against Trump is likely to matter greatly in the future, not just in terms of contributing to sagging approval ratings, but in galvanizing larger turnouts for future elections.

The future is impossible to predict with any precision. But considering the above concerns, it seems likely the Republican Party will lose control of Congress come 2018, and will probably lose the White House in 2020. Short of some major or catastrophic terror attack, Trump’s approval ratings will continue to fall. At the current rate, I won’t be surprised if I’m hearing pundits talk about a lame duck president before the end of Trump’s first term.

Trump is doing everything in his power to gift wrap the presidency and congress for the Democrats. But the current party leadership isn’t in much of a position to capitalize on it. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi rule over a tired, old, crumbling party that has faded into irrelevance. These “leaders” can do little more than trip over themselves on their journey into oblivion. The party’s done nothing to call for impeachment against this president for his lawless attack on immigrants, or to condemn Trump for his blatant and elitist class war policies. They’ve marketed no coherent agenda or alternative progressive policy plan as an alternative to Trump’s politics. Rather, Pelosi is as tone deaf as ever. In a January town hall meeting, she absurdly claimed the Democrats are opposed to Wall Street. It was amusing to watch the audience react with derision and laughter against a party that even non-partisan fact checking groups recognize has long received the lion’s share of Wall Street campaign donations.

The United States is marked by a crisis of governance. Neither political party has articulated a vision for how to rein in corporate power, create an economy that works for working Americans, or build a government that protects the needy and disadvantaged. Republican’s reactionary turn provides an opportunity for a political alternative that rejects neoliberal capitalism. Ultimately, it’s up to the public to articulate such a vision if they desire an alternative to the status quo.

Join the debate on Facebook
Anthony DiMaggio is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He holds a PhD in political communication, and is the author of the newly released: Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy After 9/11 (Paperback: 2015). He can be reached at: